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Do game designers typically seek the help of specialized music/audio specialists for soundtracks and sound design? Is there a general need for professional audio work in game design, or is that something that only big budget game studios have a need for?

How would an audio engineer/musician/sound design type get involved with making game design projects?

I'm talking about someone who can record dialogue, create and record custom music and sound effects, and create a mix to fit all these elements together in a polished way.

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To be fair, there are a lot of resources I've seen on various game development websites; the forums at gamedev.net come to mind, and there is a list of other websites available here. Generally speaking, you either put together a resume and portfolio, and let people come to you, or you go asking around at specific companies, which is riskier and brings on higher expectations, but shows more initiative and drive.

As far as professional-quality audio production being only in the domain of "big budget game studios", this is only true on the notion that independent game studios simply cannot afford the audio production costs for games that are statistically far less likely to be commercially viable. If a studio has the resources and the will, they'll spend whatever they can afford on audio, but since most independent studios work on shoestring budgets either from previous successes, fundraisers, or personal contributions, many won't push for more expensive sound production.

If you're looking to prove your mettle with a first-try game project, and you're willing to offer discounts or special agreements with independent studios or game projects, then you'll probably see a few more buyers come your way from mid- to low-budget territory. But like everything in game development, deciding whether or not to hire a quality sound production team is a calculated risk, with the goal being to improve the overall player experience through better sound. For an audiovisual-experience game like Journey, this plays a major role in driving the point of the game; for smaller titles, sound effects and music may be an afterthought, or done with whatever resources are available. Just keep in mind that many developers just want good-quality audio on the cheap... though of course, the smattering of indie games of the last few years with compelling music and good-quality audio is leading to some significant changes in this area.

Just keep in mind that the most important thing is to have a strong, diverse portfolio of prior work; no one will hire an audio engineer with top-of-the-line equipment and no clue how to use any of it. (In fact, if I were in such a position, I'd rather hire a kid off the street if he hacked a Game Boy to remake new audio for Super Mario Bros., just because of his knowledge and drive.) As far as portfolio pieces go, any work that you have with relevance to the game, the studio, the genre, or just for game-related audio projects in general (fan-made soundtracks, custom compositions of game music, VO projects, sound effects, etc) will probably be best.

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Do game designers typically seek the help of specialized music/audio specialists for soundtracks and sound design?

Not designers specifically (as a designer is a specific role within game development) but it is common to use dedicated professionals for audio work, yes.

Is there a general need for professional audio work in game design, or is that something that only big budget game studios have a need for?

There is a demand, but it's not very high.

  • Hobbyists and independents will often use free or Creative Commons sound effects and music, or might use a tool to generate basic effects for themselves.
  • Mid-sized studios will probably not have anyone in-house for audio, and will probably buy or contract the music and use pro sound libraries for FX.
  • Larger studios may have a sound person on full-time, if they have enough concurrent projects to make it worthwhile. They will still often contract out the music, although some will take on a full-time musician.

So the issue is that there aren't many full-time people who work with audio in the games industry. There are a lot of composers vying for the same small pool of jobs, which means there are a lot of people offering their music for free, driving the price down and making it harder for composers to make a living. And on the sound design front, it's often just not so essential a role. You can buy in a couple of pro libraries and use them, and pretty much the only people who will notice they're stock effects are other audio professionals.

Being able to do both music and other audio may help, especially in the mid-sized companies.

How would an audio engineer/musician/sound design type get involved with making game design projects?

Create a good, accessible, portfolio and pitch it to people. Network. Be prepared to do very cheap or free work in order to prove that you can deliver on projects. Familiarise yourself with game specific tools (eg. FMOD Designer, WWise) and concepts (layering and fading music loops to accommodate in-game changes, heavily compressing music so it never drowns out sound effects).

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