Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Social aspects of voice chat

One of the current trends in MMORPGs is integrated voice chat. Dungeons & Dragons Online already has it, and Lord of the Rings Online will have it too. EVE Online just announced that you can now have integrated voice chat in their game too, but you need to pay $10 per year for it. Even the non-game Second Life is introducing integrated voice chat. So what are the implications of that?

Voice chat is a useful tool when you try to coordinate a group in some activity which needs coordination and fast action. I have done World of Warcraft raids with and without voice chat, and the if properly used the voice chat gives you more of an advantage than half a dozen epics. In PvP the superiority of a team using voice chat against a team not using it isn't even funny any more. But in spite of these measurable advantages, my guild isn't using voice chat any more, and I know a lot of people who are reluctant to use it, or downright refuse to do so.

One problem is that voice chat only helps if somebody is giving orders, and the other players are following these orders. Back in the days of Molten Core my guild had a very nice guy, with a good voice, and a knack for giving clear instructions. He wasn't even an officer in the guild, but him announcing when to start and stop damage dealing on mobs was such a constant factor that even my wife recognized his voice as the "go dps guy", just from listening to me raiding. I once did an afternoon of Arathi Basin PvP with the guy, and him directing us to the hot spots made us win every game. If somebody gives orders and people follow these orders, giving the orders by voice is simply faster and more efficient than typing.

But not everybody is comfortable or able giving orders. The reason why my guild isn't using voice chat any more is that the officers say that everybody should think for themselves. Which is nice in theory, but rarely leads to everybody ending up thinking the same thing. They are insofar right as voice chat is less helpful for a 10-man Karazhan raid, where there are many different functions to perform by few people. In a 40-man Molten Core raid there were essentially 30 people doing the same job, dealing damage, and coordinating that helped more. Nevertheless I feel a certain reluctance of some people to bark orders and expecting others to follow them. Voice chat is not very effective for discussing strategy, that is easier done with typing, where people can scroll back to re-read things if needed, and two people "talking" at once is less of a problem.

Thus while a pickup group in Lord of the Rings Online theoretically has the option to use voice chat for coordination, I don't really see that happening all that often. Establishing effective leadership in a pickup group is hard to impossible.

The other big drawback is the inevitable breaking of the fourth wall that comes with voice chat. If communication is by typing, you can pretend to be somebody else for role-playing purposes. You can play a character of another gender, age, or physical build than yourself in a MMORPG. Voice chat breaks that illusion, because you can't help your voice revealing a lot about your gender, age, and origin. You lose a part of the internet anonymity which is quite cherished by a lot of players. If you were a teenager with a squeaky or breaking voice, would you want to use voice chat at all? And while currently one out of every two female characters in WoW is played by a man, voice chat would much reduce this possibility of gender-bending.

Of course willingness or unwillingness to use voice chat is also a cultural phenomenon. I don't know why, but I observed than whenever I played with Germans, even in a pickup group, the first thing that was exchanged was the Teamspeak coordinates, so the group could use voice chat. British players tend to reserve voice chat for their "mates". Which given the fact that all Europeans who don't have their own language servers tend to play on the English servers, thus populating it with a very wide range of different accents, is probably a wise choice. With voice chat quality not always being optimal, having to deal with accents from Israelian to Scandinavian isn't always easy.

Personally I have two problems with voice chat: One is that I hate wearing headphones, they tend to hurt my ears after a couple of hours. The second is that I don't live alone, and you can't use voice chat without the other people in your appartment hearing it, which can be annoying for them. Especially if (see One) I'm not wearing headphones and have voice chat incoming over the loudspeakers. And of course that works in both directions, everybody who ever used voice chat has a funny story where something that wasn't supposed to be communicated slipped through an open mike. (Word to the wise: Only use button-activation, never voice activation.)

I can see the interest of using integrated voice chat for PvP-centric games. The one game that should have voice chat, but doesn't, is Guild Wars. Neither will the upcoming Warhammer Online. Voice chat in EVE sounds like a good idea (although having to pay for it doesn't), and could even be considered to be "in character". For a more PvE-centric game like Lord of the Rings Online the interest in integrated voice chat is less pronounced. I never used it in the beta, but then I was soloing most of the time anyway. The one thing I certainly wouldn't want to have is some sort of General Chat channel over voice chat. The level of immaturity reigning on typed general chats is already bad enough, no need to hear all those swear words over voice.
there is a chatprogram in the making just for mmorpgs that alters your voice into dorfish/elfish or whatever.
dunno the name :p
Personaly I'm a huge fan of voice chat. I recently changed guild and I'm finding it very weird how they use it much less often than I did.
Just have to say I disagree with "Establishing effective leadership in a pickup group is hard to impossible.". It can be harder or easier depending of the class that you play. Taken seriously while being a hunter is a challenge (been there, done that), but as a warrior it is much easier (been there also). Usualy when I pug, I take control of the group. Some form of leadership makes things go much more smoothly, if you can show this works, they will be less reluctant to do what you ask from that moment on.
We use teamspeak all the time playing raids and 5man in WOW. It's accepted by everyone in guild and works fine.

As tank it's often me that leads partys and I insist on TS when leading PUGs since typing orders to newbies while trying to play above standard to compensate for lack of gear and experience in others is hard.
Don't take this the wrong way Tobold, but perhaphs some of your frustrations from zones like Black Morass and Karazhan, could have been avoided if your guild or PUGs were using Vent?

I refuse to run instances with people who won't or can't use Vent. It adds a level of frustration that just doesn't need to be there.

Especially Karazhan. How do you guys set up pulls efficiently without voice direction, and unless you macro like crazy, you can't possibly be keeping each other as informed as you need to be.

