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?”)

11 thoughts on “The REAL Problem With Voice Chat

  1. Talyn

    I said it at Darren’s and I’ll say it here: *stop with the RP over VOIP already* It’s g’damned creepy.

    Seriously, I couldn’t care less if you’re actually a 45 year-old accountant from Walla Walla, Washington (in fact, I just assume that you are). My buff night elf warrior avatar is flirting RPing with your hawt night elf druid avatar via /emote /say or /tell. I am not RPing with you, so stop making me want to call a psychologist, the authorities, or an exorcist by crossing that line and trying to RP in voice chat.

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  2. yunk

    There is also the Quiet Guy that you have to turn up the volume on and keep reminding to speak up. (unfortunately that’s me!)

    I don’t get the RP in voice chat. I spent many years doing Improv on stage, so I am perfectly comfortable acting, but I don’t do it in a chat. I’m not interested for a variety of reasons, probably for the same reason I don’t read fanfiction or RP stories people write.

    Anyway LOTRO is the WORST for unpronounceable names. When we talk in vent we just make up names for places because most of us can’t pronounce or remember them.

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  3. Debes

    I’d be careful about LOTRO having the worst names. I haven’t played it myself, but in Eve, names like Hedaleofarber are common for systems. It actually gets better in 0.0, where everything is alpha-numeric and obviously not meant to be pronounced. Even then, most people just say the first three letters (usually about where the dash is) even in chat. So you get “emm dash emm” for M-MD3B or “enn dee kue” for N-DQ0D. Tickers make it easy to talka bout corp/alliance, and if you know a little Norse and Roman mythology, you can pronounce every ship name in the game.

    Character names, ont he other hand, are just as bad as everywhere else. My own name gets pronounced about 4 ways cause know one knows their Latin anymore. Heathens.

    (Yes, I did memorized how to spell Hedal)

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  4. syncaine

    I’m by FAR the worst with names. I usually skip over almost half in any book I read, let alone games. That’s why I love when a game has voice in it, because they pronounce things for you.

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  5. Tuebit

    I figure if the lore-gurus can’t come up with pronounceable names, I’m free to amuse myself in voice chat by mispronouncing the non-pronounceables in crude / rude or other interesting ways. Our little group knows exactly what we’re each talking about, much more so than if we’d tried to pronounce correctly.

    Lotro Examples:
    Gabilshathur …. gerbil shitter
    Malenhad …. melon head

    etc.

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  6. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Yunk: I thought about that briefly. I used to be “Mumbly Joe” on every guild or chat channel. Then I got a Plantronics USB headset with a decent mic. Now my friends wish I was quiet guy again!

    On LOTRO names though, I seem to be okay. That is because I have read and said aloud most of those names already. However, if you think LOTRO has the worst names, go look at some of those system names at the EVE Online site. I did not go for the worst in my example, just ones I travel through regularly.

    @Tubit: I actually do the same thing. For example, the name from EVE, Uosusuokko, tends to be “You-Suck-O” when I assign it an actual sound in my head.

    But here in Silicon Valley tech, making up derogatory names for competitors is a constant and ongoing game, so I have practice. Other industries may also do this of course, but I can only compare it to my short stint in advertising, where odd sexual practices and repulsive personal habits used to be the main thing ascribed to the competition.

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  7. Cheston

    My friends and I always believed it was KWAY-noz for the longest time, only when I watched a dev video did I realize my mistake. The best was one of my friends who would pronounce the Dreadlands, DREED-lands, we would tease him endlessly, yet he never stopped. I never understood why he called it that but I guess that is just what he saw.

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  8. Talyn

    I’m certainly guilty of coming up with unique names, though I feel they’re appropriate to the character and setting. I try to make sure they’re readily pronounceable though. I’ve only ever had one that drove everyone bonkers trying to pronounce it because I used a pseudo Celtic spelling: my night elf warrior back in WoW, Sciobraeh (pronounced “shy-BRAY-uh” or just “Shy” for short). Although my friends and I had plenty of laughs listening to how strangers pronounced it over voicechat until we finally corrected them.

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  9. Game Dame

    What bugs me about Voice Chat is a bit different. I can just not find enough to say. There are all these long awkward pauses with people you realize you don’t know as well as you thought you did. And then it’s distracting. I’m trying to kill 3 mobs attacking me watching my timers and my health and my mana and you’re babbling to me about your kid’s new job at Best Buy. And, BOOM, I’m dead. Grrrrrr. Maybe I just don’t have the brain space for all that input. Of course, my main is only at level 51 and I’ve never done any raiding — the only purpose that I believe voice chat is good for — so maybe I’m just talking through my hat. Wanted to give my 2 cents anyway.

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  10. Talyn

    Nah I’m not crazy about voice chat just for the helluvit either. I quit my first LOTRO kinship because they started making it mandatory to login to their Ventrilo server at all times you were playing any character in the kinship. Why? No idea, but that was taking things too far for me. The few times I ever used VOIP for other than raiding/grouping, it was usually officer meetings or just chatting with friends and I made sure I sent my character somewhere harmless so that I didn’t get too distracted. Well, more distracted than normal :p

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