For people who play video games on the PC, Discord is a big deal — it lets them talk to their friends while they play, and interact with fellow fans and their favorite games’ developers when they’re not playing. Non-gamers might be surprised to learn that those are killer features: To date, Discord says it has registered 150 million users and has 19 million people using it every day.
Now the “pre-revenue” company is ready to start making money. It wants to sell new games to those millions of users, Discord CEO Jason Citron said on the latest episode of Recode Media.
Games will be sold in two ways: Users who pay $5 a month for premium Discord features will get access to an “all-you-can-eat buffet” of games, or they will be able to buy games à la carte. Although the PC gaming market is currently led by the Valve-owned digital store Steam, Citron believes Discord’s social features will drive gamers to discover new titles they wouldn’t play otherwise.
“The primary way that I figure out what games to play is based on what my friends are doing,” Citron told Recode’s Kurt Wagner. “Now, I can see that very clearly in Discord and I can go buy, directly from us.”
For now, at least, the Discord store won’t have every PC game, and you won’t find huge cultural-touchstone titles like Epic Games’ Fortnite. Instead, Citron said it will curate a list of “cool indie titles” and recommend them to users based on their friends’ tastes; Discord will take a cut of those sales, though it’s not disclosing the terms of the revenue split.
“The other stores have, like, everything,” he said. “You walk in and there’s tons of stuff everywhere. ... We really want to create that feeling of walking into a neighborhood bookstore, where you feel like there are people there who you trust that are curating the selection of things available and calling out why you should be interested.”
You can listen to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Wagner’s conversation with Citron.
Kurt Wagner: I am here with Jason Citron, who is the CEO of Discord. Jason, welcome to the show.
Jason Citron: Thanks for having me.
Thank you so much for being here. We’re gonna talk about a ton of stuff today; you guys have some news that you’re gonna talk about, we’re gonna talk about gaming, we’re gonna talk about messaging, text, voice, all that stuff. But I have to ask you the most important question in gaming right now, which is how many hours a day are you playing Fortnite?
Not enough, you know? Running this whole company thing takes a lot of time.
Yeah. Are you a Fortnite guy?
I’m really not, actually.
It feels like ... And I had a 10 year old try and explain to me how Fortnite worked, and it made me feel older than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
But it seems like the game of the moment, right? I mean, I’m not missing that.
Yes, that’s right. That’s right.
Are your employees playing it or what?
Yes. Everybody’s playing it other than me, I think.
Well you need to stop working so hard at your company, apparently.
Cool. Where I want to start today is kinda what Discord is and who you are. I think outside of maybe the tech world ... There’s certainly a large group of gamers who know who you are, but I don’t really even know much. We met before a few times and chatted, but I wouldn’t consider myself a hardcore gamer by any stretch, and so I was hoping you could give us the lowdown of what Discord is.
Yeah, sure. So Discord is a voice, text and video chat app for people who love to play video games. So it’s kinda like Skype but designed with all the things that someone who plays games on their computer might care about.
And is it specifically for computers or would I be using Discord if I was playing Xbox or PlayStation or any of those as well?
You can use it if you’re playing on console games, but it’s primarily for PC and mobile gaming.
Okay, and so what made you say ... You know, you said it’s kinda like Skype. Obviously Skype existed, I use FaceTime or things like that to talk to people all the time. What made you say, “Hey, we need a specific kind of communication tool just for gamers”?
Yeah. So there are a couple things about the way that when you play games, especially on your PC, that ... Apps like Skype — and there are other apps before it that you’ve probably never heard of, things like TeamSpeak and Mumble — that people also used when they were playing games like World of Warcraft. These apps have some particular issues when you’re playing a full-screen game on a computer.
So if you think about it, you’re at your computer, like a PC let’s say, and you’re playing a game like World of Warcraft ... Or let’s go with Fortnite, right? Since everyone’s doing that now.
Okay, sure, yeah. The game of the moment.
