The age old problem - you want to voice chat with your friends while you game. Do you use the baked in chat program included in your game? Do you open up Skype? Do you pay for a TeamSpeak server and invite your friends that way? Do you somehow convince your friends to download Ventrilo (Come on guys! It’s really good!)?
Enter Discord. Discord positions itself as a way to replace your programs such as Skype, TeamSpeak, Mumble, Ventrillo, etc, for gaming. It is advertised as being made by gamers for gamers and being 100% free, gaining revenue through future sales of skins and sticker packs - a business model that Viber has found some success with.
I have approximately 5 different messaging apps and programs in my life. I use Viber on my phone to communicate with family and friends. I have Skype to keep in touch with TAYkins for Run Club. I have AIM to help with Quiz Bowl. I use IRC when I just want to hop in and start rambling nonsense to people. Finally, I have Steam where I endlessly spam game invites to people and want to voice chat during game nights (the steam app is fairly capable here if not very robust). It’s a lot, and unfortunately, it’s all pretty necessary. See, each of those programs fulfills a very specific role and does so quite well. So, in addition to testing things like voice chat quality, ease of use, intuitiveness and that intangible, je ne sais quoi, I also want to know if TAY could utilize discord easily to replace or supplement our current communications programs.
For Gamers, By Gamers
I’ll first go over whether Discord is going to replace your current setup. In order for me to fully recommend Discord it has to either do what other programs do, only better, or offer a set of features that are often overlooked by other programs. Otherwise, there’s no real reason for anyone to switch.
Luckily, Discord does not disappoint.
- Free to make as many servers as you want vs. TeamSpeak’s paid servers
- The App is 100% free vs. TeamSpeak
- It’s not a memory hog like Skype
- You can set it to send push notifications to your phone only when you’re mentioned in a text chat or whenever there is activity in the room
- No login required - just pick a name and you’re in vs. a sign in requiring personal information
- Security features: DDoS protection (You know for when Anonymous is out to get you), and IP protection (Encrypted client to client communication)
- Really good tech support via Twitter. Devs responded to my tweets within an hour or so and that seems to be the case for everyone.
Overall, it combines the most used features of other chat programs into one neat and tidy package while also adding some new layers of protection and web support.
So on paper and in practice Discord has some nice features. If the UI is unusable though that means nothing. Luckily, Discord sports one of the cleanest UI’s this side of the Rio Grande.
Getting to Discord is simple. Either download the app from Google Play, or iOS App Store, or there are windows and mac versions available too from Discord’s website. Additionally Discord also has a web based client through their website so you don’t need to download anything. The web client worked wonderfully when I tested it prior to switching to the desktop client.
Once you pick a name all you need is on the left hand side. Want to direct message someone? Click the people icon and it brings up users you’ve interacted with recently. Want to Add a server or join your servers? Those are listed right beneath your icon. When you click on your server a list of Text channels and the voice channels are displayed.
Much like IRC, Discord lets you set admins for certain servers or individual chatrooms (there are two levels of settings, thankfully). Unlike IRC, Discord accepts most media file types as embeds. What does that mean? That means when you want to post a cat gif, you can post a cat gif. It won’t play unless the recipient mouseovers the “play gif” button - saving resources in the process. Little touches like that are what made my time with Discord really stand out.
To invite users to a chatroom you right click on the chatroom name in the sidebar and go to copy link. You now have a sharable link to the chatroom where anyone can join who has access to that link. It all works pretty easily and intuitively although I wish there were a way to copy pre-existing generated keys instead of having to make a new one every time (one key to rule them all and in the darkness bind them!)
Voice communication can be achieved by using either push to talk (user bindable key assignment) or through open voice detection where Discord will pick up when you’re talking and begin ttransmitting at that point. From my usage, voice quality was clear. It was a bit worse quality than Skype which may be due to the use of the OPUS codec over the SLK codec (update: This applies when using the webapp. The desktop client and app both had crystal clear voice even over hour longs gaming sessions.) Voice chatting is achieved simply by joining a voice channel by clicking it. As soon as you’re in you’re talking.
Probably my sole complaints as of now is that there is a marked lack of information available about how to set things up. There’s no “user manual” so to speak, although reading back through the companies blog posts did help to bring me up to speed on what most of this meant:
For those also stumped as to why there are three settings - grey slash means: Use Server settings, Green check means, “Override server settings and allow @everyone to do this” red X means, “Override server settings and don’t allow @everyone to do this”
Update: So this still bothers me. Setting up user permissions is very tricky and not very intuitive. Also it seems that the individual channel and server permissions don’t overlap completely leading to situations where you may be forced to give people more permissions than you really want to. For the most part it’s OK. I was able to figure out how to make it so that only certain users could post to a channel, while @everyone could watch but not talk. The problem was mostly in setting different “Levels” of admin-ship or setting a person to be admin of one channel and not the other. Those sort of things could really be helped with a “Here’s how to do that!” guide.
I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks here to help get you going.
The Phone App
After having used Discord for some time, and convincing most of TAY to hop on board, I’ve noticed that if there is one dark spot in my daily Discord use, it is the App. Over the course of two months the App has actually gotten worse over time. A lot of the features I enjoy in the desktop version are non existent on the phone app.
In addition, and more damning, is that the app just...doesn’t work. In order to receive new messages I’m required at this point to force close the app first. Even then, I will get the yellow bar up top that says, “Limited to no connectivity” even when I’m sitting next to my router. Eventually this signal goes away and maybe 1 minute after booting the program new messages load. Push notifications will show up but I have to go through this whole process in order to actually read the full message instead of the notification.
