Since its launch almost three years ago, gaming voice and chat app Discord has had the personality of a gamer. Now it has the face of a gamer as well. In fact, it has the faces of approximately 90 million gamers who have flocked to the app–its user base almost quadrupled in size over the course of 2017.
In late 2017, the aggressive app–its splash screen directly calls out its biggest rivals Skype and TeamSpeak–started rolling out video calling and screen sharing to users in a steadily controlled test release. Now, the features are fully functional, and Discord sits among the elite of the gaming industry.
It has matured enough to gain the endorsement of leading pro gamers, forge a partnership with Spotify, and provide a video calling service for up to ten people that could stand alone as your social hub.
Well, matured isn’t the right word, as the Discord team has preserved their offbeat sense of humor (see below). But any Discord video call review must acknowledge the app’s undeniable strengths: the service is lightweight, deep (almost too option-deep for the first-timer), and offers a video calling experience that can stand up to bigger players such as Skype.
The Discord Personality
Discord knows its gamer audience. From the muted, dark color scheme (don’t switch to the whiter, brighter option, it kills the mood of the place), to the watermarked cartoons and the funny, cocky text–your friend requests are “escorted by the most elite Discord samurai”–it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And yet, crucially, it all works, and it is totally free.
The service has WebRTC capability, which means it launches directly from your browser without any downloads or sign-ups, and you can hit up your friends quickly from other apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Skype (cheeky, seeing as Microsoft’s baby has long been a kind of workaround for audio- and video calling-starved gamers).
Once you’ve got a few friends on board, you can set up your own server and get face-to-face by following the now standard video calling protocol of clicking the video camera icon by their name. Setting up a server sounds like a daunting process for the novice, and it’s certainly not the kind of language most video platforms use, but you can get as detailed as you want or just ignore the tech talk and “OK” your way through in just a couple of clicks. The process is really there to provide security. The server acts as a proxy between you and the outside world, limiting direct contact between devices–the downside is it restricts capacity, and the designers have warned that video quality will drop if more than five people share a group call.
If you do take your call into the higher numbers, the majority of callers will be demoted to small chat windows at the base of the screen while the star of the show dominates the center. It’s a common arrangement, and frankly not very imaginative, especially if there’s complex gaming action being squashed into those small screens. It works better with two’s and three’s where you can share the screen more equitably.
That said, you can boost the video performance by actually signing up, handing over your email address, and downloading the desktop app. I’ve staged calls with both versions and found no difference between small chats. If you’re keen on maximizing the experience you can buy a Discord Nitro subscription and increase your download entitlement.
Like I said earlier, Discord is intended for gamers and is best understood as a way to share the gaming experience. The app can detect what game you’re currently playing and will automatically add that to your status. You can also add that kind of info to your list of push notifications that can be shared across iOS and Android phones, which currently act more as update platforms since they don’t carry the video feature.
As a gaming tool, the screen share feature is more important than it is on a social or even business video platform. Again, Discord knows this and makes it easy to switch between webcam and screen share during a video chat, so you can show off to your friends in real time.
The reliability of these simple, core functions has led some of the world’s leading pro gamers to adopt the service, including almost all the leading Overwatch teams. It has also earned the respect of Spotify, and you can now stream your favorite tunes over a group chat while you play.
The Discord Video Call Review Verdict
Discord is rapidly becoming the most popular social networks for gamers out there. It deserves that popularity. Discord combines the best features of a standard social video app–the emojis, avatars, gifs, and quick transition from chat to video–with emerging technologies like WebRTC and peer-to-peer alternatives. Importantly, every feature has a gaming-related purpose that helps the platform better serve as a hub for the social aspect of gaming. Whereas Skype’s recent facelift feels like a desperate attempt to look “hip,” and Appear.in has yet to do much with WebRTC beyond prove its existence, Discord has a distinct personality and clear focus which is expressed through its various functions.
This is socializing for gamers, built around gaming that never forgets that its role is to create the links between people…and then get out of the way.
Note that while this site is sponsored by Logitech, reviews contain the writer’s own opinions and are not influenced by the views of our sponsor.