The game of the moment. Everyone’s doing the dance. You got Fortnite up on your screen and if you want to hop into a voice chat with a friend ... Let’s say I’m playing and a friend turns on their computer and is like, “Oh man, I want to play with Jason. Let me go and send him a message.” If I was using Skype, he’d have to call me. And when you call me, a thing pops up on my screen, which then causes the game to minimize.
It disrupts the gameplay experience.
Exactly. Where I have to alt-tab, which then closes the game, and then I have to go interact with Skype. Not good, right? If you’re playing a game and you’re in the middle of running from the storm in Fortnite, the last thing you want to do is stop and stand still. And you just die, right?
So with Discord, for example, the way that the call system works is it’s kind of opposite; it’s more like a conference call that’s always on. So you create a space, we call it a server; it’s kinda like a group chat that I can invite people into. So let’s say I set up a server for us to hang out in. I can set that up whenever I want, and now if I’m on my computer playing Fortnite and you turn on Discord, you can see I’m playing Fortnite. And there’s a voice channel there, kinda like a text channel might be in something like IRC or Slack. You can just tap on it and jump into the voice call with me, without me having to click a button or have stuff pop up on my screen.
And that’s because you had previously either invited me or given me permission and said hey, we know each other, so it’s cool if Kurt jumps in.
So I imagine you are a gamer.
I know you said you were running a company, so maybe not as much as you would like. But what made you ... Or I guess at what point did you kind of come to the realization that this was a problem in gaming?
Yeah. You know, it’s a great question. A little history lesson here, I guess, for our company: Before we built Discord, we actually were a game studio, and so we were building multiplayer games on iPad, of all things. This was a few years ago. And we built a team-based multiplayer game that had voice chat built into it. And so while building that game, we were trying to figure out how to solve some of these voice chat problems for people who are actually playing games and then also noticed our own behavior playing games back then like League of Legends and World of Warcraft; still using apps like Skype and how it was kind of frustrating.
Then after we launched our game, we kind of were thinking about what to do next. The games business is tricky, so the game didn’t end up really being a hit although we were very proud of it. And in that time window, I was having a conversation with my co-founder Stan, talking about how the voice chat experience that our players were having in our game wasn’t very good, and he made an observation that was like, “Yeah, and the voice chat experience that we have when we’re playing games on PC is also not that great anymore.” And so one thing led to another, and we came up with this idea to kinda reinvent the way that voice chat apps work for gamers on the PC.
And it sounds ... It might be obvious if you are a gamer, but to folks who aren’t a gamer, kinda really myself, how necessary is it, really, to be talking to other people while you’re playing? I mean, I played video games alone for a long time.
Is it an essential part of the video game experience that people need to be communicating the whole time?
If you’re playing competitively, yeah. You can imagine if you’re playing like a sport, you know, you’re playing a game like basketball with your friends or something outside, imagine if you couldn’t talk to each other, right? It’s really tricky to communicate and coordinate. So most of the big games these days are team-based multiplayer games where you want to communicate and coordinate to work together with people. And so the whole sort of trend around eSports and these competitive multiplayer games means you really need to be talking to your teammates when you’re playing.
So voice chat is essential in those environments, but in addition a lot of people — and this is more how I behave; I’m not really a competitive gamer — play games as a way to spend time with the people you care about, with your friends, right? And so for me, gaming was always just about spending time with my brother or with my wife or my friends, and when we’re not in the same place, doing it over the computer, we play multiplayer games and you want to use voice chat so that you can talk about whatever while you’re playing, even if you’re not coordinating in that particular moment.
And so do you consider yourself like a gaming business? Do you consider yourself a communication company? I realize it’s a little bit of both, but you know, you guys have raised a lot of money ... I had it written down somewhere, $130 million, I believe, a valuation of $1.65 billion. There is a business here. When you go pitch people, how are you describing yourself? What bucket do you put yourself in?
