With video games being as present in pop culture as ever, working in games has turned into an attractive field of work for many people who grew up playing them. Game audio can be a varied and interesting field to work in, offering creative and technical challenges while also testing your social skills. If you want to make a living in that competitive area, here are some tips to help you succeed.
Be more than an artist
The gaming industry is a technology-driven field filled with creative individuals. Being passionate about audio and able to create great sound and music assets is only one part of what is required to do the job. You also need to have a technical understanding of the process of game creation and know how to integrate the assets you create into the software i.e. the game you are working on. When you browse the web for audio work within the gaming sector and search through offerings for audio designer positions in bigger companies, you will quickly realize, that only being able to control your DAW is not enough to get the job. Learn the engines and audio integration tools. A lot of companies use software that can be considered an industry standard. Even with those that use their own tools, knowing the standard ones will at least help you speed up your learning curve. Two of the most popular engines which are worth learning are Unreal and Unity, and the two most popular middleware tools for audio integration are currently FMOD and Wwise. All of them have a broad knowledge base online, including tutorials and manuals, so there is no excuse not to learn them.
Spread your work
Having people think of you when they are working on a game that needs audio is based on two things. The first being that they know you exist, and the second, they remember what you do. Both are equally important because a good network and busy contacts only get you so far if you don’t have anything to show in the job interview. Same goes for a great portfolio – as speculative applications and a fancy website are basically useless without knowing the person you send them to. So try to do both: get out there and network at industry events like conferences, meet-ups and game jams (which by the way are also great to learn new things and meet like-minded people), and maintain a strong portfolio – e.g. on a website. If you don’t have any work done yet, try getting into student projects to gather experience and portfolio material, or design sounds for tutorial projects that are available online and use them to create a compelling demo reel.
While it’s easy to talk about what we want to see, it can be harder to explain what people want to hear. In game development, this can translate to ambiguity in regards to what the audio outcome will be. The client will simply have to trust you to deliver what’s best for their project. It is always easier to trust someone that you have met. Thus, everyone on every team you worked with once during your career, can be a potential help to find work later. Being recommended by someone you know (and have worked with before) is the best and most efficient way to find work. If former colleagues remember you for your good work, and as someone they enjoyed working with, it is likely that you will come to their mind when they work on another game. Same goes for clients: If they were happy, they might come back to you with their next project. To further maintain these relationships and staying in touch, attending industry events can also help.
Be a team player
It should go without saying that you always treat clients the way you want to be treated, not only on commercial projects but everywhere you go as a professional. Behaviours with which have sabotaged careers include; not responding to emails in an appropriate time frame (or not at all), not delivering assets before the deadline was due and “blackboxing” the audio creation process. Some of these things can happen when life brings unplanned surprises, but they should not happen without a valid reason and should definitely be communicated. You also have to keep in mind, that audio design tends to be forgotten until the last moments of game creation, thus creating a state of emergency. If at this point the team remembers you being unreliable, they will very likely call someone else.
Know your worth
In the audio industry the belief that working for free will open doors still somehow sticks. Don’t be that stupid. The only occasions, where working for free is appropriate, are student projects or game jams, where nobody gets paid. If you need to gain experience because you don’t have many titles in your portfolio, these can be great opportunities to learn and to get to know the right people. For every other project, no matter how low the budget, make sure you get paid in a way that helps you make a living from it. If you opt for a poorly-paid deal, double-check that you keep the rights to your work. If a developer does not want to pay for quality assets, it is likely that the overall audio of the game will not be good, as they also don’t want to spend much time and money integrating it properly and smoothly either. Let them buy their sounds from an asset store and go work on something you don’t have to be ashamed of having your name listed in the credits.
Making a living from freelance work won’t be possible overnight. Building a client base and a strong portfolio can take years and both need continuous attention and care. If you are still studying, don’t wait until your studies are finished. Start now. If you are already working in another profession, it may be wise to start only part-time to have a stable side income in the beginning. If you are starting out with nothing in your portfolio and aren’t tied to your current location, applying for an internship can also be an option. Internships that lead to audio positions are rare (and may require relocation), but they can kickstart your career. You’ll learn standardized audio workflows and make valuable contacts that can help you find work later.
The games industry is huge, but it still can feel like there are not a lot of opportunities flying around, especially not in the beginning. You will have to go to a lot of events to finally find an opportunity to work – but the longer you network and advance professionally, the easier it will get.