Tag Archives: Discord

Ruled by Discord

This post isn’t about the current state of affairs in the real world, though feel free to steal the title for your own post about the dystopian nightmare we’re living in currently.

No, this is a follow up to a poll I ran… a few months back at this point.

I did a post about The State of Voice in 2020 back in early March about voice software used during gaming, a follow up on a couple of past posts on this topic, which concluded with the traditional poll to get a sense of which voice software people were favoring these days.

The results were a lopsided victory for Discord.

When asked to specify their primary voice software package, there was no contest.

147 Responses to “What is your primary voice application?”

The Other responses were “Google Hangouts” and “Whatever someone else says we should use.”

Compare that to the results of the poll I conducted in 2012:

  1. Ventrilo – 73 / 25%
  2. TeamSpeak – 70 / 24%
  3. Mumble – 57 / 19%
  4. Skype – 35 / 12%
  5. I never use voice – 29 / 10%
  6. Game Integrated – 23 / 8%
  7. Console Voice System (Xbox 360/PS3) – 4 / 1%
  8. Other – 3 / 1%
    • I don’t regularly use voice at this time – 1
    • raidcall – 1
    • Steam – 1

That pre-dates Discord, which only kicked off in 2015, but it does show something of a shift.

Of course, neither poll is scientific and only represent the demographic of “people who read this blog and whose ad block software even allows the poll to be visible,” so isn’t provably reflective of the actual distribution of voice software usage out in the wild.

It is also impacted by, and reflective of, the downturn in traffic my blog has seen since that 2012 poll was taken, which happened around the my peak of popularity, such that it was.  So only 147 people responded in 2020, while 2012 saw exactly (!) twice as many responses, clocking in with 294.

And yet, the lopsided win for Discord still says something.  Discord is easy, cheap, and works.  When the instance group got back together for WoW Classic we went straight to Discord as our platform of choice.

Yes, that was, in part, because I already had an account.  But we all had Skype accounts as well, that being our preferred voice software back in the day, and Google Hangouts were a possibility as well, being the choice of the one-time Friday Night Strategy Game group.

Discord was just easy, has persistent group chat as well as voice, and has mobile clients as well.  I pay for a monthly channel boost subscription, which is supposed to get us better voice quality among other things, but we didn’t have any problem before I did that.

A Discord server basically gives us so many options over the alternatives that it just seemed like the obvious choice.

The second poll question asked which voice software options people used regularly.  It was a multiple select poll, so you could click on as many as you felt applied.  The results for that were… odd.

Responses to “What voice apps do you use regularly?”

The Other responses were, with one vote each:

  • meet.jit.si
  • Google Hangouts
  • MS Teams
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Nothing regularly but not nothing ever

Discord was still on top, but did not get as many votes as it did in the first poll.

There are a few possible explanations for this.  Some people may have only votes on the first poll.  Some may have felt that the second poll implied “aside from your primary” chosen in the first.  And some people may have only voted in the second poll, feeling that they did not have a primary.  Some combo of those, plus whatever else, may be in play here.

And it does show, again, a move away from what were the traditional voice hosting platforms back in the day, Ventrilo and TeamSpeak, at least in the “reads this blog and votes on polls” demographic.

  1. Ventrilo – 207 / 27%
  2. TeamSpeak – 177 / 23%
  3. Game Integrated – 115 / 15%
  4. Mumble – 108 / 14%
  5. Skype – 87 / 12%
  6. Console Voice System (Xbox 360/PS3) – 40 / 5%
  7. I still never use voice – 14 / 2%
  8. Other – 8 / 1%
    • roger wilco 3
    • Google+ 1
    • ooVoo 1
    • Tin cans and string 1
    • Steam Integrated, Cellphone, Smoke signals 1
    • But I will start to use voice for the first time when SOEmote starts. 1

I think I can spot the Bhagpuss answers in the “other” field on a couple of these.

So Discord “wins” I suppose.  I am still not sure about their business model.  They gave up the idea of competing with Steam as a game selling platform a while back.  But the proliferation of Discord servers… is there any sizable company or group that doesn’t have at least a few dedicated to it… seems to indicate that they have the attention of a lot of people.