Right. Yeah, it’s a great question. I think of ourselves as that intersection; we’re a communications company, but focused on gaming, right? Because the needs of gamers are kind of particular. You know, I mentioned that sort of one thing about the getting disrupted. If you’re not playing games, you wouldn’t necessarily know that, right? There’s a bunch of stuff that gamers need from their communication tools that no one was really taking seriously. And so I do think we’re kind of in that intersection.
Yeah. So give me a little bit of your background. You mentioned that you guys had been developing some games before Discord came about. I think you made some money, you sold a company previously ... Faint something.
OpenFeint, I’m so sorry. OpenFeint you sold for a lot of money, like $100 million or something like that.
Yeah, it was a pretty wild experience.
Yeah. I mean, walk me through that; I imagine selling a company for $100 million is a wild experience. What’s it like?
Yeah. Well, it turns out it can be bittersweet, which was kind of unexpected to me. But you know, that experience was ... Basically started when the iPhone came out. We started again with a game, funny enough ... This is my life story. We launched a game the day the App Store opened, I think it was like 10 years ago now, so we were one of the first 50 games in the App Store. It was called Aurora Feint. It was kind of like a Tetris game with a Lord of the Rings kind of RPG aesthetic around it, and ...
What a combo.
I wouldn’t put Lord of the Rings and Tetris in the same sentence, but now we have.
Well there you go. You can go look it up on YouTube.
So we built this game, and then one thing led to another and we decided to take the technology that we built inside the game, which was kind of like leaderboards, which is like high score ranking, chat room, stuff like that, and pull it out into a software-as-a-service package to offer to other game developers. And this was back before Apple had their Game Center and Google had their stuff, and that just kinda took off. And so we pivoted the company from the game to that platform, which was what ...
So you’re building features essentially for other games to build on?
Or add to, I suppose.
Yeah, yeah. So if you were making a game and you wanted to have multiplayer features in your iPhone game early on, you might use a service like OpenFeint to add those features to your game without having to do all the backend management of servers and stuff like that.
Yeah, got it.
And we also provided a social network layer that you could actually show to your players. So as a user, you’d have an OpenFeint profile that went across games.
And so that kind of experience, that went from like we launched to exiting in about two years, we were like five employees to 100. I think we launched with 10 games and when I sold the company we had like thousands of games, 30 percent of the top ... You know, the App Store was using OpenFeint. It was a great learning experience for me because I kind of went from being a game developer, that’s my background, to learning how to be a CEO and all that kind of stuff that you need to do when you run a company.
And then after we sold, the bittersweet part was that I really thought I was gonna get to go on and continue building the product within the context of a larger company, and that ultimately didn’t end up happening.
I think that rarely does when founders sell; it’s pretty rare for someone to stick around at the acquiring company for a long time, right?
Yeah, yeah. Perhaps they call it an exit for a reason.
Yes, I guess so. So how has that changed the way that you think about Discord? Because Discord’s older than I thought; it’s maybe, what, six or seven years old at this point?
Yeah. Well, Discord is three years old.
Oh, I’m sorry.
No, it’s fine. The company is six years old, that’s right.
Got it. So the pivot happened three years ago. How has that changed the way you think about Discord?
Yeah, I mean ... Well, if we can build an independent business, I’d love to. You know, we’re still pre-revenue for the most part. So you know, we’ll see if we can do it. Part of the news that we’ll share at some point is some cool stuff we’re developing on that front.
You have some news that you’re announcing. I want you to talk about it, but I’m going to try my best to summarize it in two seconds here: You are launching a game store. So you have a subscription product; if I’m a subscriber to Discord, I can now also buy the games that I play through Discord. Is that the gist of the news?
Yes, very close.
Okay, good. Correct me. What did I miss?
So we have a subscription product which we are going to be adding in, kind of like an all-you-can-eat buffet of games that you can play, in addition to having a store where you can purchase games. So those are two separate things.
Okay, so if I am a gamer, am I buying just PC games? Can I buy games for my Oculus Rift headset? What can I actually buy from you?
