Gaming and Voice Chat
I was reading through the patch notes for the latest test build for LOTRO (Bullroarer Update 21.2 - Beta 1 Take 2) and was interested to find down at the bottom of the list, a reference to some changes that are coming to in-game voice chat. Namely, party member voice volume can be adjusted individually. Party volume control visibility can be toggled by clicking on the party voice chat icon for party members. Default Group Volume preference are to be added to the Voice section of Audio options. The volume slider can be used to set the default voice volume level of new group members. Its 75% volume by default. Well, huzzah with highly polished brass knobs on. I’m pleased that this is being done but isn’t it somewhat late? We could have done with these improvements a decade ago.
For years LOTRO players have had the benefit of an in-built voice chat service, rather than having to install and configure a third-party application. It was quite a far-reaching thing to do by then developers Turbine, when the game launched back in 2007. However, for years we’ve also had the endure the following issues. Players whose volume levels are simply too low. Players whose volume levels are simply too high. Microphones picking up and repeating voice traffic. Microphones picking up ambient background noise. Poorly configured microphones, producing "pop", distortion and feedback. For every good experience I’ve had with LOTRO voice chat, I also had a bad one. I’ve spent evenings either being deafened by my colleagues or struggling to understand them due to low volume or distortion.
So, I guess it’s good that these problems are being addressed but I must admit, it’s because of them that I’ve been running a TeamSpeak server for the last seven years. However, third party solutions come with their own set of issues. Some solutions such as TeamSpeak have to be paid for. It’s not a fortune but it does add to your ongoing gaming costs. Other services like Discord are free but that can be subject to change. I’ve always been reticent about becoming reliant on free online services as we have no consumer rights should they change business model or decide to discontinue. Which then returns me LOTRO’s built in voice chat service. Considering how crucial voice chat is to the game and the MMO genre, you’d have thought such a facility would have been more common place in other titles.
Star Trek Online is the only other MMO that I’m aware of that boasts in-game voice chat. Perhaps the increasingly solo friendly nature of subsequent MMOs has meant that voice chat is no longer considered important. Or perhaps the licensing of the technology added too much to development costs. However, where the significance of voice chat may have diminished in some genres, it has increased in others. Overwatch, Grand Theft Auto Online and PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds all include an in-game voice chat service. PUBG actually has a proximity based chat service as well as team support. It offers a rather interesting perspective to be able to hear your opponent. Then of course there is voice support built into software distribution clients such as Steam and origin. It would appear that third party retailers still deem voice chat to be of merit, even if some developers do not.
However, I do acknowledge the fact that not every user is comfortable speaking publicly and that for everyone who is happy to converse whilst playing a game, there others who are not. However, even if you don’t wish to participate in group chat, you can always mute your microphone and still benefit from being able to hear what’s going on. Sadly, it would be naïve to ignore the fact that voice chat can be a gateway into one of the lower circles of hell and that it can be abused. I have voice chat muted whenever I play Overwatch unless I’m among friends. Bearing that in mind, I guess another reason why some developers won’t include voice chat with their products is that they don’t want to be lumbered with the responsibility of having to police it. Not that Blizzard does much in this respect. Anyway, despite the disparity in up take, I believe the ongoing popularity of co-op based games (as opposed to MMOs) will ensure that in-game voice chat doesn’t vanish. Perhaps as the technology improves, it may evolve beyond just audio into video. There’s a scary thought.