How Discord Became the Surprising Hub for GenAI Growth


In the video, a roaring crowd fills a packed summer music festival. As a beat starts over the speakers, the performer finally takes the stage: it’s the Joker. Dressed in his iconic red suit, green hair, and face paint, the Joker pumps his fist and dances across the stage, hopping down a runway to get close to his fans. When it’s time to rap, he bends his knees, propels off the ground, bouncing, and then does a 360 turn on one foot. It looks effortless, but if you tried, you’d likely fall. The Joker has never seemed this cool.

Then there’s another video where NBA All-Star Joel Embiid parades out from backstage to greet the crowd, nailing those same dance moves. Next, it’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Larry David. But in all these scenes, something feels off – whether it’s the Joker, Joel Embiid, or Larry David, the body is shaky, and their facial expressions never change.

This is all AI-generated, thanks to a company called Viggle.

The original video features rapper Lil Yachty taking the stage at the 2021 Summer Smash Festival – according to a YouTube video with over 6.5 million views, this entrance is “the HARDEST walk out EVER.” This turned into a trending meme format in April, with people inserting their favorite celebrities – or their favorite villains, like Sam Bankman-Fried – into the video of Lil Yachty.

Text-to-video AI is advancing rapidly, but you can’t just type “Sam Bankman-Fried as Lil Yachty at the 2021 summer smash” and expect AI to understand. Viggle takes a different approach.

On Viggle’s Discord server, users upload a video of someone performing some movement – often a TikTok dance – and a photo of a person. Viggle then creates a video of that person replicating the movements. These videos are clearly not real, but entertaining nonetheless. After the Lil Yachty meme went viral, Viggle became hugely popular, and the hype continues.

“We’re focused on building what we call the controllable video generation model,” Viggle founder Hang Chu explained. “When we create content, we aim to control exactly how the character moves or how the scene appears. Current tools mainly focus on text-to-video, where text alone doesn’t specify all visual details.”

Chu noted that Viggle has two main user groups – meme creators and those using it for game design and VFX production.

“For example, a team of animation engineers could turn concept designs into quick animation assets,” Chu said. “The whole purpose is to preview how they look and feel in the rough sketch of the final plan. This usually takes days or weeks to set up manually, but with Viggle, it can be done instantly and automatically. This saves plenty of tedious, repetitive modeling work.”

In March, Viggle’s Discord had a few thousand members. By mid-May, it had grown to 1.8 million members, and with June approaching, it surpassed 3 million members. This makes it larger than the servers for games like Valorant and Genshin Impact combined.

Viggle’s growth shows no signs of slowing, though high demand for video generation has lengthened wait times for impatient users. Being Discord-centric, the platform’s developer team has guided Viggle through its rapid growth.

Fortunately, Discord has experience with this. MidJourney, which operates on Discord, has 20.3 million members, making it the largest single community on the platform. Discord overall has roughly 200 million monthly users.

“No one’s ready for such growth, so during that viral phase, we step in to help,” Discord’s VP of Product Ben Shanken said. “We must be ready because a large portion of current messages are from Viggle and MidJourney, and a lot of Discord’s usage is generative AI.”

For startups like Viggle and MidJourney, using Discord means they don’t have to build a platform from scratch – they’re hosted on a platform with a tech-savvy audience and built-in content moderation tools. For Viggle, with just fifteen employees, Discord’s support is vital.

“We can focus on building the model as the backend service while Discord uses their infrastructure on the front end, allowing us to iterate faster,” Chu said.

Before Viggle, Chu was an AI researcher at Autodesk, a 3D tools giant. He also conducted research for Facebook, Nvidia, and Google.

For Discord, essentially becoming a SaaS company for AI startups could be challenging. These apps bring a new audience and likely impact user metrics positively. However, hosting extensive video can be difficult and costly, especially with other users streaming games and video chatting. Without a platform like Discord, these startups might not achieve such rapid growth.

“Scaling isn’t easy for any company, but Discord is built for that scale, and we help them manage it well,” Shanken said.

While these companies can adopt Discord’s content guidelines and moderation apps, managing three million users is always a challenge. Even the Lil Yachty walk-out memes technically violate Viggle’s rules, which advise against generating images of real people, including celebrities, without consent.

For now, Viggle’s saving grace might be its lack of complete realism. The tech is impressive, but we know better. That janky Joker animation clearly isn’t real, but it’s definitely amusing.

Amanda Silberling
Amanda Silberling
Amanda Silberling covers social media and consumer tech. She has written about internet culture for Polygon, MTV, Business Insider, NPR, and the AV Club, and she co-hosts Wow If True, a podcast about going viral. Previously, she was a grassroots organizer, museum educator, and film festival coordinator. Based in Philadelphia, she holds a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania.

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