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Discord aiming to make more games playable inside the client with new dev tools

Chat software hopes to develop a sort of social browser game portal

Playing Putt Party in Discord.
Image credit: Discord

Discord is making a play to not simply be the software you use to talk while playing games with your pals, but the software you use to play them too. The ubiquitous chat client already lets you play a handful of approved games inside itself without dowloading or launching anything seperate, along with other 'Activities' like watching YouTube together, and next week it will open up to a whole lot more. Discord will let all developers make their own Activities, wanting to jam in more games and social hangout experiences and stuff. I'm broadly up for things removing faff from getting casual hangout games running with pals.

You might not have noticed because Actitives are behind a rocket icon which only appears after you join a voice chat—and even if you did notice, you might not have registered it because most were initially exclusive to Nitro subscribers when the feature debuted in 2022—but Discord does have 19 you can join with pals right now. They load inside the window of the Discord client like embedded browser games, no downloading or launching anything seperately. Right now, the small approved lineup is mostly casual and party games, with actual good and known game Gartic Phone headlining then mostly generic-y card games, minigolf, and such. It does also have handy tools like drawing on a whiteboard or watching YouTube together. It's pretty fast and seamless and can skip the faff of getting everyone to join a party so sure, that's pretty handy. They even let you play with folks across the desktop, browser, and mobile clients.

Now Discord want to open Activities up to all developers. On Monday the 18th, they will release the Embedded App SDK. "Explained plainly, the Embedded App SDK lets you build apps that are embedded in an iframe within Discord," the company say. The Discord client itself is technically built on a browser (as is more modern software than you might expect), so dropping in other browser software isn't that weird. Presumably this will limit Discord Activities to software that runs in browsers but hell, game engines from Unreal Engine 5 and Unity to Godot and GameMaker can export browser versions these days.

While I absolutely do not want another video game store client, I can see opportunities to build certain games into software I already use for games. I certainly don't imagine Discord intend for this to take on Steam, nor run big and complex games, but it could be quite nice for fun chill social things. For example, Discord is functionally already how I play the Jackbox Party Pack games, so I would appreciate an official built-in version which skipped the faff of setting up screensharing and getting people to use the right room code and all that. Discord is also used as chat software far beyond video game circles, so more hangout features like music players would be useful.

"We want Discord to grow into the best place for developers to do it all: build, share, distribute, be discovered, and monetize their work," Discord said in yesterday's announcement. Whether that will be attractive to developers, let alone financially worth it, remains to be seen. The SDK's page says details on monetisation are "coming soon". This is one of the few times that I actually want a new software platform to modestly succeed, rather than wishing that it instantly crash and burn and vanish forever (why does Ubisoft Connect still exist?).

The announcement also revealed that Discord plan to start letting you use Apps outside their home servers, also starting on Monday. "We want it to be easier for users to access apps, so we're experimenting with a way for users to add apps to their accounts to use in spaces they're in across Discord," they explain.

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