« Homeward | Main | Hunting Rare Dice »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Having done some virtual world creation of my own I feel the need to respond.

A nit I picked:
- Since the X-Box is a console system, and consoles don't work well with keyboards, voice communication is probably the best solution for the problem of communication between players.

This is of minimal importance, since we're looking at the overall implications of voice-chat, regardless of the platform.

It sounds to me like Bartle's real problem is with Out-of-character (OOC) things getting in the way of his enjoyment of a virtual world. Whether or not I'm converting from speech-to-text and vice-versa, and whether or not my crystal-perfect sound filter converts my voice into an asthmetic half-elf from the city of Waterdeep, will not prevent me from running around and trash-talking other players, and generally not acting like an asthmetic half-elf from Waterdeep.

And even if you could build a community of players who agreed to always speak in character, could not you also today just ask that people speak in low gravely voices if they choose to play as a marsh troll?

I'm willing to bet that if voice-chat makes a certain kind of game suck, players won't play it, and if players aren't playing it, marketers will stay away in droves.

Nobody's making full-motion-video games, or head-mounted-display games right now either. If this hype curve is on its way up, just give it time, and it'll come back down, with virtual worlds quite intact, and all of us a little wiser for the experience.


An excellent article. While part of me hates the idea of being chained to a keyboard for the rest of my life, I do see the problem of injecting reality into fantasy with voice.

I've been playing EQ for over three years now and it is the first game I felt comfortable roleplaying in. That may get ruined if I ever had to say the cheezy lines that I normally type.

What is a better input than voice? Data-wise, it is far faster to speak than to type.


Mike: "Data-wise, it is far faster to speak than to type."

Depends on how fast you type. :) Hehe

I follow a simple rule of thumb for voice in games: if the game would be better experienced in an arcade then it should have a voice option.

I'll give you a real example. When I was in High School, my friend was staying at my house for two weeks while his parents were away on business. We both set up our computers in the same room so that we could play networked. While playing a FPS there was always tons of commentary, laughter, and plenty of "Ohhhh mahan"'s. Whenever we were playing online RPGs, though, we only spoke to each other in game. There were a few times when we would laugh at why we weren't just talking to each other outloud, but I think it just goes back to what I said before. Some games are better with an arcade experience while others aren't.


Oh and nice article and nice 'stache. :)
I might check out that book.

Richard Bartle

My comments on your comments...

Justin: I know the X-Box doesn't come with a keyboard as standard. It's the fact that it is "proof of concept" for voice communication that leads me to mention it. The article considers what might happen should this technology be adopted for virtual worlds, people having extrapolated from its success in related multi-player game environments. I hope you're right and it IS a flash in the pan, but I do know of developers seriously considering adding voice as a feature to new games they're designing.

ClockworkGrue: I agree that voice is potentially a great input mechanism. My complaint is that adding it to virtual worlds right now would be premature.

Draigon: The moustache is on hiatus at the moment, but may make a reappearance in winter. My wife and kids hate it, so it depends on how well they treat me in the coming months as to whether I grow it back or not...


I can think of nothing more immersive than pen-and-paper RPGs like D&D. And I used my real voice to play those. Immersion is in the brain, not in the ear.
I, for one, would rather here someone speak than read l337 speech because people can't type fast enough.


"Why do people play the same game for hour after hour, night after night, for week after week, month after month? It's not because they like the game; it's because they like who they are."

speak for yourself - i don't play Mario 64 to be a fat plumber in the Mushroom Kigdom. if you think some videogame character is a better version of yo, then you must lead a very sad life.

i'm most certainly looking forward to voice in games.

you say that Unreal has a lot of trash talking. well, if you don't have to HEAR trash talking, you have to READ IT. and x-box games feature the option to block this or that user's voice, in case they get annoying.

sure, some people may miss the text format, but like old people, it'll certainly linger around for quite a while, hell, i even doubt it ever disappears. what they could do is give both options to the players, therefore pleasing both sides.


