Valve has released a brand new chat system for Steam, with a bevy of new features including a customizable (and prettier) friends list, group chat options, more seamless voice chatting, an invisible mode, shareable friend request links, and more.
The new friends list enables favorite friends, groups, and chats to be maintained at the top of the list, where they're easily accessible, and they can also be grouped by game or by party, making it easier to keep track of who's playing what, and who's playing together. Game developers will now have the option of including other information in list entries as well, such as where players are located in their game, or whether they're available for matchmaking.
In-line images, video, tweets, audio, and other media can now be shared in the chat client, and you'll be able to share trade offer links as well. "Persistent groups" and channels are supported, and Valve also promised improved security via "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," it explained. "This keeps your IP address private, which masks your physical location and also prevents network attacks."
On the surface at least, the updated chat is more than a little reminiscent of Discord, with options that encourage not just in-game interactions, but also the development of communities that exist around and beyond them. Discord has become a huge presence in gaming simply by making community creation and support so painlessly accessible, and while Valve made no direct reference to the software, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it wants to claim a chunk of that territory for itself.
You'll need to be taking part in the Steam client beta if you want to try out the new chat client: You can find the option to join in on the client settings page, or you can do so automatically from the Steam Chat page. I've got it running now, and it looks really good. Individual chat windows are bigger and easier to read, and the friends list itself is better organized and far more customizable. It's not what I would have considered a priority for Steam, but for what it is, I like it a lot.