As virtual environments continue to grow in size and bring people together, communication will only have an increasingly integral role.
In July 2021, “Roblox boasted 47 million daily active users — and it’s looking to chart a course toward deeper, richer virtual experiences that will keep people coming back for years to come. To that end, Roblox is taking careful but decisive steps toward weaving voice chat into the platform’s core experience. The first move: inviting a group of trusted developers to explore how they can integrate proximity-based audio into the wildly popular experiences that beat at the heart of the platform,” Taylor Hatmaker writes for TechCrunch.
Conversation — and genuine connection — will be the backbone of these richer virtual experiences in various online communities. Whether that’s in the form of virtual concerts (happening now in Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, SpatialWeb, and more), social audio apps like Clubhouse (and many more), proximity chat platforms, gaming, and other immersive virtual experiences, communication with other humans is hugely important. Speaking of virtual concerts in Roblox, just earlier this year, Twenty One Pilots played in Roblox, and included the option for fans to vote on the order in which they could hear the duo perform five songs. Interactivity helps, too.
So, how is ‘spatial voice’ in Roblox going to work, and facilitate these connections?
How Will ‘Spatial Voice’ Work in Roblox?
“With spatial voice, users will be able to speak with other people nearby through live voice chat. Roblox sees its new voice product as a natural extension of the way that text chat works now, but instead of text bubbles that pop up over an avatar’s head, visible to anybody around them, players will be able to talk naturally to the other people they bump into,” Hatmaker writes.
Hatmaker describes various common scenes in Roblox: “Say you’re hanging out in a virtual skatepark with spatial audio enabled: Skaters in the halfpipe with you would sound loud and clear, just like they would in real life. But you wouldn’t be able to hear someone walking around on the sidewalk across the street, since they’re too far away. To have a private conversation with a nearby friend, you might peel off and walk toward a store down the block.”
Manuel Bronstein, Chief Product Officer at Roblox, gives even more detail in their recent blog post last month: “As we build an engaging and civil community where people form real connections, we are envisioning the future of communication both in the metaverse and beyond. Communication capabilities must be rooted in the ways we communicate in the real world, especially when in an immersive 3D experience. For example, we raise our voice to reach someone far away, we whisper when we wish to be discreet, etc.”
Read their blog post to learn more about various considerations they’ve made about spatial voice, more about how it fits in with their vision about the metaverse, and why they’re introducing spatial voice slowly, as an invitation-only beta to selected members of their developer community.
Additionally, “Bronstein describes spatial voice as ‘one component’ of Roblox’s vision for natural communication. The next step is integrating a voice chat experience that’s persistent across experiences, letting users who know each other hang out even when they aren’t doing the same thing. For anyone who paid attention to the company’s quiet acquisition of a company called Guilded last month, that won’t come as a surprise.” Similar to Discord, users can have text and voice conversations on the Guilded platform, but Guilded also allows users to organize communities around events and calendars to ease the usual hassles of scheduling gaming tournaments.
The Benefits of Spatial Audio in Virtual Environments
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise (especially based on the increasing popularity of spatial audio this year), but using spatial audio in virtual environments has clear benefits. Research supports this: “In Virtual Reality (VR), virtual environments, and gaming, audio greatly impacts the user, yet it is an area that has been under researched quite recently. While music and environmental sounds have been used to great effect throughout gaming history to craft a more immersive experience, spatial audio doesn't see as much focus. Not only does well made spatial audio allow a user to become more immersed in their virtual experience, it is an important channel for information about their environment.”
Research from IEEE supports this, too. “Sound is an important part of an immersive virtual environment, contributing to immersion, presence, and user performance. The experimental study presented analyzed the effect of spatial-sound vs. no-sound display on presence experienced in a 3D virtual scene. Results indicate a medium to strong effect of spatial sound, leading to higher levels of presence experienced.”
Another study shows further benefits: “Web-based spatial audio applications can be effective for short-term stress reduction, and have the potential to be a supplement to clinical music interventions (but not a replacement or substitute for such interventions).”
Curious to learn more about the benefits of spatial audio specifically? Check out this post. “Today, spatial audio promises to change the way people consume content.”
As for spatial voice in Roblox, stay tuned — the feature is still in beta testing for now. Jay Peters writes, "The addition of voice chat could make Roblox an even more popular place to hang out and help it better compete with other metaverse-y games like Fortnite. But in taking this slow approach, Roblox seems to trying to get ahead of challenges voice chat could bring the to platform." Let's see...