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A Microsoft-Owned Discord Could Be Bad, Experts Say 2021

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Key Takeaways

Microsoft and other companies are in talks to purchase Discord.While other companies are involved, many are worried about the implications behind a Microsoft purchase.Less control and Microsoft's past history with Skype, a once popular video-conferencing app, are at the center of the concerns. tommaso79 / Getty Images

Microsoft reportedly is in talks to buy Discord for $10 billion, and a lot of people are worried it will end up like Skype.

Reports that Discord is exploring a $10 billion-plus sale have been cropping up recently, leading to a report from Bloomberg suggesting Microsoft is in discussions to purchase the online messaging app. This news has led many to lament the possible acquisition, since Microsoft hasn't had the best history when it comes to acquiring new communication services.

"A lot of current Discord users appear to be concerned that the quality of Discord would decrease after a takeover by Microsoft," Miklos Zoltan, CEO of Privacy Affairs, told Ach5 via email. "While it's uncertain at this point what plans Microsoft has for Discord, these fears are not entirely unfounded."

Bad Blood

To fully understand why many are worried about Discord's future if owned by Microsoft, you have to go back in time, to May 2011, when Microsoft closed a deal to purchase Skype for $8.5 billion.

At the time, Skype was one of the most popular video chatting applications available, offering high-quality calls that could be made to anyone on the planet, so long as they had a Skype account and a compatible device. Once Microsoft purchased the service, though, things quickly started to change.

Instead of focusing on what drew so many users to Skype in the first place—superior video quality—Microsoft began updating the app with features that would make it more of a competitor for everyday messaging apps. This included a complete redesign, which introduced new emojis and even features like Highlights, an imitation of Snapchat's popular "vanishing messages."

The move was an attempt to keep up with other popular apps on the market at the time, but none of those changes really paid off. Skype users didn't want something that could keep up with Snapchat or other apps. They wanted the reliable video conferencing platform they'd come to rely so heavily on.

The platform quickly fell into a feature creep, meaning updates were never large or impactful. So, users never returned to the service, and instead turned to other video-conferencing apps like Zoom.

"If Microsoft purchases Discord, they will probably try to integrate it with the Xbox ecosystem and monetize it."

"Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011 and since then development on Skype has been extremely limited," Zoltan explained. He says this lack of updates has only served to push users to other applications like Telegram, Signal, and even Discord for their messaging needs.

Many are worried that Discord could see the same fate as Skype if purchased by Microsoft, with several users expressing those sentiments on Twitter.

Uncertain Future

Other fears have stemmed from Microsoft's recent purchases of ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Softworks. During a briefing earlier this month, Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, made it clear that Microsoft has been pushing these large purchases to help make Game Pass the best it can be for Xbox gamers. That means future ZeniMax games could have some exclusive ties to the Xbox platform.

While exclusives are a good thing for Xbox gamers, Discord users are worried they could see similar exclusivity connections if the messaging app is picked up by Microsoft.

"If Microsoft purchases Discord, they will probably try to integrate it with the Xbox ecosystem and monetize it," Lilia Gorbachik, a product manager at Intermedia, told Ach5 in an email. 

Gorbachik who has over 15 years of experience working in the Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) industry, says the move could impact the current user base, as pricing for Discord's premium service could change, or the company could choose to lock it behind services like the Xbox network (formerly Xbox Live). Features available to users for free also could be impacted.

"The Discord audience is pretty young and they value free service with a variety of control over it. Microsoft tends to provide less control over its services, which can be a conflict of interest." Gorbachik said.