As a longstanding strong proponent of voice communication in games, and with a long history of using voice communications including SRS, TFAR (Arma), and DCS native voice chat, I have decided to create the following list of obstacles that I think will need to be addressed for widespread community adoption of the native DCS voice chat. With the 2.7.9 update, we have taken a significant step in the right direction, but we still have quite a long way to go. The following points are based on my personal thoughts and experiences, discussions with other discord users, and community comments including server owners in the wake of the recent release of the improved voice chat.
All discussion following referencing "voice chat" will be referring specifically to the native voice chat implementation in DCS.
Simplicity in setup
One common argument that has come up repeatedly is that more options are better, and that options of room mode/radio mode/etc should be customizable by the end user. I want to address this argument first, as I have seen it used commonly to derail discussions about further points outlined below.
Voice chat first and foremost relies on sufficient community adoption. If not many people use it, it quickly loses its purpose, as less and less users will go through the trouble of setting it up to work for them. This is something we see currently - very few servers have voice chat enabled, as other more powerful and intuitive options such as SRS are available.
Simplicity and intuitiveness mean the following to me in the context of voice chat:
Minimal steps should be required by the user to set up and enable voice chat.
Voice chat should be enabled by default (once the system is mature enough).
PTT keys should be easily bindable by the user.
On rooms and radio frequencies
In the current implementation of voice chat, there are two modes - room mode, acting like a discord room, and radio mode, where you transmit on in game selected radio frequencies (as picked in the plane). There are a few issues with this, specifically the following:
By default, once loaded into a plane, the user remains in room mode. Most users are not even aware that you have to manually switch to radio mode to transmit on selected frequencies. From discord discussion including input from @Ciribob (SRS creator), a general consensus as follows was reached:
Both room and PTT mode have a purpose in context of DCS.
Room mode should be available for voice discussion restricted to users selected side while the user is in the lobby, spectating, or using the mission planner - effectively any time not loaded into a plane.
Once the user loads into a plane, voice chat should immediately and automatically be moved from room mode to PTT/radio mode, where in game selected frequencies are used.
Once loaded into a plane, room mode should be unavailable. This ties in with the earlier point on simplicity and intuitiveness, as most users expect to use the in-game selected frequencies to communicate. This creates the best of both worlds - a room mode available for planning/discussion akin to a briefing room prior to flight, and use of the planes native radios for voice communication once loaded in game. This mirrors real life (-> intuitive) as well as how the community uses SRS to communicate once loaded into a plane. It also provides the ability to brief/discuss/plan with your side before boarding a plane, allowing for coordination that is not possible using SRS currently, and has been requested by community members a number of times in the past.
The reason that room/PTT radio mode should NOT be an end user options is as follows:
Room/radio users are not able to communicate with each other, so by allowing this options selectable it will create barriers for entry, as the user may not be aware of which voice chat mode they should be in for a given server.
This leads to confusion, which may put users - particularly new users - off from using voice chat altogether, leading to decreased use. This again ties in with the ethos from earlier - it requires widespread adoption to be successful.
Quality of life features
A number of quality of life additions are needed to the current implementation of voice chat to make its use easier and more immersive.
Clear aural feedback that the user is transmitting. This means having "radio clicks" when engaging/disengaging the PTT buttons. Currently, voice chat does not have this.
Radio effect to received voice chat - already planned, but will add to the authenticity. SRS is an excellent example of how this can be done. Ideally, some option (e.g. minimal/realistic) to the level of distortion should be selectable, to aid users with existing hearing impairment/foreign language users/etc.
Default keybinds for all modules, with option to override these per module.
One option for doing this would be as follows:
Default Radio 1->9 PTT keybinds in voice chat keybinds under its own category. This by default applies to every module in DCS.
In the specials tab, for every module have a checkbox (default disabled) for "Use custom Voice Chat PTT buttons".
For every module, have a keybind section for "Custom voice chat PTT". This can then be bound on a per module basis.
Now, the user can easily create a default profile for most modules using the specific general voice chat keybinds, and also have per module keybinds for ones where a different profile is desired, that can be enabled for that module specifically using the options -> special -> [module] tab.
Other barriers to community implementation
With SRS now long established as the preferred community voice chat tool for DCS, a number of additional hurdles exist for DCS native voice chat to overcome to see it receive widespread server and community adoption. The previously discussed points are all important influences, but a number of additional hurdles also exist:
Voice chat requires a degree of API access for mod developers. Specifically, established tools such as ATIS, Overlordbot and Hound ELINT are not able to be integrated with voice chat currently, leading to decreased server adoption in lieu of SRS, therefore hampering community uptake. Either native alternatives to these tools would have to be developed by ED, or voice chat API access would need to be allowed for mod developers to allow the integration of these tools with DCS voice chat.
External voice chat access for GCI/AWACS. This means being able to connect to a servers voice chat without being in a plane, to allow for users (e.g. of LotATC) to act as a GCI/AWACS for fellow players. An alternative would be to have a dedicated slot(s) available in mission for users to join as GCI/AWACS, with access to the in game radio.
This post is intended as a summation of the most integral features needed for widespread community adoption. Simplicity, intuitiveness, and community support are needed for DCS voice chat to be successful.
SRS servers as an excellent template of how the community intends to use voice chat, and many useful lessons can be learned from observing how the community currently uses it. DCS voice chat has a number of advantages to SRS, the most significant of these being the lack of setup required to get it working in the first place. Additionally, by integrating the room mode for briefing/mission planning/spectating and exclusively forcing PTT/radio mode while in a plane, DCS voice chat will have a range of features not currently available in SRS, assisting in its adoption.
Ultimately, voice chat needs to be simple to set up, intuitive to use, yet remain powerful and capable like its predecessor SRS - it requires server and community adoption to be successful, as voice chat without uptake loses its purpose. I wish the DCS developers all the best, as there is huge potential in transforming the DCS experience using voice chat, particularly if largely adopted by the community.