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AGC: Monty Sharma

Interviews By Jon Wood on September 18, 2006

Vivox - Interview from AGC

This tool brings voices to EVE Online, Second Life and Fallen Earth

There’s a name that has been popping up more and more often in the news around the MMORPG industry. That name is Vivox. When it first started cropping up in various MMORPG.com news items, I didn’t really think much of it. After all, game companies are constantly pairing up with someone to provide additions to their game.

Vivox didn’t really come to my full attention until I attended a recent virtual press conference for EVE Online where the technology was used. As you may or may not have figured out by this point, Vivox is a provider of real-time voice communications for MMORPGs.

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It has been said that voice communication is the way of the future for communications in MMO gaming. After all, trying to type out conversations can make it hard to perform simple in-game actions, let alone complex combat tactics. Besides, people have been using outside voice communication programs for quite some time. Ventrilo, Teamspeak, Skype… the list goes on. The difference here is that Vivox is actually integrated right into the game, with no need to have a program running outside of the game, that feature alone speaks to the convenience of a product like Vivox offers.

At AGC, the company’s booth included in-game demos for three games that MMORPG.com readers might be familiar with: Second Life, Fallen Earth and EVE Online. I was lucky enough to get the grand tour from Monty Sharma, the company’s VP of Marketing who just happens to hail from my neck of the woods. During the tour, I learned a number of things about the product that I wasn’t aware of, and I thought might be good to share with all of you:

We started the tour in the EVE Online section of the booth. Monty was quick to point out that since the “essence of EVE is co-operation”, and the EVE space is so large and vast, the game needed a better way for players to communicate in-game. When the new software is integrated into the live game (originally scheduled for Sept. 26th, but rumor has it that it might be pushed back a few weeks), any of the game’s chat channels will have the option for players to switch to voice communication, from the general channel right down to private, player-created channels.

I am told that up to 50 people can be in the channel at once, and it will still sound as though you are in the same room. Thankfully, in a channel that chaotic (or just in general when people get annoying), you will also have the option to mute people.

Next, we moved on to the Second Life portion of our tour. Second Life, which is more of a virtual world space than a game, lends itself very well to support from Vivox technology. In-game, mics can be placed in rooms to allow those areas to support the voice features. This technology is especially useful in a gaming world where communication is 90% of the fun.

Finally, we made our way over to the Fallen Earth display. Now, it should be noted that the technology was only integrated into this game (which is still in development and has not yet made it to market) a week before the show, so of all of the displays, this one was the roughest. That’s actually saying something, since there were very few instances of the technology acting up in the slightest while in use. It was here that I learned about one of the coolest features that Vivox integrates into the game; the ability to make and receive calls to and from regular phones.

On the surface, this might not seem like such a cool feature, but honestly, how many of us have been stuck in traffic, late for a raid with no way to actually let anyone know what’s going on. Sure, you might be able to call someone, and hope they pass the message along, but wouldn’t it be great if you could just pull out your cell and call into the voice channel that your group is using? You’ll have that ability in Fallen Earth. Maybe though, it’s your friend who’s late for the raid. You’re chomping at this bit, ready to go, and good ‘ol Steve is nowhere to be found. Now there’s no need to even get out of your chair. You can call him from in-game.

These three games provide a pretty good example of what the Vivox technology can add to an MMORPG experience. I’ve got to say, I was pretty impressed. There were also numerous times throughout the tour when we spoke to others using the technology. Each time, it was a different person in a different part of the country. While we were in Austin, we spoke to one of Monty’s co-workers who was 20 miles outside of Boston, using a wireless connection. The sound quality was great with none of the distortion you can sometimes get when using a program like Skype.

Whether or not you believe that voice communication is the real way of the future for MMOs, the fact remains that there area lot of people out there who enjoy having the tool at-hand. Providers like Vivox will continue to innovate in those areas, trying to improve the gaming experience, as MMOs grow into the next generation.


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