A minor online gaming revolution quietly got underway during the final third of 2017. While most of us were distracted by the ever-growing mainstream audience for professional eSports competitions–events which ESPN paid to broadcast live–one company was busy making the amateur online gaming experience more intimate and more social.
That company is Discord, and their idea was to improve the way video calling works during gaming so players can evolve from text to face-to-face communication. Due to the immense amount of data involved in a video call compared to a message or voice call–video can be five to 40 times heavier than voice–Discord had to roll their new video chat service out in bite-sized pieces. Between August and September 2017, the app gradually built video calling functionality into 40% of its user accounts. As we stand today, it can host video calls of up to ten people.
What Discord is building with its video feature is a social gaming network, with the emphasis on social–and it will improve the way we participate as amateur gamers and even as fans of gaming competitions.
Asynchronous Online Gaming
Online gaming is already a multi-billion-dollar industry boasting many millions of daily users. Discord itself has 45 million users, and nine million people use its platform daily. That figure is less than half the traffic an industry-leader like Twitch sees. However, Twitch and many of the popular social networks currently built around gaming are overwhelmingly based on live voice and text, limited one-to-one live video calling, and pre-recorded YouTube videos.
Discord, on the other hand, does have text and audio-only chatting capabilities, but it also allows gamers and their peers and audiences to build their own, invite-only video chat rooms. This gives people space to bond over more personal commonalities and shared values, with the games serving as a source of entertainment–like fans of a football team gathering at their favorite waterhole where they know they won’t be bothered by rivals or screaming children. In Discord’s case, a live-streamed shared screen carrying the gaming action can be broadcast alongside the face-to-face chitchat of a group video chat.
It’s a way of using the internet to consume the internet itself, and similar shared viewing of online content has already been used in broader video-based social networks such as Airtime, Houseparty, and Rabbit. And the current generation of webcams is helping make the transition toward live video calling gaming easier.
Webcams for Gamers
One of Discord’s key brags is that it can host live streaming at full 1080p with a rapid frame rate of 30fps. That’s a smooth, clear picture that the likes of Skype–which has been used as a screen sharing workaround by gamers for years–struggle to match.
These resolution and frame rate numbers also happen to be optimal settings for two of the newest webcam offerings dedicated to gamers. Both the Kiyo by Razer and the C922 by Logitech have been built with gamers in mind, and if you are willing to sacrifice a little picture quality in return for better performance, they’ll both operate at 60fps with a resolution of 720p, which is still considered HD.
Cams like these go still further to please gamers. The C922 comes with a three-month premium license for XSplit, one of the most popular streaming platforms. Similarly, Razer has partnered with Streamlabs. By combining the gamer-specific designs of the best available webcams and the intimate intentions of Discord, the social aspects of gaming can come to the fore like never before.
Moving Toward a Social Gaming Network
The future of gaming as a spectator sport looks like a slow transition back to the old brick-and-mortar world of the game room. In place of the pool table and the big-screen TV, there’s an endless supply of streaming games. In place of the sprawling couch and mock bar stools, there’s a boundless video chat room, where people can sit and chat face-to-face from anywhere in the world. The conversations are the same, the live entertainment is the same, but the virtual version brings people together based on their shared interests and outlooks, rather than their physical proximity.
It’s a move toward a more intimate use of the web. Instead of posting second-screen comments for the masses on Twitter or Facebook during live events or secondhand gameplay posts of their online adventures on Youtube, Discord users create their own self-contained worlds that allow immediate feedback as well as face-to-face connections. And this idea of personalized social video groups is catching on; Facebook itself is embracing secluded video chatting to make its service more personal.
The world of online video gaming is a communal activity but also a place where players notoriously feel and may become isolated and cut off, both from the outside world and from other players. By introducing video calling, Discord could make amateur gaming and even the consumption of eSports events a more social experience.