Vivox remains one of the biggest veterans in online gaming voice and social services. We got the chance to talk with the team and learn about their partnerships with Player Unknown Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and many other top games this year.
MMORPG: Vivox has come a long way over the past few years -- tell us what you have been up to recently?
Vivox: Over the past few years, we have been focused on improving our platform in order to keep delivering the best integrated voice and text chat possible to our clients. Our technology keeps evolving through new releases and features; and this has been key in our growth with clients such as Rainbow Six Siege, PUBG, Fortnite and many others.
While we started our business with games like EVE Online and the EverQuest franchise, we’ve seen a great deal of success working with match-based games on PCs and on consoles, where users don’t have as many quality options to choose from. It’s been a wonderful evolution of our product and brand, resulting in over 85 million monthly active users, and we’re excited to explore even more gaming genres in the future.
We’ve spent the last few years improving our core technology - improving the user experience, enabling new levels of scalability and reliability, and simplifying the developer experience. In addition we’ve expanded our support for mobile and web-based developers, and have begun investing in improved support for the Unreal and Unity game engines.
Finally, we have released a free version of our product, which lets any game developer use our technology for free up to a set amount of concurrent users. We believe this is a very important step in democratizing communication software as it allows developers to keep players in their ecosystem while also providing a reliable communication system to their users without impacting their overall budget.
MMORPG: What are some of the technical advancements that Vivox has made to work with games on the scale of PUBG?
Vivox: Vivox has always been able to scale well thanks to the experience of our team and maturity of our technology, but your question about PUBG’s scale is a valid one. We were definitely faced with a new sort of hurdle we’d never seen before, especially with their rapid growth to 3 million concurrent players.
When we initially began our testing with PUBG, neither our team nor PUBG Corp had any idea that the game was going to be as successful as it has ended up becoming. A few of the staff members - Brendan Greene included - believed that the game would likely do well, but the sheer amount of word-of-mouth marketing that accompanied PUBG was astounding. So, while we had provisioned our servers with a certain PCU number in mind, that was clearly blown away within the first few days of the game launching on early access.
Thankfully, we had had several larger clients just before PUBG, including Elder Scrolls Online, that had allowed us to reinvest in our scalability and stability. Thus our software was in a good place to handle the load. On the server side the main challenge has been growing the server footprint rapidly enough to keep up with demand. Even cloud based services like AWS require some lead time to enable the number of servers required to operate services for a game of this scale.
MMORPG: What options do players have with voice that separates Vivox from other companies?
Vivox: One of the biggest benefits for players using Vivox – aside from a lag-free, reliable service – is that our platform is integrated directly into the game. The player doesn’t need to download a separate app or client. If you tend to work with PUGs or solo queue in PvP matchmaking type events, this makes coordinating with your teammates to plot out tactics and strategy much easier.
Options for players will vary game by game, depending on how an individual developer chooses to enable social features for their players. In something like PUBG or H1Z1, players can use Vivox’s 3D positional chat to talk to other nearby players in the game. In Rainbow Six Siege or other match based games, players might get a chat channel dedicated to their team for each match.
Console titles specifically have a degree of difficulty in matching players with one another using the first party systems (hence why you see so many web-based LFG tools popping up). Now that voice has been embraced by the latest gaming generation, more and more developers are trying to figure out the best way to implement the option in their game without making heavy personnel investments that are better served focusing on gameplay.
On top of everything else, our services are 100% cross platform so, as long as the developers allow it, players can communicate with other players independently of which platforms they are playing on.
Finally, our users also enjoy several other advantages due to the server based nature of our technology due to the server based nature of our technology. For instance, players never have to worry about the infamous NAT issues. Our service also supports thousands of players in a single chat, which greatly expands chat possibilities and the ability for developers to allow organic engagement in their online spaces. We’ve found ways to break through many of the typical limitations that you’d find with some of the existing communications platforms, and we believe it’s a real advantage for developers.
MMORPG: What’s the process for developers/publishers to integrate Vivox into their games?
Vivox: Basically, in order for developers to get our voice chat in their game they need to contact us through [email protected]. We then give them access to our SDK, which they can easily integrate and in a couple of weeks they should be able to launch our service in their game.
We’ve been working on driving this timeline to be as short as possible, and we’re pretty comfortable stating that we’re now in a position where the majority of the work is around UI and in the details, especially if you’re operating in Unreal or Unity. We’re moving closer and closer to the “drop-in” style solution that developers want to achieve - at least from the basic functionality standpoint.
One of our developers recently extolled how easy the initial set-up process was by saying, “We plugged everything in, and it just worked. It worked right out of the box.”
MMORPG: What are some upcoming improvements you are working on for 2018?
Vivox: In 2018, we will be continuing to improve and expand the tools that are available for developers who would like to integrate Vivox’s technology into their game, striving for that “drop-in” functionality that we’re aiming to achieve with all developers. This means more sample applications, web-based communication tools for like-minded dev teams, and more.
One example of this is our improved support for Unreal and Unity developers through our dedicated packages that make it even simpler to integrate our technology on those platforms.
On our internal product side, we’re going to continue to improve the quality of our audio and figure out ways to minimize background noise and improve the experience for players. We’re also talking to a number of our partners about the challenges presented by toxic players. Toxicity in online games isn’t limited to voice chat, but voice chat presents some unique challenges in dealing with large volumes of real-time audio data. Lobby experiences can be extremely entertaining if done properly, and we’re hoping to grant developers more tools to make this a reality.
Additionally, we’re hoping to work with a few game developers that are interested in developing games using the 3D audio space as a primary tool for their game and have the NPCs in that space react to teams as they communicate. Gamers love immersion, and we feel like it’s an untapped avenue that would be interesting for developers to iterate on.
MMORPG: How did your relationship with PUBG Corp. evolve as PUBG began to grow so quickly?
Vivox: Like we discussed in the previous question, PUBG’s growth caught everyone by surprise. Initially, everything was fairly standard in the PUBG Corp. case, but this changed quickly as they started growing. More resources were allocated, meetings were held more frequently and we had to strategically plan how we wanted to manage growth both from their perspective and ours. We knew that the game would do well, but we didn’t realize it would be quite so big or quite so soon.
The PUBG partnership grew as the game grew, and we have a very positive relationship with PUBG Corp. and the PUBG team. We flew to Gstar this year and attended a number of the PUBG Corp. hosted events, and we look forward to continuing to explore new possibilities with the team as we move forward.
MMORPG: Having Vivox remain a lasting source in games for so long, what is some advice you have for other developers?
Vivox: It might sound trivial, but it is extremely important to listen to your player base. While their complaints might not always be something that can be acted upon, it’s useful to have an understanding of why players are concerned with a feature or a design choice. Sometimes you might get caught up in an idea or the complexities of developing and not realize about things that your players need or want. If you can match this with internal metrics or industry examples before implementing a new idea or feature, things will likely be much smoother in the long run.
For middleware developers in particular, it is important to always try to be a good partner, helping and facilitating as much as possible, Even though the video game industry has grown so much; relationships, references and reputation are of paramount importance in this space.
Other than that, it’s important to not be afraid to fail or be faced with challenges. At Vivox we have had many iterations of our core tech and different communication ideas, but we feel like we’ve found a number of ideas and concepts that will keep us moving forward and be a part of more games in the future.
If you are passionate about a project and put forth the necessary effort, you will eventually be rewarded. It might not be in the way you think, but eventually success will come.