Yeah, so we’re starting with PC games. And so the idea is that most people who use Discord play games with their friends, and the way that they kinda spend their time is they open up the app, and we recently added a new games tab that’s kind of like a homepage that shows what all of your friends are doing across all the different places you have in Discord. So I can easily see, you know, if you’re playing Fortnite and my other friends are playing League, or who’s doing what. And from there, now we’re making it super convenient for you to be able to buy certain games that we have available for sale.
So the idea is to make it extremely convenient for folks who see their friends playing a game to be able to go buy it.
So explain to me why that’s a big deal. As a non-gamer, I kind of am thinking of this as the App Store or the Google Play Store. Is that the appropriate analogy?
Yeah, except ...
So there’s a big opportunity, is what it sounds like.
Well, I want some numbers.
You want numbers? So the numbers that I recall is I think the games industry was over $100 billion last year in total revenue, and PC was about a third of that at around $33 billion.
So people are buying $33 billion dollars worth of PC video games a year.
Yeah. You kinda wonder like what people spend money on in Fortnite, but there you have it.
Apparently so. And now you want part of that?
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s an opportunity for us to add value to people’s lives by helping them discover games that they love to play, right? The primary way that I figure out what games to play is based on what my friends are doing. Right? Now, I can see that very clearly in Discord, and I can go buy directly from us.
I think, as a business, I think this is a great opportunity for us to generate revenue and become sustainable. But I really do think there’s a lot of value to be added to our customers’ lives in removing friction from figuring out, “What should I play and how do I buy it?”
So, you’ve developed games before. I’m curious, as a developer, what do you look for when you’re trying to distribute your game? Why is someone coming to work with Discord versus some other kind of game store?
That’s a great question. As a developer, what folks are looking for is really the simplest way to get their game in front of the people that will want to play it.
One of the really cool things that has kind of happened organically on Discord is that developers have begun setting up servers, which is the groups that we call them, servers. Setting up servers that, essentially, anyone who’s a fan of their companies or games, can come and join. And they show them off on their webpages, and sometimes directly in their game titles. So, developers have started building up communities on Discord where they hang out with their “super fans” and have conversations about what they’re working on and what features are coming next and what their players would like to see.
Now, we’re gonna actually allow them to just give those players an easy way to directly buy from them in that place where they already are.
So, people are already having ... They’re already pitching their game to your users?
Now, you just want to help facilitate the sale?
I believe Steam is the major game store right now for PC games. It sounds like they are pretty entrenched. They have a pretty massive business at the moment. I think it was over $4 billion in sales they did last year. Why would a developer work with you specifically versus them? Are you gonna require exclusivity of any kind? What’s your pitch, I guess, as to why someone should work with Discord?
Yeah. Our pitch is simply that the Discord shop is gonna be a very curated experience. So, the other stores that you mentioned have everything. You walk in and there’s just tons of stuff everywhere. As a consumer, it’s kind of hard to parse through it and figure out what I’m looking for. If I don’t know exactly what I want to get, it’s kind of hard to figure it out.
Whereas in our case, A) because your friends are there, you’re gonna be getting a lot of input about what you might want to get from your friends. So, if you make a great game and people are playing it, people will discover it on Discord.
Two, the actual store front itself is gonna be heavily curated by us. So, we’re actually going in and making decisions whether we think ... Like, we’re editorializing it, whether we think these games are worth playing or not.
So, a lot of this stuff that we’re actually starting with are really cool indie titles many people may never have heard of but really should be playing. Because they’re great games that are hard to find in the wall of stuff in the other stores.
As a developer, what’s exciting about it is we’re essentially giving you the ability to put your game in front of tens of millions of people who may want to play it.
So, I think I saw you describe it as like when you walk into a small little bookstore?
And it says, “Kurt recommends this book,” right?
Is it gonna be just like that?
That’s the idea. We really want to create that feeling of walking into that neighborhood bookstore. Where you feel like there are people there who you trust that are curating the selection of things available and calling out why you should be interested in different things. As opposed to going to a bigger bookstore, like Borders, for example, which doesn’t exist any more.
