Voice chat: necessary for successful raiding?

The usage of voice chat in the World of Warcraft is widespread, especially in the raiding community.  The majority use external programs such as Ventrilo, Teamspeak, or Mumble to converse with their friends and guildmates, but if you’re not comfortable installing a 3rd-party client, you can always opt to use Blizzard’s own built-in support for voice communication (although it is light on features — and according to some, light on quality).  These days, nearly every serious raiding guild requires their members to be able to participate in their chosen flavor of voice chat.  On the server that I play on, there is a good chance that you’ll be asked to join a Ventrilo server even when taking part in a PUG raid.  Does the ability to speak with each other while raiding really increase your group’s likelihood of success?  Read on for this dwarf’s opinion.

Can you hear me now?

Can you hear me now?

There is no doubt that speaking is considerably easier than typing for most people: it’s faster, and it doesn’t interrupt your ability to issue character commands with the keyboard.  Likewise, in a hectic raiding environment, it is also probably easier for most people to process communication by hearing it versus reading it: you don’t need to shift your attention away from the gameplay to scan the chat log every few seconds.  Voice chat seems like an obvious slam dunk, then — right?  Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite that simple, and depends on a lot on the people in your raid group.

Like many other aspiring raiding guilds, when my own guild was taking it’s first steps into raiding, I assumed that voice chat would be necessary for us to be effective.  I set up a Teamspeak server (at the time, Teamspeak was the most popular option), and once we figured things out, we were chatting away with each other while raiding Karazhan.  The social aspect of Teamspeak was amazing: we were all able to carry on normal conversations with people that we had previously only interacted with via our keyboards.  And it did seem to make raiding easier — people that previously rarely typed in /raid chat (because of the effort involved) came alive when freed from their keyboards.  We were making excellent progress in Karazhan, and I attributed some of that success to the ease in which we could communicate over Teamspeak.

And then a funny thing happened.  Our Teamspeak server went offline on a raid night, and we were forced to play the old-fashioned way.   I was mentally prepared to move at a slower pace that night, given our disadvantage.  But oddly, we didn’t move any slower than we usually did.  In fact, just the opposite happened: we blew through Karazhan in record time!  Even back then, I was in the habit of logging our raids for later analysis with the WWS (I’ve since switched to World of Logs; see my post on the subject), and when I compared our Teamspeak-less raid to our session from the previous week, I was shocked at just how big the difference was.  When we weren’t using voice chat, we just seemed to play better: DPS was higher, less people died, and we cut 25 minutes off of our previous best clear time.

Now, it’s natural for a group to get better at clearing an instance as they get more practice at it (and improve their gear) — so to some extent, I expect small improvements every week.  But a jump of this magnitude wasn’t a small improvement: it was a night-and-day difference.  Our clear time that week was on par with some of the top 25-man guilds on our server, and they were sporting considerably better gear than we were (my guild sticks to 10-person raids).

We repeated the test several more times over the next few months (mostly unplanned, as our Teamspeak server had a habit of going down on raid nights), and the results were convincing enough for us to abandon voice chat during our raids.  For us, more efficient use of our very limited raiding time outweighed the convenience of voice chat.  Note that we didn’t abandon voice chat altogether — we shut it off during our raids, but continued to use it for casual group content, PvP, and socializing.

Why the difference?  How could we possibly perform better without voice chat?  After thinking about it, some of the reasons seem obvious:

  • Without voice chat, conversation is more difficult — which naturally leads to people filtering their communications down to only what is essential.  Many people can (and will!) ramble on and on when given a microphone, but those same people might become remarkably to-the-point if they’re forced to type instead.  Less casual chat means less distraction, which leads to people that are more focused on burning through trash quickly.
  • Typing gives people an extra few seconds to think about what they’re about to say.  Voice chat allows people to blurt things out without thinking.  If you’re in a frustrating situation (such as repeated wiping on a new boss), the latter can lead to drama.  And drama does not foster efficiency.
  • Voice chat can become a “crutch” for players that grow to expect the raid leader to always give vocal warnings when something important is about to happen.  If the raid leader fails to provide the warning (or internet latency prevents it from arriving in time), these types of players are prone to fail.  If you have some players that absolutely NEED an audio cue in your raids, a boss addon (DXE, Bigwigs, or DBM, to name a few) is probably a much more reliable warning than the leader’s voice is.

Fast-forward a couple years and we’re still not using voice chat in our raids today.  We’ve actually picked up a couple quality recruits over the years that told me they applied specifically because they didn’t want to deal with voice chat (or didn’t like it), so it’s even become sort of a recruitment bullet-point for us.

Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone immediately dump voice chat while raiding.  I’m simply relating my own experience as something to consider.  If you’re using voice today, but would be willing to trade the convenience of spoken communication for more efficiency in your raiding sessions, then you may want to give this experiment a try.  I’m willing to bet that a fair number of you would not make that trade even if you knew it would work, and that is completely valid.  My guild’s raiding schedule is uncommonly short, and we put a premium on not wasting time during our rare sessions, so it makes sense for us.

It is also entirely possible that others have tried the same experiment, with the opposite result.  I happen to be an extremely fast typist, and typing instructions mid-fight while also playing my own character has never been a challenge for me.  For raid leaders that happen to be poor typists, voice chat might make more sense.  Or, maybe you have people in your group that rely heavily on directions from others during encounters (“Bob, get out of the fire!”), and addons don’t seem to help them — voice chat might make more sense.

The bottom line is that raiding success is entirely possible whether you communicate with a microphone or a keyboard.  Pick the one that works best for your guild, but don’t assume that you need voice chat to be effective.

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