Discord: How to Use the Gamers’ Chat App That’s Gone Mainstream

Coronavirus lockdowns got almost everyone scrambling desperately for connection and social interaction. Digital communication tools became lifelines to the broader world — and one of the apps that rose to prominence is Discord. What is it about this platform that’s got people talking?

Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

What is Discord?

Discord is a free app that works on mobile phones and PCs. It was initially developed in 2015 for the gaming community to chat while playing multiplayer online games like Fortnite. But in 2020, 70% of its 140 million monthly active users said they used the platform for non-gaming or mixed purposes.

Discord members can hang out and chat privately or in groups via text, voice, and video. And they can join servers where larger communities connect over shared interests. For example, the official Discord server for the popular game Among Us has more than 400,000 members. But servers range in size and focus from groups of friends and families, to book clubs and collaborative work teams. Discord CEO Jason Citron told NPR recently that most Discord users are in invite-only servers with fewer than 30 people.

How Do You Join Discord?

Discord can be run from a browser or downloaded as an app available for Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, and Windows. After registering with either a mobile number or email address, users can create a server or accept an invitation to join an existing one.

Discord offers themed templates for servers, or they can be created from scratch. Users can add dedicated text and voice channels to their servers and invite people to join their community. A user can belong to up to 100 servers, but friends don’t need to belong to the same servers to chat.

Users don’t have to create a server. Clicking on the Explore Public Servers icon at the bottom of the app will help you browse thousands of communities to find ones that share your interests.

Servers can have as many as 500,000 members but must arrange for additional server space if more than 25,000 are online simultaneously. Each server is limited to 500 channels and 50 categories.

Discord for Gamers

Discord sits separately from gaming activities and beats most of the chat apps that come standard with them. It’s also ideal for players using Crossplay to play against friends on other consoles. So regardless of your choice of console, you can chat with like-minded friends while playing.

The app has video features but doesn’t compete with streaming platforms like Twitch, Mixer, or YouTube. However, it can add to the experience of such apps. A couple of years ago, when Canadian rapper Drake and the popular streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins teamed up to play Fortnite on Twitch, they used Discord to communicate. Fans were able to watch the streamed game on Twitch and interact on the Discord channel.

Other Uses of Discord

When it comes to non-gaming activities, Discord users are increasingly creative. The app allows you to share your screen with up to 50 friends. (Click the “Screen” icon at the bottom left when you’re in a voice channel.) And internal polls indicate people are using it to watch Netflix together.

You might want to link your Spotify account to Discord so friends can see what you’re listening to and join in. Or hold an online meeting with up to 25 friends or colleagues. In addition to Discord’s standard functionality, third-party developers have created Discord bots that allow members to do anything from sending calendar invites to running polls and much more.

How Does Discord Make Money?

Social media services like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube generate significant income from advertising. But so far, Discord has decided not to sell ad space on its platform — and this is possibly one reason for its popularity.

While the service is free, signing up for Discord Nitro at $9.99 per month (or $99.99 per year) gives users benefits like server boosts that improve audio and video quality. You can also get bigger upload limits, HD video, avatars, and custom emojis. Server boosts can be bought separately for $4.99 per month.

The app is reported to have brought in $100 million in revenue last year. According to the Wall Street Journal, Discord was valued at $7 billion last December. Greenoaks Capital is one of the investors who funded the San Francisco-based company founded by Jason Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy. Crunchbase estimates total funding amounts to about $480 million to date.

Why Does Microsoft Want to Buy Discord?

There are rumors Microsoft may be eyeing Discord as part of its current acquisitive streak. Bloomberg and others reported in late March that the software giant was in talks to purchase Discord for upwards of $10 billion. Last year, Microsoft failed in an attempt to buy TikTok, but succeeded with several other media acquisitions, including ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, one of the largest privately held game developers in the world.

Discord would make a good fit with Microsoft’s subscription game service, Xbox Game Pass. Plus, Discord’s varied communities offer endless other possibilities. However, it’s also possible that Discord may be looking toward an IPO. The next few months will likely reveal which path the company chooses.

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David Geithner

David Geithner

David Geithner is a senior finance executive who draws upon nearly three decades of experience to serve as EVP and COO, IMG Events and On Location.