If you play Warhammer Online, you'll soon notice some odd behavior, at least compared to other MMOs: No one talks on the public chat channels.
It's very weird, everything being so silent. There are plenty of other players around. And it's so unlike the other MMOs I've played. In WoW, you can't get people to shut up, especially in the Barrens. Even Age of Conan, people talked a lot, if only to complain that their systems couldn't handle the game. But people are always chatting or complaining about quests or classes or Chuck Norris, and it's extremely disconcerting not to have that. Heck, there's more talking in Wizard 101, and that game was trying to prevent conversation.
I think the problem resides solely with Mythic's implementation of the WAR chatbox. There are three main reasons why it fails:
1. The font is too large, and the box is too small
A large font means that less information can be conveyed. It means that fewer lines of text can be shown, and a smaller history of the conversation is preserved. It also means that a lot of messages which should only take up one line wrap into two lines, further wasting the limited chat space.
2. Too many useless messages
In particular, the NPCs talk a lot, and quite frankly spam your chat box. This is very annoying, especially those which have long speechs, or multiple NPCs interacting. I think you can turn this off, but it was a mistake to include it in the default settings.
(As a complete aside, ever notice that text in the NPC speech bubbles has quotation marks? That seems weird and redundant to me.)
The other big contributor to this problem is transaction messages when buying or selling items. Again, multiple lines are taken up with each item, making harder to have a conversation with people.
The golden rule of chat boxes is that chat boxes should be reserved for communicating with other players. If at all possible, messages from the game to the player should be handled by the rest of the UI. Only messages that absolutely have to be in the chat box history should show up. Otherwise players will quickly learn to ignore the chatbox, as nothing useful ever shows up.
A further problem here is that general chat appears to be the same colour as game messages, making it even easier to ignore.
3. Lack of feedback when changing channels
Load up WoW, and type "/1 " (with the space). See what happens? The chat channel immediately changes to General, so you know what channel you are sending your message to.
Do the same thing in WAR. Notice that nothing happens. There's no indication that you are sending your message to the right channel. If you keep typing, "/1 test", that will send the message "test" out on the general channel. But the lack of feedback, I think hampers people from figuring out how to talk, makes it less intuitive, especially since no one else is talking.
To my mind, this whole issue indicates the importance of the small stuff. The three concerns I've outlined are minor. The default chat box certainly looks functional on paper. But I think these small issues have kept people from talking, and have made the experience very different from other MMOs. As well, I think this silence is negative. We play MMOs to play with other people, and it's nice to see people talking. Many people have called MMOs "glorified chatrooms", and I think that's a part of their appeal.