People Will Pay For VoIP Because It's In A Game?

from the something-for-nothing dept

There are plenty of places for people to make free VoIP calls through their PCs these days, while the cost of phone-based VoIP service keeps falling towards zero. Given this, it’s a little surprising to see the companies behind some online video games and virtual worlds planning to start charging users to make in-game or in-world calls to other players and users. Apparently Second Life, Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies will soon feature paid calling plans, with the last two even letting “users talk with friends, no matter what Sony game they’re playing.” Wow, that’s a great feature — and one all those existing VoIP services already have, with the added benefit that they work when their friends aren’t playing Sony games, too. So it’s hard to imagine the benefits of integrated VoIP calls will justify their use over any of the free solutions for very many users. This sounds somewhat similar to the sort of thinking that was being tossed out by eBay when it bought Skype, talking about all the “synergies” between voice calls and eBay sales, and how the calls would be a huge boon to the company’s bottom line. Those synergies, of course, never materialized for eBay. It seems likely they won’t materialize for game and virtual world companies, either.

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Comments on “People Will Pay For VoIP Because It's In A Game?”

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Talmyr (profile) says:

Added Value

On face value, this seems a good point, and it’s all too possible that they may go this way. But as the linked article mentions, part of the idea is that this is essentially a premium for added value, such as voicemails or ‘disguised’ voices, which would certainly add to the worthiness of paying for this service. You could also tie the service in with gaining in-game credit or other promotional offers to give you the ‘scarcity’ value.

Additionally, there may be other advantages to having an in-game service, such as easier finding or linking up with other players, or ease of use within the game, that don’t show up at this stage in the article. So I’d be interested to see where they go with this.

PRMan (profile) says:

Not to mention...

Even if Sony somehow tries to kill other VOIP options while you are playing, with Vonage or a cell phone (on a weekend day), I could talk unlimited for free with my regular phones on speakerphone.

And as you said, if you are on the computer and have CPU and bandwidth to spare, you could start up Skype before you start.

Seriously, who would pay for this?

Man from Atlanta (profile) says:

Re: Not to mention...

Ever hear “there’s a sucker born every minute?” There are those people who might pay. There are also those who like the game and find the feature handy enough in-game to pay the premium. It could in fact save gamers money and time, since it could save them from resorting to a teamspeak server (and perhaps risking suspension for contacting other members outside the game).

Most of all, if the cost of offering the service is basically nil, in my opinion it would be dumb for these games NOT to take a flyer on offering this as a premium add-on.

Twisted Mentat (profile) says:

CCP tried something like this

CCP, the developers of the MMO EvE Online, tried a similar thing when integrating VOIP into the game. At first it was a pay system but after so few people used it they decided to just throw it into the game as included as part of the subscription.

It was also difficult as most corps and alliances had and still have their own Vent or TS servers and still don’t use the ingame VOIP capabilities.

Man from Atlanta says:

Re: CCP tried something like this

My guess is that EvE players are a much more serious and advanced lot than Everquest and Second Lifers, given the sheer complexity of the game (I haven’t gotten it out of the box yet, for fear of time drain).

As I mentioned above, this service might serve less advanced gamers fairly well. It sounds like game-controlled VoIP might also offer protections for minors that are circumvented by outside pages, chats, vents and teamspeak.

Ilfar says:

Re: CCP tried something like this

The system was also quite buggy when first released, and a resource hog, and actually caused random crashes when moving from one system to another. Vent and TS don’t. (I have at least two petitions regarding bugs and crashes where the GM responding advised me to turn the audio chat off – and it fixed the problem.)

