Discord wants to destroy its biggest, best-funded competitor in the battle to be the communications layer for gaming. It wants to be the home for gamer clans strategizing and trash talking with each other. After out-gunning its gaming-specific competitors like TeamSpeak, Mumble, and Ventrillo with a secret $50 million fundraise early this year, Discord it’s setting its sights on Skype.
Today Discord expands beyond text and voice with the launch of video chat and screensharing. Now friends can watch each other play their favorite games while talking face-to-face. These features could further addict Discord’s 45 million users, 9 million of which use its web, desktop, and mobile apps each day.
“This is the most requested feature on Discord probably a year running” says CMO Eros Resmini. “A lot of infrastructure had to be built up for this launch” he warns, though, since the video features run at a remarkably smooth and crisp 720p at 30 frames per second. Skype runs at half that FPS. My briefing with the company was held over its new video chat, and it looked much better than what’s standard.
That’s why only 5% of users will get video today, and it will only work with groups of up to 10 people. Embodying Discord’s playful style, the company explains that “It’s possible that we’ll need to completely turn off video calls during this test. If you find the feature is missing all of a sudden, we suggest you lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling until it’s fixed.”
If the video launch goes smoothly, Discord could snatch gamers from its competitors that either lack video entirely, or do secreensharing poorly like Skype since they weren’t built for conveying rapid-fire action with sharp graphics. Video chat could be a stepping stone to competing with one-to-many broadcasting channels like YouTube and Twitch.
Discord was originally a game developer itself, making the critcally acclaimed but publicly ignored mobile battle arena Fates Forever. “We couldn’t figure out how to get over the hump on the monetization side” Resmini says. So in late 2014 it started tinkering with other ideas.
CTO Stan Vishnevskiy had been dreaming of a tool like Discord. “I played MMORPG [Massively multiplayer online role playing games 15 hours per day” he told me, and was dissatisfied with TeamSpeak and Mumble. Those required IP addresses that could be attacked by trolls, rented servers, and clumsy apps. “Can we make a 10X project? Low friction usage, no renting servers, beautiful design we took from mobile.”
DIscord launched in May 2016 and has been a rocketship ever since. It’s now raised a total of $79 million, including the $50 million round led by Index Ventures in January 2017. The 70-employee startup now handles 200 million messages per day and up to 4 million concurrent users as groups chat about World Of Warcraft, OverWatch, League Of Legends, and Clash Royale.
The startup earns money from $5/month subscriptions to its Nitro tier, that gives users cosmetic upgrades and a few bells and whistles. “Discord has made the promise to our user base of keeping the core Discord experience free” says Resmini. But the company is considering launching in-app purchases to enhance the new video features and earn some extra cash.