6 Things Indie Game Developers Want Audio Specialists to Know

Ruslana Kruchek has shared 6 tips and insights on what indie game developers want audio specialists to understand.

Intro

Relationship management in the context of game audio can be complicated. Communication is key, although often, it is more challenging than it seems. I've reached out to indie game developers to gather insights on what they want audio specialists to understand. I hope this article will be helpful to you!

Don’t Push Too Much, Even if You Are Doing It For Free

Many indie game developers are grateful for attention and engagement from game audio specialists but often feel uncomfortable being offered too many free services. Although finding funds for a game release is a significant challenge for developers, a free demo, whole track, or other audio assets do not necessarily solve the problem.

Isak Wahl from Snow Leaf Studios stated that even when their team was in the process of looking for audio specialists, and they were always more than willing to receive a free demo, they did not want to exploit people's time and resources. Many other developers, including Carl Friess from Surprised Turtle Studios, share this mindset. His team doesn’t want to commit to something they cannot payout and thus make their relationship with an audio specialist uncomfortable.

Offering too much for free, whether a demo or a finished game audio asset, can create tension for indie developers. They already have to reject people while they are exploring options, and feeling guilty for rejecting someone who provides free services makes it even harder for them. 

The advice for game audio professionals here would be:

  • Establish contact with the developer;
  • Make sure to check every now and then, and make it meaningful and not repetitive;
  • Offer a free advising service if the team can benefit from it (the best way is to ask whether they want it!);
  • Be patient and understanding.

And if you still think that a free demo is something you want to do, be more casual when saying you can do something for free. Make sure to clarify what you want to create and that you are okay with doing it for free, whatever the outcome may be – this will improve the whole interaction, as developers do not want to waste your time and feel guilty if you are not the right person for their project.

Manage Expectations

For a service provider, it is crucial to manage clients’ expectations. It includes communicating clearly about the work pipeline, deadlines, and payment. However, the most essential aspect is the end result. It's vital to help clients understand what they will receive, provide detailed updates regularly, and prevent failed expectations.

Here’s the story I’ve learned from Bilal Chbib, CEO and Founder of Brainseed Factory:

“Once, I noticed that [audio specialist] had used effects from a royalty-free site, which I happened to know because I had done some research before giving them the job. The result felt like a bad mash-up of sounds that were not designed to complement each other.

It is the worst situation any specialist can imagine. It negatively impacts the specific project and also one’s professional reputation. To avoid things like this, be open and upfront about your creative process and choices. There’s nothing wrong with using royalty-free SFXs as a starting point, but make sure your client is aware and OK with it.

Take Time to Tune In

While I was gathering information for this article, I heard over and over again one thing from indie developers. It was said in many ways, but the general idea was: “An audio specialist has to be on the same frequency with a developer”.

Technology can’t help us read minds yet, so this can be tricky. However, proper communication and a well-thought-out pre-production stage can help lay the foundation for the collaboration. You still need to discuss the work pipeline, deadlines, payment, and final result, as stated in the previous paragraph, but there are more profound things to discuss.

To make it easier to get on the same page, you should talk about the following:

  • The game itself, especially its purpose and uniqueness;
  • The developer’s vision and reasons behind it;
  • Audio references – both positive and negative, to get an idea of the creative frame;
  • The developer’s personal music taste but, more importantly, the audience’s tastes and needs.

As Stefano Buro, the Art Director of AKAME, pointed out: “I think games are art, and I think the production team is like a band: I really need to find good team members to go as near as I can to the game vision. It’s not just about abilities or technique: art needs feelings.”

Also, the pre-production stage is when creating demos comes in handy. It might be obvious, but showing a few asset samples is extremely important to lock in the project's creative direction.

Bilal Chbib says: “Before [audio specialists] start producing, they should send good samples and get a thumbs up. After that, I feel more confident and don't mind if it's a bit more expensive.”

Facilitate the Communication Process

It also may sound obvious, but game developers aren’t audio specialists. That’s why it’s challenging for many of them to explain details and technical things. And this affects everything: from the initial creative task to the feedback process.

So it’s up to the audio specialist to do the following:

  • To make sure that the developer doesn’t go specifically into audio details but instead talks about the game vision in general;
  • To come up with a creative concept based on the relevant information;
  • To explain what was done and why so the client sees the bigger picture;
  • To help the developer understand how to provide feedback effectively.

It is also worth mentioning that you always need to do your best and stay professional while you receive feedback. I know how personal it can get, but you’re responsible for rationalizing the discussion. The agreed creative concept is usually there to back you up.

Master the Audio Implementation

While I can argue that every audio specialist must master the implementation, it won’t change the fact that indie teams have limited resources. And it means that combining creative and implementation skills will add you value as a specialist.

A Tip for Switchers

Many audio specialists are switching to game dev from other industries. If you’re one of them, this part is for you. Indie developers may worry that switchers lack the necessary experience, which could turn their game into a learning project. However, this is something that can be addressed and improved upon.

Make sure to update your portfolio with relevant examples of your work. If you haven't worked on a game before, consider finding a learning demo to work on or participating in a game jam to gain experience. It's essential to showcase your skills in the context of a game project and not just through re-sounded trailers or gameplay videos. By doing so, you can prove your value as a game audio specialist.

I’m sure there’s always more to learn and add to this list, but these bits of advice are a great place to start stepping up your professional game. And if I had to summarize everything in one sentence, I’d go with the statement I encountered the most while working on this article: a genuine connection goes a long way. So please do your best to establish it!

Ruslana Kruchek, Co-Founder of VP Production

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