Implications of Integrated Voice Communication in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games

By Benjamin Worrel The videogame industry is a massive enterprise in today's world, with budgets for some games surpassing those of Hollywood block-busters. Featuring photo-realistic graphics, physics based object interactions, and compelling story lines, today's games draw players into the virtual world as never before possible. One particular genre of game, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), has seen a spike in popularity in recent years. Tracing their heritage back to early textbased games, the modern MMORPG continues to evolve in capabilities and features. One recent addition to several of the more popular games is an integrated voice communication feature, allowing players to speak to one another using microphones connected to their computers. As of yet, there has been little or no research on what implications this might have for the players of these games. This paper presents a preliminary examination of what impact the feature may have based on the motivations users have for playing MMORPGs.

Players interact with the virtual game world through fictional characters known as avatars. These avatars will be the player's representation in the world, allowing them to interact with other players, complete quests, and generally “play” the game. Avatar creation is becoming increasingly complex as with each successive generation of games, the customization possibilities open to players increases dramatically. Initially, players may have been forced to choose between a few, predefined avatars. In more recent games, players have been able to craft a truly unique character, choosing clothing, hair, tattoos, scars, and even sculpting facial features. In addition to being a player's gateway to the virtual world, avatars have been shown to have a significant impact on player to player interactions within the game, affecting both self-behavior and treatment of others. Just as stereotypes continue to persist in the outside world, virtual worlds can also see the effects of appearance based expectations due to avatars. These generalizations can be as simple as “good” characters dressing in light colors while “evil” characters dress in dark. Although undocumented at this point, one can find anecdotal evidence of the differences in how male and female avatars are treated by players. Players using female avatars, not necessarily female themselves, report receiving preferential treatment from others. Some even say they have been the recipient of in game gifts or in game protection that male avatars don't receive. This type of treatment may only be aggravated by the idealized forms that in game avatars take. Male avatars evoke Herculean images, with overly developed muscles and handsome features. Females are overly sexualized, with minimal clothing and gravity-defying figures. Beyond such tales, reactions to an avatar's appearance are measurable, as in Yee and Balinson (2007). Players with attractive avatars were more likely to stand closer to other avatars and were more willing to disclose personal information. Similarly, participants with taller avatars were more confident. Dubbed the “Proteus Effect” by the authors, the results were attributed to self-perception

1 Yee, Nick, and Jeremy Bailenson. "The proteus effect: the effect of transformed self-representation on behavior." Human Communication Research 33.3 (2007): 271.

Worrel, 2 theory. Pena, Hancock, and Merola (2009) found similar results, but suggested that priming mechanisms better explained participant behavior.2 Specifically, the ability of self-perception theory “to explain the inhibition of positive thoughts.” Unsurprisingly, a large number of players choose attractive, taller than average avatars. The Daedulus Project, a site facilitated by Dr. Nick Yee of The Palo Alto Research Center, has compiled a surprising amount of data on MMORPG players, their avatars, and just how and/or why they play.3 Among the project's findings: 30% of surveyed players prefer avatars with above average height and over 40% of men and 60% of women prefer attractive avatars. As inherent avatar attractiveness in MMORPGS often seems related to the race/species chosen, this might indicate why women seem more likely to play the “good” races, as they are often given more attractive appearances by developers.

In Game Communications
Gameplay in a MMORPG consists of much more than a player and their avatar, as implied by the “Massively Multiplayer.” These games are defined by the large numbers of players co-existing in the virtual space. As such, effective player communication is a vital aspect of the game. This need has led to the development of several methods of communication players can use to interact with each other.

Communication Channels
Communication within online role playing games is a rather unique situation. Combining elements of both face to face and computer mediated communication, there are several mediums through which players interact. Until recently, players were restricted to text-based communication methods, but even these took several forms. Traditional “chat” channels allowed both public and ingroup communications, while instant messaging allowed private one on one conversations.. These methods do not necessarily require their respective avatars to be located near one another, although some public channels are based on geographic location by default. On the face of it, in game communications would seem to merely be a specialized form of computer mediated communication (CMC). The use of avatars in the game world, however, brings another level to player interactions, allowing a form of face to face communication. Gestures and facial expressions are undoubtably a key component of understanding in face to face interactions. Capable of expressing a variety of messages in both subtle and not so subtle means, non-verbal communication has traditionally been impossible for online communications. While avatars aren't nearly advanced enough to allow a complete non-verbal vocabulary, they have given rise to an interesting development in the concept of emotes. Predefined sets of commands available to the player that cause the avatar to perform some type of physical movement otherwise unavailable, emotes create new communicative options. Typical choices include waving, apologizing, sleeping, dancing, or even telling a joke. Additionally, these emotes are performed on other characters or objects, such that in
2 Pena, Jorge, Jeffrey T. Hancock, and Nicholas A. Merola. "The Priming Effects of Avatars in Virtual Settings." Communication Research 36.6 (2009): 838-56. Print. 3 Yee, Nick. "The DAEDALUS PROJECT: MMORPG Research, Cyberculture, MMORPG Psychology." Web. Oct. 2009. <>.

addition to the physical action, a special text appears in the players' chat display indicating what has happened, e.g. “Player 1 waves hello to Player 2.” The available range of emotes continues to grow, being limited only by the time investment developers are willing to make in order to facilitate their creation. Methods of automatically inserting non-verbal messages into interactions are being explored, but as of now are not in use.4

Restrictions of Text-Based Communication
Being limited to text-based communication impacts players in several ways, mostly due to the requirement for manually typing messages. As players utilize their keyboards both for communicating and “playing” they are forced to choose between the two, as it isn't really possible to do both at once. When your avatar is being attacked by a fire-breathing dragon, the last thing you want to do is stop moving in order to ask your group for help. The benefits of such a message must be weighed against the costs the time taken to type will incur. Similarly concerning to the player is the loss of focus that occurs when a player must shift their eyes to read incoming messages. Even if the ongoing game action is still visible, there is definitely a loss of attention, even if only momentarily. Just as it only takes a split second spent reading a text message to lead to a catastrophic loss of control while driving a vehicle, a lost moment in a complicated group maneuver can lead to virtual oblivion for a player and their group mates. To minimize these costs, players have adopted certain communicative practices. The most noticeable to an outsider is the specialized form of shorthand many players utilize to convey commonly sent messages. Each game often develops its own particular “dialect” of this shorthand in order to address its own unique features and situations.56 Although it is mostly made up of a large set of acronyms, the shorthand can still form an impenetrable barrier to the outsider. For example, in The World of Warcraft, “LF2M SFK need DPS” is a perfectly understandable message. Specifically, it indicates that a group of players is Looking For two additional Members to join them in traveling to ShadowFang Keep, and that in particular they need players that cause high amounts of Damage Per Second, such as a mage (a type of wizard), hunter, or warlock. Furthermore, as noticeable in the above message example, proper sentence structure and punctuation are mostly ignored, if not removed altogether. Used correctly, these methods can significantly reduce the length of in-game messages, hopefully reducing dragon related deaths.

Addition of Voice Communication
With the increasing availability of high-speed internet came the possibility of reliable voice chat over internet connections. One of the results of this occurrence was the introduction of Voice Over IP software which allowed users to utilize their internet connections for voice communication with one another. While some programs, such as Skype, have become popular as alternatives to traditional telephones, other programs seemed particularly suited to adoption by online gamers. Two of the more popular programs, Ventrilo and Teamspeak, became the default option for use in online first-person
4 Breitfuss, Warner, Helmut Prendinger, and Mitsuru Ishizuka. "Automated generation of non-verbal behavior for virtual embodied characters." Proceedings of the 9th international conference on Multimodal interfaces. International Conference on Multimodal Interfaces, Japan, Nagoya. 2007. 319-22. 5 "World of Warcraft Terminology." World of Warcraft universe guide - WoWWiki. Web. Oct. 2009. <>. 6 "EVE online PVP Glossary." Web. Dec. 2009. <>.

Worrel, 4 shooters such as Counterstrike. The programs, run in conjunction with the game, allowed players with microphones connected to their computers to easily communicate with one another. While the software clients were offered freely, the developers charged a licensing fee for the server, which was required to host the “chat room” connecting all of the players together. While not overly expensive, this did limit those using the software to at least semi-serious player guilds who were willing to split the costs. Very recently, role-playing game developers have made the decision to begin incorporating voice communication directly into their games. Some, such as The World of Warcraft, added the system onto their existing communication system, whereas games more recently released have been designed to include the feature from the get-go. These systems are often simpler to use than their thirdparty alternatives, and have additional features. Previously, players needed to be connected to the same Ventrillo or Teamspeak server to voice chat, a process involving selecting the proper IP address and entering the correct passwords, but players now can chat with all those in the immediate area or any player in a shared chat channel. Of course, this has had the unfortunate effect of taking in game spam to new levels of annoyance, resulting in many players muting public channels. While at this point voice communication seems to still be regarded as optional, any “serious” player will tell you it is a must.

MMORPG Players
To understand the impact voice chat may have on online role-playing games, it is necessary to have at least a basic understanding of the people playing such games. A diverse community, gamers are becoming an increasingly studied group as the population size continues to grow.

The data documenting online role playing game players is often surprising to both the insider and outsider alike. One often cited source,, listed worldwide suscriptions (not necessarily equivalent to the number of players, but likely close) as about 16 million for 2008.7 While this number may not seem shocking, considering that the 1 million subscriber mark was only broken in 2000, the growth is extraordinary. Of further interest is the complete domination that one particular game, The World of Warcraft, has achieved over the market, with a 62% market share (also according to the 2008 data). When the game released in 2004, the steadily increasing subscriber count began to climb at an even faster rate. And while talk of market saturation and/or player “stealing” is often discussed when new games are released, the data suggests that there is still plenty of room to grow. Beyond just the numbers of players, also surprising is the inaccuracy of the stereotype of gamers as teenage, socially maladjusted males. According to the Daedelus Project, while there certainly are a number of younger male players (age 12-28), there is also a surprising number of older female players (24 - 40). In fact, the average age came out to be 26 years old. Nearly 50% of surveyed players indicated they work full-time, while 20% were full-time students.
7 Woodcock, Bruce. MMOGCHART.COM. Web. Oct. 2009. <>.

Illustration 1. Source: Additionally, about 80% of those surveyed reported playing with someone they know in “real life.” This included family, friends, and romantic partners. Not only do many play together, but they report the experience as a overall positive interaction. Rather than being a replacement for making friends, online rpgs seem to be a valuable resource for strengthening already existing relationships. This isn't to say that people aren't getting to know one another online, but to highlight the social possibilities of online environments. Williams, Yee, and Caplan (2008) undertook a sampling of Everquest 2, one of the more popular online RPG's.8 Sony provided an until then unheard level of access to game data, even providing a unique in game item to use as incentive for participation. Interestingly, the in game item proved a highly reliable incentive, as the desired number of respondents (7,000 was reached in just two days as opposed to the expected one to two weeks. This could prove to be an effective tool for future studies in this field. By combining player data obtained from sony, primarily length of time played and character information, with an online survey, the authors could examine a diverse set of subjects, including physical health, other media usage, and demographic questions. Similarly to the data from the Daedelus Project, the average player age was 31.16 with a standard deviation of 9.65. The male/female ratio was nearly 80/20, with females playing nearly 4 hours more per week on average. Comparing the data to US Census data, players tended to be more educated and have a higher household income than the general population. The most interesting aspect of the data may have been that dealing with physical/mental health. While still overweight on average, the players reported an average bmi (calculated via weight and height) than the rest of the public. They also reported engaging in physical exercise more often than the average rate along with lower levels of anxiety. However, higher rates of depression and substance addiction were found.

8 Williams, Dimitri, Nick Yee, and Scott E. Caplan. "Who Plays, How Much, and Why? Debunking the Stereotypical Gamer Profile." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13 (2008): 993-1018.

Worrel, 6 Basic age range of EQ2 Players Age Range Teens, 12-17 College-age, 18-22 Young Adult, 23-29 Thirties, 30-39 Forties, 40-49 Fifty or older, 50-65 Percentage 6.58 12.40 26.27 36.69 12.40 4.80 Cumulative Percentage 6.58 19.09 45.61 82.64 95.16 100.00

Table 1. Source: Williams, Yee, & Caplan 2008

Motivations for play
There are numerous statistics one could examine further, but in this case the most relevant question might not just be “who is playing?” but also “why are they playing?” With questions concerning gaming addiction, links to destructive/anti-social behavior, and physiological effects becoming more commonplace, understanding why players are drawn to these games is increasingly important. The problem is complicated by the difficulty in obtaining data. Game companies can choose to not provide access to player or game data, not to mention the issues raised by many of the players being minors. Nevertheless, several studies have attempted to tackle the issue. Perhaps the most cited player typology is the result of Richard Bartle's work.9 Developed while considering Multi-User Dungeons, a predecessor of the modern MMO, Bartle grouped players into four groups: achievers, socializers, explorers, and killers. By focusing on whether players act with or on the environment and whether they prefer other players or the environment, Bartle created the motivation mappings found in the graph at right. While the groupings seem plausible, there was no data to confirm the suppositions. Even so, these groupings have persisted, and are still used.

Illustration 2. Bartle's Map of Motivations.
9 Bartle, Richard A. "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDS." Apr. 1996. Oct. 2009.

Yee (2006) built upon the “Bartle Four” by first incorporating data from a survey of online game players concerning their motivations.10 Five factors were found: achievement, relationship, manipulation, immersion, and escapism. While the first three coincided with those found in the Bartle typology, the concepts of immersion and escapism brought new possibile explanations. Further, the Explorer type from Bartle didn't match any of the new factors. This work was further refined by Yee (2007) to include 10 distinct factors based on another player survey. These factors were then grouped into three second-order factors, as shown below. This larger set managed to provide a more detailed explanation while re-incorporating the explorer factor from the original Bartle set with the Discovery and Mechanics factors. Additionally, the three second-order factors allow for simplified groupings as necessary. Motivations for Play Achievement Social Immersion Discovery Exploration, Lore, Finding Hidden Things Role-Playing Story Line, Character History, Roles, Fantasy Customization Appearances, Accessories, Style, Color Schemes Escapism Relax, Escape from Real Life, Avoid Real-Life Problems Table 2. Source: Yee 2007 Advancement Socializing Progress, Power, Accumulation, Casual Chat, Helping Others, Status Making Friends Mechanics Numbers, Optimization, Templating, Analysis Relationship Personal, Self-Disclosure, Find and Give Support

Competition Teamwork Challenging Others, Provocation, Collaboration, Groups, Group Domination Achievements

10 Yee, Nick. "Motivations for Play in Online Games." CyberPsychology and Behavior 9.6 (2006).

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Illustration 3. Source: Examining these factors when compared to gender and age difference reveals several interesting findings. At first glance, it seems apparent that males are much more interested in the achievement factors than their female counterparts, but the data reveals that age is actually a better explanation for the numbers. Secondly, while males and females differ on what type of social interaction they prefer, both see social components as a strong motivation for play.

Gender difference in motivation components Male Mean (SD) Achievement Advancement Mechanics Competition Social Socializing Relationship Teamwork Immersion Discovery Role-Play Customization Escapism 0.10 (0.99) 0.07 (1.00) 0.09 (0.98) 0.06 (1.01) -0.05 (0.98) -0.03 (1.00) -0.10 (0.97) 0.00 (0.98) -0.06 (1.00) -0.02 (1.00) -0.02 (0.99) -0.07 (1.00) -0.02 (1.00) Female Mean (SD) -0.66 (0.82) -0.48 (0.86) -0.61 (0.89) -0.43 (0.76) 0.30 (1.07) 0.18 (1.01) 0.62 (0.98) -0.05 (1.06) 0.38 (0.93) 0.13 (1.00) 0.16 (1.06) 0.46 (0.88) 0.10 (0.99) r 0.26 0.19 0.24 0.17 0.12 -0.07 -0.25 0.02 0.15 -0.05 -0.06 -0.18 -0.04

Correlations between motivations and age Correlation Coefficient Male Achievement Advancement Mechanics Competition Social Socializing Relationship Teamwork Immersion Discovery Role-Play Customization Escapism -0.35 -0.3 -0.15 -0.34 -0.16 -0.08 -0.08 -0.14 -0.02 -0.02 0.02 -0.13 0.02 Female -0.26 -0.24 -0.08 -0.27 -0.02 -0.04 -0.01 -0.02 -0.13 -0.16 -0.02 -0.12 -0.08

Table 3. Source: Jeng & Teng (2008) took a different approach by attempting to use personality types to explain player motivations.11 Using the five-factor model of personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and nueroticism, the authors tested the relation between each and the motivational factors proposed by Yee (2007). According to the findings, players “with high openness were found to play games in response to their discovery and role-playing motivations.” Additionally, those scoring high conscientiousness were motivated by escapism, extraverts were motivated by teamwork, and more agreeable participants were motivated by advancement. With the large number of people playing these games, it is unsurprising to find that many play for different reasons. The open-ended nature of the genre provides not only the opportunity to explore different motivations for play, but seems to require such activity as there is no traditional way to “win.” The question remains though, what impact will the introduction of voice communication have on the players, their gameplay, and their reasons for playing?

Impact of Voice Communication
As Yee and others have already done the work of organizing players into groups by motivations, it seems only logical to examine the impact voice communications will have on them by utilizing the same groups.
11 Jeng, Shih-Ping, and Ching-I Teng. "Personality and Motivations for Playing Online Games." Social Behavior and Personality 36.8 (2008): 1053-060.

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Achievement Motivated Players
According to at least one study from the Daedelus Project, the “progress” or “advancement” factor is ranked as the most important motivation for players in MMORPGs. These players are driven by “The desire to gain power, progress rapidly, and accumulate in-game symbols of wealth or status.” In the game world, this equates to reaching the highest levels, acquiring rare equipment, or both. This essentially requires establishing relationships with other players in the game, as the best equipment is hidden in dungeons which require coordinated groups to overcome. These groups require teamwork, planning, and the ability to rapidly respond to unexpected events. With the addition of voice communication, this team coordination becomes significantly easier, primarily due to the nature of voice vs. text based chat. While there doesn't seem to be an agreed upon “average” typing speed, some estimates of the “normal user” place rates between 30 and 100 words per minute.12,13 In comparison, speaking rates are estimated to range between 120 and 175 wpm with bursts of up to 300 words per minute in “animated conversation.”14,15,16,17 Even taking into account the shorthand used by players, using a microphone should be faster than typing. Furthermore, time is saved by players not needing to reposition their hand from the mouse to keyboard, meaning that communicating and playing are no longer mutually exclusive activities. Just as the hands are no longer required to send a message to fellow players, with voice communication, it is no longer necessary for a player to look away from the primary activity on screen to receive a message. While there is still likely some attention cost due to the requirement of listening/ comprehending audio messages, at least the player can maintain visual awareness of their character. Without further study, the actual effect of the visual attention saved is as questionable as the value of hand-free calling devices in preventing distraction while driving.18 While a smaller subset of players, those motivated by competition likely find similar benefit from the inclusion of voice chat. In small matches of group vs. group combat, quick communication is vital. Human opponents are more able to utilize unexpected tactics, requiring appropriate responses from combatants. If the team cannot communicate without opening themselves to further attack (as text based chat and gameplay are difficult/impossible to perform at the same time), they are likely to be quickly defeated. Voice chat offers an alternative to this, and a study of high-ranked combat teams would likely identify a high percentage using voice chat of some sort. Whether desiring to retrieve a unique piece of armor from a perilous dungeon or battle fellow players in an arena, voice chat offers superior performance to text-based chat on nearly every front. It is unsurprising then that data from the Daedelus Project found that players with strong goals or focused on quick progression were most likely to use voice communication.

12 Anderson, Allision M., Gary A. Mirka, and David B. Kaber. "Analysis of Alternative Keyboards Using Learning Curves." Human Factors 51.1 (2009): 35-45. 13 Matias, Edgar, I. S. MacKenzie, and William Buxton. "One-Handed Touch Typing on a QWERTY Keyboard." HumanComputer Interaction 11 (1996): 1-27. 14 Osborn, Michael. Public speaking. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988. 15 Lucas, Stephen. Art of Public Speaking. New York: Random House, 1986. 16 DeVito, Joseph A. Interpersonal Communication Book. New York: Harper & Row, 1989. 17 Buerkel-Rothfuss. Communication competencies and contexts. New York: Random House, 1985. 18 Ishigami, Yoko, and Raymond M. Klein. "Is a hands-free phone safer than a handheld phone?" Journal of Safety Research 40 (2009): 157-64.

Socially Motivated Players
To some players, the fun of a MMORPG is less about what you're doing in the game than who you're doing it with. As Yee describes them, they have “an interest in helping and chatting with other players” and have “the desire to form long-term meaningful relationships with others.” Voice communication potentially adds a new avenue for connection with fellow players. As CMC research has shown, text based interpersonal communication faces several obstacles.19,20 There is a lack of contextual cues such as pitch, intonation, pauses, gestures, and facial expressions. As posited by social presence theory, the lack of these cues can lead to a reduction in warmth and affection.21 Furthermore, there is the distinct possibility of deception or dishonesty in online environments.22 The addition of voice chat to gaming offers the potential to overcome some of these liabilities. The obvious advantage is the re-introduction of vocal cues to the conversations between players, no longer solely relying on potentially misunderstood textual substitutes. According to some research, however, additional cues may in fact be detrimental to virtual relationships. Wather (2001) examined the impact of a related concept, the impact of sharing photos in online collaborative environments.23 In these environments, participants are both likely to overattribute any pieces of social information received and utilize self-selection in the information they choose to send, resulting in unrealistic impressions of one-another. The authors found that the introduction of additional social cues, in this case photos of the participants, could have varying effects on feelings of affection and social attraction. In short term groups with no plan for further interactions, photographs helped participants “achieve greater interpersonal outcomes.” However, in long-term groups, after the introduction of a photograph, participants “experienced less affection and social attraction.” The additional information was detrimental to relationships that had formed primarily through text-based communication. One potentially unintended effect of the inclusion of voice chat may be a false sense of security concerning deception. There seems to be a perception that it is easier to detect falsehood when the conversation is vocal. Even the popular auction website, eBay, integrated voice chat features into their site with the hope of increasing buyer/seller confidence.24 However, research has shown that the average person's ability to detect deception is little better than chance.25 So while voice communication may facilitate a more intimate relationship between players, it may also create greater vulnerability. Applied to an MMORPG environment, these studies offer mixed conclusions. While the additional social cues available may lead to more effective communication, the changes could come
19 Park, Jung-ran. "Interpersonal and Affective Communication in Synchronous Online Discourse." Library Quarterly 77.2 (2007): 133-55. 20 Gilmore, Sarah, and Samantha Warren. "Emotion online: Experiences of teaching in a virtual learning environment." Human Relations 60 (2007): 581 21 Rice, R. E. "Media Appropriateness: Using Social Presence Theory to Compare Traditional and New Organizational Media." Human Communication Research 19 (1993): 451-84. 22 Whitty, Monica T. "Liar, Liar! An Examination of How Open, Supportive, and Honest People are in Chat Rooms." Computers in Human Behavior 18 (2002): 343-52. 23 Walther, Joseph B., Celeste L. Slovacek, and Lisa C. Tidwell. "IS a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Photographic Images in Long-Term and Short-Term Computer-Mediated Communication." Communication Research 28.1 (2001): 105-34. 24 Guo, Frank Y., and Sulekha Nair. "Design for Facilitating eBay Transactions Using Skype." Usability and Internationalization (2007): 77-83. 25 O'Sullivan, Maureen, Mark G. Frank, Carolyn M. Hurley, and Jaspreet Tiwanna. "Police Lie Detection Accuracy: The Effect of Lie Scenario." Law and Human Behavior 33 (2009): 530-38.

Worrel, 12 into conflict with the expectations players had developed concerning one another, be they mannerisms or even pitch/tone. It seems probable, however, that this conflict will become less problematic with the further acceptance of voice communications. Players who meet one another while utilizing voice chat would have the benefit of the additional social cues, and would not be forced to re-evaluate their expectations based on the new information. Similarly, players who know one another outside the game world would be less reliant on impressions gained from limited communication. It seems, to social players, voice communication offers the potential for deeper relationships if the pitfalls can be overcome.

Immersion Motivated Players
While some players may be motivated by becoming the “best” warrior on the server or getting together with friends, there are those who play simply to experience the virtual world. They immerse themselves in the story, explore the world, create unique characters to play as, or simply need a way to get away from the stresses of everyday life. The addition of voice communication is potentially a double-edged sword for such players. On the one hand, the ability to speak to fellow players adds a further layer of realism to the virtual world. To others, however, this option removes a valuable component of the genre, anonymity. As a genre, MMORPGs promise the chance to “become anyone you want to be,” but voice communication can remove a significant portion of this. Players can certainly still choose how to portray themselves, be it a different personality, padding their age a few years, or altering details of their lives. Some choose to go further though, even portraying themselves as the opposite gender. In one survey of World of Warcraft players, the Daedelus Project reported that 23% of males and 3% of females reported that their “most enjoyable character” was of the opposite gender.26 Take note, players may have multiple characters, and the survey results are only the players for whom the opposite gendered character is their “most enjoyable” one, not all players who have characters of the opposite gender. Those numbers would certainly be higher. Given these percentages, and the fact that male avatars already outnumber female, this means that about half of all female avatars are actually played by a male. While the players cited many reasons for these choices, including aesthetic or stylistic choices, some would likely prefer not to have their gender-swapping exposed. This concern over gender anonymity isn't restricted to online gaming, as the issue is also considered in the realm of computer-mediated communication. CMC offers the potential to level the playing field between men and women in group communication. Flanagin et. al. (2002) report that traditionally women exhibit greater apprehension in face-to-face group communication.27 Due to the reduced social cues inherent in collaborative technologies, however, CMC offers a “low threat communicative environment.” Furthermore, users can strategically use the aspects of available technology, as posited by the SIDE (social identity model of deindividuation) model of Spears & Lea (1994).28 Flannagin 's results indicated that women reported enjoying working with anonymity more than men, and felt that their contributions were more readily accepted in such environments. Men on the other hand, tried to introduce social cues that could be used to identify participants' gender to regain the
26 Yee, Nick. "WoW Gender-Bending." Web. Oct. 2009. <>. 27 Flanagin, Andrew J., Vanessa Tiyaamornwong, Joan O'Connor, and David R. Seibold. "Computer-Mediated Group Work: The Interaction fo Sex and Anonymity." Communication Research 29 (2002): 66. 28 Spears, R., and M. Lea. "Panacea or panopticon? The hidden power in computer-mediated communication." Communication Research 21 (1994): 427-59.