I was just gonna say, Borders, throwback.
Barnes and Noble, I guess?
Okay, they’re still around. You walk into those stores. It’s a very different vibe than when you walk into a neighborhood bookstore.
Yeah. So you want to be the neighborhood game store?
I write a lot about social media and there’s always conversation around these platforms and how do the people who create the content get paid versus how much does the platform make. Can you give me a sense of what the business of this is actually gonna look like?
Yeah, so, we’re still figuring it out. I’m not gonna share exactly what our terms are gonna be, on the record. But, our intention is to have an environment where developers feel like they’re getting a lot of value from taking advantage of our platform, that our customers and players are finding a lot of value from what they’re seeing, and that we’re able to participate in it in a way that helps us sustain our business.
So, it will be some kind of revenue split though?
Yeah, it’ll be revenue share, but it’ll be small.
Are you out talking to ... I imagine if you’re just launching this, you’ve already been talking to developers for some time? Right?
What has been the general feedback you’ve gotten? Has there been hesitation from people?
No, mostly hype.
The reality is that for most folks who have been making PC games, the landscape has not materially changed for how they can build their businesses and bring their games to market in a long time. I think we have a real shot at changing how that works. I think the reason why developers have been hyped about it is because I think they see it, too.
We have a community of a lot of people who play games, and they come to Discord every day to start to do that. I think that puts us in a unique situation to be able to actually recommend content to people, and possibly impact developers businesses in a really positive way.
Have you looked at any other companies for inspiration at this point?
Yeah, all the time. Like anyone, I’m always keeping my finger on the pulse of what’s going on all over the gaming industry and trying to figure out who’s doing what that’s cool and what we should take inspiration from, what we should ignore.
But, everything always comes back to integrating it into our perspective of how we think we should deliver value and the quality bar that we have of executing product. Then doing it with our take.
Who’s doing well? You know what I mean? Who do you admire that’s out? Maybe not necessarily directly selling games, but either doing communication or some kind of tech? I imagine there are people that you follow closely.
Right. It’s interesting. Lately, the truth is for gaming, at least on PC, there’s a lot of studios doing content that I adore. But, for whatever reason, there actually isn’t a lot of folks building technology and tools around games and gaming that I think are doing a fantastic job right now. Which, frankly, is the reason why Discord exists.
I know you said you’re gonna start with PC games.
What’s the plan for going beyond that? Are you gonna sell games for VR? Are you gonna sell anything else?
Unclear at this point. Obviously, the gaming industry’s huge. There’s a lot of fragmentation, unfortunately, across platforms that have different agendas about what they want to do. So, it makes it challenging to necessarily say, “We’re just gonna go everywhere at once.” But, I think the opportunity on PC is really, really big. So, as a startup, you have to focus. I like to say we say, “No,” to good ideas to say, “Yes,” to the great ones. So, we’re just staying very focused on the things that we know how to tackle right now.
What are some of the biggest PC games out in the market right now?
Yeah, it’s all stuff that you’re in games, you’ve probably heard of. Like Fortnite, League of Legends, Overwatch.
Are you gonna sell ... Are those the types of titles you’re gonna have? Or because you’re doing this neighborhood bookstore thing, are you gonna have stuff that people have not heard of?
Yeah, we’re gonna have stuff people haven’t heard of.
Is there concern? I imagine everyone wants to sell Fortnite right now. Do you ultimately want to expand to do something like that?
Sure, if Epic came to us and was like, “Hey, sell Fortnite,” I wouldn’t say no.
But, I think, for the bigger developers, it’s a question from their perspective of how do we add value to their business? They already have channels that they can get their games to market. Most people who make games do not.
So, for those guys, I think they view Discord more as a communications tool where they have communities that are spending time. So they have servers that they’ve set up. We actually have a verified server program where game developers can basically make their servers an official place for their fans to come hang out. I mentioned this a little bit.