Speaking for myself, if it’s only a couple of extra dollars a month, and it’s built into the game (and works!) AND it’s got enough other people using it, then I’d quite happily shell out that little bit extra.

another mike says:

Re: CCP tried something like this

Blizzard introduced a similar feature into World of Warcraft. Many guilds still don’t use it though, preferring their existing Ventrilo and TeamSpeak servers.
Valve built voice into their games too. Game server operators have options for how it operates, i.e. team-only for coordinating strategy or alltalk to rag on the other side.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes, stupid idea. However, using eBay as proof of its stupidity is not really a good indicator. eBay did virtually nothing to promote Skype on the eBay platform whatsoever. They integrated it in specific categories of eBay motors and then just talked about rolling it out sitewide. When they put the skype button in eBay motors, they made a little announcement or a few about it. Virtually nothing was said about Skype after that.

If you are going to use Skype as an example, you need to make it clear why Skype failed, which is basically because it was not promoted. eBay is one of the top five sites in traffic and instead of promoting Skype all over the place, they sold ads to USPS and Netflix (why not skype ads AND Netflix ads?).

eBay has always been weak in the marketing department. Their TV and radio spots are the joke of the selling community. They spend millions each quarter on Google Adwords, and when eBay had their little spat with Google and pulled their Google ads, eBay execs said that it wouldn’t matter to their bottom line (although they did reinstate many of their ads on Google).

All Sony (or other maker) has to do is market it right, make it sound cool to the millions of teenagers-who-hang-at-Gamestop-BSing-to-the-clerk-about-gaming demographic and it will be some quick & easy millions. Then just drop it when it is no longer profitable. They could pay the game store clerks a commission on each kid that signs up through them. All the clerk has to do is talk fast and use exaggerated hand motions and body language and those kids will whip out mommy’s credit card.

yozoo says:

XBOXLive and the illusion of Value

Microsofts XBOX is a GIMPED device (not unlike a verizon cell phone) that can only connect to another after authenticating through XBOXLive (at which time Microsoft checks to see if you have paid the tariff for connecting to another user and then decides to let you connect or not). This leaves the player with a system (XBOXLive) that offers some features which have value for free (friend listing, gamerscore tracking, video and voice chat etc), but then charges for something it does absolutely nothing to add any value too (my ability to connect peer to peer to another internet user over the internet). I think the other players in the gaming sector are searching for similar convoluted, deceptive and arbitrary monetary streams as well. At least in this case they are not breaking something to create the illusion of value, as Microsoft has done with the 360 and XBOXLive.

Anonymous Coward says:

World of Warcraft added FREE voice chat. Available in game. To anyone who played. For FREE. It failed. There were already two products available, Ventrilo and Teamspeak, that did a much better job, for a fee. Good product that costs $$ is better than crap for free. Good luck Sony competing with a good free product.

Joel Coehoorn says:

It could work

As someone who has played a lot of online games, this does unfortunately have some potential. Those who just get online with their friends/clan/guild won’t do it, because they can use something like TeamSpeak or Ventrillo. But this comes back to what you guys always talk about: selling the scarcity. And in this case the scarcity is access to the community.

Now a solo player can use the feature to do things like find a team to run an instanced dungeon, or easily talk to players in the vicinity without taking their hands off the controls. They can sell access to advertisers as well.

And thing is: this is a truly scarce resource in pervasive worlds, because players will only tolerate so much distraction. You can’t just let everyone do a voice broadcast to the entire virtual world anytime they want. You need some way to limit it, and charging for it is as good a means as any.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

E-Bay's Folly Was in Spending So Much For Skype.

The fundamental business of Second Life, World of Warcraft, etc. is selling casual introductions, like a dating service. If you wanted to do “cosplay” with the people next door, you wouldn’t need Second Life. But of course, the people next door may not be interested in cosplay, or may even frown on it. The question of charging for VOIP in MMO games has almost nothing to do with VOIP in the abstract, and everything to do with how it fits into the game’s established conventions. The point is to have a system which enables VOIP within the rules of the game, whatever those are. A first approximation might be that if you can see someone, you can hear them and talk to them, but that you cannot just broadcast like a public-address system. It might be a clever idea to arrange things so that everyone in a virtual space can hear things being spoken, but not everyone can speak. What might work well in Second Life, might not work well in World of Warcraft, because the cultures are different. The basic convention of Second Life is that you pay for many things, but there is essentially nothing that you can’t afford to buy. People pay token sums in Second Life in order to pretend that they are spending a lot of money, rather like playing poker for penny stakes, using copper pennies instead of chips. The VOIP would have to conform to that convention. The role of money in World of Warcraft is very different. The kind of VOIP which makes sense would also be very different.

