The Wii U will support in-game voice chat, but you'll be forgiven if you're not sure exactly how that will work. Nintendo hasn't shown an official headset for the Wii U and the Wii U's Pro Controller—the one that looks a lot like an Xbox 360 controller—doesn't even have a port to connect one.
So how does it work?
The new Nintendo console will support in-game voice chat for "select games", a rep for the company tells Kotaku. Among the games supported will be Assassin's Creed III, Call of Duty Black Ops II and Mass Effect 3, all games with significant online multiplayer modes and all which support in-game voice chat on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
The Wii U GamePad—the console's signature twin-stick controller that contains a 6.2-inch screen—contains a microphone and speakers, but that mic does not actually work with the voice chat. Nintendo tells me that users who want to be able to talk to each other can use a licensed stereo headset from Turtle Beach or Mad Catz (Tritton). The headsets plug into the GamePad's headphone jack.
At least one of the aforementioned games, Black Ops II, supports the Pro Controller, but that controller's lack of a jack will require Pro Controller gamers who want voice chat to do something a bit counterintuitive. They'll have to plug their headset into the GamePad, the controller they are otherwise not using, according to a spokesperson for CoD publisher Activision. That rep believes that gamers might be able to use a standard set of headphones that contain a mic (iPhone headphones, for example) with the GamePad, but that's not something I've been able to clarify yet with Nintendo.
Wired gaming headsets are not uncommon but wireless are popular with a lot of people. It doesn't seem that the Wii U has a wireless headset on the horizon. The Mad Catz headsets are wired. So are the competition's. A spokesperson for Turtle Beach confirmed to me that all of their Wii U headsets are wired, despite the potential for wireless connections. "The Wii U supports Bluetooth and can pair with its own accessories," she said over e-mail, "but the officially licensed headsets we produce and offer are wired and designed for use directly with the [GamePad] tablet."
An E3 demonstration of out-of-game voice-chat on the Wii U implied that users would be able to communicate with each other using the speaker on the Wii U GamePad, no headset needed.
Nintendo tends to clarify matters like this in slow motion, a volley of an e-mail one day, a reply the next and so on. I've volleyed back to them about the Wii U's potential to support wireless headsets down the line. It seems that such an option might be possible either through a Bluetooth connection or even between a headset and some sort of signal connector plugged into one of the Wii U's USB ports. But those are not the options available now. It's possible—and this is purely speculation—that the wireless connection needs of the Wii U GamePad, which has to receive a lag-free high-quality video signal from the console through thin air, could affect the viability of there being many other wireless connections to the console. We'll see.
As with the launch of any console, there are many mysteries about specific aspects of Wii U gaming. Many will be solved as soon as more gamers, game-makers and peripheral manufacturers get their hands on the console. For now, you've got some basics:
- No universal support for in-game voice chat
- Game-by-game support for in-game chat
- The GamePad mic will not, by default, work as an input for in-game voice chat
- The Wii U will support wired headsets (and possibly mic-enabled headphones), but only through the Wii U GamePad
No news yet about whether wireless headsets can or will be supported
[UPDATE] A rep for peripheral-maker PDP says their Afterglow headset, reviewed here, will work the Wii U. It transmits a signal to an emitter plugged into one of the Wii U's USB ports. Without the console and its games being released, we can't confirm that it works with the games mentioned in this story. Hopefully it does!
[UPDATE 2] Well, not so fast.. a second PDP rep contacted me to clarify things further: "Afterglow wireless headsets are compatible with Wii U. If the game chat utilizes the USB port of the Wii U console then the AG headset can receive the chat audio wirelessly. If the chat audio is directed through the 3.5mm audio jack on the Wii U pad then user can plug in the provided chat/game audio cable. It depends on how the game / chat audio is designed." As the story indicated above, Black Ops II does its chat through the 3.5mm jack, so it seems like that's one game that won't work wirelessly with PDP's headset but would be fine with a wired hook-up.