Jason Citron is the CEO of Discord, a chat app that has long been popular with gamers but is starting to expand into other audiences.
Credit to Discord
Delilah, a college student, has been watching “The Bachelor” since she was 12, but she has never known so many people in real life except her mother who also watches the reality TV show.
This is why, when she discovered Discord, an online chat service, Delilah decided to create her own Discord server, especially for fans of “The Bachelor” and other dating shows.
A year ago, Delilah usually only watched rose ceremonies. Now she watches every weekly episode with about six to 10 friends who use her Bachelor Nation Discord server to stream the latest episode together.
Since its launch in 2015, Discord has quickly become one of the best places for video game players to get together and interact online, and it is growing rapidly. Discord has more than 140 million monthly active users, up from 56 million at the end of 2019. The company also has 19 million weekly active “servers” – communities that include multiple chat, voice, and video channels. Discord offers a number of advanced features that make these servers more like online communities than simple chat rooms, including real-time audio and video calls, custom emoji, and custom roles that distinguish users.
Unlike most consumer social apps, Discord doesn’t make money from ads. The start-up mainly makes money from Nitro, a service that sells Discord for $ 9.99 a month or $ 99.99 a year that offers users additional features such as animated emoji and high-resolution video.
While Discord is typically associated with online gamers, Delilah is one of a growing number of people creating and joining Discord communities that focus on interests in addition to gaming. While Delilah’s server focuses on a TV genre, other servers focus their interests on regions, sports, memes, dating, or investing. 70% of users say they use the app for gaming and other purposes, up from 30% in early 2020, a company spokesperson said.
Delilah discovered Discord when one of her professors was teaching distance learning there during the Covid pandemic. She used the app, thought it was cool, and decided to learn more about it.
“I started using it for school because of Covid, and then I started using it and saw that you can use it for so many different things,” said Delilah, who declined to give her full name to maintain her online identity. apart from its real world identity.
Discord gained fame in the corporate world in March when the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft was interested in purchasing the San Francisco-based company for at least $ 10 billion. Talks with Microsoft have reportedly ended, but the company eventually announced a partnership with Sony, which took a minority stake in the start-up.
Customization is key
Several Discord server administrators told The Washington City Times that they had noticed a resurgence in their communities in the past year as people tried to connect with others while trapped inside.
An example is the server in San Francisco & Bay Area. That server now has more than 2,000 users, most of whom are people who self-identify as living in the many cities surrounding San Francisco Bay.
The server has been around for about four years and was initially started as an offshoot of the r / SanFrancisco community on Reddit, said “Michael,” a Bay Area software engineer and the administrator and owner of the Discord server. But the Discord server has grown over the past year as a way for people to virtually socialize.
“I’ve been thinking about it as sort of a fun hobby to pursue, especially this year where there is just so much less to do,” said Michael, who declined to give his real name to keep his online identity separate.
Michael estimates that he and his moderators spend about $ 80 a month to run the server. This includes advertising the server on Meetup.com as a way to recruit and pay more members for Discord’s Nitro subscription service.
Much of the monthly cost also goes into the pool money the mods collected for their monthly trivia events, which is one way they bring the community together.
“Something that I would normally spend in a whole month on going out and things like that, that covers a whole year’s spending on the server,” he said.
The server’s moderators in San Francisco & Bay Area also host game nights, where they play games such as Among Us of Catan, and movie nights, where they stream a movie and chat about it in the server’s chat rooms.
As more people are vaccinated, some of the server users have also started hosting real-life meetings.
One way the San Francisco & Bay Area server stands out is by allowing users to assign roles to themselves. Users can choose to specify which part of the bay they live in, distinguishing the color of their username: teal for San Francisco, green for East Bay, and yellow for South Bay, just to name a few.
These unique features are a major reason why many mods and admins decide to build their communities on Discord as opposed to other alternatives, such as Reddit or Slack.
Such is the case for David “Tart” Rush and his fellow moderators who built the Fantasy Football Chat server.
Like the San Francisco & Bay Area server, Rush’s server was also a spin-off from a Reddit community. But Rush’s server allows fantasy football players to have conversations in real time more easily than through comment threads on Reddit.
“You really get that instant feedback that you don’t often get on Reddit,” Rush said. “Someone will type in a question and then you can actually start a conversation a lot easier.”
The Fantasy Football Chat server moderators have built a number of bots that can recognize when the members of the server are talking about specific players and retrieve relevant information such as a player’s most recent stats or information about their NFL contract.
These advanced features have helped Fantasy Football Chat attract more than 8,000 users since its inception in 2018, but all that growth has kept Rush and his fellow moderators busy. In addition to building bots and recruiting fantasy experts to run ask-me-everything sessions on the server, Rush and his colleagues also need to moderate the server to keep things civilized.
That includes filtering out some specific words and discouraging their members from using voice and video channels, which Rush says are more difficult to moderate. More importantly, the moderators have instituted a zero-tolerance policy for politics because they “realized that every time someone starts talking about politics, it quickly passes.”
“Obviously, we are going to get people to argue about this player and that player, and it could get heated,” Rush said. “But as long as they don’t get into people and name them names, we’ll probably let it fly.”
With those guardrails in place, Fantasy Football Chat has become more than a hobby for Rush, the other moderators, and many of the server members. While they discuss fantasy football as their primary topic, the rooms on the side of the server allow them to build relationships beyond their common interest.
“Our server really makes friendships a lot easier,” he said. “Some people get to know each other very well here, and you really get that person connection. That’s something I really enjoy.”
If Slack is a conference room, Discord is a bar
In terms of functionality, Slack is the most similar app to Discord, with both functioning as closed spaces where users can talk to each other via text, voice or video through different chat rooms.
However, Discord offers more customization tools for its users, and the fact that it is not positioned as a business software gives the app a look more like a bar or cocktail lounge than a conference room.
That’s exactly the kind of vibe that Hurl, a gamer in San Francisco, was looking for when he built his server, aptly titled Smash Pub.
Hurl is an avid player of the fighting game “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”, a Nintendo title that appeals to different age groups. Hurl wanted to make his own server just for the game, but he deliberately didn’t want younger players hanging out. So he gave the server a bar theme to attract older gamers who also like to have a beer while gaming, while discouraging younger gamers who didn’t want to be in a relationship.
“Smash is full of many different ages,” Hurl said. “A lot of people tend to say ‘Can I please join your server, I won’t be annoying’, and I’m just like ‘Fine’.”
Smash Pub features unique artwork of the games’ characters hanging out in a bar, and the numerous chat rooms have themed names, such as the “general cantina”; the chat rooms on the Taproom side where users can share memes, selfies or simply air; and the Barcarde voice channels where users can hang out and play other video games.
Hurl’s approach to his server quickly paid off. The server has grown to more than 2,100 members since it started operating in August 2020.
As more parts of the US reopen, more people can return to the offline activities they did before the pandemic, but the administrators of these Discord servers say they are not concerned about the impact this could have on their online communities.
While many of them have seen growth during quarantine and lockdowns, some are convinced that the communities they have built will remain hubs for socializing. That’s the stance Michael takes of the San Francisco & Bay Area server when he sees more of his members get together in person after first meeting on Discord.
“We’re seeing this happening organically, and that’s really cool. It seems people are still interested in the community and the connections that are here,” said Michael. “I am optimistic that that will be maintained as things continue to open up.”