And sometimes the Designers aren't even to blame. The sequel that's being planned to the game I'm working on now is having "voice recognition" stamped on it by Those In Charge as a Feature That Will Sell More Units. Allow me to assure you that this feature will never even be used, let alone sell units.

The Designers might not even have the choice to exclude it.

miles jacob

well, it's a matter of degrees...

the most immersive experience would be something like resident evil online .. where you CANNOT break out of character because all your actions and dialog options are provided for you to choose from.

text allows more freedom than this, as it allows the player to choose how much "in character" they want to be moment-to-moment. with text, you are creating a virtual personality no matter what, and you can make it as much like or unlike your real personality as you choose with relative ease.

voice chat makes it impossible to block off large amounts of information being communicated. gender, race, education, and many aspects of your personality are nearly indelibly part of your voice. all of these are being communicated constantly while you speak. you cannot block them off without alot of training and constant monitoring of your voice (which obviously is not what players want to do to enjoy a game).

so text is a great balance between the two extremes i think. and most importantly allows you to go back and forth between those extremes constantly.

sometimes i want to play a game (or watch a movie) alone, completely immersed in the experience... and sometimes i want to play it with a friend next to me cracking jokes about the design or characters in a way that breaks from the immersion. i would say being able to enjoy the game in both ways simultaneously is very important for the fun of a MMORPG.


I have to agree on hoping for a prolonged absence of voice-chat (however unrealistic it may be). I prefer playing males in on-line roleplaying games, for several reasons:

1) Male players respect you more if they think you're male - they're more willing to group with you and hunt, etc and so forth.

2) Male players are not constantly hitting on you if they think you're male. It's much easier to play the game when a bombardment of lonely, horny mid-teen gamers ISN'T constantly following you saying obscene things.

3) The guy characters tend to be more gear to the type of combat I like. I hate how the majority of females are of the "weaker but more agile" archetype.

4) It's just fun being someone else, especially playing around with different genders.

Voice chat would destroy nearly every reason I have for choosing male characters - once male players hear my very high-pitched, very female voice, they will continue to stalk me yet again.



i've said it before - GAMES ALLOW YOU TO CHANGE YOUR VOICE. you can sound like the lead singer from Cannibal Corpse, Barry White or Dani Filth if you want.

as for the accent.. well, that's your problem. game developers can't be expected to add new features because young Jaime from Mexico decided to have a little game with his friend Kim-Pak-young-So-Il from South Korea.


Yeah, but when you change your voice in a game, it still SOUNDS fake. Another factor is that people can easily take it, run it through a processor, and bam, they can hear your original voice. I have no doubt "voice hackers" would also appear...

Is it really worth it? I mean, really, it's JUST a game. Games are my ESCAPE from people, not my chance to get closer to them.



oh, text isn't fake now, is it?

i play games for FUN. i don't want to escape OR apporach people. i just want to kill people, eat mushrooms, save hyrule and stuff like that. if you want to escape reality watch a horror movie and go to sleep.

Richard Bartle

Some more comments to your comments:

Wookie: If people who play virtual worlds should be able to use their own voices, then by the same token they should be able to use their same faces and their same clothes and their same names. Now although this may not bother you, it will bother some people. In D&D, what happens is described to the imagination; in (graphical) virtual worlds, it is presented to the senses. The conceit is that the world is shown "as is"; anything that is presented "as isn't" breaks that. Although l33t sp3k3 will do that, it doesn't affect everyone all the time; voice would.

Azrael: No-one plays Mario 64 to be a fat plumber. No-one plays virtual worlds to be an elf. People do, however, play virtual worlds to be (or, more precisely, to become) themselves. What's more, because they design these characters themselves (unlike Mario, who is a given), they can actually achieve something. This may well be sad from your point of view, but then from theirs you're sad for spending all your time playing dumb video games.
You say you play games for fun, which is fair enough as most people do. However, what is it about them that makes them fun for you? Is this the same kind of fun that most players of virtual worlds have when they play those games?

