When playing video games on PC, players often need to solve two problems: Talking to each other, and organizing people long enough to actually get a game going.
Discord is the latest in a long line of apps that solve that problem. The free platform, which blends the approachable chat UI found in apps like Slack with video and voice chat, a la Skype, has quickly become one of the most popular, reporting 90 million users, with 14 million people logging on every day. Discord is great to use to talk to your friends while playing games, but it’s also useful for creating places where people can congregate, meet up to find other players, and socialize.
Here’s everything you need to know about Discord, including where to get it, what it costs, and why you might want to check it out — especially before firing up your next multiplayer game.
So, what is Discord?
Discord is a chat app, similar to programs such as Skype or TeamSpeak, or professional communications platforms like Slack. It’s geared specifically toward video game players, providing them with ways to find each other, coordinate play, and talk while playing. It supports video calls, voice chat, and text, allowing users to get in touch however they please.
Discord is especially useful if you’re trying to play PC games. The app makes chatting pretty easy, and offers search functions that can help you find other people and add them to a friends list for quick communication. Lots of people use it not just for talking to each other while playing games, but as an organizational and social tool.
Thanks to this breadth of functionality, users have also embraced Discord as a semipublic, forum-style community platform: Groups of players with common interests, such as fans of a particular game or studio, can create or join “servers,” both public and private, where lots of people can meet and hang out, chatting via text, video, or voice.
While most of the servers are related to gaming, you can also find public Discord servers that focus on a variety of topics, including things like anime, cryptocurrency, self-improvement, and just making friends and hanging out. There’s also nothing requiring servers be created for gaming, so if you want a place in Discord to discuss a topic, you can always make one. Handy places to find and search for public servers include Discord.me, Disboard.org and Discordservers.com.
Oh, and finally, Discord is free.
What separates Discord from other platforms?
Though there are a lot of free communication programs online, Discord stands out thanks to its wide array of chat options. It combines all the best features of more commonly used programs, such as Skype and Slack, with an easy-to-use interface. A voice chat program wouldn’t be much use if it slowed down your games while you’re using it, so the team making Discord is dedicated to making it as efficient as possible.
That versatility has led large groups of users to embrace Discord as a place to meet and chat with people who have similar interest, not just friends. It’s part communications app, part social media portal. While the chat room side of the app, in which users can join public or private “servers,” is probably its most popular, it also provides a social forum that’s great for organizing people to play games as well. Essentially, you don’t need video games to make Discord useful: It’s extremely handy for joining with groups of friends in a private server, or meeting like-minded folks in public ones.
Discord is also accessible through a number of means, which makes it easy to use even if you’re not sitting in front of a gaming PC. The app has a downloadable PC program you can run on your computer — which is the handy, lightweight version best for running in the background while you play games — as well as a web-based version and a mobile version. That means you can interact with people in your Discord chat servers from basically anywhere, extending the social capabilities of the app.
Find a server (or make one)
So how does Discord work? In a word: “Servers.” As with other chat apps, such as Slack, Discord lets you set up a chat room it refers to as a server, to which you can invite people. When you invite someone to the server, they get a link that lets them join it, where they can either text or voice chat with other people using that server. Each server can be broken down further into “channels,” small spaces for discussions on specific topics, as opposed to one giant live forum. Channels come in text and voice versions, to further make them easier to use. You can also make individual channels on your server private, so only people who are invited into those rooms can use them. On top of that, the whole server can be either public, which anyone can join, or private, which makes it invite-only.
You can be a part of multiple servers at a time, making Discord a hub for social interaction. You might have one private server for you and your friends specifically, so you can coordinate before playing a game, while also being a part of several public servers (we joined the local Pokémon Go Discord server to try to find people to raid with, for example). There’s no limit on how many servers you can be a part of. You can easily switch from server to server at will: The list of your servers is always displayed on the left side of the app, and choosing your destination is simply a matter of clicking one or another.
Joining a server is as easy as clicking a link, though, generally speaking, you need to be invited first. Many servers are public and available through Discord’s search function — for instance, Pokémon Go players in Los Angeles have a public “PoGo LA” server to coordinate playing the game in their city, and anybody can join it. Discord also recently added “verified servers” — official servers created by game studios and other notable entities that serve as official community forums for fans to chat with each other, and with game developers.
Creating a server of your own is also a snap. A vertical list along the left side of the app shows the servers you’re already in, so you can switch between them easily. A “Plus” icon is the spot where you can make a server of your own. Give it a name (and a photo to define it, if you like) and that’s it — the server exists and Discord generates a link that lets you invite other people to use it.
