You have to hand it to Sony Online Entertainment.
In the current climate of extreme pessimism, it is refreshing to see a computer game developer and publisher continuing to try new things.
Everquest 2 launched in the same month as World of Warcraft, a fact that would leave many to deduce it was dead in the water.
But now, 7 years after launch, it was announced that they will shortly be incorporating facial recognition technology (‘SOEmote’) to map human emotes onto characters.
To the best of my knowledge, this is a feature that few players ever requested. Frankly, if this launched in any other game, there would be a large faction of the community who would ask why development funds had been invested in a gimmick rather than fixing bugs, or providing more content. In this way, EQ2 is the perfect test bed.
From my anecdotal experience, a small proportion of the gaming community use voice chat. It is only really obligatory in challenging group content. Furthermore games that implemented in-game VOIP have generally done so badly, providing a weaker tool than what was available from 3rd parties. WoW is a classic example of this – in-game voice chat was brought in patch 2.2.0, however the guild I was with at the time used TeamSpeak and subsequent guilds have all relied on Ventrilo. From a security and quality perspective, it always made sense to do so.
Of those that did use voice chat, I found that the majority of players did not speak – perhaps for shyness or the common worries on an EU server that their English was not up to standard. Some were even afraid to expose their gender or age as there is a wall of anonymity that is broken when other players hear your voice. So the voice filter features are of particular interest to me.
But even the face mapping will be a fun bonus for roleplaying and social interactions.
Ultimately I am glad that SOE is continuing to experiment with technology and trying something different. I would recommend that skeptics read the PC Gamer interview and reflect about what they want the MMOs to look and feel like in 10 years’ time.
This move has taken us one more step away from games and one more towards virtual worlds.