Online Gaming Update and Tech Review

(TLDR Summary: Holy crap when did Roll20's video and voice chat get so good?)

I know I don't game as much as some folks manage every week, but I do manage to get a game in on more weeks than not, and that small achievement is important to me.

Most of that gaming is via Google Hangouts and [^1], so I was pretty bummed – though not exactly surprised [^2] about the news Google is dropping Hangouts' add-on support in April. It's obviously possible to just run Hangouts without the addons, and run Roll20 in another window, but… if you're doing that, you can pretty much use any video chat, so… why wouldn't you, exactly?

We were down a few players on Tuesday, so I and the remaining crew (+Bill Garrett and +Michael Williams) took it upon ourselves to explore video chat alternatives.

Initially, we talked about Rocket Chat, but given that I have some need for Roll20, it became clear all we really needed from that service was the video/voice component, which is provided to Rocket by Jitsi (, so we just went there instead. Set up was very very simple and easy, and aside from the feeling that the camera was really ZOOMED IN, it worked fine.

After checking it out, we thought we might switch back to Hangouts to actually play for a bit, but in the process of switching, the guys mentioned that's voice and video is basically achieved use the same tools that Roll20 switched to back in October, so if was good, maybe Roll20 had gotten better…?

(We used Roll20's native voice and video for a few months last year, but it had gotten too buggy and we'd dropped it before this upgrade.)

So we dropped back out of Hangouts, switched to straight roll20 and, following a couple settings changes+restarts, got everyone seeing and hearing each other.

And it was great. Nice clean video. Nice clear sound. And, bonus, we're already in Roll20, which is where I wanted to be in the first place.

So: if you've tried Roll20 in the past, didn't love it, I'd urge you to reenable voice and video chat and give it a try. You might be very pleasantly surprised.

[^1]: The only face to face gaming I manage is with my kids. As an upside, gaming with my kids is pretty awesome. (

[^2]: Every week we log in to play is a new exploration of what Google decided to disable, break, or make less-good since the last session. It's been like this for at least the last year – steady degradation of functionality.

Roll20: Online virtual tabletop for pen and paper RPGs and board games
This Is How We Roll. Roll20 is a suite of easy-to-use digital tools that expand pen-and-paper gameplay. Whether you play online via our virtual tabletop or in person utilizing our character sheet and dice rolling application, Roll20 will save you time and help you focus on enhancing your favorite parts of …


  1. A couple things I've picked up from their forums:

    * Their in house WebRTC platform is buggy but being worked on. There is a reload button for the A/V which supposedly solves most issues.

    * It uses a lot of bandwidth, but dropping quality to low doesn't appear to look bad normally.

    * uses the same tech, so if you want to see if your setup works with WebRTV at all, that's easy to test.

  2. My wife's company uses for their weekly team chats, but their experience is that the connection tends to degrade a bit when you get up to four or five people on a chat (they usually do five, but with three on the same connection/camera/screen). I'm going to have them try next time. It's pretty good.

  3. I'll definitely keep that "drop quality to low" trick handy – what we didn't test this week was connecting with EVERYONE, and the three missing players all connect from the same household, so between adding three more people to the mix and having them all connecting via the same router and sending voice/video data to three machines on the same router, things might get messy.

    A balancing factor: two of those three additional people don't share video, so it's not going to double the load, quite.

  4. My rough understanding is that WebRTC sends a video stream from each user to each other user, so you end up limited by your connections UPLOAD. it's a strange technology, but it's decentralized.

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