Discord is great for gamers and non-gamers alike, but it’s still not for everyone. Some people find the interface confusing, while others think navigating the platform’s channels is overwhelming. And then there are those who would prefer not to trust Discord with all of their private conversations.
Whatever reason you have for not loving this platform, don’t worry: there are alternatives. We’ve talked about the best apps for group chats in the past, but this is not the same. Here we’re specifically focusing on services you can use instead of Discord, meaning they offer similar features, like text-based chats sorted into channels, and the option for multiple always-on audio channels for gaming.
Steam Chat: The Discord alternative gamers already have
Steam Friends & Chat is an interface built into the internet’s most popular videogame store. If you’re a gamer you almost certainly already have Steam downloaded to your computer and spend a lot of time playing games you bought on there.
To get started just open Steam and click the Friends & Chat button in the bottom right corner of the app. If you’ve added friends to the platform, you’ll see a list of them there along with a group chat feature. You can add as many text or voice channels as you want to individual group chats, allowing you to have several ongoing conversations with the same group of friends.
Steam’s chat service is not as feature-packed as Discord, so you don’t get a bot feature, for example, and all your text messages will disappear after only two weeks. On the other hand, Friends & Chat is free and fully integrated into Steam, so if you already use the platform to connect with your friends in multiplayer games, it’s probably easier to do your chatting there.
Slack: the business casual Discord alternative
The developers of Slack and Discord sell their platforms in totally different ways: while Slack’s homepage is all about productivity, work, and teams, Discord’s is all about gaming, art, and community. But this branding obscures the fact that, once installed, the two apps are almost but not quite identical. Both allow you to create a server that offers support for both audio-only hangouts along with video calling and is broken down into channels.
Where Discord and Slack differ greatly is the price. There’s a free version of Slack, but archives are limited to the most recent three months, and the audio-only voice chat feature only works between two people. Large communities usually grow out of Slack’s free features fairly quickly, which means that at some point, they’ll need the service’s more advanced perks. These come at the monthly price of $7.25 per person.
Discord, meanwhile, offers unlimited logs and audio chat for free, which is basically all you need to stay in touch with your friends. The paid tier of the service mostly unlocks nice-to-have perks like extra emoji and larger file uploads, and you can decide to pay or not regardless of the size of the community you belong to.
But if you don’t care about the paid features, Slack is a great place to hang out with friends online, and a great Discord alternative, especially if you’re already used the platform for work.
Element/Matrix: the open-source Discord alternative
Element is a lot nerdier than the other apps on this list because it’s built on Matrix, a decentralized and open-source chat protocol. Anyone can set up their own Matrix server, which they will own and operate independently of any company. (This is different than the misleadingly named “Discord servers”, which are owned and operated by the platform’s parent company.)
But you don’t have to set up your own server: you can create a free account on Matrix.org and use that to sign into Element. Once there, you can create encrypted group chats supporting text, video, and audio conversations, all in an interface that will feel familiar to Discord users.
Element as a Discord alternative faces a conundrum similar to that of Mastodon as a Twitter alternative. Both platforms offer total freedom if you’re willing to pay for web hosting. The problem is that most people won’t, so they never truly enjoy the full benefits of either service.
Mumble: the audio-only Discord alternative
Mumble is an open-source application and like Discord only in that it offers some of the same simple chat functionalities. Where Mumble truly goes above and beyond is in supporting high-quality, low-latency audio conversations, which will almost feel like you’re talking to your friends in the same room.
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Like Element, you’ll need a server to use Mumble. You can use one of the many public servers you’ll find all over the web (including at Mumble.com) but if you want to create your own, you’ll have to put in some effort—You’ll need to set up a server to host the conversation and have everyone involved in it connect to that server.
Once that’s all done you’ll have a reliable and free tool for high-quality audio conversations, which is ideal for gaming, podcasting, and more. Mumble may not be as user-friendly as Discord, but it’s arguably easier to use than Element, mainly because you can use a standard computer to host a server.