Once considered an afterthought in games, voice communication is becoming a bigger part of the online gaming experience. Now players can use sound strategically in large games known as massively multiplayer online games (MMOs). You can engage in a high-quality group voice chat with a large team of players to coordinate play. You can disguise your voice so that you sound like a game character instead of a 12-year-old kid. And with 3-D directional sound, you can tell which direction someone is shooting from or notice that someone is whispering over your shoulder.

The trend is good for one start-up in particular. Voice technology start-up Vivox is announcing today that it will supply the voice communications in online games being produced by 38 Studios, the fantasy online game company started by Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. The deal is one of many that Vivox has done where it supplies the voice communications technology for game publishers and developers.

Separately, Dolby Laboratories also announced Dolby Axon, a new 3-D voice communication platform for online games and virtual worlds. Dolby is circulating its development kit to game makers but has not yet announced any MMO partners.

Vivox lets players talk to each other, either one-on-one or in a party, with any microphone and any headset. They can do so without worrying that the voice communication will slow down the game or prove inaudible, as it has in years past. The Framingham, Mass.-based company offloads the burden of creating good voice technology so that game developers can concentrate on making the game.

Brett Close, chief executive of 38 Studios (left), said in an interview that Vivox runs the voice communications on its own servers, a solution that ensures a high quality experience, leaving 38 Studios to worry about handling the rest of the game. If the game crashes, the Vivox technology could still remain operable, allowing players to communicate as they wait for the game to restart.

Vivox makes it easy to use the voice chat, in contrast to other solutions on the market such as Ventrilo or TeamSpeak, which require users to be tech savvy, said John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, another Vivox customer.

Smedley noted that the Vivox technology is unique in allowing players with cell phones to call into a voice-enabled party room, allowing players who are in the game to talk with players who are away from their computers. He also noted that players can use the technology to disguise their voices so that they sound like video game characters.

“As we get larger and larger audiences, we have players who don’t want to do a lot of technical work so they can get voice operating in a game,” Smedley said. “This technology is for them.”

Vivox has been integrated into Station Voice, a voice chat service that Sony Online Entertainment is using in its existing games, including “EverQuest,” “EverQuest II” and “Star Wars Galaxies.” Sony will also use Vivox in future MMOs such as “DC Universe” and “The Agency.”

Some of its other customers include CCP Games (creator of “Eve Online”), Icarus Studios, NCsoft, Linden Lab (creator of “Second Life”) and Wizards of the Coast. Thanks to those deals, Vivox has millions of players using its technology for billions of minutes to date, said Rob Seaver, chief executive of Vivox (left).

38 Studios will also use Vivox in its upcoming fantasy MMO slated for release in late 2010. Vivox was founded in 2005 by Seaver, Monty Sharma and James Toga. They set out to make voice an integral part of a game where the quality was as good as a landline telephone call. It has 40 employees and has raised $14 million in two venture rounds. Investors include Benchmark Capital, Canaan Partners and GrandBanks Capital.