If anyone can appreciate the quality of voice calls over the web done right, it’s gamers. That’s the bet that Blabbelon is making as it launches a free voice chat system for game fanatics. The service is based on Skype’s Silk voice-chat codec, which tries to connect people over the Internet with crystal clear voice quality.
The company is the brainchild of Ed Ikeguchi, who funded the company himself. He got into gaming after he left his last company, Medidata Solutions, a clinical trial company that went public in June. Ikeguchi was trained as a doctor but went into enterprise products for pharmaceutical companies. He started Medidata in 1999 and grew that business to 800 employees. It went public in June. Ikeguchi played a lot of World of Warcraft in a group of players known as a guild. He found it fascinating that players who never met in real life could congregate online together as if they were the best of friends.
While playing, he thought that there was an easier way for the players to communicate than logging into voice-over-Internet-protocol (VOIP) servers using the Ventrilo product. The process was complicated, and Ikeguchi decided he wanted to create a service that was more accessible via just a single click. Once you go to the site, you register by entering your email address. Then you can click a button and start talking to people.
He met with Dean Elwood, a voice technology consultant. Elwood gave advice, and Ikeguchi hired a small team of contract programmers. The service is hosted on Rackspace, so the outlay for the project hasn’t been huge. The company launched its public beta a couple of months ago and now is formally launching. The web-based system has a “push to talk” style, where you click a button to talk. It runs on either a PC or a Mac. Ikeguchi said it can handle a thousand people talking in a room at the same time.
There are rivals out there. Vivox has worked its voice-chat system into a number of games such as Eve Online and Linden Lab’s Second Life virtual world. Dolby is also launching a voice chat system that game developers could design into their games. But Blabbelon is targeting the masses of gamers with a free product that requires no download. The company has more than 800 users now who have been testing the system on an invite-only basis.
The first goal is to get a bunch of users who consider Blabbelon to be a kind of social network built around voice technology. Ikeguchi said monetization schemes will come down the road and will involve e-commerce elements. The business model will not be based on charging minutes for calls, a business that is moving to zero. Ikeguchi said he is also planning to move to mobile platforms in the future.