Discord is a free voice chat, voice chat, and text app used primarily by gamers, and more recently, by students and teachers. It has 150 million active monthly users and is currently valued at $15 billion.
The app was going up against Skype (founded in 2003) and TeamSpeak (founded in 2001) when it first launched in 2015. The two market leaders were well established in the gaming community as voice chat tools and had access to more resources.
For a new app to come in and win some market share for itself was no easy task—but Discord managed to claim its place in the gaming world and received critical acclaim within one year of its launch.
Discord gained popularity among gamers in its early days for a number of reasons:
- The voice quality was great.
- It was easy to set up and use.
- It didn’t use a lot of processing power.
- It was free.
- It was easy to invite others.
- It worked with all types of games.
All of these factors helped them build a loyal community of gamers, one person at a time. But generally speaking, Discord carved away at the market share of Skype and TeamSpeak by listening to the gamer community, implementing changes asked for by users, and forming strategic partnerships.
They Solved Specific Problems for a Specific Niche
Back in 2015, the global video gaming industry was worth $91.5 billion. Gamers primarily used Skype and TeamSpeak to connect with each other while playing multiplayer video games.
But these chat tools had problems. Both consumed valuable resources, such as processing power, storage, and memory—making for a less than optimal gaming and chatting experience. Gamers wanted to chat and play with other gamers, which becomes difficult when the chat tool you’re using is slowing down your game.
Discord founders Jason Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy were gamers themselves. They had used Skype and TeamSpeak and faced these problems firsthand, so when they set out to create a voice chat tool for gamers, they made sure it worked silently in the background without taking up too many resources or interrupting the gaming experience. They created a faster, easier-to-use, free product with the slogan “It’s time to ditch Skype and TeamSpeak.” They made sure that:
- Discord handled thousands of server communications without breaking.
- The users had the ability to build and edit bots.
- It had an in-game overlay which allowed the users to use Discord from within the games they were playing.
The team at Discord was very active on their blog and social media, listened to the users, and implemented changes quickly. For example, on October 23, 2015, a Twitch partner reached out to Discord on Twitter and suggested they create an exclusive server for Twitch partners. By October 26, Discord had implemented that suggestion.
By giving the gaming community what it wanted, Discord set itself apart from the competition and enjoyed explosive growth. By 2016, the app had 25 million registered users.
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They Partnered-up With Content Creators and Game Developers
Discord opened up their partner program in December 2015, partnering up with content creators and game developers alike. They offered their partners access to new features, VIP servers, partnership badges, and cool Discord merchandise.
This partnership gave (and still gives) streamers, content creators, guild leaders, esports teams, and tournament organizers a chance to monetize their servers and grow their following. For game publishers and developers, the Discord partnership brought (and still brings) an opportunity to grow their brand, do some free publicity of their video games, and use APIs to make game information appear in the Discord profile of a user.
Though Discord is only six years old, the company has partnered with a number of notable brands and developers over the years.
- Discord partnered with Patreon in 2016. After that, people could monetize their Discord servers.
- By 2017–2018, Discord supported profile connections with Facebook, Twitter, Steam (the largest gaming platform in the world), and Skype, helping them grow their brand even more.
- In 2018, they also partnered with esports teams such as Cloud9, Shanghai Dragons, and Team Liquid. These teams have a massive following all over the world. Cloud9 alone has 1.1 million followers on Twitter. These esports teams started inviting their fans from social media to their official Discord servers, creating a constant stream of new users for Discord.
- In 2018, Discord partnered with Microsoft, allowing Xbox Live profiles to appear within Discord profiles. This partnership was followed by a partnership with Spotify. Users could now link their Spotify account to Discord.
- In 2019, Discord partnered with game developer 2K. This partnership brought popular video games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Mafia, Borderlands, and Sid Meier’s Civilization IV to Discord Nitro (a paid version of Discord with extra features). This event was followed by a partnership with Samsung. Users playing games on Galaxy Note10 and 10+ could now see their friends’ status and join them on voice chat.
- More recently (September 2021), Discord has partnered up with Sony, allowing the app to integrate with PlayStation’s built-in social tools. The integration will go live in early 2022.
There is one thing common in all of these partnerships—the partners gain access to an active, vibrant community of gamers on Discord, and Discord gets new features and access to newer markets. By tapping into the followings of big brands such as 2K, Cloud9, and Microsoft, while continuing to improve their chat tool and associated features, Discord was able to grow to 130 million registered users by 2018 and 250 million registered users in 2019.
They Had a Referral Program Without Having a Referral Program
From the year it was founded up until 2020, Discord did not have its own referral program. In other words, Discord didn’t reward its users for getting people to sign up for a free account.
That being said, referral marketing was built into the Discord experience prior to 2020 (and even now) because of the way the platform invites work.
Discord didn’t pay its partners for getting new signups on their servers. However, the partners could make money by accepting donations and getting tips through Patreon. So, more people on your server means more chances to make money—even though the money wasn’t coming from Discord directly. This gave Discord partners a lot of incentive to do referral programs of their own. Partners used the Discord invite link to track referrals and gave rewards to people that got others to join their servers.
In a conventional referral program, the brand is paying for referrals. In Discord’s case, they didn’t have to spend anything. Their partners ran their own affiliate programs that benefitted them as well as Discord (by bringing more people to Discord).
Discord persisted with this strategy from 2015 to 2020. In September 2021, Discord started its first referral programthat grants rewards to a select group of partners to encourage their followers to sign up for Discord Nitro.
Can You Take a Page Out of Discord’s Book?
Discord’s team knew which problems to solve, how to listen to their customers, and how to form strategic partnerships that benefit the partner and themselves. They got their partners to help them grow their userbase by inviting more people to Discord.
Take a page from Discord’s book and encourage your partners to help grow your brand. Not sure where to get started? Look into Extole’s Influencer & Ambassador programs today.