Discord wants to be more than just a place for gamers and is now billing itself as the Slack for users’ social lives.
The new pitch, and a new funding round of $100 million at a reported valuation of $3.5 billion, will help the company as it looks to erase its legacy as a home for gamers (and a virtual townhall for white nationalists).
Now, the company has more money at its disposal to monitor its user base and promote the image that the service isn’t just for gamers. “It turns out that, for a lot of you, it wasn’t just about video games anymore,” write co-founders Jason Citron and Stanislav Vishnevskiy in a blog post.
The two men frame their company as “a place designed to hang out and talk in the comfort of your own communities and friends.” Discord, they say, is “a place to have genuine conversations and spend quality time with people, whether catching up, learning something or sharing ideas.”
It hadn’t always been that way. Three years ago, the company tried to boot a number of its most racist users, but their ability to use the platform to disseminate hate speech has stubbornly persisted. Up until mid-2019 white nationalists were comfortable enough using the service to warrant a shoutout from Daily Stormer founder, Andrew Anglin, who urged his fellow travelers to stop using the service.
“Discord is always on and always present among these groups on the far-right,” Joan Donovan, the lead researcher on media manipulation at the Data & Society Research Institute, told Slate. “It’s the place where they do most of the organizing of doxing and harassment campaigns.”
Discord says these users are a small (and dwindling) fraction of a user base that now also includes Black Lives Matter organizers, social media influencers, and, of course, gamers.
There are now more than 100 million active users on the service that spend 4 billion minutes in conversation on 6.7 million active servers, according to a statement from the company.
If anything, Discord’s success is both a function and feature of the rapid rise of social gaming and social media. The company’s servers enabled real-time communication across gaming platforms that turned them into the dominant social experience for a generation of players. They also enabled influencers on a variety of social media platforms to have a more direct relationship with their fans.
As Taylor Lorenz noted in her reporting on Discord’s newfound fan base among social media entrepreneurs and celebrities:
Last March, Ninja, one of the most popular video game live-streamers in the world, taught Drake how to use Discord while playing Fortnite. YouTube A-listers such as Philip DeFranco, Grace Helbig and the Try Guys all have their own servers, and subreddits such as those dedicated to discussing “The Bachelor” and “The Real Housewives” have their own Discord groups too. More than 200 million people use the service.
“We designed Discord for talking. There’s no endless scrolling, no news feed and no tracking likes. No algorithms decide what you ‘should’ see. We designed Discord to enable the experience and feelings we wanted to recreate: being together with your community and friends. You’ve made your servers into personal spaces filled with people you invited and set the topics of discussion,” the founders write.
The kinder, gentler Discord belies both the company’s name and its roots. But it is a sign of its efforts to shift the perceptions of investors and woo potential new users to the service.
In addition to its new cash, the company is highlighting a new user experience and added server video so that users can communicate more readily. There are templates available to help users create servers, and the company has increased its voice and video capacity by 200%.
As part of this new focus on product, Discord has launched what it calls a “Safety Center” that clearly defines the company’s rules and regulations and what actions users can take to monitor and manage their use of service for hate speech and abuse.
“We will continue to take decisive action against white supremacists, racists and others who seek to use Discord for evil,” the founders write.
Danny Rimer, the co-founder of Index Ventures, which led the investor group that invested in Discord’s latest $100 million cash infusion, is an advocate for the company’s expanded vision for itself.
“I believe Discord is the future of platforms because it demonstrates how a responsibly curated site can provide a safe space for people with shared interests,” Rimer wrote in a statement. “Rather than throwing raw content at you, like Facebook, it provides a shared experience for you and your friends. We’ll come to appreciate that Discord does for social conversation what Slack has done for professional conversation.”
The parallels to Slack are interesting and begin with the fact that both companies began their lives as gaming studios before moving to become communications services.
“In France this year, Discord was adopted as the primary app for distance learning after the government’s official service failed. As a result, Discord reached the top 10 app downloads in France in March and is still in the top 50 in the U.S. and U.K. today,” Rimer noted in his explanation of Index’s latest investment. “As Discord plans its next phase of growth, it will become even more inclusive and welcoming for new users and communities and it will continue to be guided by the users that have informed its development from the start.”