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Discord takes on Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces by pointing users to audio chats

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Key Points
  • Discord on Thursday announced a new feature that will put it in competition with Clubhouse, Twitter and Facebook in the fast-growing, real-time audio market.
  • Stage Discovery will make it possible for Discord users to easily find live audio conversations happening across the various communities that exist on the app. 
  • Discord this month will also begin testing ticketed events for Stage Channel conversations.

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Jason Citron is the CEO of Discord, a chat app that has long been popular among gamers but is beginning to expand to other audiences.
Courtesy of Discord

Discord, the online consumer chat service that first became popular among gamers, on Thursday announced a new live audio feature that will put it in competition with Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

Stage Discovery will make it possible for Discord users to easily find live audio conversations happening across the various communities -- or "servers" -- on the app. 

This feature will launch in early June and is similar to Clubhouse, a start-up that quickly gained popularity in 2020 among venture capitalists, which presents audio conversations to users in a feed. It's also similar to Spaces, a feature Twitter began testing in November and launched this month that shows users audio conversations at the top of the company's mobile app. Facebook has also announced plans to launch a similar product this summer.

Discord was launched in 2015 as a chat service specifically for video gamers, but since then, more users have begun to adopt the popular app for other interests, such as TV shows, fantasy sports and geographic regions. Typically, users join Discord when they receive an invite to a specific server form someone they already know. With Stage Discovery, Discord is taking its first steps to help users find communities they may want to join.

"This is making it so it's easy to find your interest groups and find activities that are happening," Discord COO Mak Azadi told CNBC.

Although Discord has always had audio features that allow users to chat in real time, the company recently introduced Stage Channels, which are a type of audio room where a handful of users can talk while many other users just listen. Ironically, this feature was used by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to announce that his social media company is also working on features to compete in the real-time audio market. 

"We'll see how big the market is, but we certainly continue to be excited and surprised by the usage of voice in general on Discord and then how quickly Stage Channels have been adopted," Azadi said. "We're very optimistic about it as an opportunity for us."

Discord will also begin testing ticketed events for Stage Channel conversations, which will allow users to charge others to access Stage Channel events held on their servers. 

The company has not decided yet if it will take a cut of ticket sales for Stage Channel events. "The revenue model is that we will align our incentives as a company with those of our users," Azadi said. 

But if Discord decides to take a cut of ticket sales, it would be the company's second form of revenue. 

Unlike most other social apps, Discord does not rely on advertising for revenue. Instead, the company makes money through Nitro, a service it sells for $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year that gives users additional features, such as animated emoji and high-resolution video. Discord has not said how much revenue it generates, but Azadi told CNBC that the company's revenue tripled between 2019 and 2020.

"Nitro is our main driver of revenue, and we think there's a ton of upside remaining for Nitro," Azadi said. "But we're always experimenting with ways we can better optimize the platform and find other ways that potentially either drive revenue for us or drive revenue for users." 

The company will also launch a marketing campaign intended specifically to attract nongamers to the service. 

The company on Thursday announced that it now counts 150 million monthly active users, up from 140 million in December. Among those users, 80% say they use the app for gaming and other purposes, up from 30% in early 2020. Half of all active users are in at least three servers, the company said. 

"It's more about how do we open up and let people know that we are actually for anybody and everybody," Azadi said. "This is not us moving away from gaming. This is just us being more inclusive to everyone."

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