Anyway, that is my little report on the state of voice in gaming right now.  We’ll see if I get back to it in another five years or so and who will be dominant at that point.

The State of Voice in 2020 with a Poll

Every once in a while the topic of voice chat with games comes up.  This time Skronk mentioned it.  And with that I wondered if it was time for another post about.  It was time in 2007 and again in 2012 and I think it is time again now.

I am always interested in voice, first because I work in a related industry and there is overlap in tech and people and second because my online gaming history extends back to a point where voice was not an option.  When I was playing Stellar Emperor back in 1986, I could be on the one phone line logged in or talking to somebody, but not both at once.  So I have seen things evolve from there to using the phone system at the office for comms (back when IT would allow such things on the corporate network) to early voice software like Roger Wilco, to the hosted comms era when any decent guild or clan rented a TeamSpeak or Ventrilo server, to the time of Skype and game integrated voice, through to today.

Back in 2007 I put up a poll that had the following results:

A simple poll from a simpler time

Ventrilo (which I typo’d on in the poll, which is totally on brand for me) was the top dog back in 2007, though it was early in the history of the blog so the pool of results wasn’t very big.  It was also the dawn of the game integrated voice using Vivox, so game integration was not that widely available (EVE Online, LOTRO, and DDO had it by then, but SOE games and WoW were a ways off still) which probably hurt its responses.

Skype was already four years old by then, but had added 5 person conferencing with the need of a server, so it was the voice platform of choice for the instance group back in the day.

There was also a mention in the comments of voice quality comparisons between Ventrilo and Team Speak, the two big dogs at the time.  I am not sure if that is even a concern in 2020, but it was one back in the day.

I came back five years later with a double poll post, the first asking what was the PRIMARY voice application people used.  That got the following results (tally/percent):

  1. Ventrilo – 73 / 25%
  2. TeamSpeak – 70 / 24%
  3. Mumble – 57 / 19%
  4. Skype – 35 / 12%
  5. I never use voice – 29 / 10%
  6. Game Integrated – 23 / 8%
  7. Console Voice System (Xbox 360/PS3) – 4 / 1%
  8. Other – 3 / 1%
    • I don’t regularly use voice at this time – 1
    • raidcall – 1
    • Steam – 1

This being the peak era of the blog, the poll got 294 responses.  In 2012 readership was still using Ventrilo and TeamSpeak, with Mumble not far behind, all server based voice platform solutions.  Skype also had some users, while game integrated seemed to have come along.  I think by this point it was part of WoW and fairly easy to use.

The second poll asked which voice applications people ever used.  It allowed multiple selections and gave the following results:

  1. Ventrilo – 207 / 27%
  2. TeamSpeak – 177 / 23%
  3. Game Integrated – 115 / 15%
  4. Mumble – 108 / 14%
  5. Skype – 87 / 12%
  6. Console Voice System (Xbox 360/PS3) – 40 / 5%
  7. I still never use voice – 14 / 2%
  8. Other – 8 / 1%
    • roger wilco 2
    • Google+ 1
    • ooVoo 1
    • Tin cans and string 1
    • Roger Wilco 1
    • Steam Integrated, Cellphone, Smoke signals 1
    • But I will start to use voice for the first time when SOEmote starts. 1

A lot more people used game integrated voice at least as a secondary options it seemed.  I was using Mumble for EVE Online, it being the Goonswarm platform.  Skype was still the choice of the instance group.  Google hangouts were a thing, and we even used that for our epic Civilization V game.

Also, I love the comment about SOEmote.  I am sure that must have been Bhagpuss.

Which brings us to today, about seven years further down the road.  Things have changed some.  Microsoft bought Skype and made it progressively worse.

Some games dropped integrated voice options.  EVE Online dropped the option as part of their March update two years back as part of their clearing of decks for the 64-bit conversion.  That got us the new chat server architecture which has had so much trouble over the last two years that CCP is probably glad they ditched voice and the complications that would have come with it. (Though only 0.4% of players used it, so maybe nobody would have noticed.)

