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Curse hopes 10 million of you will get chatty in 2015.

Its free voice and instant messaging chat application for gamers, Curse Voice, reached more than 2.5 million installs and more than 1 million active users in December after a six-month beta test. And the company plans for even more ambitious expansion next year.

The hugely popular gaming media company’s sites see more than 50 million visitors each month. Curse is a privately held company based in Huntsville, Ala., and counts LoLNexus, Gamepedia, Arena Junkies, the Minecraft Forum and Wiki, and MMO-Champion among its 45 sites. Its first standalone program to help gamers access and organize mod downloads for World of Warcraft released seven years ago, and it launched into the voice and instant message chat business with Curse Voice starting in a June beta test.

Michael Comperda, CTO of Curse

Above: Michael Comperda

I spoke with Michael Comperda, Curse’s chief technology officer. He says he expects Curse Voice to reach more than 10 million users by the end of 2015 and that the company has an ambitious schedule of new platform releases planned for the first quarter.

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“There’s a great deal of opportunity there,” he said. “Nothing is easy, but it’s going to be a natural progression.”

Several competitors stand in the way. Comperda was dismissive of other platforms — “These products haven’t innovated much at all for a decade” — but even in Curse’s core market of World of Warcraft and League of Legends users, the dominant voice chat systems have loyal followings. Mumble, TeamSpeak, Skype, RaidCall, and Ventrilo, among others, command audiences of tens of millions of players and are also free to use, though players who host servers may pay fees (Curse is free, whether you host chat sessions or just participate).

Curse is introducing a number of new features in the next few months that Comperda expects will drive traffic, including:

  • Friend Sync, available now, which pulls in friends lists (with the gamer’s permission) from Skype, Steam, League of Legends, and Battle.net and automatically adds them to Curse Voice friends lists when they sign up for the service. Support for Smite is in the works, Comperda said.
  • A guild and clan system, available for public testing in January or February and launching by second quarter 2015. It’ll allow players to set up guild and clan sessions and hubs, bounce around to the different groups they may belong to across different games, and keep track of friends. The company hopes it’ll become a social hub for guild and clan play.
  • A mobile version, coming to iOS in February and Android in March, to be available on the iOS App Store and Google Play.
  • A Mac version, available for beta testing in March.

All versions use the Opus codec, an open-source audio format that has tested well in frequency response and after compression.

Curse has invested in heavily in cloud computing for the service, enabling it to spin up servers quickly in times of high demand, Comperda said. But it was disappointed in some of the latency users saw during the beta test. Recently, the company transitioned the Voice servers to the Aerospike NoSQL Database system to help resolve those issues and keep up with the demand. The switch enables Curse to support gamers chatting in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, and it has been an order of magnitude faster, he said.

“People hate when things are slow,” he said wryly, adding that the company intends Curse Voice to continue attracting users with more features than just speed. “We’ve done a lot of market research. Every person at Curse is a gamer in some way.”

Curse investors include GGV, Ventech, Idinvest, YY, and Softtech VC. The company announced in July that it raised $16 million in a Series B funding round, and it previously raised $6 million in 2009.

Curse sites are funded with a combination of advertising and subscriptions; the company has said that advertising will not be part of Curse Voice. Instead, the app will be combined with the existing Curse clients to create a single ad- and subscription-free service early in 2015. Curse clients currently have about 7 million active users.

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