Welcome to Paul's Blog
This is where I put down my thoughts occasionally.
Why Discord should betray its bot developers.
Discord is a fast-rising platform for everyone to connect through text messages and voice. Its spin on traditional IRC and VoIP clients have made it massively popular compared to flawed products such as Skype and TeamSpeak. While these features made Discord the best product in the industry, it has yet another advantage that hasn't been emphasized by other messaging platforms. Discord supports 3rd party bots on its platform that can perform a lot of tasks.
The distribution model of Discord bots is quite similar to how software gets distributed on increasingly dominant platforms such as Android and iOS. Installing software, pushing out updates, and accessing user data is done through their proprietary app store. These restrictions have allowed the platform owners to closely control which programs are available to the consumer, how payments work on these apps, and how much data they can gather about the user.
A Discord bot is no different. A developer writes some code and must host the bot to connect to the Discord servers with a licensed bot token, and Discord allows the user to determine how much access the bot has on their guilds.
The only part missing is payments. Discord has allowed 3rd party developers to create lots of bots that enhance Discord, and some even have their own premium tier and a subscription model just specific to the bot itself.
While there are many valid reasons not to capitalize on the current set of bots available, if Discord wants to take Nitro (Discord's premium subscription plan) further and add much more value to it, they should partner with bot creators and offer their premium features for users with Nitro. Alternatively, Discord should launch their versions of the popular bots available and make premium features free to Nitro users.
Micropayments are on the rise (such as Coil), and Discord could stream micropayments to the bots whenever someone with Nitro uses a premium feature on the bot. Think of this as a Play Pass but for Discord. Additional bot perks could potentially get more users to sign up for Nitro and help bot developers gain more paying users. Discord could also create a payment protocol for larger transactions and take some commission off these transactions.
Additionally, due to a lack of an official mechanism to accept payments, the bots on Discord all have their ad hoc payments system, which is a bad security practice. Adding this framework would help developers get to market faster, earn much more, and ultimately help Discord control the bot ecosystem.
The other approach would be for Discord to launch official bots with premium features only available to Nitro users. Official Discord bots would significantly improve the safety of the users but otherwise may hurt the bot ecosystem. Some might say this is anti-competitive practice, but many companies with closed software distribution systems have been creating simple applications on their own and compete with other developers. Furthermore, these developers wouldn't even have the chance to create a bot on Discord if the API didn't exist. The fact that other platforms make money off Discord by creating 3rd party applications is a missed opportunity for Discord. They should consider making their bots.
Another interesting thing is that Discord still has people going to 3rd party websites and bot listings to find a bot and add it to their guilds. How Discord controls the process of bot verification, but not the listing of bots for people to use is puzzling. It currently has a public server listing page for people to find new servers—why not add a listing page for bots as well?
Adding a bot store and a framework for transactions would greatly help with providing a secure and end-to-end user experience and would help improve the overall value Nitro delivers to its users.
One argument against this would be that bot developers would have lesser freedom, which would eventually hurt the ecosystem in the long run. I do not believe this is true. 3rd party platforms would continue to exist and will be available to consumers who may refuse to use Discord's bot distribution model. Payments could be made off Discord too. If anything, a bot store would significantly improve the experience of trying out a bot, and a payment framework would help everyone pay developers more easily. As for Discord creating their suite of bots, I think this is no different than Microsoft building some essential apps into their operating system, Oculus creating some VR experiences on their own, and Google and Apple publishing their suite of apps for their platforms too. While this may hurt independent developers, the ecosystem will eventually evolve to offer unique features outside of the official offerings.