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Ads are coming to Discord: from ad-free sanctuary for gamers to ad-infested chaos?

No, it’s not a belated April Fools joke. Ads are indeed coming to Discord. The most popular messaging platform among gamers, is preparing to roll out ads despite being pointendly anti-ads in the past.

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Source: Reddit

On Saturday, March 30, The Wall Street Journal reported that ads from game developers are coming to Discord within a week, meaning the time when Discord users see the ads for the first time is just round the corner. But it should not come as a surprise to those who can read between the lines.

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Source: Discord

Last month, Discord’s SVP Peter Sellis announced that the platform would be extending its Quest feature, opening it to more developers.

“Sponsored” Quests are ads that appear at supposedly an opportune moment while you’re using Discord. They will prompt you to stream the advertised game for a certain amount of time, and if someone tunes into your stream, you may receive an in-game item or some other bonus in return. Before opening the feature to all developers, Discord said it had trialed it with select partners, such as Fortnite, and “received great feedback” from them.

“Quests will show up tastefully in Discord where you can opt-in to stream your game to friends and win rewards for playing,” Sellis said. Cue in the word “tastefully.”

Speaking to the WSJ, Sellis said that game developers would have an opportunity to run their “paid promotions” — a.k.a. ads — which would appear live on the bottom-left of the screen. It will work as follows: users will be asked to complete an in-game task (quest) from the advertisers and if at least one friend is watching them doing so, they will be rewarded.

How ads will be targeted

Advertisers make more money from ads that are highly relevant to the user. And to make them relevant, they need to collect as much data about the user as possible — the more, the better. Discord will target ads based on a user’s age, location, and gameplay. However, users will be able to opt out of some personalization.

Discord told ArsTechnica that users would still be able to opt out of promotions that are based on their activity or data, but noted it did not mean they won’t see any ads at all.

“Users may still see Quests, however, if they navigate to their Gift Inventory and/or through contextual entry points like a user’s friends’ activity. They’ll also have the option to hide an in-app promotion for a specific Quest or game they’re not interested in,” Swaleha Carlson, senior product communications manager at Discord, told the publication.

For now, the ads that Discord is going ahead with do not sound that intrusive or invasive. There is no talk yet about incorporating ads from marketplaces, like Amazon, or some other companies that push products unrelated to gaming, like make-up kits or home goods. However, this may change in the future.

When asked about whether or not Discord would introduce other ad formats, Carlson did not give a definitive answer, saying that they would “continue to iterate based on what [they] learn.” This leaves Discord a lot of room for maneuver on the ad scene, so we have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, the announcement came as a shock to some Discord users who still remember that its CEO Jason Citron used to be adamantly against relying on ad profits, and insisted on relying on subscriptions for revenue. In an interview to NPR in 2021, Citron said that that privacy of Discord users is paramount to him, and that he believes that people should know that their “data is not going to be used against them in any way that is improper.”

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Source: NPR

Why now?

While the current format is less intrusive than Facebook’s or other platforms’, it’s a slippery slope that could lead to a significant increase in ads down the road. Imagine a world where your cozy gaming chat is interrupted by ads for everything from energy drinks to cryptocurrency scams — it’s not what the users are signed up for, and it would certainly erode their trust in the platform.

If Discord made a U-turn on its stance towards ads, who’s to say they won’t keep pushing the boundaries? The path to monetization is paved with good intentions — until it isn’t.

As for the timing of the ad launch, Discord told Bloomberg in March that it wants to go public at some point in the future, but although its revenues quadrupled since 2020, it is still not profitable. So, apparently a foray into ads is an attempt to change that, so that the company can go to IPO.

How to block ads on Discord with AdGuard

While we’re yet to see these ads, AdGuard will likely be able to block them, keeping your experience on Discord nice and clean. Note that you’ll need to use the AdGuard desktop app for that — it’s available for both Mac and Windows operating systems.

AdGuard apps use filter lists to determine which content to block. AdGuard will check the traffic against its filter lists, and if the content matches any of the predefined filter rules, then AdGuard will prevent it from loading.

Most ad blockers are browser extensions. By their nature, they are only capable of filtering traffic in their respective browsers, and cannot block ads elsewhere. In contrast, AdGuard desktop apps are able to block ads across all browsers and other apps, including Discord, because they are not bound by these restrictions.

Unfortunately, on Android and iOS, due to OS restrictions, it’s nearly impossible to filter traffic inside non-browser apps. So in the case of Discord ads you will have to rely only on DNS-level blocking. It’s hard to make any definitive conclusions until these changes come into effect, but there is a huge risk that DNS filtering won’t block such in-app ads. However, if you use only Discord’s web version, AdGuard on mobile will work nearly as efficiently as on desktop.

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