I don’t know very clearly what Linden Labs is proposing. However, let’s make some reasonable surmises.

My first and most basic assumption is that they propose to “roll their own,” that they propose to spend a few thousand dollars modifying existing open-source software, rather than buying someone else’s company for millions or billions. E-Bay’s great folly was not Skype as such, it was that E-Bay failed to realize that it could just add functionality to its own accounts. E-Bay did not need to buy Skype to enable voice communications between traders, and it did not need to buy Paypal either. Amazon is of course much more competently run than E-Bay, and you buy a used book from Amazon the same way you buy a new one. Amazon did buy the Bibliofind used book service some years ago, back in 2000-2001, which subsequently became Amazon Marketplace, but what they bought there was an introduction to the ten thousand or so actual used book dealers, most of them with actual shops, who were already using Bibliofind. Cumulative evidence convinces me that Linden Labs is basically astute. Remarkably few companies on the internet are astute: Amazon, Google, Craigslist, and maybe a few others. Assuming that Linden Labs spends practically nothing on its VOIP service, it will preserve freedom of action, and will be able to charge or not charge, as market feedback may dictate.

One of the questions which arises is whether prices, especially marginal prices, are going to be on the Linden scale or the dollar scale. The suggestion is that Linden Labs is proposing a subscription model, presumably at a rate more or less competitive with Vonage. If, for example, Linden Labs were to charge, say, an extra ten U. S. dollars a month for a package consisting of VOIP and unlimited calling, and probably some additional Lindens to buy stuff with, that would still be a small sum compared to the cost of broadband access, a sufficiently powerful computer, etc. There would presumably be a system whereby the server made up a call at both ends and merely knowing someone’s IP address did not translate into an ability to place additional calls, or stay on the line without clearance. Presumably, Linden Labs can bury VOIP traffic within normal Second Life traffic, to make it very difficult for ISP’s to block it without committing overt sabotage. In the aftermath of NebuAd, that might make Second Life VOIP immune to the kind of harassment Vonage had to cope with.

However, as long as one does not commit the great folly of buying companies at unlimited premium, one can just experiment with what works. Win a few, loose a few.

JB says:

VOIP in a Vertual World

As an SL Resident, We already have voice from resident to resident or to groups or open chat but, people just don’t use it very much. I cant for the life of me understand why anyone would want to pay for the service they have for free. and as others have mentioned in this post, there are so many other FREE VOIP services out there. I use skype and it has been fantastic. If SL decided to charge for Voice, I would drop it, it is just not that useful.
and by the way, there is a big difference between a game = must have some thing to win or goals to accomplish etc…
and a Virtual world such as second life where there is nothing to win, you are there to socialize or build etc…

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:


To be fair, if you are playing an MMO, having to swap information, then exit the game, enter the information (which usually you can’t copy-paste because the way game chat functions work), then re-enter the game is kind of a pain. Also, then, if you want to talk to someone, you have to give them access to information that will allow them to bug you in the future. If the whole thing is done in game, you don’t have to do the whole exit, re-enter little dance and your privacy is protected by the use of the game server as a third party relay. I think there is some value there. How much value? That’s a very different question…

Robert showerman says:

Looking for submission

Attentions Webmaster:


We are a leading VoIP phone service provider in the US and Canada. We want to get our site listed on your website. Can you please tell me what is the criterion for doing this? I also want to mention that you can earn handsome commission through our affiliate program or by posting our Ad banner. Please let me know if you are interested in working with us.

Thanks & Regards

Robert Showerman
Marketing Manager

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