Vivox, best known for providing voice communication support for online games and virtual worlds like Eve Online, Second Life and Sony Online Entertainment (s sne) titles, is set to announce on Wednesday the Vivox Voice Toolbar, which will expand its services across multiple games and platforms. The Natick, Mass.-based VoIP developer will be showing off the toolbar at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco next week, but after Vivox gave me a hands-on demo yesterday, it’s clear the company is aiming for something far more ambitious and transformative than just expanding their gaming services.
A plug-in for browsers like Firefox and IE, the Vivox Voice Toolbar has all the features of its existing software, like group voice chat among thousands of people, and the ability to dial into a Vivox conversation via standard phone. Not only has all that been translated to the web, gamers will be able to use the Toolbar to speak to one another within their favorite games/online worlds, and between them. (Assuming game developers have enabled cross-platform chat, that is.) Picture a guy dodging asteroids in a space warfare game while voice chatting with his friend the Elf Ranger as he fights cave trolls, and you get the general idea. And because the Toolbar is also a web plug-in, users don’t even need to have a game running in order to use it. So for instance, a MMORPG gamer can stay in voice communication with his guildmates currently in-game without even having to log in.
But the Toolbar’s web functionality looks equally as useful for countless non-game applications, too. It comes with customizable APIs and widgets, so developers can embed the Toolbar on a wide range of sites. By way of demonstration, the Vivox folks whipped up a mock-up depicting how it might work on GigaOM itself, enabling readers to join live voice conversations about our stories.
This is where things get even more exciting, because it’s easy to imagine using this for web-based corporate training and conferences, education, collaborative web work, and more. During my demo, the Toolbar crashed once or twice, but generally speaking, it provided clear VoIP chat nearly on par with Skype. That should help with adoption, as will its existing user base. (Through its gaming/virtual world clients, the company claims 10 million accounts, about half of which are monthly uniques.)
The ultimate goal with the Toolbar, Vivox founder and V-P of product management, Monty Sharma, told me, is to “bridge communities of interest, not communities of technology.” Open beta is scheduled to begin in mid-April 2009; I’ll be following the Toolbar’s user numbers closely, to see how far those bridges ultimately extend.
Logo image and GigaOM mock-up courtesy of Vivox.