Monday, September 20, 2021

Discord: The Meteoric Rise of a Messaging App Created by "Accident"

Becoming the communication application par excellence of the gamer world is not something simple, but Discord has given us a master class on how to make it possible from scratch. And we are talking about an application that in May 2019 reported 250 million registered users, of which 56 million use it every month to send 25 billion messages (850 million per day), and a capacity to support peaks of up to 9 million users at the same time.

Today we will review the amazing career of Discord, the reference communication application for gamers.

A lucky accident

Contrary to what many might think, Discord was not born because a team had in mind to create a messaging app, no, Discord was born by accident, since its creators were looking for an efficient communication system for a game they had just developed.

It all started when Jason Citron, founder and current CEO of Discord, was working on the development of the iPad game 'Fates Forever' with Hammer & Chisel, his game development studio. Such a game would require players to communicate in real time. The team found several problems with the VoIP options available on the market at the time, either because they were too heavy, resource-intensive, or had security issues.

So they decided to create a chat application that gamers of mobile titles could take advantage of. As main features, the app offered a secure platform for voice and text messages, which even helped the Citron team to communicate more easily.

The app was named Discord, and the idea was that it would be integrated into 'Fates Forever'. In 2014, after the launch of the game, the team failed to monetize their efforts and investments to drive its development. But it didn't stop them from dropping Discord development.

In 2015, Citron decided to launch Discord to the public as a messaging app, whose strengths were based on low-latency, high-quality VoIP audio, thus offering a lightweight but highly effective option that was also free.

In the beginning, Discord had an overwhelming reception on Reddit, where many subreddits were looking for options to replace IRC servers. And this is where Discord had its first great success, which meant that by the beginning of 2017 they surpassed the figure of 60 million users and closed the year at 90 million.

But the above was not only thanks to Reddit, as in 2016 Citron and his team had raised their first 20 million in funding, plus a major alliance with 'Fortnite' and Twitch, which translated into 8.9 million daily active users just a year after its launch. Quite a barbarity.

By this point, Discord was already extremely well known and widely used in eSports and LAN tournaments, as well as by Twitch streamers, which helped catapult its popularity. This was followed by partnerships with Spotify, Xbox and various eSports teams.

All of this helped Discord raise $150 million in December 2018 and skyrocket its valuation to $2 billion. Quite a milestone for a messaging app focused on video games.

Designed to be useful and free

The basis of Discord is in its bowels, since it is based on the Electron framework, which allows it to be cross-platform and available on the web or as a standalone application on computers or smartphones. In addition, Discord has 11 data centers that are located in strategic areas around the world, as one of the main objectives of the app is to always maintain low latency.

Among Discord's features are free voice chat servers, plus dedicated connections, as well as direct calls, video call support and screen sharing. It also has its own free API, known as GameBridge, which allows game developers to add native integration to Discord.

Another of Discord's values is that they use the Opus audio format, which is low latency and is designed to compress voice, which makes their applications extremely light, does not take up a lot of resources and allows interaction without any impact. In the end, the idea is that Discord can be an option for real-time communication in games, where lag is the worst enemy.

Much of Discord's success is due to its freedom, ease of use, its options designed for players and its reliability when playing. But undoubtedly one of its key aspects is its capacity to support millions of messages and thousands of servers at the same time.

Discord also has bots, which are easy to program and offer a lot of options to manage servers under a wide range of possibilities. Here we can have from bots to automate tasks, to moderation, to create memes, as well as to offer statistics of players or games.

But what is perhaps the most important value is its price, since most of Discord's key functions are free, and its creator promises that this will always remain so. However, Citron has been looking for ways to monetize the application without affecting its essence, so it introduced two subscription plans: Nitro and Nitro Classic.

These subscription services keep the main features intact, only adding additional features such as a game store, as well as early access to some titles, including free games, badges, custom profiles and just added faster servers. But the key here is that the platform has promised "no ads," which is what users have fallen in love with.

Discord Team (Photo taken in 2017)

The price of success

Like any application or service with such a large number of users and levels of use, it is not without controversy, where there have been cases of harassment, attacks between communities, as well as servers dedicated to dealing with issues of racism, religion, politics or pornography, even some focused on white supremacism or neo-Nazism.

Faced with this, Discord has been clear in mentioning that those servers involved in illegal activities or violations of the terms of service will be closed. The platform also launched a 24-hour security service, where such activities can be reported for the Discord team to review and determine what action to take.

Despite all this, Discord is highly recognized beyond video games, with communities covering hundreds of topics of all kinds. As of today it has more than 1000 verified servers, the largest being that of 'Fortnite' and with the promise of new things to come soon.

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