For most of the past decade, Steam has dominated the PC gaming market. As retail stores cut back on carrying PC games, a service that began life as a much-loathed requirement for activating and playing Half-Life 2 became, bit by bit, a universal portal for almost all of PC gaming. But now, Discord is launching itself into the gaming market, becoming just the latest player to try and take a piece of the pie Steam has (nearly) all to itself.
As gaming has moved towards both microtransactions and cloud-based gaming, more and more companies are seeking to carve out their own piece rather than relying on someone else and the inevitable 30 percent cut. Discord, having established itself as the successor to programs like Ventrilo and Teamspeak, is attempting to become a major social hub for gaming, handling everything from in-depth discussion and play tips to voice chat and in-game communication.
Discord’s move to copy game distribution from Steam comes a few weeks after Steam launched its own chat system overhaul, as PCWorld details, copying a great deal of design and feature capabilities over from Discord. Steam Chat now offers persistent groups, separate text and voice channels, and can embed YouTube videos, animated GIFs, and other forms of rich content.
Which application has the superior chat and communication solution is something we’ll leave for another time. Discord already offers a paid service, Nitro, that comes with a number of features. Most of these are cosmetic options, along with higher quality screen sharing and larger file uploads. It’s nothing we’d recommend buying — not at $ 5 per month — but now Discord is claiming that Nitro will offer a selection of games as well. These “golden games” will be free to play, for as long as you maintain your subscription, and they’ll be separate from the selection of games being added to the store.
Discord is claiming that it will explicitly curate the games it offers, showcasing “a variety of titles we think you’ll like.” The company also wants to partner with indie developers who are willing to sign up to be “First on Discord.” Overall, companies like Discord, GoG, Bethesda.net, and more established players like Origin and uPlay are all chasing the same idea — keeping more of their own dollars and giving less of them to Steam.
Given Steam’s moves of late, I can’t say I blame them. It’s not clear Steam is a net positive in gaming at all, and we’ve long needed competition in the distribution business.