UPDATED 10:48 EST / JUNE 04 2012


E3: Sony’s SOEmote Will Add Emotions to Social Gaming

Sony’s upcoming SOEmote will use webcams to track the facial expressions and voice of players and translate them onto gaming avatars in order to convey a further sense of emotion into online gaming.

Currently, massively multiplayer online gamming is crammed into its own box of animations and body language from in game characters that are triggered only when the player picks from a list of emotes (short for emotion.) Looking at another player as they speak in a game lacks a sense of “thereness” due to a lack of emotion from the avatar—but a multitude of role players who use MMORPGs as their theater have learned to get around this.

After all, the Internet age even introduced the “emoticon” to convey emotions across text.

Not only is Sony expecting that this technology will deliver facial expressions, but it will help match up mouth movements on game avatars to speech through in-game voice. According to statements, the technology will find its debut in EverQuest II, but plans exist to expand it into other games.

“It’s not the really major things that will make this feature great, it’s the tiny things,” Dave Georgeson, director of development of SOE’s EverQuest franchise said in a statement at Forbes. “The first time that you realize that you actually just saw that troll character roll his eyes at you after you uttered a terrible pun; or the fact that another player is very clearly looking at you while talking to you. Or that someone’s jaw drops when they see something cool…and you can tell.”

We’ve seen this innovation before, from Microsoft and the Kinect with expression recognition added to their gaming peripheral (and potentially any camera.) That Sony is playing catch-up with Microsoft could so that it’s about time that gaming begins to incorporate a social aspect of cameras ubiquitous on laptops, mobile phones, and in motion-capture peripherals such as the Move and Kinect. The clear difference is that Kinect Avatar has barely seen its debut yet, and Sony is already naming games that will use SOEmote.

Sony has a lot more than just EverQuest II to bring to the table of MMORPG game playing. They also publish DC Universe Online, a game that has seen its own rising star in the news of free-to-play gaming. With so many MMOs on the griddle, games that cross both the PlayStation and the PC gaming audience, Sony has put themselves in an excellent position to present the possibilities of expression-detection to a broad segment of gaming culture.

As I’ve mentioned when looking at Kinect Avatar, the concept of expression-translation has notable implications for expressive communication in more than just gaming.

“SOEmote brings a completely new, expressive and emotional way to communicate within computer games,” said Georgeson. “All communication is a combination of actual language, the inflections of your voice and your body and face language. Arguably, the most powerful communicator of these three is body language, which until now, we were completely unable to do outside of canned emotes. Now, players can freely emote to one another with no extra effort. It’s fantastic. It’s also the tip of the iceberg in regards to things still to come.”

Like many industries, gaming is an excellent test-bed for user interface technologies and with a competition between Microsoft and Sony to be the first to bring the best to the consumer we might just see this one mature sooner rather than later.

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