Steam China will provide Chinese gamers and developers with a new way to access Steam's selection of games and entertainment. You can also save your group chats with a name and avatar, making it easier to come back to them later to pick up the conversation or to play games with those same friends.
The chat platform lets you compile a friends list (with features like favorites and group chats) and shows what game everyone is playing. Game developers will now have the option of including other information in list entries as well, such as where players are located in their game, or whether they're available for matchmaking.
Within a group chat you have the option to add additional text channels, voice channels, member permissions. Uploading images straight to the chat to share is also supported. It's free. You don't have to chat like it's 2004.
A preview of the Steam Chat platform. Screenshot by Gordon Gottsegen CNET
"Steam voice chat was rewritten from the ground up with a new WebRTC-based backend". As a result, voice chat uses high quality Opus encoding, voice traffic is encrypted, and all traffic is sent through Steam servers rather than directly to peers. As the new overhaul is only available in the client to Steam beta users, interested parties will need to go to the client's Settings and opt into the Steam Beta Update in the Accounts tab. The company said that the "new UI framework" and "important architectural improvements under the hood" will allow it to improve aspects of the core Steam experience once the new Steam Chat makes its debut.