Tracing the Widespread Adoption of Discord

Photo courtesy of Discord Inc.
Photo courtesy of Discord Inc. /

"Discord is phenomenal, when it goes down my life is substantially impacted. As a full-time content creator, I'm working 24 hours a day. Not only am I streaming, but I'm also interacting in the discord, interacting on Twitter, Instagram, I'm doing all these things to continue building a community. There are certain points where I will literally delete the Discord app off my phone. When my family comes to town, I'll delete it off my phone so while we're out I'm not constantly on my discord. It's a huge tool for me and it's been nothing but beneficial to me professionally and personally. I do 90% of my social interaction via discord and the stream" via an interview with RunningMan.

Evidently, Discord has managed to drastically influence how the world communicates in an ever-increasingly digital world. Initially released on May 13, 2015, Discord has achieved over 250 million registered users in 2020. So what has led to the widespread adoption of this product?

Tracing the Widespread Adoption of Discord

Originally created as a way to 'better facilitate playing games online with friends', Discord has managed to transcend beyond the gaming industry to become an online community fit for everyone. Currently encompassing Gaming, Music, Education, Science, and Tech, as well as Entertainment community sections, Discord truly enables community building for a wide range of interests.

While there were several competitive offerings available upon Discords release as well as today, none have managed to become quite as dynamic as Discord. The overall success of Discord can be attributed to many factors, with a few of key importance.

With previous VoIP offerings arguably using too much processing power, being too slow, or simply unintuitive, Discord has managed to provide a seamless experience from the start. This comes as a result of the context of Discords creation, as founder Jason Citron was fed up while using alternative VoIP offerings in the marketplace and strived to improve upon their lackluster performance with Discord. Offering users a free, reliable, and secure product from launch led to a quick adoption by gamers worldwide.

A free, reliable, and secure product is not without pitfalls. While these characteristics would typically be associated with positive regard, it opens the door for undesired and illegal activities as a result of enabling a fully online and relatively anonymous community. In fact, in 2017 Discord was thrown into the spotlight for housing orchestrators of the Charlottesville protests which resulted in 34 people injured and one fatality. While discord has since strived to eliminate dangerous communities, it is undeniable that it has the potential to be used in unfortunate ways.

Still, Discord's characteristics have enabled it to become widely adopted. While many VoIP applications require users to download their product, Discord allows for communications through the web browser. In fact, Discord originally launched as a browser-only application. Web integration means with only a couple of clicks potential users can communicate with their friends, teammates, colleagues, and more. Web integration not only reduces adoption barriers (ex. fear of viruses, low CPU performance) but also enhances the trialability of the product. When a product works well, increasing the number of potential users who try it can greatly enhance the rate of adoption. As more people begin to become familiar with and develop a liking for a product, they tend to recommend it to others in their social circle providing free organic marketing. Although most prefer to use the desktop client today, Discord continues to improve upon its browser version satisfying users wherever they may be. Ease of use, reliability, and inherent customization quickly began growing Discord in its early days through word of mouth effects.

When growth began to slow from a solely organic word of mouth marketing effects, Discord had to utilize a new marketing strategy. In order to achieve this, Discord began partnering with Twitch and YouTube streamers and introduced Twitch integration features. The company empowered its users through the development of a Discord partner program. Strategically relevant partnerships with Twitch and YouTube streamers widely boosted Discord's visibility-enhancing awareness of the product. Further, the ability to create personal servers likely psychologically aided retention rates as users were not simply engaging with someone else's product but were essentially creating their own. Given the ability to customize servers by allocating authorizations including moderators, roles, bot integration, and more, users quickly began personalizing their Discord servers to meet their own needs further increasing retention rates. This high ability for customization largely aided the genre diversification of Discord as people began to create a plethora of servers related to a variety of topics beyond gaming.