Voice Chat is not about dictatorial leadership, and the peons following orders... In a fluid raid team, everyone needs to be speaking on vent when the time is appropriate...

"I'll shackle the orange circle." "Shakle broke! Reshackling, warrior pick up add before it one shots a healer."

"Ice Block dropping, need a tank on it."

"OOM, please blow shield wall so we can med"

Its not like the old days of MC where One person commanded every action and 39 people were expected to shut up and listen. To be successful in the current game, everyone needs to participate and keep teh raid informed about what is going on.
I agree with cyndre. Having vent makes group work ten times better in more cases than not..
I don't know why people can't accept Hunters as the Group Leader, but it's a prejudice I've run into as well, despite the fact that a group willing to let an experienced, knowledgeable Hunter do the pulling is almost guaranteed to have a smooth run.

For some reason people are more willing to accept the Tank as leader than the guy who initiates combat. Then again, the point man is also rarely the leader of the squad.

My Guild has Vent and it adds so much more to the game, and not just in Raids. It makes this game even more sociable when you can log in on a Friday or Saturday night to hang out and chat with your on-line friends.
Voice chat is great for raiding as long as there is a clear distinction in who is giving voice commands. More often than not, the voice channel becomes a chaotic melting pot of voices yelling "I'm garroted". Who are you again? I tend to be "dps guy" for my guild runs. I have a voice for radio apparently...

I don't live alone either, in fact I have young children in the next room, generally sleeping while Dad is gaming. I'll put on the headphones if necessary, but try to limit my speech for this reason. I'll chatter before a boss fight, but not on each and every pull.

For 5-mans, voice chat is nice, but not necessary. The usage of icons and laying out the battle order prior to even pulling one mob can deal with 80% of the situations you'll encounter. When things get out of hand, no amount of voice chat will save you; more often than not it's the skill of the party that will overcome a bad pull, feared into mob, resisted trap, whatever.
Cyndre has it right.

Our 5 mans are a lot funner when people are telling jokes and casually talking while killing dragons.
After being on the phone all day long at work, the last thing I want to do is get on Vent to play WoW. It will just have to work without voice and that's that.
Another concern is that hearing impaired players will feel left out, once voice chat becomes a common feature.

MMORPGS are a nice refuge for the deaf or disabled to have equal footing.

And, not everyone has done voice chat, with strangers, so your post was very helpful, so thanks.
I used to think that voice chat in WoW battlegrounds would be great, but after playing a WSG match today, I think I'm going to change my mind. The chat of some of the people reminded me too much of the infamous "Barrens chat" and that's something I never want to have to actually listen to. Keep the pugs to text. There's a reason few people complain about it, and it's not because they don't know the people steamrolling them have voice chat.
"having to deal with accents from Israelian to Scandinavian"

Tobold, it's "Israeli accent", not "Israelian". Not idea why tbh, but that's the correct usage. It's like a person from Scotland has a "Scottish" accent and not a "Scotlandian accent" :)

Voice communication is great, the 5-man guild runs I do with TeamSpeak are always and without exception better than the ones where we don't use TS. Kara raids are TS obligatory, no exceptions. You don't have to talk, but you must be able to listen.

My ears also used to hurt from the headphones, until I switched to a pair of cheap lightweight headphones that sit very lightly on my head and hardly press at all. It's a headphones+mike combo that's ideal for playing WoW but I wouldn't recommend it for listening to music :)
I think it's good to have the option to use external programs like Teamspeak/Vent, but I would hate to have it forced on me.
I was once an avid "Call Of Duty" fan and our clan (Guild) used Teamspeak extensively for league or cup matches, but it was a close group of friends. When they released the sequel, an integrated voice communications program was added. Anyone who connected to the servers could talk freely. After a long day at work, the last thing I wanted was to listen to squeaky voiced teenagers yelling "N00B!!11" at each other.
I do think voice chat can help every instance run to go more smoothly.

I'm a healer (Pally), and there is NO WAY I'd be able to effectively type in a run while spamming flash of light on the MT on some bosses without letting the tank die.

A prime example of a 5 man instance where communication is key is Black Morass. Yes, you can ping the map to show where the portals are, but typing all the other info you need and still doing the instance at the pace it requires is a lot harder than with vocal communication.

In PUGs I can live without it, and to be honest I am quite aware that if all the PUGs I'd been in used voice communication, I'd probably get annoyed faster than I usually do. I've watched part of a multi-player tournament of some FPS and the chat, even without voice was really immature. However, in MMOs your character is 'built up', and that takes a lot of work, enough so that even some teenagers avoid getting a bad reputation for their toon or guild. Not all, of course, but plenty.

As to the leadership lacking in a PUG - a lot of times someone takes over the group. When someone doesn't, it's usually a sign that things might not proceed exactly well.

Sophia the Healadin
Tobold, have you tried in-ear headphones? I have the same problem that regular headphones hurt my ears when used for long periods. So I use a 2-hardware solution: in-ear earbuds for listening, and a conventional headset mic hanging over my neck for speaking (I don't plug in the listening plug, but only the microphone plug).
For one thing, I refuse to even run in a PuG anymore, mainly due to the fact that it is almost impossible to effectively communicate without voice chat. As I've told others, voice chat really allows you more room to mess up, because its easier to fix, whereas if you mess up a little bit and then have to type in how to fix it you are likely dead.

You also forgot one really great aspect of voice chat. I will occasionally get on vent to talk to my friends in my guild when I'm not raiding or even in game for that matter because I like talking to them or want to know what is going on later that night. This is something that I really enjoy having and would have loved to have back during my days of 1st gen games when I was even closer to those players than ones I currently play with.

The guy that is pissy and doesn't want to use vent is the one that wipes the group.

Then wonders, "How come I don't get anymore invites?"
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