Valve released an open beta version of its new Steam Chat service that boasts a more feature-rich friends list, improved group messaging tools, and other updates that could help it compete with more popular chat apps. The company said that many of these changes will also let it make more updates to web-based Steam components in the future, which should help improve the core experience offered by the nigh-ubiquitous game marketplace.
The new Steam Chat's first improvement comes in the form of an upgraded friends list. Your friends are now grouped together based on what game they're playing, whether or not they're currently in a game with each other, and their presence in one of your group chats. For those of you who still remember Myspace, the new friends list will also let you designate some friends as "favorites," so get ready to compete for that coveted status. To top it off, this updated friends list will also share information about what's happening in their games thanks to a new "rich presence" option for developers.
Next comes the new group chats. Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: these new group chats are very similar to Discord's servers. You have the in-line media, the ability to create multiple text or voice channels in each group, and the ability to invite friends to a group with a link... it's almost like someone at Valve opened Discord and decided to make the UI look more like Steam's. That isn't a bad thing--Discord has become popular with many gamers because it's one of the best communications platforms out there--but it's hard not to think Valve took a little too much inspiration here.
Finally, Valve said it also made some "improvements" to Steam's voice chat. The company didn't elaborate on the general improvements, but it did say that you can quickly see if your friends are in a voice chat right from your friends list, and that you should notice "clear, crisp voice quality before, during, and after your games." (Which, again, sounds a lot like what Discord's offered to its users for the last few years.) Perhaps even more importantly, here's what Valve said about some of the privacy and security updates it's made to Steam's voice chat with this new release:
"Steam voice chat was rewritten from the ground up with a new WebRTC-based backend. As a result, voice chat uses high quality Opus encoding, voice traffic is encrypted, and all traffic is sent through Steam servers rather than directly to peers. This keeps your IP address private, which masks your physical location and also prevents network attacks."
The new Steam Chat is available now via the Steam client and web browsers. Valve is collecting feedback via this section of its forums. The company said that the "new UI framework" and "important architectural improvements under the hood" will allow it to improve aspects of the core Steam experience once the new Steam Chat makes its debut. We don't know what the company plans to update, but if the overhauls are as extensive as those made to Steam Chat, the platform-slash-marketplace could soon be pretty different from what we've grown accustomed to.