Another major factor that contributed to the success of Discord was the development of verified game servers. These servers give game developers a platform to communicate with users as well as allow players to chat with one another in a community environment. Games with a large player base such as Fortnite, Minecraft, Apex Legends, as well as many others have further enhanced Discords' widespread adoption through centralizing communications onto Discord. This centralization aided in Discord's expansion and stands to continue doing so as more games officially become verified with Discord, causing users to continually return further increasing networking effects. While Discord servers currently populate a variety of topics, the ease at which a server can be created should not be overlooked when examining its successful history of growth. Given the ease of creating a Discord server paired with its effectiveness for communication, online influencers, prominent social media members, as well as content creators, began to create their own servers to engage with fans, customers, and everyone in-between.

While many VoIP offerings have blossomed and deteriorated in the past, Discord stands to remain for the long haul as a result of its ease of use, reliability, security, customizability, and much more. One major attribute that stands to aid Discords relevance in the future is the use of strategic partnerships. Officially partnered with Spotify, Xbox, and others, Discord allows its users to be aware of what their peers are playing or listening to. The presence of these partnerships demonstrate Discords desire to remain relevant with changing times. As more and more games become cross platform, the ability for interconnectivity between various devices grows increasingly important. While Discord users on Xbox cannot utilize voice chat with PC users at this time, the partnership between both companies should leave users hopeful for technological innovations in the future.

As previously stated, Discords partnership with Twitch streamers largely facilitated awareness of the product in its early days. In an effort to gain insight into the widespread adoption of Discord from a another perspective, I had the privilege of speaking with RunningMan, a full-time streamer and content creator as well as a Discord and Twitch partner.

When RunningMan was asked if Discord makes streaming easier, "100% yeah, Discord has been a tremendous boon to my community, I have people that spend hours and hours of their day in the discord, interacting in the Discord, connecting in the Discord, that maybe come into the stream once or twice a week. There are people that live in the Discord and they continue to sub to the channel and funnel people towards the channel, but they actually live in the Discord and they aren't huge supporters of the stream when its live. It's a huge opportunity to create a real community. I've got members of my community right now that will stream in Discord for each other, and that becomes something they look forward to, they become closer friends, they game together, it's crazy the amount of community building you can do".

A major benefit to using Discord for streamers as highlighted by RunningMan comes in the form of passive community growth. "...When you're a full-time streamer like I am, I can only be live so many hours a week. I'm live (on Twitch) 40-60 hours a week, never less than 40 many times over 60 but I still can't be live 24 hours a day. But with discord, discord is active 24 hours a day. A huge part of my community is European, so while I'm sleeping, they're in Discord gaming together, streaming for each other, interacting with each other, that's building my stream community while I'm asleep, it's nuts. We do movie watch parties, we have events, every Saturday we play Among Us, we have movie nights every week, it's nuts man it's great for building a community."

While there are evidently a host of benefits incentivizing streamers and content creators to use Discord, community members benefit as well. When RunningMan was asked how his viewers and community benefit from Discord, "The obvious is the ability to find and meet up with people to game with, or watch shows with. There are a couple of people in my community who are in a relationship now because they started gaming together in Discord, watching Doctor Who together in Discord, and then eventually that turned into something more serious. The social connections are a huge benefit. You hear people all the time (on Twitch) say 'I'd game with friends if I had any friends lol', they make friends in the discord, they make relationships, friendship bonds, deeper relationship bonds.."

As a result of low barriers to adoption, strategic partnerships, a seamlessly working product, as well as a developing team and user community that continue to innovate, Discord has managed to achieve over 250 million registered users. As a result, many are curious as to what the future holds for Discord. In response to how long Discord is going to be around, RunningMan responded "Forever, they're the gold standard in communications...It's bleeding out of the gaming industry into other things, other people, gambling, fantasy sports, it's just a tremendous amount of reach..."

Discord has managed to produce incremental improvements to its offerings throughout the years, constantly striving to improve upon its features as well as deploy additional relevant functionalities. Many of these improvements and additions stem from community desires, further increasing the utility provided to and satisfaction of Discord users as a result of increased relevance. Notable additions and improvements include Facebook friend sync, channel categories, category permissions, Discord Nitro, video chat, screen share, increased bot functionality, and more. The ability for users to continue adding functionality through open-source bots stands to continue aiding Discord's relevance in the future.

From humble beginnings as a browser app for gamers to a company evaluated at $3.5 Billion in 2020, Discord has truly managed to achieve something extraordinary over the last five years.