Is Voice Essential for Serious Virtual Worlds?

Nick over at Clever Zebra posted the question: Is Voice Essential for Serious Virtual Worlds? And has a poll with it as well.  I have been asked this in the past and wanted to share my philosophy on this with the comment I posted on his site:

I think the option is vital, but for me it is not necessary.  Do I lose work because I typically don’t do voice?  Likely.  But I may also lose work if I did voice.  Why?  It’s easy to go off on tangents.  It is commonplace that at least once a week I have 10+ IMs going plus a chat conversation with one or two present avatars.  There is no way I could do that with voice.

My customers are told that I am in multiple IMs when this happens and understand the etiquette involved in that (after all, they are often in multiple IMs as well).

As for pitching an idea, anyone can bs all day long about what they can do.  But this is exactly why I don’t need voice in Second Life.  I don’t need to “pitch” my ideas, clients can go see them first hand.  A quick right-click and they can see if I was the creator of the whatever.  I use Flickr for this as well.  So a quick trip to that and if they like it, they then can verify it inworld.  It’s fast and efficient for both of us.

Potential client: “Hello, are you able to build a four sim border stage that allows for 3 video feeds, has image viewers, and is low prim?”

Me: “Sure, I made this one last month [Flickr link], here’s the slurl (if it’s open to the public, if not, then a slurl to the rezzed whatever on my own sim), here’s a free megaprim stage you can inspect, and here is free online training to help your presenters if you need it: [link].  I can even put in scripting to prevent one day old accounts from griefing you.  Let me know if you’d like me to create a scope of work for you with Google docs.  Good luck.  :)”

For the future of virtual worlds, voice is a necessity, imo.  And keep in mind that voice in Second Life is carried on dedicated servers to reduce performnace hits on the viewer itself.

But that is the way I have shaped my virtual business.  To give you a sense of what my business entails, I generate about $3200 USD a month for my virtual real estate business (about 92 clients and that is flow, not all profit), do custom builds for universities and corporate ventures (developed 21 islands over the past 18 months), and am very active in the eLearning community (speak at conferences, develop “learning paths” for educational venues, and create video tutorials).

But I am a small player compared to many in Second Life. And I have a full time day job and spend about 5 hours a week promoting both my ventures (I only promote the land business and elearning, not the sim development) via social networking and media (blogs, Ning, etc).

So for me, I can’t imagine doing voice and my clients are fine with that.  We share Google documents as a major communication tool with the projects’ scope of work being a collaborative document and single point of information that is well documented for all parties involved.  I would hate to rely on memory or chat logs for real business endeavors.