Headsets and voice communications have become ubiquitous to group play in MMOs today. Guilds freely share their server addresses with pickup players. PvP groups rely on tight communication to sweep to resounding battleground victories. Even players in random groups often meet up on voice comms to simplify strategy and tactical coordination. Headsets have become quite affordable, and USB connections make it easy to simply plug in and play.
Despite all this, speaking up in a channel full of strangers can be one of the more intimidating and awkward experiences in your group play experience. And then there's the other side of the coin: bearing up under the onslaught of That Guy in Vent who's cursing up a blue streak at every turn of the encounter, leaving his mic open so the rest of us can fully experience his barking dog, his blaring television and his half-chewed mouthful of pizza.
The Voice Comms Etiquette talk probably wasn't part of your mama's standard coming-of-age advice repertoire, so consider this the heart-to-heart advisory every player should receive upon reaching grouping age. Go forth with awareness and the facts!
The technical stuff
Ventrilo ("Vent" for short) seems to have become today's default voice communications system of choice. If you plan to do much grouping and raiding in World of Warcraft, it probably behooves you to download, set up and learn how to use this basic tool. Be sure to normalize your settings.
Less ubiquitous than Vent are Mumble and TeamSpeak. WoW's in-game voice system is typically a ghost town, but we suppose somebody out there must use it on occasion.
Is Vent necessary for raiding?
Many guilds and raid groups require that you have a headset and Vent to participate in raiding. Some simply want you to be able to hear on-the-fly instructions from the raid leader; others also require that you have a working mic to be able to respond and contribute feedback about certain parts of the encounter.
Is mandatory Vent for raiding a reasonable requirement? Absolutely. Not all groups require or choose to use voice communication; however, the ones that do come to rely on it. If you're the only player who doesn't, you'll miss vital strategy information, not to mention the bonding and camaraderie that goes on -- and no, you can't simply ask if someone will type out the important stuff for you. That's an unreasonable burden for a group that's based on voice communication.
Our best advice: If you are that hesitant to speak up in Vent, you're not in the right group or guild. Playing WoW shouldn't make you feel vulnerable or scared. Funnel your energy on finding a group where you can relax and be yourself. In a game with as many players as World of Warcraft, there truly is a guild to fit everyone. You'll be much happier if you spend the time identifying and finding what you want.
Even in a compatible guild, some of us may have to push through an initial hesitancy about speaking with new people. It's definitely weird -- a little bit awkward and stressful at first -- but you'll find the warmth and human connection at the other end a worthwhile goal. And if you just don't want to get involved, then don't -- but as we said, don't force your choice on a guild or group that's already committed to using voice communication. Find a compatible text-based group instead.
The dos of voice channel etiquette
DO fall back on the old rule of netiquette from the early days of internet forums and communities: Listen in on your new community and get a feel for how people conduct themselves before you attempt to contribute. You'll quickly figure out when it's OK to chat, when it's time to keep the channel clear and what the guild culture is for verbal roughhousing.
DO normalize your settings. Spend time before an event adjusting your settings, and ask someone else to let you know how your settings sound on their end. Make sure your mic isn't so close to your mouth that you sound like a tauren in bear form or so far away that nobody can hear you clearly.
DO feel free to chat and banter between encounters and during routine, easy play.
DO zip your lip when it's time to focus. Keep the channel clear for strategy and coordination during boss fights and during strategy briefings.
DO watch your language. Never assume that because nobody has said anything (yet) that they're cool with the blue streak you just cursed up. You're in a public social setting; conduct yourself accordingly.
DO include your name when you make a request or announcement during an encounter ("Kaed picking up adds on the right"), at least until others get to know your voice.
DO use push-to-talk if there's background noise (a barking dog, children, a television, music) in the room where you're playing.
DO use push-to-talk if you are eating at the keyboard. (Better yet: Feed your face before you sit down to play.)
DO speak up during a strategy session if you have something useful to add. If you're hesitant, shoot the raid leader a brief whisper asking if it's OK to speak up with your idea.
DO move to a private channel for individual groups or private conversations.
The don'ts of voice channel etiquette
DON'T use speakers and a separate mic instead of a headset. This causes feedback when other people speak while your mic is open -- truly a horrible experience for your teammates. Buy a headset; prices are quite reasonable today.
DON'T conduct a group or raid in the entry or "lounge" channel, where you'll be distracted by other players logging in and out. Move your event to a designated or open channel.
DON'T conduct personal or intimate conversations on an open channel that's not password-protected from anyone you wouldn't want overhearing you.
DON'T play loud music in the background or (heaven forbid) in the channel itself. Yes, we realize you probably think that sad trombone sound would be hilarious, but sound effects are something that's definitely the province of long-time guild members with an intuitive understanding of their guildmates' sense of humor.
DON'T program a song or sound effect introduction for whenever you join or leave a channel. We really don't want to hear all that in the middle of whatever we're doing when you wheel in on your chariot of flaming glory.
DON'T use language that's offensive to players of a different gender, race, sexual orientation or other group than you are. Again, you're in a public social setting. Show the same respect for whoever else might be there as you'd like shown to yourself, and don't assume it's acceptable to conduct yourself like the lowest common denominator.
DON'T barge into other channels where players may be focused on their own events. If you do pop in, listen carefully first to make sure you're not interrupting.
DON'T speak over other people. Even if someone is giving inaccurate information, wait until they're finished before chiming in. Chances are, the raid leader or other savvy player will clear up the confusion.
DON'T indulge in rude humor (burping into the mic, lewd remarks). This is still a public place -- show some class!
DON'T expect everyone to wait while you try to resolve any voice chat technical difficulties. If you are participating in a group or raid and your voice equipment or software isn't working, you are responsible for getting them fixed in a timely manner. If a simple reboot doesn't work, opt out of the event so that you can fix things without making everyone else wait.
DON'T talk over raid leaders, tanks and healers coordinating pulls, heals and cooldowns.
DON'T announce your death. Your healers and raid leader all know what happened. Unless you're handling a task in the raid that absolutely must be picked up immediately by another player, keep your announcement to yourself and let your teammates stay focused.
Let's open things up, readers. What other advice and tips can you share with players who are new to the voice communications experience?
[Additional image credits: rafael-castillo, valentin.d]
Dodge the drama and become the player everyone wants in their group with advice from The Drama Mamas Drama-Buster Guide. Got a personal question for the Drama Mamas? Email Robin and Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.