Tuesday, October 4, 2011

ConstantCon - Sticking with Skype?

I have been gaming with my "home" Labyrinth Lord group via Skype for over a year now, and have grown quite comfortable with it.  Skype seems to handle larger (4-5 participant) video chats relatively well so long as some of the participants use headphones for audio. [Actually, lately we have gotten away without even using headphones at all.]

My home Labyrinth Lord group: clockwise from top left, that's Spawn in Pennsylvania, Vivuli's and Yor's players in Oregon, Hazel's player in Wisconsin, and me [at bottom center] in upstate New York.

So as the mid-October start date for my ConstantCon Game approaches, I find myself wondering: to Google+ or to Skype? I know practically everybody else in the OSR blogosphere has been going gaga over G+ of late, and part of me feels I ought to use that for Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian since many of my players will be from that blogosphere and may feel more comfortable on G+. However, I did run a two-person test of G+ Video Chat with Uncle Junkal's player about a month ago, and both of us felt that G+'s video dimension in particular was far inferior to that provided by Skype. I already pay for Skype Premium ($8.99 [US] per month) in order to get access to Skype's Group Video Chat feature, so I could easily hold my ConstantCon games over Skype, so long as my players all have (or are willing to download) it.

Or maybe I should start with G+ Video Chat on a trial basis and then if I don't like it, I can always revert to Skype?

Any thoughts or suggestions on this matter from the blogosphere?


  1. My group has tried playing over Skype a number of times without much joy, but I don't know if that's a matter of connection quality or the state of the hardware; we don't have the most up-to-date computing facilities.

    I'm hoping to play over G+ in the next couple of weeks, so then I can make a proper comparison.

  2. I personally have been advocating for you to give Google+ a real trial run for a while now, for several reasons: While the last two sessions have worked (relatively) well with Skype, that is the exception and not the rule. Most of our LL sessions have involved an hour or more of finagling before getting Skype to work, and even the last two sessions video dropped out ENTIRELY multiple times during the session. Google+ does not require the (seemingly every session) downloading and updating to the new version like Skype does. But most importantly, the way that Google+ handles multiple participants seems tailor made for D&D in a way that Skype can never match. Google+ does not try to show everyone all the time; it switches to who is actively talking. I suspect that this would solve most of the problems we have with one or the other of our video feeds constantly dropping out (and we have still NEVER played a session that this has not happened using Skype), and it also mirrors the actual gameplay experience; whoever's turn it is at the table gets the attention. If the DM is talking, everyone sees the DM.

    But really, all that aside, I cannot understand why we haven't at least TRIED it! It is free, for crissakes! If it works, awesome! If not, we still have Skype! Why the resistance?

  3. one more tidbit: Google+ seems to work better with older computers that don't have a ton of RAM. Skype is a real resource hog, and the old desktop I have running XP with 512 MB RAM in the living room cannot handle Skype at all, but ran Google+ video chat perfectly when I ran a small test with Danny. The latest updates of Skype seem to be using even more system resources than usual, to the point that my (slightly more) modern computer in the kitchen with 2 gigs of RAM is beginning to have real issues with it as well.

  4. I think the main issues are the speed of the computers and the speed of the connection, and the Skype tries to accommodate that. The other issue is that adding people to video calls one at a time rather than making a single groupcall screws things up. This is usually part of hour you're talking about Carl. It drags on into an hour until we realize that somebody hasn't updated Skype. To me that's a minor issue, akin to the sort of out-of-game investment that players out to make into reading the rules and figuring out spell mechanics.

  5. Honestly I think the major point here is g+ is something new and could (possibly) be something better than Skype. As things go with most new software platforms it will start, relatively, less cluttered and bogged down. Skype used to be fairly light and now it can really take it out of an older system. I know you pay for Skype now, but would it really hurt to try something new and see if it could work better? Perhaps it has a brighter future? I think it's worth giving a try, especially if the players are more comfortable with it. Then again, google is pretty much taking over the world one application at a time, so 5 years from now we may be saying things like, "Remember when we used to use that Skype program?! It didn't even have VR chat!"

  6. Thanks for the comments everybody.

    I do not have any "resistance" to trying G+ at all, hence my post. My concern about it for our home group has mainly been that we do have one player in particular who is fairly technophobic, so any change we make will initiate a procedure at my end as I walk that person through getting signed up for G+ and learning the ropes of the new system. I know that seems like nothing to we technophiles, but for that player (and whoever has to walk the person through it, i.e., me) it will be a minor ordeal -- psychologically if not technically. That is why I have not been too keen to switch over to G+ for our home group, though I am willing to do so in time. I might want to test it out with my ConstantCon group first, though.

    Beyond that, though, I am actually curious about G+ and eager to see how it really performs.

  7. Another option in terms of making the switch for our home group might be to have an out-of-game "G+ Test" sometime with a few of we technically savvy folk, i.e., Spawn, Carl, me, maybe Uncle Junkal's player too. Just have a chat and see how it works, and if it works better than Skype, then we can get our beloved technophobe onboard with all that will entail.

    My point is, I suspect that once we switch, we're switching for good.

  8. Well, I finally got in on a Google+ game and it went much more smoothly than any Skype game I've played. One player dropped out a couple of times in the first twenty minutes, but after that the connection was quite stable, and both picture and sound quality was good throughout. The GM was on my side of the Atlantic, while the other players were in -- I think -- North Carolina, Seattle and somewhere in the southern United States, so we were quite spread out.