If you play games on the regular, chances are you have a Discord account. Since its launch, Discord has usurped other once-popular messaging apps, like Skype and TeamSpeak, as the go-to service for close-knit friend groups and larger gaming communities to congregate.
It doesn’t seem like Discord will be resting on those laurels anytime soon, at least not with its latest big update. A trio of sizable new additions have come to Discord in the form of Activities, a dedicated App Directory, and the global launch of Nitro Basic.
Discord Activities, especially, feel like a genuinely ingenious addition. In short, Activities are fun little games or apps accessible within Discord that you can play with your friends on call. If you've never used the app before, I think the addition of Activities make it worth learning how to use Discord if you haven't already.
Last week, we got to try out a handful of these Activities at a virtual Discord event, and I came away both impressed and excited about what they can add to the various Discord communities I’m part of.
Box of toys
During the event, we played a couple of simple multiplayer games, built right into the Discord app. First was Putt Party – mini golf with a helping of Mario Kart-style item box zaniness. It was great fun, especially as all players took their shots simultaneously, à la Golf With Your Friends.
Even better was Sketch Heads, a Jackbox-esque scribbling free-for-all, that pitted a team of ‘artists’ against a team of guessers. The crew in charge of drawing had to collaborate and sketch out the prompt, while the opposing team guessed what they were attempting to draw. Imagine Pictionary, but it’s eight people all sharing one board. It’s simple, ludicrous fun.
Last up is Watch Together, a straightforward YouTube app that lets everyone on call queue a playlist of videos and watch them in sync. I found this to be a massively useful tool for watching videos together with friends, without the dip in quality that comes as a result of streaming or screen sharing via Discord.
Game within a game
You may be thinking: why bother playing games in Discord when, usually, the whole point of grouping up on the app is to join like-minded communities in larger multiplayer games?
Well, it’s important to stress that Discord Activities look to be supplementary. You’re likely not joining a call just to play Putt Party or Sketch Heads. But even if you are, I imagine they’ll work as fantastic icebreaker games if, say, you’re on call with people who you might not know.
But I think the main draw to Discord Activities will be their simple ‘a few minutes at a time’ gameplay loops. My friends and I regularly use Discord when playing Final Fantasy 14.
And as with any online multiplayer game, a good chunk of time is added up waiting in matchmaking queues. Activities effectively solve these wait times by giving group participants fun little distractions, keeping the mood lively during downtimes.
If you're on PC, at any rate. As of right now, Activities will only be available on Discord's desktop app. Understandable, as the feature is just now getting its sea legs. However I'd love for Activities to hit Android and iOS devices in future. And given Discord Voice's integration on Xbox Series X|S, I have to wonder if there's potential to eventually launch Activities on Microsoft's home console.
If there’s one thing you might see as a potential downside to Discord Activities, it’s that many of them will be locked behind the app’s premium Nitro subscription service. That’s a bit of a shame for non-Nitro subscribers, but from Discord’s point of view, it makes good business sense.
While I personally wish Activities were free across the board, tying some premium games and apps into the Nitro ecosystem is a safe bet to get more users to subscribe. The new Nitro Basic tier might be more appealing in this regard, accessing some of the premium service’s key benefits at a fraction of the monthly cost.
The silver lining here is that only activity hosts are required to have a Nitro subscription to play premium Activities with a group. Again, like Jackbox, you won’t necessarily need to pay to play these games so long as the host has access.
Overall, I think Activities are a great addition to Discord. They seem like great ways to break the ice when talking to new people, and might serve as fun little distractions while you’re waiting in matchmaking queues. I hope it’s a feature that Discord supports for years to come. Eventually, I’d love to have access to a vast library of little timewasters while chatting online with friends.
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Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.