I can confirm that on at least one other handset (both HTC One - one M7, one M9) this is also the case. Others have reported no problems at all so YMMV with the phone app.
Update: The app has since been fixed and is on route to have feature parity with the desktop client. I have no problems connecting any longer
For Non-Gamers, by Gamers?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m also looking for a sort of, “TAY app”
TAY has an IRC channel which uses a bevy of different programs (embeddable KIWIIRC widget being the most used), Movie nights which use AOL Instant messenger Web Client, Game nights which use Steam chatrooms, my own Quiz Bowl which has used both the IRC and AIM, and Run Club used Skype because it was a common program.
Is Discord the one ring to rule them all?
Well, yes and no. Update: Yes it is
Round 1: Discord vs. IRC
Hands down here Discord is the winner. IRC is antiquated technology that suffers greatly from a lack of stability. When running Quiz Bowl through there we frequently had people drop mid question making it a less than ideal way to run the event.
- Reliably run chat without having to sign up, similar to IRC
- Allow sign ups to retain your username, similar to IRC only without the requirement to /ns IDENTIFY every time you log in
- Send private messages
- Retain chat history between visits (stored server side) unlike IRC
- Remain stable over a long period of time unlike IRC
- Send cat gifs
- Allow permissions such as admin, sub admin, super user, anything you can think of. Slightly more customizable than IRC ( IRC uses users, voiced users, admins, and owner each with their own set of opaque permissions)
Use Emotes - ostensibly this is being worked on but as of mid August, this wasn’t implemented yet. (You can work around this by using *<Name> does action* it’s not very elegant and you may feel strange talking in the third person but it works)**Added in, also the use of /giphy command means never having to find that perfect gif in google images** Set a MOTD as far as I can tell. So unfortunately, Grundles and XXX links might be allowed! There is sort of an inelegant solution to this - you create a #motd channel that only admins can post to.
- Update: MOTD can be set.
- Have an embeddable widget yet. Unfortunately the widget that does exist so far can tell you who is online in the chat room and that’s it. It also does not work well with kinja. Hitting the ‘connect’ button does not redirect to the chatroom nor does the widget refresh the userlist. **Update: The lack of a widget still is an oversight! GIve me an HTML embed-able discord damnit!**
- Here’s the widget that exists currently
- Round 2: Discord vs. AIM
- This one is a little trickier. Discord and AIM are pretty similar for our purposes. Adding voice chat might be a nice touch for those that want it during movie nights but beyond that AIM has a bit of an edge because of one stupid thing. Colors. You can modify your font. Why more companies haven’t realized that making a 24 point cotton candy pink on yellow background font is something people want is beyond me. Beyond just the surface ability of customization, it actually helped me greatly during Quiz Bowl. Team #1 was green. Team #2 was blue. When an answer came up I could quickly identify which team got the point. Discord, as of now, (and I’ve got a niggling feeling that it’s not high on their “to do” list) does not offer text customization.
- Discord Can
- Allow users to sign in using a web browser of their choice, similar to AIMHave a chat box that is a bit easier to read than AIM’sAllow voice chat if desiredAllow the embedding of YouTube Videos, pictures, and gifs, similar to AIM (Don’t remember if AIM does animated gifs)Allow users to create an account without the usage of a phone #, unlike current day AIM.Create multiple chatrooms on one server (1 for game night, 1 for movie night, etc.), unlike AIM
- Discord Can’t
- Change font color **Update: Discord allows usernames to have a certain color but I still cannot have green text on a hot pink background!**
- Round 3: Discord vs. Skype
- I’m a little bit biased on this one. I used to love Skype. It was a sleek, clean, easy to use way to chat and voice chat with friends. No longer. I can’t blame Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype as the program was on its way to being a memory hog long before that happened. The Skype of today is pretty unanimously regarded as one of the most bloated pieces of software out there (Chrome is catching up though...yeesh!) So what does Skype do that Discord can’t? Well, primarily video chat. For me, that’s a total non issue. Video chat is for one thing and one thing only....XXX lo——nevermind. Except for Candi Grey, CW network teen romance shows, and the News, I don’t know many personal users that use video chat, much less group video chat. Discord is the clear winner here.
- Discord Can
- Do Chat, group chat, simply and easily, much like SkypeDo so without slowing your computer down, unlike SkypeVoice chat with multiple users easilyDo so without slowing down your computerEmbed images and videos, unlike Skype
- Discord Can’t
- Video Chat
- Can Discord replace our current battery of communication programs?
- Yes. Discord is a fantastic program that lets users easily and intuitively join voice chat, join chatrooms, and communicate in a way that makes sense. We’ve tried using it for Movie nights, game nights, Quiz Bowl, Halloween Spooky story contests, and everything in between and Discord handles everything we throw at it quite nicely. Also Discord has now officially allowed bots to be a thing which means that we have some additional features via Boobot!
The one stain on this glowing review is that the phone app really needs work, pronto.Not being able to reliably send/receive messages has sent my girlfriend and I back to communicating primarily via Viber. Plus...stickers!
- If you’re interested in joining the TAY Server, you can do so here
If you have any questions on how to set Discord up, or if you want to know if Discord would be right for you, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
- ***Updated 10/12/15: It seems that this review is getting some views via Google searches so I’ve updated after two months with my further thoughts
- ***Updated 6/9/16: The mobile app section has been updated along with some new info on what Discord can/can’t do