And a new player has come along in the form of Discord.

This is pretty much what prompted this post.  Yes, there are some other additional players out there like Slack, but Discord feels a bit like a game changer.  I first gave it a shot with the 2018 Blaugust and have stuck around with it ever since.  It is light, easy to use, easy to manage, and has voice integrated… and is free.  So when the instance group reformed for WoW Classic we didn’t bother trying to remember our Skype login credential, heading straight for Discord.

The only other voice app I use is Mumble, which remains the Goonswarm comms choice.

So I suppose a new decade means it is time for a new poll or two.  So here, now, in 2020, what is your primary voice application? (Choose one)

And, just to emulated the 2012 poll, which voice applications do you use on a regular basis? (Choose all that apply)

This being the security age of the web, the two polls above may not appear if your ad blocker is on or if you have Firefox set to defensive mode.

The blog being back down in the 2007 range of popularity, I do not expect there will be a huge turnout.  But I will be interested to see how people respond.

I am especially interested if you use game integrated voice.  If you have a moment to pop into the comments and mention the related game or games you use it with, that would be great.

My answers are Mumble for the primary, because I am on it for every EVE Online fleet op, and  Mumble and Discord for the regular basis response.

Challenging Steam

I suppose the real questions are how Steam got to be so popular in the first place and why it hasn’t really felt much in the way of heat from challengers up until now?

In hindsight it seems like some sort of crazy accident. A little over 15 years ago, in September 2003, Valve launched a replacement for World Opponent Network, the Sierra Online created platform and which Valve ended up owning, because they wanted something that would do software updates, DRM, anti-cheat, and online matchmaking in one package.

And thus Steam was born.  First it was for Counter-Strike, but the real test came with the launch of Half-Life 2, the first game that made it mandatory to register with Steam.  Problems with that, including inadvertent suspending of a lot of people whose only mistake was buying the retail box (myself included) did not seem like an auspicious moment for the fledgling platform.

That’s me being beaten by the metro cop

Me being me, that soured me on Steam and all things Valve for a good five years.  I burned my account and walked away.  The arbitrary nature of my experience and the whole “I have the physical disk why can’t I just play the damn game?” question kept me away.  But it was an era where the physical disk was still king, so one could do that.  I walked by the Orange Box on the shelf at Fry’s with my nose in the air, knowing it was another Steam scam.  I wasn’t going to play Portal because I felt Steam was the lie.

But things changed over time.

The coming of Civilization V was the turning point for me.

Up until then I had purchased every new version in the Civilization series at the first possible opportunity.  The fact that the game required you to register it and use it with Steam gave me pause for a couple of days, but eventually I caved.  I created a new Steam account, which is the one I still use today, so I could get in on that traditional day one Civ fun.

Same as it ever was

I remained wary of the service.  Again, the idea that one company could basically remove my ability to play video games I had purchased… not MMORPGs, but single player games… kept me from getting comfortable with Steam for a long stretch.

But then we entered the era of the Steam sale.  I think that, more than anything, made people get on board with Steam.

The concept, as initially explained, was quite simple.  Any game that launches… and we’re talking about games from big studios with marketing budgets, not indies… will have a certain amount of demand for it at the list price.  Once that market has been exhausted one can stimulate further sales by lowering the price.  That gets people who weren’t going to give you any money to buy in.  You get less money, but it is better than no money.

This was the price/demand curve from Economics 1A of my freshman year of college.  This was supposed to make developers more money.

What it really did was train a lot of people to wait for the inevitable Steam sale, or at least that is one of the complaints you hear from devs now and again.  Steam ruined the concept of list price.

Along the way Steam went from being a service for Valve games to being the DRM and matchmaking for certain third party games, to being the sales platform for just about anybody.  At the same time Valve went from being the company that make good games (that inevitably arrived late) to the company that runs Steam.  Being an online retailer turns out to be a pretty profitable business compared to video game development.

