What is in-game chat in multiplayer games?
In-game chat tools are what allow players to communicate with each other in their multiplayer gaming sessions.
There are two main ways to implement player comms:
- Voice chat: Where players can speak directly to each other through microphones and speakers
- Text chat: Where players communicate through text somewhere on-screen in the game
Multiplayer gamers want to be able to chat with their friends and other players in the game, with Unity finding that over 1 in 4 gamers listing “types of player communication available” as a top-three must-have feature in their games. Additionally, they would prefer to access a menu in-game to create a chat party rather than use external software.
Considering that multiplayer gamers want a built-in way to chat with others, let’s look at why you should consider including in-game chat for your players.
Why is it important to have in-game chat?
Providing in-game chat for your players is important for two core reasons: better player engagement and improved player experience.
A Vivox study found that, in the same game, players who were using voice chat spent twice the amount of time in the game than players who did not. Players enjoy games that much more when they are able to socialize with other players and create new connections.
Better player engagement and retention
The more that your players have personal interactions with each other, the more social ties that are created within your game community. These social ties connect players and keep them coming back to the game. Whether making a new friend or partying up with an old one, players are more likely to enjoy their gaming experience when they’re playing with people they like.
Having in-game player comms also replaces the need for players to rely on external communication programs that they will have to tab out of or view the overlay for, disrupting the immersion of the gameplay experience.
Finally, if your game is cross-platform, using external programs may not be a suitable option for the device the player is using. By adding in-game comms, you’ll have more control over the gameplay experience your players have.
Improved game experience
In FPS games and MMORPGs, coordination amongst players is essential to performing well. Teamwork is often crucial and in-game chat allows players to share the enemy’s position with their team or request a heal as the action is unfolding.
As in-game comms become more normalized, many games have appeared that rely on communication between players to directly feed into the gameplay experience.
- Among Us relies on text chat to enable core gameplay like discussions on which players are suspected of being the imposter
- Players in Rust communicate with each other to enable the trading of resources, creating a more realistic survival game experience
- Other games like V Rising have found massive popularity in using player comms for roleplaying
Types of in-game chat for multiplayer games
Two main types of player communications exist: Voice chat and text chat. Many variations of the two exist, with the configuration most suitable for your game depending on the type of gameplay and degree to which players will need to coordinate or compete.
Using voice chat in your game
Enabling voice chat in your games empowers players to strategize on-the-fly, build friendships, and connect on a more personal level with other players in the session.
Voice chat can be implemented in many ways, from settings for convenience to ones for immersion. Some options are:
- Input settings: Choosing between push-to-talk or open mic settings
- Voice channels: Allow players to adjust the voice chat channel they are in to speak only to their party or the whole team
- Muting: Ability to mute specific players
- Proximity chat: Mimics real life speech by adjusting the ability to hear others based on their positional distance from the player
- Enables on-the-fly team strategizing without sacrificing in-game control
- Allows players to connect on a more personal and human level
- Let’s real-life friends continue their friendship in-game
- It can be difficult to prevent toxic interactions
- It can be difficult to moderate
- Background noise (music, other conversations) can be distracting to gameplay
Using text chat in your game
Text chat is a great option to allow your players to communicate in a more structured and moderated way.
According to Unity’s study on multiplayer gamers, players are more likely to often – always text chat with everyone on their team (33%) rather than voice chat (25%).
There are different ways to implement text chat in your game, with each option providing more or less structure to the communications sent between players. Here are a few:
- Sending set messages (like Rocket League)
- Using message templates (like Elden Ring)
- Limited text fields which block specific words or phrases
- Free, unlimited text fields
- More accessible and less intimidating for some players
- Much easier to moderate than voice chat
- Can help prevent toxic interactions by blocking specific words and phrases
- Pre-built messages can encourage players to communicate without sacrificing in-game control (moving the player versus typing)
- Can limit the depth of conversations
- Players may have to choose between typing and playing the game
- Takes up on-screen real-estate
Chat compliance and accessibility in your game
All games released in the U.S. offering player comms must do everything they can to make the function reasonably accessible to all.
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) is a federal law in the United States which ensures people with disabilities have access to modern communications, within all industries. As player comms refer to player-to-player communication, games offering player comms are regulated by the CVAA.
In addition to being regulated, gaming should be a positive social experience for all. Ensuring your game can be enjoyed by everyone gives it the best chances of success.
Some accessibility features you may consider including are:
- Speech to text: Verbal input with a generated text output
- Text to speech: Text input with a generated verbal output
- Non-verbal messages: Such as the inclusion of chat wheels, emotes, and pings
Most importantly, it is not enough that accessibility features are implemented by the studio. If there is a communication function that is not easily accessible to a specific group, people from that group must be consulted to develop a solution together.
When a game relies on a third party solution for player comms, the responsibility for ensuring CVAA compliance still falls on the game’s developers.
Toxicity management in player chat
Nurturing a positive and engaged player community isn’t easy. In any multiplayer game offering in-game chat, there are bound to be players who engage in toxic behavior.
Unity’s 2021 gaming report found that two-thirds (68%) of gamers had experienced toxicity towards themselves. The same study also found that a majority (67%) of multiplayer gamers would likely stop playing a game if another player was exhibiting toxic behavior.
This behavior can deter players from using your in-game comms, as well as reflect poorly on your community, game, and studio by association. Identifying these players and taking punitive action will improve the health of the community and the longevity of the game.
Combatting toxicity in games begins with having processes in place for identifying disruptive players. Reporting systems are already commonplace in most multiplayer games, and these systems typically use AI to comb through chat logs before a decision and/or punishment is handed out.
While it has typically been difficult to monitor the voice chat side of player comms, Riot Games recently announced plans to begin recording player chat within games to work towards combating voice chat toxicity. Gaming should be a safe space for everyone, and continued innovations in safe voice chat communications will support this.