Miles Jacob: I think the definition you're using for "immersive" is different from mine. Railroading someone as you describe in your (hypothetical) Resident Evil Online would not be all that immersive. People would constantly be aware of the artificial barriers to interaction all around them. The utilisation of a virtual personality, as you describe, is a precondition of the kind of immersion I mean (basically, the sense that "you are there" in the virtual world).

Misha: The prospect of communicating with a real, live woman may draw some male players to a virtual world, so your concerns could quite possibly fall on deaf ears (at least until the female players disappear). The same applies to children who play these games, too.



voice chat can be as immersive or as "fake" as text chat, as you want it to be.

i don't mind creating my own character, but again i create it to get the most fun out of it than to see a hypothetical virtual version of myself.

in games like the Mario series, a given character is best, while in online RPG's it's better to create one.


I went over to a friends house one time. They were playing D&D. They were very into it. They spoke like elves (or they tried) and did about everything else. They did this for years without issue.

If voice is okay for offline fantasty, why isn't it for online?

I mean floating words flying through the sky aren't exactly the part of any fantasty world I know. Typing is no more fantasty then voice. . .


Escape reality? Role-play? Whoever said that online virtual worlds have to do with either? This is a fundamental problem with the current MMOG "scene"--the idea that an online-only game has to be an RPG, and that it has to be fantasy/sci-fi. There are so many different possibilities for MMOG games that have been completely untapped because of these two restrictions. Planetside is one of the few exceptions to the rule. I haven't gotten into any MMOG games precisely because they are all of the "kill monsters, gain level" variety, and I had a total blast with Planetside. And, guess what? It has voice chat.

Richard's article is not only elitist, it's based on several such assumptions which are the main factors that MMOGs have not yet become mass-market. Hopefully those "designers out there that know what they're doing" don't see things the way Richard does.

Richard Bartle

Chris: I played a lot of D&D in my youth and am cosequently aware that people can role-play face-to-face and get very "into it". The difference is that in D&D people see the player first and only experience the character through the player's actions; in virtual worlds, people see the character first and only experience the player through the character's actions. Some people prefer to play behind a mask, some don't. Those that don't can stick with D&D - virtual worlds are not for everyone - and those that do can play virtual worlds. Except that with voice, they may as well be playing D&D.

Janie: I was talking about virtual worlds, not massively multiplayer online games. I used the distinction precisely because of games like Planetside (and all those real-time strategy games that have tens of thousands of simultaneous players). Lots of games are online and massively multiplayer but aren't virtual worlds.
As for my article being elitist, well what would be the point of my writing one that was popularist? It would only serve to tell people things they already knew. Most of the articles on this web site are elitist in some way! So, I'm guilty as charged there.
I take issue, however, with the assertion you make that my article is based on "assumptions". It is not. It's based on a detailed, testable theoretical model drawn from years of observation. Part of the reason I wrote the article was precisely because too many people make "assumptions" about why others play in virtual worlds; there needs to be an underlying theory that people can appeal to in order to understand why things are the way they are, and the impact that proposed changes will have. Of course, they're going to be reluctant to come up with such theories if the moment they apply them they're accused of being elitist (even if they are elitist!).



Personally, I see voice as a natural way to communicate. A voice is no more destroying of fantasty then the fact that you have to type english in a black keyboard. . .and look at the monitor. etc.

I would think I could get into it "more" the less I am constrainted by clunky io devices over 20 years old.

