Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

Gaming with Discord: Heuristic Evaluations of Customizable Interface Elements

Student Researcher(s)

Ryan Tan (Ph.D Candidate); Cheng Chen (Ph.D Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

This paper was based on a project as part of the “Psychology of Communication Technology” course (Comm517).



Discord is a platform that allows videogame players to customize interface elements for servers they create and join servers created by other users. The decentralization of community-building platform creation necessitates a study of how users evaluate servers created by other users in contrast to those created by industry professionals. This study examines relationships between user evaluations of specific interface elements of the Discord platform and their resulting judgements and behavior.



RQ1: What is the relationship between the popularity of a server and the presence/absence of key interface elements?

RQ2: What is the relationship between key interface elements and (a) attitudes toward server, (b) server owner, (c) behavioral intention, and (d) gratification?

RQ3: How might individual differences moderate the relationship between key interface elements and attitudinal/behavioral outcomes (a-d)?

RQ4: Why are certain interface elements important for a users’ consideration in joining or leaving a Discord server?



Two research methods were used in this study: a content analysis and followed by a survey experiment.

Content Analysis. 30 servers were randomly selected from the Discord server pool and they were coded in terms of the presence (how it is presented) or absence of 26 customizable interface elements. Two coders were trained to do the coding. A high inter-coder reliability has been achieved for most of the interface elements. The Krippendorph’s alpha is high, ranging from .77–1.00.

Survey Experiment. 281 Discord users participated in the survey experiment. They were invited to browse a randomly selected server from the 30 servers we coded, and then expressed (a) the gratifications obtained from the server, (2) their attitudes toward the server and (3) the server owner as well as their (4) behavioral intentions.



The following elements were identified in this study as being of key importance in determining positive user evaluations of the server: the presence of welcome/rule pages, voice channels, high numbers of text channels, customized emojis, clear hierarchy in the member list; and the absence of role-restricted channels and role-assignment by emote response. Power-usage and motivations (i.e., gameplay enhancement and recreation) were highlighted a relevant moderator in determining user evaluations and behavior on Discord servers. Qualitative data suggested an additional two heuristics (i.e., activity and rule-identity heuristics) and an individual difference (i.e., type/talk predisposition) that should be considered in future investigations of relationships between interface elements and attitude/behavioral outcome.



This study’s focus on interface elements, individual differences, and their relationships with gratification, attitudes, and behavior intention provides insight into the underlying psychological and affective processes that govern user adoption of new platforms. We proposed and validated a model based on our initial findings that we believe will be useful to explain the technological adoption of emerging media platforms. This is particularly relevant to new platforms created under principles of web 2.0, with a focus on user-generated content and participatory culture in technological system presentation.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

More Articles From: