The internet’s biggest chat app introduces new ways to extract money from the people who use it. Discord is expanding Server Subscriptions, a Patreon-like subscription button that’s been available for large servers since 2022, with tiered subscriptions and longer-term plans to effectively turn servers into storefronts.
“To date, we’ve paid out millions of dollars to thousands of creators and communities, and every day we see more creators and communities earning on their Discord servers,” product manager Derek Yang wrote in a post. blog published today. “…Today we’re excited to share new tools that will help you start making money faster.”
The nickel-and-dime-ification of Discord servers begins this week with “media channels”, a new type of channel (currently in beta) designed to host subscriber-only content, including, for example, “memes and exclusive wallpapers”. You might see an art creator use this Discord feature to post subscriber-only artwork, like many comic creators and other illustrators already use Patreon to do so.
That’s not a bad deal for creators, but it’s just the start of new revenue streams that Discord, which is currently taking a 10% cut in server subscriptions, plans to implement. Here’s a full list of what the free chat app (now with three asterisks) has in the works:
- Level models: Formalized subscription tiers with prices set by Discord ($3.99, $4.99, $7.99, and $9.99)
- Downloadable: One-time purchase digital products or subscriptions sold by server owners, which will be accessible via…
- Server Shops: “One home for server owners to sell server subscriptions, downloadables and premium roles”
As a longtime Discord user, this update makes me sick. Seeing Discord encourage conversations locked behind paywalls and sharing tips for “converting people into paying customers” makes me miss the days when I felt like Discord was doing Discord for me. The company’s calculated mercantile tone is a far cry from the Discord that won me over by pinpointing exactly what I needed from a chat app and surprising me with features I didn’t know I wanted, like the Go Live button or quality noise cancellation.
Of course, that’s pretty much every tech company’s playbook over the past decade: rack up market share by subsidizing your product for years to gain a monopoly, then find a way later to charge users and earn money once everyone has adopted your service. I guess Discord isn’t happy with my monthly Nitro fee.
Why Discord’s monetized future is a disappointment
In recent years, Discord has focused almost exclusively on large communities, launching (and often forgetting about) features like forum channels and live scenes designed to turn Discord servers into siled social networks. It’s kind of excess baggage if, like me, you run a small server of 15 friends who play games together.
Discord remains the easiest and best way to talk to friends online, but today’s update makes its current trajectory hard to ignore. By opening the floodgates to detailed monetization, Discord inherently makes Discord a less welcoming place.
Two years ago, I urged all of us to enjoy Discord while it was still good. My worst fears at the time (the crackdown on Go Live streams and the end of radio bots) didn’t materialize, but now I’m wondering if server stores and level models are the start of something worse .
Of course, Discord doesn’t see it that way. Yang says paid media channels are a way to “give your subscribers lavish insider content” on top of what the server already offers for free. That’s right – obviously there’s nothing wrong with selling what you do (thanks PC Gamer magazine subscribers), and these new payment features are largely just Discord integrating what Patreon already renders possible. I’m mostly sad that what used to be my oasis away from an increasingly expensive internet is becoming like this.
Giving moderators free rein to a server’s individual paywall functions also seems open to abuse. The average experience of finding new communities on Discord seems to be worse if your first impression of a server is now defined by grayed-out channels that you can’t see without paying a $10 entry fee.
Discord doesn’t plan to police what server owners charge, and instead hopes they’ll put the new tools to good use. “Remember: Not every income-generating opportunity has to become a get-rich-quick scheme,” Yang cautions.
The blog highlighted one server in particular, Valorant streamer Woohoojin’s Club Banana server, as a successful subscription-funded Discord community. Woohoojin, who makes more than $16,000 every month from Discord subscriptions, distributes free subscriptions to regular viewers and only asks viewers to donate money if “they have a lot of it”.
It’s good that you don’t have to turn your server into a microtransaction hellscape, but much like the experience of watching Twitch has changed with the addition of various subscription and donation features, the relationship between moderator and user becomes trickier when users “convert” into customers.