The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft is talking to Discord about acquiring the social audio company created in 2015, that has more than 250 million users and has so far focused primarily on creating communities of video game fans.
The trigger for these talks has been the surprise success of Clubhouse, which is even smaller than Discord, but continues to enjoy strong growth as it turns the social audio scene upside down. The Clubhouse story is the definition of momentum as described by Jean Claude Larréché in “The Momentum Effect”: a start-up that manages not only to find a suitable message to convey, but also to executes it masterfully well — along with a healthy dose of luck — and spreads its message among a series of users with high communication skills, creating a connection with the communities that each of those early adopters is able to energize, and the expansion, replication and enhancement of the message so that, for a given time, you have the impression that you see it practically everywhere.
Clubhouse created that momentum particularly brilliantly, hence its strong growth in a relatively short time. The strategy of maintaining a certain exclusivity, by invitation only, for iPhone users only, was the perfect incentive, and furthermore, the company was there and provided reasonable and adequate responses to the first problems raised by the user community.
But Discord never gained that momentum, or was only able to generate it in a specific community, that of video game fans. A community that is undoubtedly quantitatively important, but which artificially restricts its value proposition to a specific segment, to a specific communicative purpose, without this actually having to be the case. To all intents and purposes, Discord has a greater and more evolved functionality than Clubhouse: it has text messages, video calls, and more options in general, in addition to being able to run on virtually any system: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, iPadOS, Linux, and browsers. It is, logically, the result of many more years of work, in an environment where such development is, moreover, highly appreciated. Discord users generally maintain a fairly high level of loyalty to the platform.
However, regardless of how well Discord works, there is no denying that its success in horizontalizing its value proposition and taking it to a more general collective audience, not just video game fans, has been relatively limited. People are talking about other stuff than video games on Discord, but not that many: video game fans are a multitude, and in many ways they characterize the platform. And Microsoft’s acquisition, part of on an expansion that aims to take over multiple content creation platforms, is about ensuring that Discord builds up that momentum, that people talk about it, and that it can aspire to become a generalist community where people go to talk about a wide variety of topics.
Moving from the verticality of video game communities to the horizontality of generalist use is a complex move, which has to be carried out with a clear and defined strategy, but it is by no means impossible. The question is whether Microsoft will be able to carry out such a rethink.