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Discord announced a number of upgrades to its platform today, including activities where users can play casual games with each other. It has also created App Directory, a new store where users can download third-party apps.
The communications platform also has set up a $5 million ecosystem fund to invest in its app development community. The apps can easily be exposed to the monthly active user base of over 150 million people. These efforts are all part of Discord’s dedication to “building an open platform,” said Anjney Midha, vice president of platform ecosystem at Discord, in a press briefing.
Discord debuted in 2015 as a way for people to communicate with each other and hang out online — before, during, and after playing video games. Along the way, the company added other use cases to the platform and added flexibility for the kinds of things people can do with Discord.
Now the company is adding more features for different audiences. It has widened to become a place to hang out with your people, a space to share experiences with your community, and more recently, an opportunity for creators and developers to build sustainable businesses.
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Millions of people are using Nitro subscriptions to take advantage of premium features on Discord. Meanwhile, a vibrant ecosystem of apps has emerged. Over 30% of active servers rely on apps for customizations, playing fun games, and keeping conversations safe. Billions of app commands have been used on Discord so far this year, which have doubled compared to this time last year.
Hanging out via Activities
Shared experiences are at the heart of Discord. While 85% of the users surveyed last year said they played games with friends over Discord on a regular basis, their primary purpose for playing was actually to bond with friends. So The company built a few simple, easy-to-join Activities that enabled people to connect, laugh, and bond together on Discord.
Today, Discord is starting the rollout of Activities — a way for users to hang out online in more interactive ways, such as playing games or watching videos together directly within Discord.
Activities is “a new feature that merges fun group experiences into voice channels and allows users to play games or watch videos together right on Discord with a single click,” said Midha. “If I go back into the voice channel and the main icon, a main panel, you can see I have more controls here and the rocket icon is here. If I click that, it basically brings up the shelf of all the activities that I have access to. We have at launch nine activities here. But we’ve got a bunch more coming in the works. And you can see we have games. But we’ve also got other types of shared experiences like Watch Together.”
Look for the new Rocket Ship ?button in the Voice Channel to access new ways to spend time with your friends and communities. Starting this week, everyone will have access to begin two activities: Putt Party and Watch Together.
Discord Nitro subscribers can launch even more activities including Poker Night, Sketch Heads, Chess, Land-io, Letter League and more. Once launched, they can invite their friends who don’t have Discord Nitro to join their expanded selection of Activities.
The games are designed to run on the Discord platform only, but I didn’t get clarity on whether they’re downloadable or browser-based games. All the games are “in product,” developed by Discord and some third-party studios and offered to players as first-party experiences.
“They’re fun things to do with your friends inside of a voice channel,” said Taylor Rhyne, group product manager for platform ecosystems, in an interview with GamesBeat.
Why did Discord make this move?
“Now we’ve heard from developers that their creativity to build on Discord is sometimes limited by building just for chat,” Midha said. “And with Activities, we’re officially opening up the entire screen as a canvas, inviting all kinds of studios and developers to work with us to create new tracks. And with the changing seasons, we plan to roll out fresh activities on a regular basis. So with Halloween, right around the corner, you should expect something spooky.”
I asked what kind of format the games were in. Discord didn’t answer. But a developer said they are WebGL games on Discord, only Unity for now.
The store is a way for admins to browse a database of apps natively through an App Directory and add them to their servers. Activities is a new feature that brings fun group experiences like playing games and watching videos into Discord Voice Channels.
Discord has 500,000 active apps today, said Amber Atherton, head of brand communities at Discord, in an interview with GamesBeat. The vast majority of apps are free, but a handful have paid upgrades via premium app subscriptions, Rhyne said. The home page of the app directory is curated, while the rest of it is certified for safety reasons and isn’t really gated.
“While these extensions make our platform pretty special, they can be pretty hard to find,” said Midha. “You often need to scour the internet search with keywords that tried to describe what you want or hunt down sites that might have listed some, but not all of these apps. And so it’s both difficult for users to find the perfect app and for our developers to reach all our users.”
That’s why Discord created the directory. The apps include games and game-masters, facilitators and schedulers, bouncers and guardians, friends and someone to talk to. They can turn a server into a place that rewards the activity the admin loves seeing the most from a community, like leveling-up users for talking to new friends.
