Skip to main content

Using Voice-Chat for Gamers in Distributed Teams

This is a post going into the usefulness of live voice-chat tools in distributed teams.

If you've ever seen the Leeeeeroooooyy Jeeeenkiiins video of World of Warcraft fame, you've heard this kind of tool in action. It's how the participants in the video are speaking with each other - this is not a feature built into the World of Warcraft game - it's a separate team-oriented VoIP software, and it's all about letting gamers communicate orally while gaming. 

Since these tools are for gamers, they have to be
  • fast (low latency)
  • light (as not to steal CPU-cycles from heavy games graphics) 
  • moderate in bandwidth usage (as not to affect the game server connection)
There are several options around: TeamSpeak, Ventrilo, more recently the massively grown Discord, and finally Mumble, which is the open-source alternative of the gang.
A few years ago, when I joined eyeo (a distributed company), several of the operations team were avid gamers, and had a TeamSpeak server set up between them to allow voice chat during online gaming sessions (great team building option for distributed teams, by the way).

As the team was growing, we began experimenting with using this service for team communication in between meetings (we switched to Mumble at some point, so I'll refer to it as Mumble from now on).

File:Metromumble dark preview.png

Mumble turned out to hit a pretty sweet spot compared to our conventional video conferencing software (we use BlueJeans):

A video conference needs many clicks to fire up and get everyone dialed in.

Mumble, on the other hand, has the team constantly connected, so there's one click required to start speaking.

The usual scenario would go like this:

1) I ping someone on IRC, asking a question
2) We go back and forth in writing for a few lines
3) One of us would ask "mumble?"
4) We both un-mute ourselves in Mumble and start speaking
5) Others may listen in, and join the conversation if they feel like it, or move to a Busy channel if they want to focus on other work.

The video conferencing software will take up all bandwidth and resources

Being optimized to imitate physical presence, the video conferencing software will exploit your laptop's resources to max quality, sometimes with devastating effects (especially on Linux).

Mumble, on the other hand, sacrifices video completely and focuses on voice only. It is optimized to save resources, so you barely notice it is running.

Video conferences will not work for poor connections (or require you dial in via expensive phone numbers). 

Mumble on the other hand, works excellently on poor connections. Latency is marvelously low, which can be tested with the "ping pong test":

1) You say "ping"
2) The other person says "pong" when they hear you
3) You say "ping" when you hear their "pong"
4) Repeat until you get a feel of how long a roundtrip takes

In our video conferencing system, a roundtrip takes about 1-2 seconds (!).

In Mumble, it's like being next to the other person You can barely notice the latency, even when speaking to colleagues halfway around the world (last Friday I did the ping test with one colleague in Yekaterinburg and the other in India).

I think this difference in latency may have a HUGE effect on natural discussions in larger distributed groups, but that's a theory for another day.

So, as it turns out, the things that make gamers love Mumble may also let distributed teams love Mumble.


If you want to try this out with your team right now, you may be better off just starting with Discord, as it is a free and no-hassle setup. At eyeo we are pretty adamant on things like security and privacy, however, so we're glad we can use the awesome open-source Mumble on our own servers.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Managing dot-files with vcsh and myrepos

Say I want to get my dot-files out on a new computer. Here's what I do:

# install vcsh & myrepos via apt/brew/etc
vcsh clone https://github.com/tfnico/config-mr.git mr
mr update

Done! All dot-files are ready to use and in place. No deploy command, no linking up symlinks to the files. No checking/out in my entire home directory as a Git repository. Yet, all my dot-files are neatly kept in fine-grained repositories, and any changes I make are immediately ready to be committed:

config-atom.git
    -> ~/.atom/*

config-mr.git
    -> ~/.mrconfig
    -> ~/.config/mr/*

config-tmuxinator.git  
    -> ~/.tmuxinator/*

config-vim.git
    -> ~/.vimrc
    -> ~/.vim/*

config-bin.git   
    -> ~/bin/*

config-git.git          
    -> ~/.gitconfig

config-tmux.git  
    -> ~/.tmux.conf    

config-zsh.git
    -> ~/.zshrc

How can this be? The key here is to use vcsh to keep track of your dot-files, and its partner myrepos/mr for operating on many repositories at the same time.

I discovere…

The End of GitMinutes (my podcast)

I'm just about ship GitMinutes episode 46, which is going to be the final episode. I'll just paste the outro script here, as it sums up the sentimental thoughts pretty well:

I’m happy to have finally finished [publishing the last episodes from Git-Merge 2017], just in time before Git-Merge 2018 takes place in March. I won’t be going there myself, so I’m counting on someone else to pick up the mic there.

It’s sad to be shipping this one as it is probably the last GitMinutes episode ever. To go a bit down memory lane, 6 years ago, my daughter was born, and as I used a little of that paternity leave to set up my podcasting infrastructure and produce the first few episodes. Initially it was just going to be 10 episodes and call the experiment finished. Instead, I got to 46 episodes, the last dozen or so lazily tailing the last few Git-Merge conferences.

To every one of my guests, thank you so much again for coming on to share your passion in this little niche of computer science a…

Joining eyeo: A Year in Review

It's been well over a year since I joined eyeo. And 'tis the season for yearly reviews, so...

It's been pretty wild. So many times I thought "this stuff really deserves a bloggin", but then it was too inviting to grab onto the next thing and get that rolling.

Instead of taking a deep dive into some topic already, I want to scan through that year in review and think for myself, what were the big things, the important things, the things I achieved, and the things I learned. And then later on, if I ever get around to it, grab one of these topics and elaborate in a dedicated blog-post. Like a bucket-list of the blog posts that I should have written. Here goes:
How given no other structures, silos will grow by themselves This was my initial shock after joining the company. Only a few years after taking off as a startup, the hedges began growing, seemingly almost by themselves, and against the will of the founders. I've worked in silos, and in companies without the…

Working in Teams over Working as Individuals

I recentlypostedthis sketch on Twitter:

Thanks to a few mighty retweets, it gathered a lot of views (9000 impressions, whatever that means). While that's fun and all, I still felt a bit sad that such an awfully simple insight can garner much more popularity than a thorough blog post that I put some hours into.

So, rather than let Twitter get away with this, I'll steal my own content back into the blog :)

The thread went like this:

Pondering how to battle individualism in companies. For some, it is counter-intuitive that teams can be more responsive, faster and even more accountable than single individuals.

Having "teams" in place is no guarantee that team work is happening. Be wary of too large teams, "I/me/mine", personal contact details instead of team point of contact. Good team is sailing crew, not galley slaves.

Beware heroes, go-to persons, calling in favors and other shadow handling of work. Real teams make the work explicit, both requests/needs and re…

Encrypting and Decrypting with Spring

I was recently working with protecting some sensitive data in a typical Java application with a database underneath. We convert the data on its way out of the application using Spring Security Crypto Utilities. It "was decided" that we'd be doing AES with a key-length of 256, and this just happens to be the kind of encryption Spring crypto does out of the box. Sweet!

The big aber is that whatever JRE is running the application has to be patched with Oracle's JCE in order to do 256 bits. It's a fascinating story, the short version being that U.S. companies are restricted from exporting various encryption algorithms to certain countries, and some countries are restricted from importing them.

Once I had patched my JRE with the JCE, I found it fascinating how straight forward it was to encrypt and decrypt using the Spring Encryptors. So just for fun at the weekend, I threw together a little desktop app that will encrypt and decrypt stuff for the given password and sa…