Voice Chat Evolution in Modern Gaming
Voice chat evolution has undergone many changes throughout the years. Nintendo has recently started drastically changing their online service, offering a package of services for payment like what Microsoft and Sony have done now for several generations. Among the strangest of changes is the addition of voice chat using a mobile phone app, turning players’ regular cellphones into gaming peripherals.
For how general and universal voice chat is for video games, it has gone through some radical changes from its initial introduction. Voice chat is a feature that is key to online gaming; it represents the core communication of being able to speak to the fellow gamer that would otherwise be on the couch seat next to you, friend or foe.
Unlike other features, though, it is not necessarily core to the game’s function or even any of its gameplay. Tons of the top games throughout the years have survived—even thrived—totally with the absence of in-game voice chat, or even the total absence of communication.
Voice Chat Evolution
What most people take for granted as a standard voice chat technology is referred to as VoIP, which stands for “Voice over Internet Protocol.” It’s exactly like it sounds and started on PC long before it was ever on consoles. It was first introduced to make phone calls using PC to expand communication abilities. Later, this would be adopted by Skype. Who knew?
Anyway, the first PC game to use VoIP technology was the cult hit MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat. Back in 1995, this was a huge deal, especially considering this was originally on MS-DOS. Such innovative technology wouldn’t take off until later as a built-in feature for games, and it would take years for it to become a part of voice chat evolution.
The first third-party client to make use of VoIP technology was NovaWorld, which was a matchmaking service that was used for finding players across the world to play with. This was important for games that had online multiplayer support, but lack of a community to make active use of it. NovaWorld filled that community gap that these early games were lacking.
Sega Voice Chat Evolution
The success of the program and service encouraged them to develop large-scale VoIP in 1999, which is when things started exploding for a lot of video game developers. Sega at one point was cutting edge when it came to the gaming scene and they jumped in head first.
Sega was the first console manufacturer and developer to be a major proponent of online gaming, and it translated to their feature philosophy. They were the first to burst onto the console gaming scene during the sixth-generation, but the fact that they were so early to the game caused some problems.
The Dreamcast launched before Y2K, and although it failed commercially, it had plenty of successful games that used voice chat features, like Alien Front Online and Planet Ring. They also had an entire browser developed in-house that could use voice chat!
Sony and Microsoft’s Voice Chat Evolution
Sony and Microsoft would go on to follow suit after the year 2000, with the PlayStation 2 having a network adapter introduced in 2001 and Microsoft launching Xbox Live in 2002. Xbox Live was a core feature of the Xbox, had a yearly subscription fee, and was a major focus for Microsoft and any developers that they were partnered with.
Microsoft employees working on the original Xbox were also “poached” from the rapidly liquidating console division of Sega, which gave them the upper hand for infrastructure and technology. Both consoles were an immense success. They made huge strides in the not only the voice chat evolution market, but in the entire gaming universe.
PC and Third-Party Voice Chat Evolution
While this was happening, the third-party clients on PC were expanding. Players of MMOs and other online games might remember what people used to use—Ventrilo, TeamSpeak, Mumble, and Skype all had fair market shares of online gaming VoIP.
They were mostly restrictive because they required someone, usually a guild master or community leader, to pay for external server space to be able to host significant amounts of people. The third-party clients were so prevalent amongst dedicated gamers that it encouraged developers not to work on in-house VoIP software.
What was the point of developing a voice chat client for World of Warcraft when everyone was already raiding with Ventrilo anyway? This was even true for games like League of Legends, which released originally in 2009—they didn’t have voice chat in their game until recently.
Nintendo Voice Chat Evolution
Nintendo, unfortunately, slow to adopt many multiplayer services, did not jump on VoIP until 2005. This was even relevant during the GameCube era, where certain sports games, that were generally multiplatform, did not feature voice chat, and even Phantasy Star Online felt limited.
Throughout the 7th generation of consoles, the Wii, 360, and PS3 all had what we consider to be the standard of online functionality, and this included voice chat for every console. Everything has been standard for console gaming since then through the eighth generation, except for the Nintendo Switch, which remained an oddity.
Nintendo has always been one of those companies that can pleasantly surprise the market, especially when it comes to that voice chat evolution. With their intention of placing voice chat integration into the mobile and all.
Most Successful of the Voice Chat Evolution
On the third-party PC front, Discord has trumped all other programs. Ventrilo, TeamSpeak, Mumble, and even Skype feel like ancient dinosaurs in comparison to Discord, which is sleek and free. Discord can run on multiple platforms and is a very versatile program.
It also is free to create a server, even one that can house:
-5,000 simultaneous online users
-500 separate channels
-custom emojis for the chat (a large selling point for social users)
So, going forward, VoIP might not change significantly, even in the projected ninth generation of consoles. Features for the current generation of consoles are at a level that gamers aren’t really “missing” anything, and the current focus for developers is upgraded consoles rather than new offerings.