When someone adds an app to a server, they can type a slash “/” to interact with it and tell it how to help. They’re usually in the member list too, and you can see information about them in their profile. The apps are used on Discord to help with things like server customization, playing games, and keeping communities safe. But they haven’t always been easy to find.
“Apps will now feel like a core part of the experience. And developers will see more tangibly how Discord supports the work they’re doing. We’ve got a bunch of curated app collections, as well as browsing and search to make the app directory home,” Midha said. “To access the app directory, you just open the server drop down in the top left. It’s pretty easy to find for everyone with permissions to manage the server. The app directory is one click away.”
Starting tomorrow, the company is rolling out the ability to find apps via the App Directory. So admins will finally have the ability to browse a database of apps and add whichever ones they choose to any server they manage on Discord — without relying on third-party websites or search engines.
Midha said the directory has categories, so you can find apps through sections such as entertainment. You can search for “translate” to find translation apps.
“The Discord app store exists to give the large population of developers that has existed for many, many years around our ecosystem, an opportunity to find discoverability and get their apps in front of users when those users are looking for them,” said Rhyne. “Across a bunch of different categories, we’ve seen server admins, all the way down to just members and large communities find fun and exciting things to do with apps that third-party developers have built. The problem has always been, how do you discover those in the first place? The app directory is a native surface, that’s one click away for users to go and search through the library of content that has opted into discoverability.”
To find apps, admins can view the new StockX DropBot for every drop in current culture. From sneakers and apparel to collectibles and electronics, you’ll be able to keep up with the latest releases. If you need suggestions on what to watch for movie night, you can use the Hey, Netflix app to discover new shows and movies to watch and discuss together, across borders and without spoilers.
In time, developers will be able to sell their apps directly on Discord, said Midha.
“For now, we are opening up a waitlist for any interested developers to sign up and join us when we roll this out fully,” Midha said. “So keep an eye out for more updates on premium apps descriptions next month when we open the experiment up to more developers of verified apps.”
Premium App Subscriptions
Some developers will be able to adopt Premium App Subscriptions to enable them to earn money and tap the Ecosystem Fund for developers, start-ups, and partners. A new entry-level tier of the subscription plan, Nitro Basic, is now priced at $3 per month.
Discord is experimenting with Premium App Subscriptions and enabling a small group of developers to sell premium features of their apps natively on Discord. Running in tandem with the App Directory launch, users can begin subscribing to premium features of apps that have integrated this feature. While this is a closed experiment for now, interested developers can sign up here to learn more as we roll this out further.
And next month, Discord is making Connections even better and more useful by rolling out a brand new experience with Verified Roles for Connections like PayPal, and welcoming third parties.
Right now, you can use connections to show your friends what game you might be playing on PlayStation, or Xbox, or what music you’re listening to on Spotify, and more.
“But what if you could instantly verify your identity and let others in your community easily trust each other? Or what if you could create gated access to specific channels for people playing a game based on leveling and points?” Midha said. “Imagine a safer experience for buying and selling things on Discord where you can trust a fellow sneaker collector because their PayPal account has already been verified. With the upcoming version of Connections you soon can. So next month, users can connect a bunch of external identities both existing and new to their Discord profiles to verify who they are, share more about themselves and access verified roles based on their credentials.”
An open approach?
I asked when devs would be able to sell their apps on Discord and got an answer that it was coming. That seems pretty slow for a platform that already has more than 500,000 apps. Discord is taking baby steps here, but it says its approach is to be an open platform.
Elizabeth Hamren, chief operating officer at Discord, said in a press briefing that Discord wants its platform to be a source of creative ingenuity and a playground for community.
“Everything I’ve shared with you today demonstrates our commitment to making Discord a better place through an open platform,” said Midha. “The future of developing for Discord is never been brighter. The directory offers a home for users to discover apps, the Activities unlock infinite ways to play, watch, listen, and so much more. Connections will be more useful to verify online identities through Discord profiles. And the opportunities for developers to build sustainable businesses on this board are truly endless.”
I also asked if they were considering taking a 30% fee on the app sales, and didn’t get an answer, as no apps are for sale yet except through the premium subscriptions.
Midha said that safety is a priority. He said that Discord introduced automod in June and since launch already automatically removed 20 million unwanted messages from servers before they had a chance to be posted.
Apple, of course, argues that the safety of its platform and its curation make it worth it to devs when it takes a 30% fee from all sales on iOS. Will Discord go the same way?
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