First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
Originally used by the gaming community as its default communication tool, Discord found new audiences during the Covid-19 lockdown, in surprising places.
It turns out people like reading books together, studying together and dancing together – and they’re not all gamers.
Discord now has 100 million active monthly users and would be a perfect fit inside Microsoft’s Xbox gaming division.
“Microsoft possibly acquiring Discord makes a lot of sense as it continues to reshape its gaming business more toward software and services,” says Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Matthew Kanterman. “There’s a big opportunity to bundle Discord’s premium offering, Nitro, into the Game Pass service to drive more subscriptions from the last reported 18 million.”
The world’s largest software maker is better known for its operating system, enterprise productivity software, vast Azure cloud business and the best collaborative app to emerge from lockdown, Teams. But its Xbox division is a global leader in gaming (albeit a market of two console makers, with Sony’s PlayStation) and Discord will fit snugly with Xbox chief Phil Spencer’s vision for gaming to be as good on mobile devices as it is on PCs and consoles.
Gaming is clearly part of Microsoft’s overall strategy.
Last year Microsoft bought ZeniMax Media – which owns The Elder Scrolls and Doom publisher Bethesda Softworks – for a whopping $7.5-billion. In 2014, it bought that superb educational game Minecraft for $2.5-billion.
Minecraft is technically a game, but it’s so much more than that. It’s kind of like digital Lego, which allows kids to build just about anything inside the blocky virtual world – including some amazing replications of the sets of favourite TV shows or real-world venues.
Discord lets its 100 million users communicate via text, voice or video, as all messaging apps now do.
But it offers something different – people can set up their own servers for chat groups. People create their own Discord server, for instance our own StuffPlays, and let other people join that community, however small it is.
During the lockdown, this kind of community attracted very different groups of people, with interests vastly removed from gaming, and certainly with a much slower pace (book clubs, for instance).
“Creation, creation, creation – the next 10 years [are] going to be as much about creation as [they are] about consumption and about the community around it, so it’s not creating alone,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told Bloomberg. “If the last 10 years [have] been about consumption – we’re shopping more, we’re browsing more, we’re binge-watching more – there is creation behind every one of those.”
Discord certainly ticks all of those boxes.
Last year Microsoft failed to buy TikTok in one of the most bizarre and convoluted debacles of America’s own “lost years” under former #Presidunce Donald Trump, who ordered the Chinese social app to be sold and banned in America. Luckily that controversial geopolitical disaster was diverted by enough Americans voting him out of office.
Microsoft has never been good at social networking – although buying LinkedIn fitted very nicely with its corporate customers – but Discord could flourish alongside Xbox in the gaming division. If the rumours are true, that is. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.