The problems of success are the best problems to have, but they are still problems.  Over time Valve removed just about every barrier to entry that kept any dev from getting on to Steam.  And every dev wanted to be on Steam because, during a short period of time, being on Steam was the key to success.  That was the visibility you craved as an indie dev.  But the mad rush towards success and Valve simply letting everybody in got us to the pile of garbage that is most of the games on the service today.  Getting on Steam is no guarantee to sales or even visibility anymore.

Meanwhile, competitors lurked.

Sure, a lot of people were happy to sell through Steam.  Buying a discounted Steam code for a title at Amazon or Green Man Games is a pretty normal thing.

Others were unwilling to cut Steam in on their action.  You don’t find any Blizzard games on Steam.  They don’t need to sell there, they are big enough on their own.

For some reason Activision was okay putting Call of Duty on Steam for ages.  I suspect that, in a world where a lot of CoD sales are on consoles where the retail channel and the platform owner take their cut off the top, Steam taking their due didn’t seem like a bad deal.   But with the coming of digital distribution that seems to have changed finally.

There were small players who tried to get into the Steam-like sales platform business.  I remember the late Trion Worlds trying to turn their Glyph launcher into a third party storefront.

Then there was EA, who wanted to take on Steam by being, in their words, the Nordstrom to Steam’s Target.  That didn’t work out for them as well as they had hoped.  EA’s reputation, hardly akin to anything like Nordstrom, kept them from being a overall competitor to Steam. But with their Origin storefront they were able to opt out of Steam with SimCity and The Sims 4, depriving Steam of some revenue.

Which brings us to the situation as it stands now.  Steam is a mess.  New titles get lost in the morass of new titles that spring up every day.  Steam wavers on how to deal with its problems on that front.  Meanwhile, Steam’s cut of sales, once tolerable in the age of physical media, is now starting to be a drag on margins, a concern to any dev who is publicly held.  So things are running against it.

Big devs like Activision are more than happy to sell Call of Duty to you directly (or via the Blizzard launcher).  Fallout 76 also chose to give Steam a miss, a first for the franchise in a long time.  And it seems like that plan is going to become more common.  To counter that Valve has announced a new revenue sharing plan, so if you make more money Steam will take less of a cut.

And then there was Epic Games’ announcement earlier this week that they plan to offer their own platform and only take 12% off the top compared to Steam’s default 30%, even waving the fees for using their Unreal Engine if you go with them.  They even have a nice revenue split chart with their announcement.

Look how much more Steam takes

And if that were not enough, both Discord and Twitch have been backing their way into becoming game selling platforms.  Amazon, which owns Twitch, has been priming the pump with free games available via the Twitch client (the one time Curse client that a lot of us had already installed to manage WoW addons) for Prime members.  And you can just bet that will be the platform used to sell their upcoming games.  And Discord has had its own storefront going since August.

What is Steam going to do?

Well, they do have all the advantages of the incumbent, including a lot of players with large investments in their Steam libraries.  I’ve said in the past that this is a huge barrier to any competing service showing up.  I certainly do not want to have to keep track of which game I have on which service.  I have problems enough remembering which show or movie I want to watch is on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or Comcast.

And then there is all of the community stuff like mods that Steam has accumulated over the years.  You can’t make that sort of thing happen overnight.

So how do you assail an incumbent?  Be better, be cheaper, or be different.

There are certainly ways to be better than Steam.  I do wonder what Epic’s plan on that front is.  By lowering their take so dramatically compared to Steam they are going to see a lot of interest from smaller devs who will feel like they are getting the shaft from Steam and the announcement that big players pay less.  Epic just has to figure out how to curate so they get quality rather than quantity.

Being different is hard to assess, so I’d have to see more from any Steam competitor.  I don’t like the Steam storefront interface, but I dislike it less than most competitors.

And then there is being cheaper, which Epic went for in a big way.  Not cheaper for you and I, but cheaper for the developers using their platform.  At the percentage they are talking, and with the muscle they have developed pushing Fortnite, they might be able to woo some bigger titles their way.

We shall see.  The path of Steam over the years has been a strange one from time to time.  I doubt it will be over any time soon, but Valve’s dominance does seem to be under an actual threat for the first time.

Others assailing this topic: