It’s a love-it-or-hate-it feature, but voice chatting is coming to Second Life.
Alerted by some twitterings, I downloaded the beta voice client. Algernon Spackler and I met up on the Beta Grid to give the voice support a try. I found a small group gathered at Space Port Alpha. Initially I couldn’t hear anything… but having disabled and reenabled the new voice chat preferences, it all sprang into life.
Users who are speaking have a little coloured voice print above their heads. The sound system is spatially-aware, so if you move out of an area people sound further away (the same applies if you zoom out with your camera, incidentally), and people with surround-sound capability in their headsets should get an idea of where other avatars are standing in relation to them.
It all seemed remarkably smooth, although people seemed quite quiet, shy and less ready to talk all at once, which is what tends to happen with text chat. The group I was in was only around 10 people – I think that more were present at the NMC sim and I’m not sure how smoothly the system went over there.
We did have a conversation about how many people would react strongly against this… one member of the group suggested that a large number of people on the main grid will prefer the anonymity of text chat. I guess over time it may become less easy for people to say “no, I don’t want to voice chat, I don’t have a headset”, and perhaps people will become more cautious about interacting with other avatars.
There’s an option to only have your microphone enabled when a certain key is pressed, so that you don’t have to worry that any little noise will be transmitted to the grid… as a Mac user, I found this a bit awkward – the available keys to toggle this were all very Windows-centric, but perhaps that will change before this goes live.
Interesting times ahead!