Once inside, your server will have lists for voice and text channels on the left side of the screen. You can quickly add and name new channels using the “Plus” icons near the top of each list. Each channel has various control settings, as well, including the ability to make them private and invite-only, and choose who can create invite links.
Like most other chat apps, Discord also supports the ability for you to create a list of “friends” who use the app that you can contact directly outside of any servers.
The easiest way to add friends to your list is by finding their names in servers you’ve already joined. You can right-click on a user name to find an “Add Friend” button at the bottom of the screen, which will send a friend request to that user. You can also click a user name and pull up that person’s User Profile, where another button is located for you to add the person as a friend.
It’s also possible to search for users and add them as friends. If you know their user name and they’ve set their privacy settings to allow for search, you can find them using the search field at the top-left of the screen. You can then add those public people as friends just by clicking on the photos of any user on the list.
You can also send friend requests directly from your friend list, without doing a search. From your friend list in the Discord client program, you can click the blue “Add Friend” button near the top-left side of the screen. That’ll bring up a field that lets you add the person’s complete user name and their four-digit “DiscordTag.” The user name you’re looking for should come out like this: HelpyHelpnotbot#8877. You’ll need to get that info from your friend to add them on Discord, though.
Once you’ve got some friends, clicking their names on your friends list allows you to quickly open up a direct message feed with them, or request video and voice calls. You can add set up a group video or voice chat with multiple friends, even without a server.
Connect accounts and build a profile
Discord lets you connect other social media accounts to the app to make it easier to track down people you know and flesh out your user profile. Since the app combines private communications with public chat rooms, connecting accounts goes beyond the usual use of finding people you’re already friends with to connect to on Discord. It also makes it easier for people to know who you are in the real world, should you so choose.
Connecting accounts is easy and works the same as with other chat or social media apps — mostly by just allowing you to connect by prompting you for your password for other accounts. The additional functionality of being able to find people you meet on Discord on other media portals has the added function of making Discord into more of a social network itself. If you’re using it to access public servers to find like-minded players in various games, it can be a handy way to meet people.
Texting it up
As you start navigating servers and channels, you can write text messages to anyone quickly and easily using the text field at the bottom of the Discord screen. There’s a lot more going on here than just knocking out quick messages, though. You can drag GIFs and images into chat by dragging them into the text field, or using the “upload” button on the left side of the text window. If you want to edit or delete one of your messages, right-click it to get a drop-down menu with those options.
Text on Discord also supports “Markdown,” giving you quick and easy ways to alter the text in your Discord chats without having to learn actual coding. Markdown is especially useful for doing things like adding bold, italics, and other formatting to your text messages. Its tricks are easy to learn, and Discord has a blog post explaining how it all works, so you can elevate your text game.
Voice chat on Discord is pretty easy. Entering a voice channel on a server automatically kicks on your microphone, provided you have a working one attached to your computer. You can also access voice chat by creating voice calls or group calls to friends by clicking the phone icon on your Friends List.
Once you’re in voice chat, Discord offers some handy quick controls at the bottom of the voice chat window or channel window. Clicking the microphone icon mutes your own mic instantly, while clicking the headphones icon activates “deafen.” That kills all incoming sound from Discord, as well as mutes your microphone. You can also adjust your audio settings for voice chat and video in the Settings menu, which is accessed by clicking the gear icon. Getting out of a voice call or voice channel on a server requires you to hit the “hang-up” icon, which is a phone with an arrow pointing down.
Control who you see and hear
Just because you share a server with someone doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. Discord includes all the social media-style features that let you determine how you interact with people. Right-clicking a person’s name on the server list prompts a drop-down with a number of options, such as sending a private message, adding the person to your friend list, initiating a voice call, and muting or blocking them. Muting a user means you don’t see their texts or hear their voice, but they can still see and hear you. Blocking someone prevents them from seeing and hearing you as well.
When you’re an admin on a server — either because you created it or because the admin of a server you’re on gave you that power — you have even more control over undesirable people hanging around. Right-clicking names includes the ability to deafen users so they can’t hear anything from other users, or to ban them from a server outright.
All of Discord’s desktop and web functionality is also made available in its mobile app. You don’t need to be at your computer to stay connected with other people in your servers, or to your friends. Like the other versions, you can use the mobile Discord app to find servers, locate other users, and chat in general. There’s effectively no difference between the versions, which makes Discord even more useful — you can be always connected to other players, and potential games, no matter where you are.
Where do you get Discord?
You can find the web and PC versions of Discord on the program’s website, discordapp.com. You can also use Discord on Android and iOS mobile devices, by downloading its apps from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.