Sometimes it feels like you have to open a half-dozen applications before you start playing a game. You've gotta open Steam, launch a game, make sure your streaming app is working (everyone streams these days), and then start chatting with friends in something like TeamSpeak or Discord. Valve hopes to have removed that last step, at least, by updating Steam Chat with so many features it might as well be a new service.
These updates to Steam Chat were released in beta form back in June. Now they're available to all Steam users, whether it's via the Steam app or the web, and Valve said it's also begun work on a Steam Chat app for iPhone and Android devices. It almost seems like the company is quietly hoping to become the central hub of PC gamers' lives, rather than merely being a place where they buy a bunch of games they might never play.
That means Valve is going to have to convince people to use Steam Chat instead of TeamSpeak, Discord, and similar platforms. (With Discord likely being the frontrunner when it comes to constant interaction rather than just in-game communication.) To that end, the new Steam Chat includes new group chats that offer in-line media, the ability to invite people with a link, and the option to make multiple text and voice channels.
Let's get this out of the way: As we said in our coverage of the new Steam Chat beta, yes, these new group chats make it seem like someone at Valve opened Discord and just changed a few things around to fit in with Steam's existing design, and that's probably going to be many Discord users' immediate reactions to these new group chats.
But the updates to Steam Chats don't stop with group chats. There's also a new friends list that lets you see your buds organized by what game they're playing, whether or not they're playing together, and if they're a member of any of your group chats. A new "rich presence" tool lets devs show exactly what your friends are doing in their game, too, and improvements have been made to call quality and the platform's security.
Will this be enough to convince people to use Steam Chat instead of other platforms? Maybe. But it's hard to move between platforms, and many people have already filled Discord servers with messages, channels, and memes they would have to give up by starting over with Steam Chat. People also like to play games that aren't on Steam--surprise!--and they are probably used to using something like Discord for those games.