How Discord became the center of the universe for gamers

The Discord chat app is at the center of the worlds of millions of gamers. For The Drum’s Gaming Advertising Deep Dive, True Digital’s Sean Thorne breaks down what we can learn from his stratospheric rise.

On Discord, users can communicate via text, images, videos, calls, and even screen shares, either privately or on public “servers.”

Like so many inventions, its creation borders on accidental. Jason Citron founded game development studio Hammer & Chisel in 2012; the studio’s first product was the multiplayer game Fates Forever. During development, the Citron team struggled to communicate tactics using existing tools, including Skype and TeamSpeak. This seemed to be a consensus among the wider gaming community.

In true Silicon Valley fashion, this sparked interest in creating a chat service that focused on usability and minimal disruption to gaming.

How Discord grew

The original focus of the platform was in-game communications, helping players strategize and relay tactics. Partnerships with titles such as Fortnite and Rocket League have grown the user base exponentially, with messages sent via Discord growing from 6 billion in 2017 to 15 billion in 2018.

Its popularity grew so quickly that Discord went from a place where gaming communities could hang their hats to a place where influencers could engage with fans and communities.

This section of the market was quickly taken over by Discord as the desire for a more private social networking experience grew. While many platforms (I’m looking at you, Instagram) emphasize their numbers (likes, shares, or engagements), Discord doesn’t. Discord’s Chief Marketing Officer, Eros Resmini, put it nicely: Discord is “intrinsically social” because it requires two people to make it work.

Soon word of mouth marketing took over and the platform exploded into massive growth.

Five lessons from Discord’s success

  1. Create a frictionless product: Discord kept its promises. The platform is quick and easy to use, and isn’t as clunky or cumbersome as the alternatives. Anyone can sign up and create their own server without any training. It is really focused on its users first.

  2. Pay attention to your target audience: Let me say it again: pay attention to your target audience. Discord adapted its product when it noticed a shift in usage, doubling down on communities as a whole and not just focusing on small groups of friends. Discord servers were originally meant to be limited to 100 people, but now there are communities reaching nearly a million.

    Discord listened to feedback to develop bot-friendly APIs, as well as improve user experience (UX) and accessibility where it fell short. He used his users to improve the product, meeting their expectations.

  3. Act quickly and listen: Pay attention to your target audience, but do it quickly. Discord released a stable and fan-favorite product, but that didn’t stop it from iterating on it and innovating in its space. He listened to the comments; more importantly, he quickly implemented it.

    When users feel like they’re being listened to, they’re more energized and satisfied — and feel validated.

  4. Streamline registrations and adoption: Many products still have long registration forms or complicated email chains to register. Discord does not, which resulted in its successful conversion. The Discord team made the onboarding process as easy as possible. Once you’re there, that’s when you can update the details.

    Don’t over-complicate things for users when they try to register. Understand what you really need and rationalize it.

  5. Make it work: Discord, simply put, works well for users. It filled a gap and did it so well that the company didn’t need to use traditional marketing techniques like buying ads or traditional user acquisition models. The Discord team prioritized organic growth through open communications with the developer community, 24/7 customer support, and a strong focus on usability.

    Discord’s nimble adaptation and pace has astronomically catapulted it from a small (useful) tool to becoming the very center of gaming communities.

For more on all the different ways brands can advertise in games, from virtual billboards to product placements, social lenses and even their own games, check out The Drum’s Gaming Advertising Deep. Dive.

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