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How Discord became the center of the universe for gamers

By Sean Thorne, Senior developer



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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May 17, 2022 | 5 min read

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

True consider the five biggest growth lessons from the gaming industry.

True considers the five biggest growth lessons from the success of Discord

On Discord, users can communicate via text, images, videos, calls and even screen shares – either privately or in public ‘servers.’

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

In true Silicon Valley fashion, this sparked an interest in creating a chat service with a focus on user-friendliness and minimal game disruption.

How Discord grew

The platform’s original purpose was for in-game communications, helping gamers to strategize and relay tactics. Partnerships with titles such as Fortnite and Rocket League grew the user base exponentially, with messages being sent through Discord rising from 6bn in 2017 to a staggering 15bn in 2018.

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

This section of the market was quickly snapped up 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 elegantly: Discord is “inherently social” as it requires two people in order for it to work.

Quickly, word-of-mouth marketing took over, and the platform exploded into massive growth.

Five lessons from Discord’s success

  1. Create a zero-friction product: Discord delivered on what it said it would. The platform is fast and easy to use, and isn’t as clunky or cumbersome as alternatives. Anyone can join up and create their own server with zero training. It truly is focused on its users first.

  2. Pay attention to your target audience: Let me repeat that: pay attention to your target audience. Discord adapted its product when it noticed a shift in use, doubling down on communities as a whole and not just focusing on small friend groups. Discord servers were originally going to be capped at 100 people, but now there are communities reaching close to 1 million.

    Discord listened to feedback to develop bot-friendly APIs, as well as improve user experience (UX) and accessibility where it fell short. It utilized its users to improve the product, delivering on what they wanted.

  3. Act quickly and be on the pulse: Pay attention to your target audience, but do so quickly. Discord released a stable, fan-favored product, but that didn’t stop it from iterating on it and innovating in its space. It listened to feedback; more importantly, it rapidly delivered on it.

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

  4. Streamline sign-ups and adoption: Many products still have lengthy registration forms or complicated email chains to sign up. Discord does not, which has resulted in its conversion success. The Discord team made the onboarding process as streamlined as possible. Once you’re in, that’s when you can update details.

    Don’t overcomplicate things for users when they’re trying to join up. Understand what it is that you actually need, and streamline it.

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

    Discord’s agile adaptation and pace astronomically catapulted it from a tiny (helpful) tool to become the very center of gaming communities.

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

Entertainment Marketing: Movies, TV, Music and Gaming Gaming Gaming Advertising

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19 years ago true was founded with the aim of being different; straight-talking, to the point, focussed on delivering long-term growth, not through chat, but through...

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