(Wired) Voice communication is coming to massive online worlds, and may bring big changes in how people use them. There’s a lot you can do in pervasive online worlds like Second Life or World of Warcraft, but the one thing that’s missing is integrated voice. Demand is driving players to third-party software like Skype or TeamSpeak, which allows players to talk to each other inside the game. But many of these third-party voice clients are starting to free players from any single world. Groups of players, linked by external instant-messaging or voice-chat software, are wandering from world to world. Demand for voice chat is increasing, and how publishers of text-only worlds respond could have a significant impact on their development.
Mystech: I actually consider this a good thing. While I have my visions about mobs (not MOBs) of vulgarity screaming cyber-miscreants, I also think that controlled audio chat could add a level of intimacy for the casual or small scale gamer. Particularly those building on existing friendships.
Tech entrepreneur and World of Warcraft player Joi Ito recently told a group of VCs and CEOs that fully 80 percent of the communication between members of his WOW guild takes place outside the game.
Ito and his guild use TeamSpeak, an internet teleconferencing system. Ito said his guild meets regularly in Second Life, and he frequently listens in even when he’s not in World of Warcraft.
Some players are using Skype, which lets up to 10 people converse simultaneously. And Skypecasts, still in preview, can accommodate 100 or more and may become a popular alternative.
Now, a new company, Vivox, is readying an in-game voice service that may help draw players into games and keep them engaged, rather than serving as an open door to other worlds.
For Eve Online, Vivox is integrating voice directly into the game’s interface, for rollout this fall.
“Even something as simple as being able to mute all your gang members while you are giving your orders will greatly improve (communications) in the heat of fleet battle,” said senior producer Nathan Richardsson.
And one voice feature planned for later release will actually call players back into the game. Voice messages sent in-game will relay to the real world, so impending battles can be met with calls-to-arms to team members not even logged in.
For Second Life, Vivox will be sold to individuals and businesses operating in world.
Languagelab.com is just one of many companies poised to take advantage of a Vivox location-based voice system for stores, clubs or conference facilities.
By this winter, students will be able to attend an immersive language school in an online world. And class might include practicing language skills at a virtual wedding, complete with bride, groom and guests.
Languagelab.com hopes students from all over the world will enjoy classes in interactive spaces like a holodeck-style area, where the virtual weather keeps changing to aid vocabulary practice.
Vivox is also working on person-to-person chat, which should be available in Second Life by fall.
There is some resistance to the introduction of voice in online worlds. Deaf gamers, for instance, who enjoy not being different in a world focused on text chat, may feel singled out by voice chat. And in Second Life, where avatars don’t even have to be humanoid, residents may not want their Bronx accents coming from their dainty, Tinker Bell-like avatar. And then, one’s avatar might be a member of the opposite sex.
In virtual world There, which integrated voice long ago, former community manager Ron Meiners recalls finding a real-world friend by accident, simply by recognizing the friend’s voice.
Voice, said Meiners, “becomes a huge advantage, not only to fast communication, but also to the immersiveness, because you’re able to speak to your friends and hear them.”