Gamers created Discord, but don?t let that scare you off. This free text- and video-chat service is now an excellent place for anyone looking start public or private communities.
By Jordan Minor
Video games and the internet go together like Doritos and Mountain Dew. With the internet, you don?t need to seek the bustling crowds of an arcade or wrangle friends together for gaming on the couch. They can enjoy cooperating with or competing against other people all over the world. Granted, online multiplayer isn?t always a pleasant experience, especially when it comes to communication. Listening to random faraway strangers curse at you can be enough to make you want to burn your headset. However, experiences such as conducting epic MMO raids or coordinating tactics with your teammates in shooters just weren?t possible in the era before online chat.
What Is Discord?
With over a quarter of a billion users, Discord is one of the most popular ways gamers communicate online. Discord lets friends communicate directly via voice, video, or text, and join servers where larger communities can interact together.
Gaming is definitely Discord?s focus, at one point the service even gave free away PC games to paid subscribers before realizing it couldn?t beat Steam. However, any online community can take advantage of the features Discord offers. More on its other uses in a bit.
How to Join Discord
There are plenty of ways to communicate while gaming online, but many of them are tied to their specific consoles or platforms. Discord succeeds because it is platform agnostic. You can integrate it with your Xbox account, and there are unofficial ways to connect it to your PlayStation account, as well. However, Discord is not locked down to any one system, unlike Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. Not being tethered to a game console also strengthens Discord?s argument for non-gaming uses such as talking to family or classmates.
Joining Discord is as easy as using the service on your desktop browser or downloading the free app available for Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, and Windows. From there you join a server by searching for one, accepting an invite, or creating your own. A server is made up of channels via which server members can communicate with each other through text, voice, or video options, such as sharing their computer screens. The video chat may make it an alternative to Zoom Meetings.
When creating channels, you can also sort them by categories. Servers and channels within those servers appear on the left rail. The list of server members appears on the right. At the top (or on the bottom on mobile) you can add and message friends, search servers, and see if you?ve been mentioned in a server.
A single user can join up to 100 servers, and you can adjust which servers you want to receive notifications from. You can even give yourself a different nickname for each server you join. You can also invite friends you added from one server onto another, even though friends don?t need to share a server to communicate directly.
A single server can have up to 500,000 members, although if more than 25,000 are online simultaneously the owner must contact Discord support for more server space to avoid connection errors. The maximum number of categories for a server is 50 and the maximum number of channels in total is 500.
How to Use Discord
You use Discord alongside but separate from whatever other activity you?re doing. Say you have a group of friends you always play fighting games with. You can all seamlessly use the same Discord server, launch and access it from any device, while you hop from smacking talking each other?s Street Fighter V skills on PlayStation 4 to cackling about the fatalities in the Xbox One version of Mortal Kombat 11. Crossplay already allows players of select online games to compete against opponents on other consoles, so Discord is perfect for groups of players who take advantage of that. Discord is a particularly stellar alternative to the subpar voice chat app for Nintendo Switch Online.
Discord offers both private and public servers. Private servers are for hanging out with cool friends, not strangers itching to scream at you. They also work for any kind of communication that requires secrecy. For my Minecraft Dungeons preview, I watched a presentation and asked the developers questions through a password-protected private Discord server.
Public servers also have their place. Like a mixture of Reddit and Slack (or what I imagine the heyday of IRC channels must?ve been like) public Discord servers are for fans of a common subject to all chat with each other and foster their community. Create custom emotes for your server?s in-jokes. Moderators can ban problematic users. Developers have been known to interact with users on verified Discord servers dedicated to their game.
Although it has video features, Discord doesn?t compete with Twitch and other video game live streaming platforms. Instead, Discord is more of a complementary service to Twitch. While watching your favorite streamer, you can interact with other fans in the Discord channel. In 2018, when Drake and Ninja inexplicably teamed up to play Fortnite on Twitch they used Discord to communicate. Streamers can even reward their fans who sync Discord with their Mixer, Patreon, Twitch, or YouTube accounts with continued access to their servers as long as those fans stay subscribed. You can even use Discord to stream Jackbox games with your friends.
Discord Isn?t Just for Gamers
Discord is also leaning harder on its non-gaming uses. The website advertises communities for book clubs, dance classes, and digital conventions. Discord has told us that, according to internal polls, teenagers use Discord for everything from studying for classes to watching Netflix together.
You can connect Spotify music streaming to your Discord account so friends can see what you?re listening to and listen to it, too. With the COVID-19 epidemic putting the whole world under lockdown and making us communicate virtually, kids are bound to find plenty more creative uses for Discord.
Does Discord Cost Money?
Discord is free to download and you can use it just fine without ever paying. However, Discord users can enjoy premium extras with Discord Nitro, available in two tiers.
Discord Nitro Classic is the cheaper premium tier at $5 per month or $50 per year. This subscription grants you the ability to change your four-digit username tag, a Nitro badge for your profile, custom emotes you can use beyond their home server, and the power to turn animated GIFs into avatar pictures and emojis. Video quality also improves. Live stream in 1080p at 60fps. Screen share in either 720p at 60fps or 1080p at 30fps.
For $10 per month or $100 per year, the standard Discord Nitro tier offers everything in Discord Nitro Classic, plus a few more perks. You can upload files up to 100MB, which is double Nitro Classic?s 50MB limit and way higher than the 8MB limit for free users. Streaming at source provides even prettier video quality.
You also get two Server Boosts. When a server gets boosted enough times, it levels up and unlocks more features for all members of that server. These bonuses include more emoji slots, a vanity URL, custom invite artwork, animated icons, a server banner, and features otherwise reserved for paid members such as improved video quality and higher upload limits. So, even if you don?t pay, you may still get premium benefits if your server?s sense of community is strong enough to make other members pay it forward. It?s even more incentive for Discord users to make servers kind and welcoming, not hostile and toxic like other online gaming community spaces.
They may not be as gamer-friendly as Discord, but there are other ways to communicate online. For more, check out the best video conferencing software and the best business VoIP providers.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.