PC gamers using the Steam client have typically had to turn to third-party programs such as Discord or Teamspeak to power in-game voice chat, but it looks like Valve is finally getting around to integrating the much-desired feature with the introduction of a new Steam Chat service. The company said that many of these changes would also let it make more updates to web-based Steam components in the future, which should help improve the core experience offered by the nigh-ubiquitous game marketplace.
The chat platform lets you compile a friends list (with features like favorites and group chats) and shows what game everyone is playing. Voice chat was rewritten using WebRTC which means that voice chat is encrypted now, that traffic is sent through Steam servers, and that it uses Opus encoding now. Online friends are now grouped by what game they are playing. The company didn't elaborate on the general improvements, but it did say that you can quickly see if your friends are in a voice chat right from your friends list, and that you should notice "clear, crisp voice quality before, during, and after your games".
Valve's feeling the pressure from Discord (and other chat services) and an overhaul of the chat interface and functionality was long overdue.
If you are already enrolled in the beta releases, you may have to restart your client to get the new chat features.
Within a group chat you have the option to add additional text channels, voice channels, member permissions. Available in beta now, the Steam Chat update acknowledges that a chat-life without animated gifs, YouTube links, and voice chat that doesn't blare out your IP address every time you speak isn't a chat-life worth living.