So, Fortnite has one, and Overwatch, they don’t have a verified server, but they have one of the dev team hanging out in one of their community servers. So, they interact with us in that capacity right now. If there are ways that we can help them with their business that delivers value to our customers, like, we’d love to do that too.
The “super fan” thing is really interesting.
I wrote about that a couple years ago. There’s this notion that there are people who love certain brands so much that they basically become pseudo-employees, but without being paid. Is that kind of what you’re talking about?
Well, the first half of it, right? Yes, they love a brand, but we don’t ... When I say “super fan” I don’t mean, “And then get them to do tremendous amounts of work for free.” That’s not what I mean. What I mean is I am a super fan of, I’ll pick Hearthstone, for example. It’s a game that for the first few years after it came out, I played way too much of. It’s a card game, it’s made by Blizzard. Kind of like Magic: The Gathering, but on the computer.
The idea with super fans, essentially, is it’s someone who is so passionate about a product or a brand that it becomes part of their identity. They’re so interested in it that they spend time following it, interacting with it, talking about it and just loving it, right?
So, Discord is a great tool for cultivating communities of super fans because it’s such a real-time interactive place. Where if you have — and we see a lot of game developers doing this, we see a lot of companies doing this as well, especially startups, opening up Discord servers and then posting links on their webpage and social media for the fans of their companies or products who love what they’re doing the most to come and jump in. Then you’re in a chatroom with the people making it and you can talk to them.
It’s like an extension of someone’s website maybe?
Yeah, kinda, kinda. It’s just a really cool phenomenon to see. I think there is a line, perhaps, which is what you wrote about, which is some companies will then take advantage of folks and have them do a lot of work and not pay them any money, which is not cool.
We have some community members that started to contribute to us, and we made sure they got compensated appropriately for it. But, generally, the notion of “super fans,” I think it’s more of just people who are excited about what you’re doing. So, we have this whole “super fan” philosophy inside of Discord that could be very organically out of observing people behaving this way.
I remember early on, when we launched Discord, we used to write these change logs — well, we still write change logs — we started writing these change logs when we updated the app. So, you load Discord and say, “Hey, there’s a new feature.” And we put jokes in the change log.
We noticed that people would start screen-shotting the jokes and posting them on Twitter and on Reddit, and we were like, “Whoa. People really like this stuff, and they’re sharing it, and it’s causing word-of-mouth growth.” So, we started leaning into this idea of how we can delight folks to get them excited about us, so that they would share with their friends.
It’s becoming viewed in everything we do. So, our customer support team, for example, I view them as a “super fan” creation engine. Every time someone writes in and is frustrated about something, that’s an opportunity to make that person feel special, like your company cares about them and that they matter. If you can do that, then they become an evangelist and will shout from the mountain tops about how great your company is and how cool you are. It’s such a wholesome strategy for customer support and growth. Because you’re just making people have a good time and solving their problems, and then they get excited about you.
That kind of mentality, I think, is so important. And we do it in every single area of the company.
I want to transition a little bit to some just general gaming questions. I started this conversation mentioning Fortnite. It feels like the game that has transcended from the diehard gamer community to the mainstream. Am I crazy there? Like how big of a deal is Fortnite? As someone who knows the gaming industry really well, how big of a deal if Fortnite?
Big deal. Fortnite’s a big deal. It’s the first time that I’ve seen people who are totally not in the game space and are not gamers connect to gaming culture in a way that is actually authentic, right? I was on a plane the other day flying back from somewhere. You know, domestic flight. It was the Virgin America flight and they play that music video at the beginning. The flight attendant was doing Fortnite dances as she was buckling the seatbelt. I’m like, “What is going on?” and then she’s like, “I don’t know what it is, but my daughter does it.”
It’s transcended culture, basically. Pop culture.
I imagine that’s good for the broader gaming industry, or does a one-hit wonder like this matter?
