, 09:48 PM
I understand that some people claim that chat bubbles ruin immersion and thus simply can't understand how chat bubbles actually improve immersion and the roleplaying experience in a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. I myself was once such a player, a great many years ago.
People who complain about chat bubbles ruining their immersion
Let me try to explain why chat bubbles actually improve immersion for me and many other roleplayers.
With chat bubbles, you can actually keep your eyes on the characters and action in the game and see which character on the screen near you says and does what. You don't have to take your eyes of the happenings in the game world and you don't have to figure out which character on the screen is which visible character on the screen the blurb of text that appeared in the chat window in the /say, /yell or /emote chat channel belongs to.
In addition, the chat window in crowded areas often moves way too fast and one misses many things that happen there, especially when you're occupied with the action on the screen. Also, chat bubbles help you see if somebody says something to you in the same situation. During beta (I was a regular general tester), it happened to me very often during the course of the beta that my character said something and was ignored because other players didn't see what I was saying because they weren't focused on the chat window. It was very frustrating, but I missed a lot of things other players said during beta as well. And it never got better during all the time I tested (I thought I might be able to get used to it at first, but I simply wasn't able to - even re-organizing chat tabs/windows and moving them to more visible positions that were still out of sight enough to not disturb the main action on the screen didn't help).
Sure, it would be way more immersive if we had text to speech (in your character's preferred voice) combined with proper spatial audio postioning and appropriate character animations (these should be added to improve chat bubbles, too) when a player characters speaks. However, text to speech technology is nowhere near ready to sound natural. But even with a text to speech option, we'd still need optional chat bubbles for people with hearing impairments or simply for people that play in places where they can't enable sound for whatever reason.
But what about voice communication, you say? Well, the problem with voice communication is that you may not sound like you want your character to sound. Yeah, it's the same pen & paper roleplaying games, but if I had a chance to alter my voice enough to sound like I want my character(s) to sound, I'd do it in a hearbeat. Also, voice communication may not be an option for some players with various audio/vocal impairments.
This means until text to speech technology matures enough to sound natural and be usable in games like this without big performance issues, chat bubbles are the only way I know of to keep immersion upright when engaging in social roleplay with other people without making communication between players around you too cumbersome.
Of course, even text to speech technology won't help players with certain types of impairments, thus keeping an option to turn on chat bubbles would even be desired in such a case.
I myself was sceptical about chat bubbles in a Star Wars game when I first started playing Star Wars Galaxies 8+ years ago. But I quickly grew to love them, as they improved my character's communication with other player characters so much and actually immersed me into the Star Wars Universe much more than I thought I would ever be capable of in a MMORPG. They actually helped the multiplayer roleplaying aspect of the game tremendously. That's why I kept subscribed to SWG and roleplaying in it from launch in Summer 2003 - during all the tough times of Publish 9, the CU, the NGE and so on - and will play it until the very end on December 15, 2011 which coincides with TOR's early access.
Personally, I am very much hoping to be able to do the same in The Old Republic and remain subscribed from the beginning to the very end of the game. But without chat bubbles, it simply won't be possible for me, as I simply can't enjoy roleplaying without chat bubbles in a MMORPG.
Sure, chat bubbles aren't anything you'd expect from a Star Wars Movie or cartoon. But there are also some pretty good Star Wars comics. They also have speech bubbles in them and a great many of them still feel like Star Wars. Just a thought that may help some sceptics, but it won't help all of them.
As a roleplayer, sometimes you just have to suspend your disbelief a little bit to allow for game mechanics that will improve the quality of your time spent in a game.
If you don't like to use chat bubbles in any way, however, you should always be able to turn them off on your client, as players have been asking for a client-side option to enable chat bubbles for spatial chat (/say, /yell, /emote, etc.).
All the threads about chat bubbles underscore the desire of players to add an option to turn on chat bubbles. It is a fact that many players (no matter if roleplayers, PVEers, PVPers or others) simply can't pursue their chosen playstyle without chat bubbles and actually need them to be able to enjoy the game. They should not be denied that option.