Steam has begun rolling out its new text and voice features, as well as its updated friends list, to all users beginning today. The Valve-owned video game storefront is increasingly trying to compete with popular chat app Discord, and it finally embarked on a quest to implement some popular and much-needed Discord-like features into the Steam client back in June, when it launched a beta version of its more robust Steam Chat. Now, those features look to be live as Steam tries to win back some of the Discord crowd it’s lost since the latter company launched just three years ago.
The new updates are mainly around design and chat versatility. Now you can share GIFs and rich social and video links with friends in Steam Chat, sort friends by favorites, group your friends by game and by party, and maintain more fully featured group chats that are designed more like Discord servers. Steam Chat also now offers built-in voice chat with many of the same perks, like channels and link inviting, that you get with Discord.
The obvious question, however, is whether any of this is enough for Steam to win back Discord users. Discord has become the de facto voice chat app for PC gamers, just as Steam has become the de facto storefront. But as a result of Discord owning so much of the actual conversation happening around and during the act of playing PC games, it’s become a popular social chat platform in its own right, with public and private communities and group chats spanning 130 million registered users.
By capturing and retaining the identities of tens of millions of PC gaming fans, Discord is perhaps the only platform that could rival Steam when it comes to game distribution, as noted by game analytics firm SuperData Research. That gives Discord an advantage not even Electronic Arts, Microsoft, or Ubisoft have been able to achieve, despite each of those companies maintaining their own storefronts and user authentication platforms.
“Previously, Steam was invaluable not only because of its storefront, but because it facilitated social connections between players,” SuperData research manager Carter Rogers told Variety back in June. “In 2011, Electronic Arts got flak after breaking away from Steam to form its own storefront, Origin. At the time, players feared a slippery slope of multiple companies leaving Steam, resulting in the need to maintain friends lists across a wide range of platforms. Now, Discord is where gamers’ main friends lists live, not Steam.”
There’s no indication Discord plans to launch a digital game store any time soon, but if it did, it would certainly become an instantaneous threat to Steam. So it makes total sense that Valve would want to make its product more attractive. The company has been able to rest on its laurels for years, knowing that owning the biggest storefront gave it certain platform benefits. But Discord swooped in under its watch and has grown into a formidable alternative-in-the-making. It will be interesting to see how the rivalry proceeds from here.