lost advantages of traditional communication. Unlike the gender-bending rates reported by World of Warcraft players, none of the male participants attempted to portray themselves as females, while several women did attempt to portray themselves as male. Voice communication being the default would effectively eliminate players' choice to portray themselves as the gender of their choice, potentially opening them up to undesired reactions from other players. Players choosing to alter their age by a significant number of years likely face a similar difficulty. Even the relatively “simple” choice to portray one's self as more confident and outgoing may become more difficult without the ability to carefully craft and refine each message's text before sending it. To the player looking to escape from the realities of their life, voice communication could be a major obstacle.

The Downside
There are several potential negatives to the transition to consider as well. First is the additional requirement on the player to obtain a microphone. A quality mic can easily be fifty dollars or more depending on brand/model/etc. To the serious gamer, this may seem a justifiable purchase, but to a new player it can easily double the initial cost of the game. In earlier times, there was also the cost of hosting a Ventrillo or Teamspeak server to consider, although with integration of voice chat into games this has become a non-issue for most. Along with the monetary cost is the loss of silence when playing. Previously players could either utilize headphones or mute the sound, reducing the sound impact on any nearby persons. To effectively participate, players must now break this silence, even if only when speaking. To those with room-mates, parents, significant others, etc., this can be a significant issue. Finally, there is the loss of asynchronous communication. There is no text-record of communication to review, nor the ability to prepare messages ahead of time before sending. Filtering out messages becomes more difficult as well. With text-based chat, players had the ability to change the display color of messages from particular players/groups, or even move messages to different chat displays. This made it easy to quickly decide which messages were worthy of attention and which could be delayed. Players may be able to perform similar operations by identifying the voice of the sender, but the efficiency of such filtering is unknown.

Illustration 4. Example of WoW Chat Color Filtering

Worrel, 14 Similar is the additional difficulty in identifying unwanted communication, and blocking or “muting” the sender. A text-based chat window made this a simple exercise, but finding the single avatar spewing spam, insults, or just annoying conversation in a crowded city could prove much more challenging. If voice chat were limited to simply party or guild members this likely would not prove a problem, but one of the interesting possibilities with voice communication is the option of “area of interest” chat.29 Essentially this method replicated the concept of a hearing range in the virtual world, letting players hear those in the immediate vicinity. While this could certainly add to the realism of the game, one wonders if the potential costs are too high.

Voice communication is becoming the new standard, and this isn't likely to change. To many MMORPG players, this is a positive addition that will improve their game experience. Achievement oriented players will be better able to coordinate their group to tackle challenges. Players who get together with friends from work or school will be able to chat as if they're all in the same room. Players who built their relationships before voice chat became common will either overcome their idealized perceptions of other players or drift apart. Most affected will be players interested in escaping from their lives, choosing to portray themselves online as a completely different person. As this transition from text to text and voice communication is made, it is important that we take note of how the transition impacts the social environment of these online worlds, as the implications may be broadly implied. How might digital government practices or other CMC situations be benefited/hindered by voice communication? Could online classrooms be better served if students could talk to one another? What happens if there is a similar transition in the future when video is incorporated into existing communication methods? These and numerous other questions highlight the importance of researching this and related transitions in communication methods.

29 Jiang, Jehn-Ruey, and Hung-Shiang Chen. "Peer-to-Peer AOI voice chatting for massively multiplayer online games." Proc. of 2007 International Conference On Parallel and Distributed Systems, Hsinchu, Taiwan. Vol. 2. 1-8.