So it’s coming! Long we waited for it and soon it will be there: Voice chat in Second Life!
There have been some experiments with it before, like first Vivox and then SecondTalk (which uses Skype) which both used some sort of in-world devide which connects a third-party application to the people around you. Thus you initiated the call in SL but actually just did a normal VOIP or Skype call outside SL.
Now it’s going to be directly in the client using Vivox technology and using 3D sound (using technology from DiamondWare), meaning that you will hear the avatars speaking from their individual direction (read up on that at the Reuters post). Not included will be lip sync capabilities though as Linden Lab will only add that if it can be done in a believable way (according to Joe Miller of Linden Lab). Also not added will be ways to distort or change your voice to model it more like your avatar but both these things are planned for the future.
Now what does that mean? Will it be used widely or will only a fraction of the population use it?
That’s hard to say of course. For businesses it will definitely be great. You can make virtual meetings in an easier way without all that typing.
For individuals it depends. Many people are anxious to have their voice heard and it might make approaching other people harder.
And following a discussion in a german forum right now it will also make the language barriers more visible eventually. Many people who are not native english speakers might not want to talk in english although writing might be ok for them.
Another point is that multitasking with voice is not really possible. You can have several IM conversations open at the same time but that’s hardly possible with voice conversations.
And then there is also the immersion question. If lip synching is not added yet and you cannot really recognize if somebody is talking right now or not (other than the voice might come from that direction) then it might be hard to get voice and in-world situation together. I remember a discussion me and a group of people (around 10) did via Teamspeak and in Second Life. It was hard to keep the in-world feeling as the voice discussion going on felt very detached from the scene on my monitor. After a while we decided that the one talking should stand up so that we have a visual representation of that.
The problem is also not unkown to me as the same problem was there when I started video blogging in Second Life or even just attending audio based events. Having zombie-like avatars (eventually even falling to “sleep” (away)) while hearing voice was not really a great experience. That’s also why I created my Vlogger Starter Kit which mainly consisted of a microphone and the talking head animation (so the lips are not moving but at least the head is). This at least gives a little clue to the eye that somebody is talking.
Now I haven’t seen the voice system in question of course (although I’d love to test it 🙂 and I cannot tell if the 3D sound will make up for the visual clue. But we will see in some months then! Besides that cheers to Linden Lab! 🙂