The state of Discord in 2022: Games take a back seat to forums
We are in the golden age of Discord. It is used by tens of millions of people every day, and by every indication, that number is rising. What started as a way to have a good, free voice chat with friends and eventually delete Skype has quickly grown into a generational destination for messaging, video calling, streaming, file sharing and community.
Discord is no longer content to be an app for gamers, though. The company wants communities of all types to organize under its banner and mutate into one big casserole of social networking features. Since Discord is a better Skype, it also wants to be a better Zoom, a better Instagram, and a better Twitter. As Discord gets crowded, I’ve been wondering if it can keep the cool, accessible, mostly private social network that all my friends use. Does it already do features that are important to gamers, and is the stuff it already does well always free? Let’s take a look at where Discord is headed and where it might go in 2022.
Discord is still very good in 2022
The cool thing about Discord is that in 2022, it’s still pretty good. I use it for hours a day to hang out with friends. It’s become such a big part of my life that it still feels too good to be true. It’s still absurd how much you can do with Discord just by creating a free account:
- Unlimited chat in high-quality, low-latency voice channels
- Send instant messages to friends or groups of friends
- Stream HD video from your computer or phone with low latency and unlimited
- Watch multiple streams at once with separate volume sliders
- Organize servers with thousands of communities
- Talk in a group video call
- Share small files with friends
- Add bots to servers that add new features, such as group broadcasts
Who is using Discord in 2022?
Discord has ended as of May 2021 150 million users and 19 million active servers every week. These numbers may have increased significantly over the past year. In 2020, Discord started marketing Discord as a platform for any community, not just games. According to discord, 70% of active users Say they use the service primarily for non-gaming purposes, or equally for gaming and other purposes.
Discord hits internet forums in 2021
If you’re a Discord user who frequently chats in text channels on large servers, 2021 is a great year for updates. Discord introduces threads, which allow users to branch individual messages into organized topics without creating a dedicated text channel. Discord has also greatly expanded the moderator tools, with expanded server roles, more automation, easier bot integration, and a timeout feature that I use exclusively to annoy my friends.
Discord has also made some progress with configuration files. Nitro members can now set custom banners and choose a different banner, avatar and bios for each server they are on. You can make avatars into gifs, which is a little neater. Emojis have also gotten prettier, with Nitro members having access to larger “sticker” emojis that you can make with custom images.
This push for a new approach to organized conversations and personalized messages gives the impression that Discord is adopting a topic-based internet forum format — a format that has been weakened in part due to Discord’s ubiquity.
Meanwhile, voice chat and streaming have stalled
Profiles and threads are neat, but if you’re one of the millions who primarily use Discord to voice chat with friends and stream the games you’re playing, the service hasn’t improved much over the past two years year. In some cases, it got worse.
As much as I love streaming games via Discord, the experience of setting up a Go Live stream and watching a friend’s stream is as tedious as it was in 2020. If Discord doesn’t automatically recognize the game you’re playing, you’ll still need to dig an obscure place in the settings to tell Discord to recognize it. You still can’t resize the windows of individual streams independently, so if you watch multiple streams, your only options are “make one super small and the other super large” or “compress both into one medium window”. Streams seem to periodically stutter for no apparent reason, persistent bugs that degrade voice quality after connecting to the stream continue to be annoying, and there’s still no universal video volume slider.
Bad UI and annoying bugs are minor issues, but they were a priority for Discord a few years ago. I used to read the new patch notes with great anticipation. Built-in AI voice filter? Astonishing. Multi-stream support? cool. Game invites from Discord? OK 60
fps video? killer. Patch notes are now full of review tools, scheduled events, and role assignments. I don’t really need to moderate the 12 people using our little friends group server, so it’s business as usual.
The most exciting development for our Discord server in 2021 is… I made a grimace with this sticker made by my friend Ian.
Nobody uses Stage Discovery, so it’s dead
Remember stage discovery? It’s okay, I forgot too. Last June, when Silicon Valley was getting really excited about the idea of a moderated voice chat room like Clubhouse, Discord added its own explanation, called Stage Events. Discord says the feature is so popular with the server that it created a Stage Discovery section and has a button in the top right corner of Discord that I’ve never pressed. Obviously I’m not alone, as Discord discontinued the “pilot” version of Stage Discovery in October 2021.
The radio droid survived the wash (for now)….
Discord’s status quo changed dramatically last year when Google shut down two of its biggest radio bots, Rythm and Groovy, for violating its terms of service. These bots allow users to stream audio from any YouTube video to an entire voice channel, ad-free, and are used on tens of millions of servers. Google accused the bots of “modifying the service and using it for commercial purposes.”
At the time, I feared that this marked the beginning of the end of Discord’s golden age – I reckon that in the near future, these unofficial “underground” tools that bypass traditional paywalls will be stripped away and replaced by glossy traditional subscription apps. I’m happy to say that in 2022 you can still install a radio robot that can easily do the same thing as a Groovy or Rythm.
…but Discord could crack down on video sharing
That said, I haven’t quite silenced my alarms. While Discord talks ostensibly about features that make it easier to organize larger communities, it doesn’t mention what appears to be a silent battle between Discord, premium video services, and users who stream those video services for their friends.
It’s Discord’s worst-kept secret, and Go Live can easily be used to stream Netflix or HBO’s web browser to your nearest two or ten buds. Discord insists this violates its policies, but doesn’t actively enforce them. These small viewing parties were undeterred for a long time, but the first signs of resistance came in 2020, when users noticed that trying to stream Netflix normally on Discord would result in a black screen. Users have found that disabling hardware acceleration in your web browser bypasses this barrier. In indications that the video service itself was behind this seemingly deliberate anti-piracy strategy, similar blockers appeared on several other premium services two years later.
For now, Discord seems content to state its official policy and turn a blind eye. In 2019, Discord told us that it doesn’t monitor Go Live streams, and it can’t logically monitor it if it wants to. Notably, DMCA reporting requires someone to report copyright infringement that occurs. If neither Discord nor the copyright owner sees it happening, there is no need to report it. But just as YouTube finally couldn’t ignore the copyright strike and created an automated system to detect infringements and punish people, the chat app may one day feel compelled to do something similar.
Discord’s partnership with PlayStation has been disappointing so far
When Discord announced its partnership with PlayStation last year, the same place I imagined came to my mind: “Oh, great, Discord is finally on consoles!”
Not only did this not happen, but Discord didn’t really say it would happen. In January, Discord shared its first update on the PlayStation partnership in nearly a year, and all it announced was the ability to See what PS5 games you’re playing on your Discord profile (yeah). The update doesn’t mention any further plans to unite the two platforms, which I find odd. Discord knows that users will be very excited about an official console client, so if it’s making one, you’d think it’s only going to say so much.
Perhaps the safest assumption is that Discord on PlayStation is still a pipe dream? it’s a pity.
What’s next for Discord?
According to Discord, more features are geared towards larger communities. This is not surprising. The large community gives Discord a lot of leverage to monetize old and new parts of the service.test one Patreon-like subscription model Advanced server access is already underway.
Behind the scenes, analysts seem to be increasingly convinced Discord will be public as soon as this year. Last year, the company was valued at $15 billion. Once Discord has a large number of investors to respond, the situation for the free service could start to change rapidly. Discord doesn’t promise any permanently free features.
We may also see less gaming DNA in Discord as it continues to seek wider appeal. That said, playing and streaming games is clearly still one of the main reasons people use Discord, so it’s unlikely to fully transform into a productivity software or a community of badminton enthusiasts.