At Riot, we're pretty hardcore gamers. Many of us have lived and breathed games like Counterstrike for many years of our lives. Given the features games like these have, every so often, there's a heated discussion within Riot about voice chat - should we build it in League of Legends? Would it improve the player experience for the average player? Why do some games choose not to integrate voice chat, while others do? Rioters often debate for hours about the pros and cons of voice chat, so we decided to more deeply investigate the impact of voice chat. Every time the discussion comes up, we add a little bit more research to the mix and learn a little bit more about voice chat's impact on online games.
Due to the recent rise of 3rd party voice chat applications, we decided to take a moment to share some of our findings and explain why we haven't implemented voice chat in League of Legends, but also why we haven't closed the doors on it being possible in the future.
Do players want this feature?
One of the critical things I want to highlight is the difference between integrated voice chat with strangers, versus with friends. We often survey League of Legends players on whether they prefer to use voice chat with friends, and over 79% of players agree that it's a more enjoyable way to play League of Legends. But when you ask League of Legends players whether they prefer to use voice chat with strangers, the agree rate drops to 50%: 1 in 2 players do not want to voice chat with strangers, or don't care. More importantly, 28% of players disagree. When looking at numbers like these, we have to carefully consider that adding voice chat would actually create an unwanted experience for just over 1 in 4 players. Meanwhile, players who want voice chat already enjoy it with friends using other voice options.
These numbers might seem different than results from online polls or general threads you've seen here on the forums, but there are two important variables at play. One, players that tend to visit online forums or communities are a unique subset of the League of Legends population. Two, online polls or questions about voice chat rarely distinguish the difference between voice chatting with friends versus strangers. If you just ask the question "Do you want voice chat in League of Legends?", most players answer the question through their perspective. Players that prefer to voice chat with strangers say "Yes!", but so do players that prefer voice chat with friends, leading to bloated numbers and inaccurate perceptions.
What's the player experience like?
With the recent surge of 3rd party voice chat applications, we were able to do some neat data analysis on the impact of voice chat to the League of Legends experience. We were especially curious as to whether or not these applications created a more enjoyable experience in games where there was voice chat between strangers.
One of the things about voice chat is that more often than not, you end up with games where only a few of the players opt into the application, and the rest are still using text. In our analysis, we found that text-based communication in games where only some of the teammates were in voice chat had up to 126% more racism, sexism, homophobia, and verbal abuse that we all agree have no place in League. Not surprisingly, we also saw that players who were using voice chat with strangers received 47% more reports than your baseline League player.
There have also been a few concerning studies about gender cues and voice chat in other popular, competitive online games. For example, a published paper from Ohio University showed that just giving a cue or sign that you're a woman on voice chat leads to 300% more negative comments compared to a male voice, or no voice at all.
At the end of the day, voice chat with friends is a great experience, and what League of Legends players actually want. Many players already use voice chat like Skype and Ventrilo with their friends and that's awesome. But, a system that automatically or easily puts you into voice chat with strangers leads to 126% more toxicity and 47% more reports even when players can opt-out of the experience or mute each other.
Hopefully this gives players more insight into how we think about voice chat.