Voice chat in gaming is something that’s come a long way over the last few years. Being able to talk to somebody in multiplayer games allows players to setup strategies and organize themselves without having to spend minutes typing. Players have been using Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) software like Teamspeak and Ventrillo for a while and now they have a new choice in Vivox, a newly technology that’s already making in-roads in the gaming market by signing deals with CCP Games' EVE Online and in Linden Lab's Second Life., the CEO of the company and the following is the text of the interview.
GamingNexus: Can you introduce yourself and describe your role in the company? How long have you been in the gaming industry and what drew you to your current position?
Sure, I would love to. My name is Rob Seaver I am the CEO at Vivox. I have been playing games since I was a kid, and have a background in communications and internet services, so this is a perfect fit – games and communications. I am thrilled to be here.
GamingNexus: How did you come up with the idea behind Vivox?
Rob Seaver: The founding team has a long history in the high tech and telecommunications fields. We saw a lack of rich communication tools in online communities – specifically online gaming. Here is a massive global community with amazing graphics, compelling storylines, and mind-blowing physics, but in-game communications has been stuck in the internet stone ages – text only. We knew we could deliver a much better, more powerful solution.
GamingNexus: It seems like chatting over IP has gotten big the last few years, what do you attribute this to?
The combination of user need and availability of technology has pushed this trend.
Online communities are growing rapidly; multiplayer games and virtual worlds are the perfect examples. They are all about interaction with other players and community -- living and breathing social structures that are global in scope. Users want to connect and communicate in a natural and expressive way. IM and email get you only so far; voice is a logical and necessary extension. Now, companies like Vivox are bringing these tools to the next level and delivering service to millions of users. Real-time, IP-based communications services are now easier to use, more intuitive, higher quality, and available to a larger audience. The gaming community has responded well and I do not see the trend slowing down, but, rather, accelerating.
GamingNexus: Why should users use Vivox over other VOIP software like Teamspeak? Does Vivox offer better quality/lower bandwidth usage than the other solutions on the market?
There are two big reasons. The first is integration. Vivox becomes a part of the game itself – no separate application to download and run, no separate UI, no separate controls. Vivox shifts the burden of communications away from the players. With Vivox-enabled games, e.g., EVE Online or K2’s War Rock, the voice controls are a seamless part of the UI that players already know and like. The user does not need to run a separate application or negotiate server credentials for a special voice server to talk to other players. In both games, when you join a gang or team you automatically join the right channel. And by integrating with the game, we can match the communication hierarchy to the command hierarchy, so that raid leaders or fleet commanders are automatically mapped to the communications infrastructure.
Second, because of our scalability, with Vivox voice you can talk to anyone else in the game, not just people on a particular server. This opens up a lot of possibilities for grouping, adventuring, and battling. Imagine walking up to another character and just starting a conversation. These are powerful in-game elements that can really differentiate a title.
Vivox is the only choice for bringing communications into the game rather than pulling players out of it.
GamingNexus: Is there a central Vivox server that everyone connects to or can users host their own servers?
It’s an entire network rather than a single server or servers, but yes, players connect to centralized voice infrastructure dedicated to a particular game. This allows all players in the game to belong to the same audio space and communicate with each other.
GamingNexus: When pushing voice over a network there's usually a trade off between quality and bandwidth requirements (higher quality requires more bandwidth), where does Vivox stand on this?
Yes, there is a balance to be had between quality, bandwidth, and CPU load. In general you get higher quality with higher bandwidth. To reduce bandwidth, you need to compress the audio stream, which costs CPU and quality. We are always experimenting with options to balance these considerations and provide users with the best experience with minimal system impact.
GamingNexus: Is the company strictly about voice chat for games or do you have other services? Are there other markets that you are considering expanding into?
We are all about voice in games. But voice for us isn’t just talking; it includes all of the controls, procedures, rules and permissions, and logical structures to make voice valuable in a 3D immersive virtual environment. In addition, we are always looking to bring more features to the gaming community to give players options on how and where they can connect with their fellow players and friends. For example, we recently gave away a million minutes of free calling from inside Second Life, allowing users to make calls to real phones from inside the virtual world. We see more of this blurring between the virtual and physical worlds coming, from simple things like calling an out-of-world friend or ordering a pizza without leaving the game, to much more involved applications.
GamingNexus: Vivox recently signed deals with companies within Second Life and EVE Online, is it your plan to work strictly with MMO's or would you consider branching out into other genre's like the first person shooters?
We are not limited to just MMOs. In fact, we just recently announced a partnership with K2 Network. They will be integrating Vivox voice into their FPS, War Rock. We are also active in other genres including serious games and other non-game online communities. There is a need for high-quality, integrated communications throughout the internet as communities flourish and expand. EVE Online was our first MMO client, and we are very excited about the months ahead as we will be announcing several new partners in early 2007 in the online gaming and other markets.
GamingNexus: Is Vivox technology something that can be "baked" into a game or is it always going to be a separate application?
Vivox voice capabilities are already “baked” into our customers’ games. Players do not need to load a second application or ALT/Tab to see the chat screens.
GamingNexus: Where do you see the VOIP market going in 5 years? In 10 years?
Voice will become a pervasive part of the online experience. You will no longer be tied to discrete networks and devices (regular phones, cell phones, etc.), but instead high-quality, immersive communication will be part of your normal online activities. For game developers and publishers, this will open up a host of ways to improve immersion, the player experience, strengthen community, create additional revenue and drive their brand across platforms and modes of interaction.
GamingNexus: Is there anything I missed that you would like to talk about?
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to reach your readers. We are thrilled with the reception we have received from the gaming community and look forward to bringing better communications to gamers.
We'd like to thank Rob for taking the time to answer our questions as well as to Doug for helping to coordinate this interview.