Daniel B. McMillan

All virtual worlds hold some facimile with reality, or one would not know what to do in them. One would not be able to associate this - with that, hunting with killing, wounds with healing, food with eating, and so on. Therefore, "to do reality in a game or not to do reality in a game" is not the question. A good designer knows that one must look beyond presumption, and imagine what other people want to do that they themselves may not want to do. Looking into the future then, we see that it could be a very fun thing when "voice synthesis" is perfected, allowing per say - a fat balding man (in RL) to choose a beautiful female heroine with the voice of Kathleen Turner! :)

Feel free to discuss this on the "Frontier 1859 MMORPG" Online Community:


Robert: Just want to say, I thought your article was quite astute. I found myself cringing a little when you categorized designers quite generically, and emphasized that knowledgeable designers will "recoil in horror", because I hardly feel it is an unsolvable problem. Offhand, how about separating the game into a role-players realm and an action realm, and allow players to move between the realms? This is QUITE obviously fallible, but I would say it's an adequate solution for a non-problem (I feel it's more of a tweaking issue).

But I'm writing to say that the analysis was strong. It is important to get to the core of the games themselves, and make standard topic out of what players want from a virtual world. Clearly, we've witnessed players from two camps in the postings: those focused on the role aspect and those focused on the game aspect.

My opinion is that building on these sorts of foundations is what leads to truly satisfying games.

Richard Bartle

Chris: Although voice is a natural way to communicate, your voice is only a natural way for you to communicate. When you're pretending to be some virtual character, your virtual character's voice would be the natural way for them to communicate. If your virtual character has your voice, how acceptable that is depends on how close your virtual character is to being you.

Daniel B. McMillan: I agree. When voice translation doesn't sound synthesised and can get rid of accents, I'll be among the first to use it! It's not there yet, though.

Veritas: Partitioning a virtual world is an option, although the more likely solution would be to have separate servers ("voice" and "non-voice"). Newbies would still try voice by default, though, which could colour their view of what a virtual world "should" be like.
As for categorising designers generically, there was actually some reasoning behind the four categories I used (they correspond to the "development tracks" I describe for players in my book), but yes, I didn't have to be quite so rude about it I guess (grin).



Very interesting article. I'm a veteran of both PC and console RPGs, including MMORPG in both of these flavors. Personally, I find the text interface of PC MMORPGs to be functional, but a bit clunky (as I'm not the fastest typer in the world - you would think after 15 years of playing computer games I'd be better).

I own an Xbox and Xbox Live, and the communication features it offers truly make playing online a blast. While I understand that voice chat does make suspending disbelief a task, the plusses of instant communication with my group would be great in MMORPGs. I would love to be able to tell someone that the group caster is getting hammered without having to type it.

On a side note, the new Xbox MMORPG True Fantasy Online is supposed to have voice support as well as keyboard support. The voice communicator comes bundled with Xbox Live, while the keyboard does not. It will be interesting to see how that world develops, since everyone will have the option to communicate over voice out of the box.


Although I appreciate the fear of vocal communication ruining the immersive experience, am I the only one who fears this "fourth wall" of sorts being broken in text form? Honestly, one of the biggest reasons I've stayed away from MMO-whatevers is because I loathe the prospect of some dark elf casually addressing me as "d00d".

Does anyone who actually plays these games know if this happens?


I wonder if this guy has ever *played* anything with Voice Chat. He doesn't mention it if he has.

First of all, voice chat *doesn't* make people go away when they cease to be newbies. This isn't coming from my brain - it's a fact, from There. The vast majority of There citizens have and use VC, and the ones that leave and never come back are, in my experience, usually the ones without it.

Second, there is no problem reading text while listening. Again, this comes from experience. It's no more complex than reading more than one person in IRC.

The only valid argument is one he didn't make - bandwidth. The voice chat over today's internet connections, sometimes even broadband, causes voice to sputter. A simple "What?" resolves that problem though, and you can still get what you want to say out in less time than it would have taken to type it. And with more emotion.

That's the ultimate goal - getting out what you want to say without going through a keyboard. Voice chat is faster and more accurate than any amount of typing. And it hurts your hands a lot less.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Subscribe to the mailing list!

* indicates required