Daily Archives: October 18, 2007

The REAL Problem With Voice Chat

I have heard people complain about various aspects of voice communications when used with MMOs.  I have seen rants on:

Quality – Voice quality was once the prime barrier to voice chat over the net.  Lag, distortion, clipping, and all sorts of bandwidth related issues kept voice from being viable until a few years back.  That was one of the key advantage of playing games at the office.  We would just use the company phone system and set up our own conference calls. 

These days, however, quality is relatively good.  Part of this is through improvements in the voice over IP software and the increase in bandwidth available to the average user.  But I am convinced that part of our acceptance of voice over IP is related to the fact that we have all gotten so used to crappy connections with our mobile phones that IP based voice chat does not have to work too hard to sound good in comparison! 

Annoyance – As in, it is much easier to be annoying when you are talking than when you are typing.  Darren at The Common Sense Gamer posted some of the likely suspects in this category, (his post prompted me to finally finish this one), though he forgot The Kibitzer and The Fifth Wheel on his list. (They might belong to a guild-only subspecies not covered by his topic.) 

You know The Kibitzer, the person who isn’t actually in your raid or group, but who is hanging out on your channel, giving advice. 

And the Fifth Wheel, who is similar to The Kibitzer, but who avoids the topic of what your group is doing and simply distracts your group from the task at hand with all sorts of off-topic comments and questions. 

I have been in enough guild voice servers to have gotten my fill of those two. 

Immersion – The purist viewpoint: If that moon elf hottie turns out to be a 42 year old guy from Great Neck, the immersion is totally ruined.  And it puts a strain on role playing because, as anybody who has ever attended a renaissance faire can tell you, the ability to do a good and convincing English accent is a rare talent indeed.

Those are but mere trifles.

Let me tell you what I see as the main problem with voice chat.

Pronunciation –  I can’t say your name, I can’t tell you where I am, and I am not going to attempt to pronounce the thingy I’m wielding. 

It might just be me, but my brain can accept a string of characters to represent something without ever having to work out how to pronounce that string.  Years and years of playing games with strange names I have not had to pronounce has reinforced this tendency.   

If I am reading a book and I get to an odd word or name, I will often say it aloud, just to get my mind around it, but in a game such a word just becomes a symbol in my brain for that name, item, or location.  I even have characters with names I have never even thought to try and pronounce aloud.

So, as an example, there I was in EVE Online with Potshot, we were on Skype, and he asked what system I was in.

Of course, I was not in Jita or Mara, or even Todaki.  I might manage those.

No, I was in Uemisaisen. 

And I was about to use the gate to Litiura, because I was travelling to the State War Academy in Uosusuokko to pick up the skill “Plagioclase Processing,” but I cannot pronounce any of those names on the fly. 

I cannot pronounce most of those names after sitting and thinking about them.

So, instead I said something like, “Uh… I’m headed to the system that starts with “U-O” that was one over from where we were mining last week.”

Not very helpful.

An extreme example maybe, but not uncommon. I have more like that one. 

I started my first EverQuest character in Qeynos on the E’ci server.  For years I said the city name as KWAY-noz instead of KEY-nose.  And E’ci?  I just said “E-C-I.”  It was only this year, eight years after I rolled that first character, that I learned it was pronounced “EE-see.”

And it happens every day on voice.  

Even World of WarCraft, which has done a commendable job of keeping things pronounceable (should that have been a Pardo speaking point in his keynote at AGC last year?  Is “make the world easy to say” a secret of WoW success?) trips me up once in a while.  I always feel like I am saying “Gnomergan” wrong, though most people just say “Gnomer.”

So when I use voice chat, I can deal with moderate voice quality issues, I know how to avoid the annoyances, and I can cope with the occasional bad fake accent, but please don’t ask me what star system I am in.  I might be passing through Uemisaisen again, and I’ll have to wait until I get to Ossa to respond.

(Ossa. Is that “AH-Sah” or “OH-sah?”)