For this blog I'm keeping a series of specific proposals you should not make. These are popular requests to propose for one reason or another, but there are good reasons (or, at least, reasons) why Linden Lab won't commit to those features. The first of these I'd like to talk about is voice chat.
✗ Don't ask for voice chat.
First, people already have, as you should have discovered in the old proposals.
- Directional Voice Over Internet Protocol for live chatting: "Can we please do away with an exclusive reliance on typing to chat? Let's have live voice that is directional (sounds appear to come from their given source) so that people can communicate with other people through voice." 327 votes/139 voters--so if you want to vote for voice chat, vote here!
- Voice in SL: "it would be great if we had voice in SL. To me it would be easier to communicate i dont know if it would cause lag problems but while i run another program to talk to my sl friends i get no lag." 2 votes/2 voters
- Voice Chat: "the ability to use voice in SL" 3 votes/3 voters
- Voice in SL: "Just like in There, Secondlife should have a voice option for it's users. It should be able to be controled just like the video and audio volume, so you can have it on when you want to :)" 64 votes/30 voters
- How about some Voice function?: "I mean even THERE has a voice feature so we can talk to our friends and dont have to type, i think this would be really fun to have, but should probably be set so you can only talk in IM windows to reduce lag/and loud children flooding sims with their screeming. but if impemented into an IM it would be great!" 107 votes/32 voters
As you can see, the total votes for voice chat actually number 503, while single individual voice chat proposals have at most 327 votes. For current vote counts, 503 votes would make voice chat the 15th most popular proposal. As discussed last time, combining like proposals would bump several other proposals up, but 503 would still put it at least around #15.
Second, there are plenty of third-party services that offer voice chat. (One of my general "Don't" guidelines will be "Don't ask for something you can get with third-party software" once I can put those thoughts together.) SLUniverse has a list of voice chat services, including all the major IM systems. There's also Google Talk, which goes to show there are new voice chat services popping up all the time. SLUniverse also runs a Teamspeak server, with easy instructions for using it. While no third-party service can offer location-based chatting, you can get the equivalent of voice IM with any of them.
Lastly, there are philosophical objections to implementing voice chat in virtual worlds. The best piece on this topic is Not Yet You Fools! by Richard Bartle for gamegirladvance. (Richard Bartle is best known as the creator of MUD. Not a MUD, but the Multi-User Dungeon game.)
One of the consequences of adding real-time voice communication to virtual worlds is that it will attract newbies; this is why marketers want it. Another of the consequences is that when players cease to be newbies they won't stay for as long; this is why designers should be telling marketers they can't have it. ...
Adding reality to a virtual world robs it of what makes it compelling.... Voice is reality.
Cory Ondrejka, VP of product at Linden Lab and contributor to Terra Nova, seems to be wary of the immersion breaking effect of voice chat, while aware of how Second Life residents use it already. He recounts exactly that in his response to a Terra Nova post about voice chat a year and a half ago:
Text allows you to role-play and to be immersed in a way that true voice transmission breaks... and this immersion is important enough to accept the massive loss in P2P bandwidth caused by text chat.
To which Richard, another Terra Nova contributor, responds, "I ought to mention for clarity's sake that there are some virtual worlds for which VoIP isn't an issue, for example ones where there's no central role-playing paradigm. It seems to me that voice in SL as a whole would be fine, although people who have built game-like areas within SL might want the facility to be switch-offable."
So there you have it. There are several reasons why Linden Lab won't agree to add voice chat just yet. Of course, if you still want voice chat, tell Linden Lab by voting on proposal #140. Just don't open a new proposal for it.