Oh, I think it’s very important. Every time there’s a new mega hit, it pushes the boundaries of who’s familiar with games, how acceptable games are to folks that aren’t familiar with them. It helps to normalize gaming behavior, right? I think it’s great. There’s nothing wrong with it.
The last time I remember a game getting this popular was Pokémon Go a few years ago. I know they’re very different styles of games, but are there some similarities there? At least in what we’ve seen with the popularity?
I mean in terms of popularity, like I suppose so. Everyone’s talking about it and doing it. I mean, it’s nice with Fortnite. People are like walking off of cliffs and stuff.
That’s true. Getting robbed at the park or whatever, right?
Yeah. Pokémon Go was great because it got people to go outside and spend time together. I think that perhaps that’s the thing that underscores the biggest gaming hits of the last few years is that they’ve really been social experiences. Our whole stake at Discord is about bringing people together around games. That’s our mission. The more that games and gaming is normalized and seen as an acceptable way to spend time with folks, I actually think it’s a phenomenal positive trend that pushes against kind of the shallow social media trends that we’re also experiencing in sort of this modern internet age right now.
It’s funny you mentioned that because the terrible traditional gamer stereotype is the person who sits in their basement by themselves and doesn’t have a social life. To your point, both Fortnite and Pokémon Go are examples of relatively social games. How has the stereotype, how has that gamer stereotype changed over the last couple years?
Being a gamer, it’s actually a little bit tricky to comment specifically on how the stereotype has changed because I’ve always felt like it was a stereotype that was not accurate. I’ve been playing games ever since I was a little kid and that was never me and I never knew anyone like that. It was always this sort of thing, this concept that I think people that don’t understand games sort of imagined is what people who play games look like. I think now that people like me who grew up playing games are now like supposedly proper grown-ups, which is debatable, but I think that perspective is just kind of going away because I never saw people like that.
I feel like maybe eSports has helped a little bit too, right? Talk a little bit about eSports from where you sit because you guys don’t ... You’re not involved in any eSports right now. Are any of those leagues using your technology?
I’m not sure if any of the leagues are using our technology, but I do know that the teams use Discord. They all have community servers set up where they hang out with their fans. ESports in general, I think, is definitely part of this whole trend around gaming behavior becoming normalized and really celebrated. The fact that games sell out arenas in LA and Seattle and Seoul, for folks to come and scream and wave foamy things and smack them around in the air to watch people play video games, it’s like so cool that it’s becoming normal.
How did that happen? That’s a relatively recent phenomenon, right?
Yeah. How did it happen? It’s a great question. If I had to guess, it might be that the people who love video games are now old enough to put these events on. You know? Like I said, we’re grown-ups now.
What kind of a role do you think someone like Twitch played in this? Because Twitch is where ... Again, for those who don’t know, Twitch is video streaming, but people will spend hours watching their favorite game or play video games. Again, even that over the last couple of years has gone from like, “Oh, I can’t believe people are watching other people play video games,” to a pretty acceptable use of time.
The thing I think that Twitch did is it really made it easy and accessible to watch people play games online. I think that coupled with the explosion of League of Legends actually and how they formalized the events around eSports kind of outside Korea, I think really contributed to sort of kick-starting the flywheel of eSports becoming a normalized thing. The truth is, though, I always watched my friends play video games. It was just usually on a couch, you know?
This is again one of those things where it’s a behavior that I think people who have played games have always done, but thanks to modern technology has now been made accessible in kind of a new and interesting way.
I’ve always kind of thought of you guys as similar to Twitch, but different in the sense that you’re a technology lair that works with games, right? You enhance the gaming experience, but up until ... Obviously you’re now starting to sell games. You had never really been doing that part. I guess I’m curious, would you ever want to stream games in the way Twitch does? Would you ever want to partner with Twitch? Now’s the time to announce that you really want to sell to Twitch or something like that, or to Amazon.
