Vivox: Serving Chat in MMOs
I’ve always enjoyed talking to Monty Sharma, Vivox’s Founder and Vice President of Product Management and Marketing, and we spoke candidly at GDC Austin about what Vivox has been up to since we last interviewed him in 2006.
Since EVE Online, Vivox voice chat has been integrated into Second Life, Fallen Earth, Atlantica Online and Global Agenda to name a few, and SoE’s products, including an announcement of a rollout of their HD (High Definition) voice chat in DCUO. With improved sampling rate, the new code also has better echo canceling and just better all-around Audio quality.
We chatted about how voice chat has been received by development companies and players in the various games that have voice provided by Vivox.
“It’s a pity about APB,” Monty opined, “it was the best voice implementation we’ve done to date.”
He also spoke of the early days when devs were afraid of the possibility of abuse, of the possibility of verbal harassment.
“We provided training, and actually a feature that captures a recording that is sent to customer support,” said Monty, “And in the 3 ½ years of deployment in EVE Online… we’ve not received a single complaint.”
This is how it works. Like the /report tool that captures several lines of text, a “record button” captures a buffer of a couple minutes before it is pressed to a couple minutes after and sends the file to the game’s customer service, and to his knowledge, has never been used.
I postulated it was the human component in voice interaction, the vocal nuances that is possible in voice interaction and Monty agreed. “There’s tone of voice, and you can hear if someone is joking,” he said, “the emotional tenor in voice is critical.”
Besides the sound cues, it’s also much easier to call someone a jerk in text then actually say it out loud. We touched on the problems women still encounter in online games and why many women won’t chat in pickup groups or at all, online. Vivox also provides voice fonts these days, and they’ve rolled them out in some games. EVE Online has them for free, in Second Life, you buy them in packs and Imvu sells them singly. I tried the creepy male “Slasher” voice, the “Starlet” voice which sounded disturbingly like an anime voice actress and a couple more regular male voices and was impressed by the sound quality as it picked up the inflections in my voice as I sneered, threatened, joked and laughed. Yes, imagine a deep male belly chuckle coming out of all 5 foot one inch of me. But Monty also informed me that from purchase data, their female voice fonts are just as popular as the male.
Another thing we touched on back in 2006 was kid safety in voice chat and somehow, our conversation devolved into how we as parents should not expect someone else to keep our kids safe. “We bring our kids to the playground and watch as they play with other kids, and we check on them and ask who they’ve been talking to,” said Monty, “Why do we think the game should be watching our kids when they play?”
That said however, Vivox has a feature called “Mute for me” which allows kids to mute the guy they don’t want to hear. Parents can also pull a report which will show the handles that their children have been chatting with and time that they spend chatting, and just like text chat limitations available in kids games, Vivox has “token passing” built into their games where kids are allowed to talk only to people they know. For example, they will have to exchange their handles in the playground and give each other a “secret code” or parents have to confirm the permission via email before kids will be allowed to chat to each other. To date, although they have been making substantial progress with game developers, none have stepped up to be the first guinea pig so to say, in allowing voice chat for kids.
Voice chat has gained wide acceptance in the MMO world when integrated into the game. Just like the “Green Spam” of guild chat is something that players like to see while playing, listening to guild chat while playing and not having to lift your hands away from combat to chat is something that players enjoy. I think of the times when someone in my guild said “Aaaaaaaasss” in text instead of moving and had to chuckle.
“Our most popular feature is automatically joining the guild channel upon logging in,” said Monty, “Guild chat has become the new talk radio.”
This brings me to wonder about our readers here. Do you use voice chat in MMOs? For those that don’t. Would you use it if there were voice fonts for you to use?