Some founders keep returning to the same ideas over and over in new form. Jason Citron, a lifelong gamer, was the creator of OpenFeint, an early mobile social gaming network that he sold to Japan’s GREE for $104 million.
After leaving GREE, he went back to game development and tried to create a next generation MOBA or multiplayer online battle arena game for the iPad called Fates Forever.
But gaming, ever the unpredictable medium and business, didn’t quite pan out the way Citron had envisioned.
So Citron and his team pivoted back into looking at social layers that underly and support gamers. They built Discord, an app for game communication. They’re competing against everything from Skype to dedicated tools like Curse Voice or Teamspeak.
“What would a game-changing communication app look like using modern tech?” Citron said. “The response is off the charts. Now that we’ve got some organic word-of-mouth growth, we feel comfortable to start talking about what we’ve been doing. We think the potential is really big.”
While shifting the business away from the MOBA to chat, the company raised some additional funding from Chinese Internet giant Tencent in January. Through Weixin and a longstanding business of earning revenue through virtual goods, Tencent is basically the world’s leading company in tying together chat, gaming, virtual goods and services. (Andreessen Horowitz’s Connie Chan did an excellent overview of it. They’re way better at it than even Western companies like Facebook.)
Discord is free, and the company plans to sell themes, sticker packs and sound packs to earn revenue. It’s initially focusing on gamers who play titles like Final Fantasy XIV, League of Legends and DOTA 2.
Discord has a few extra features that competitors don’t have like browser support and DDoS protection, but Citron says it’s a combination of factors and the overall polish of the experience that have helped the app take off. The company plans to add more specific game integrations, direct voice calls and bots to autopost content from other sites.
“It’s not one specific feature,” he said. “You just have to make it really simple and easy to understand overall. We deeply, intuitively understand this product since we are the people we’re building it for.”