Discord fundamentally we view as more of a place to hang out with your friends, right? Folks have these large communities on Discord and we love that they do it, but most of the people who are on Discord are actually spending times in small groups with people they care about playing games. Think of it almost like your living room on the internet or like a tree house that you might have, but on the internet. When we design products and features, it’s more for that group of like five to 20 people that know each other and want to play games together.
We actually do have kind of like a screen-sharing streaming feature where if you want to play a game, I can watch you play, for example. People do this on Discord. Unlike Twitch, Twitch is more of a public broadcast. It’s like a TV channel, right, or a stage where you put up your stream and you’re kind of doing a performance and anyone can show up. That’s a very different experience as the person streaming than if you’re just having your friend watch. We kind of have a different perspective on the way that we’re building our tools and sort of how people use them.
You want it to be more intimate, not mass distribution?
Where does Facebook fit into all this? Because they’ve started to do kind of what Twitch is doing with game streaming. Makes some sense. People have profiles. There’s already this kind of community element to Facebook. Do you think that they’re a legitimate kind of player in this space right now?
I think they’re trying hard. I think Facebook has challenges with its brand, especially related to privacy stuff. Gamers are very particular about and sensitive to privacy and these kinds of issues. I think that as good as their product might be, they’re kind of fighting a battle against trends that they’ve in some ways created, which I think makes it difficult for them to ultimately be very successful in the gaming space.
What do you mean by that? Sorry. What trend have they created?
Yeah. Well, I mean the notion that sort of the way Facebook operates with how people feel like your privacy is intruded by using Facebook. Their whole business model, frankly, I think makes it difficult for them to kind of get out of that. Whereas like for Discord, we’re the complete opposite, right? The business model that we’re launching aligns with our customers. We’re selling you something and it’s all about delivering value to you that you pay us for.
Our whole approach on privacy is the complete opposite. It’s invite only. We don’t scan your messages. You have tons of privacy controls and all this different stuff because one of the things that gamers really care about, gamers tend to be more tech-savvy people and privacy is a thing that’s top of mind for them.
Is there a reason that privacy matters so much in gaming?
I think these are just tech-savvy people that are paying attention to what’s going on in the world.
They just don’t want their information out online.
I want to ask one more thing about eSports, have you been to any of those big tournaments before?
I actually have not.
I have not.
Okay. I was kind of hoping you had because I have not been, but I’m curious if you ... Is it something you’d like to do? Tell us about your gaming. You said you’re running a company so you’re not gaming, but what is your gaming life like these days?
Well, I do play a lot of games. I’m just not so great at competitive games. I tend to play games more as a way to like unwind these days. Most recently I’m playing a game called Octopath Traveler on the Switch. It’s like an old-style Japanese RPG game. It’s beautiful.
How much do you game in a week or day?
At least 30 minutes to an hour a day if I can fit it in. Some weeks more than others. I think the last game that I just totally overdid on was God of War on the PS4. I think I spent like, I don’t know, like 60 or 70 hours. I got like 98 percent completion rate. It was phenomenal. I hop in and play Overwatch and I try and still get some Hearthstone in. League of Legends is fun. I play as social experiences to spend time with friends, but I’m not like super competitive in them.
Got it. When you see a stadium filled with tens of thousands of screaming video game fans waving towels and things like that, does that surprise you at this point, or are we going to start seeing a lot more of that?
It’s not surprising and I think we’ll see more of it.
In the U.S. in addition ... I mean, I know it’s happening here, but originally it was big in you said Korea I think and other parts of Asia. This is a kind of thing that’s going to be happening all over the U.S.?
I think so.
Yeah. It’s great. I mean people are celebrating games. I think that the shared experiences and relationships that people create around playing games can be so meaningful and it’s just like a fantastic way to spend time and create friendships. I love that eSports is happening and helping people have another avenue to do that, and I love that at Discord we get to play a small part in that.
Well, the next time we do this, we will do it at a massive video game competition.
There you go.
Jason, thank you so much for joining us. It was a pleasure to have you.
Thanks. Great to be here.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.