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I'm wondering why so many MMOs are only partially voiced? I asked makers of games (Thimbleweed Park, in their Q&A) how expensive voiceover is, and they said it wasn't especially expensive unless you hire A-list stars. So why would so much game dialogue be only present as text to be read onscreen?

The only reason I can think of is the same that exists for localization in all software: You can't record VO until all the dialogue is finished and frozen, so it is another fixed delay between finishing the rest of the game and shipping. So it doesn't seem like it's not manageable.

To be clear: I'm not looking for opinions or theories (that would only make the mods close this question) but actual reasons and experiences from people who have shipped games with partial voiceover.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that Thimbleweed Park is currently looking for crowdfunding. The point of the Q&A sessions is to get people to back them, so it is in their interest to downplay possible project risks. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Apr 3 '16 at 13:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nope. TP has been funded. They're close to shipping. \$\endgroup\$ – uliwitness Apr 3 '16 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ In a few years, Text To Speech may become viable, but today it's still stuck in the "understandable, but fatal to immersion" category. \$\endgroup\$ – MSalters Apr 3 '16 at 23:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Personally, I am glad they aren't - voiced text are usually spoken just at the wrong pace compared to the player, sometimes too slow, sometimes to fast. Reading (and skimming) can be done at the player's own convenience, though of course some are too lazy for that... I actually liked e.g. Morrowind - characters usually voiced short greetings hinting at both their mood and the sound of their voice, but the real dialogue was pure text that you could fully embrace and read at your desired speed (or you just clicked every blue keyword and skipped it)... \$\endgroup\$ – Tobias Kienzler Apr 4 '16 at 6:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp I removed the "hiring" tag you added to my question. This is narrowing down the focus of the question too much. I don't want to influence peoples' answers like that, I really only want to know why there is no voice, and I'm not yet convinced hiring a voice-actor is the problematic part. "project-management" was a great addition, though, thanks for adding that. \$\endgroup\$ – uliwitness Apr 8 '16 at 12:37
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Because voice acting is more expensive than just the payment for the actors.

It's not just the voice actors you need to hire. First, you need to find voice actors which are suitable for your roles. That means you will have to do a casting with many actors, which takes you a lot of time. Then when you have picked the actors and made contracts with them, you need a professional sound studio with professional sound technicians to record their lines. These can be quite expensive too.

Also, voice-acted lines are a lot less flexible. Say you find out during pre-release QA testing that a certain line of text is confusing, doesn't have the effect you thought it had or is just plain wrong after you changed a few things in the game. When it's just text, then changing it is just a few keystrokes. But when the line is voiced, you need to re-hire the actor (hope he got time in his schedule), get him back into the studio and have him re-record that one line.

There is the problem with releasing additional content after release. Artists, writers and programmers are replaceable, but voice actors are not. When the voice actor for an important character got a different obligation, your whole DLC project might have to be cancelled.

And then there is the problem with dynamic text. When you have procedurally generated sentences like "Pick up [item] from [person] in [location]", adding a voice-over means you have to record the segments individually and then cut them together at runtime, which can sound quite strange and artificial. When your game is fully voice-acted but that line is not, then it might sound quite strange, so you better cut down the voice acting in general.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for mentioning casting/negotiations/hiring, it seems increasingly important that everyone trying to branch out to hiring artists/actors/writers/et cetera plan ahead for the hell of head hunting, contract negotiation, and getting everyone working together. More great ideas are killed by drawn out negotiations and bad hires/contracts than I would have ever expected starting out. I beg everyone to plan ahead and assume you're going to spend a significant amount of time and money looking for the right people. \$\endgroup\$ – user5665 Apr 3 '16 at 12:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also another thing I just realized - MMOs have the tendency to be very alive. World change, characters change, new quests are added etc. which just makes the costs bigger. Also @uliwitness, finding a sound-alike is probably going to be even more expensive than casting a voice-actor in the first place. The problem is in game development text, especially in story-heavy games, can change many, many times. Even days before the release (been there done that so to speak). \$\endgroup\$ – Maurycy Apr 3 '16 at 17:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @uliwitness That's not the same problem - for BttF, almost no-one will play the game while watching the movie, and details of voices don't stick in the memory for long. With multiple voice-actors in your game, the player could hear different voices for consecutive sentences, or even the same sentence if it's composed dynamically. That sort of thing is really jarring. \$\endgroup\$ – FLHerne Apr 4 '16 at 9:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WayneWerner They got the original Gandalf for the game? Would it not have been cheaper to do it like they did in the movies and hire an actor like Ian McKellen? \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Apr 4 '16 at 15:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Two other problems not mentioned: audio files take up much more disk space than text, and can severely bloat the overall size of your game. Also (and this goes along with your comment about dynamic text), if you give players the ability to name their characters, the NPCs will have to avoid ever using your name in dialogue. This is why voiced games have to give you some generic nickname that people use to talk to you. "Captain" or "Chosen One" or "Dragonborn" or the like. It can come off a bit stilted when overused. \$\endgroup\$ – Darrel Hoffman Apr 4 '16 at 16:36
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One element the other answers have not touched on is size. Sound files are substantially larger than text files. Every single spoken line is that much more data that must be downloaded to the player's system, written to their HDD, or usually both.

In turn, spoken dialogue takes up more memory when the game is executed. Memory that could be used for various other purposes, such as prefetching the next part of the cutscene or monster AI if it is spoken lines in combat. It also increases load times.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For speech though you can get excellent quality in very little memory using telecoms voice codecs or e.g. Opus, which work out about 2K per second for wide-band (16KHz). e.g. try the 16 k-bits speech example here - it's perfectly acceptable. Which is obviously more space than the text, yes, but is small relative to most game assets. \$\endgroup\$ – Rup Apr 4 '16 at 9:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rup That's actually very impressive. It's not clear how well it would work within the context of all the other sounds and music in the game, but... wow. It's a bit like listening to first mp3's - how did you fit all that into 4 MiB? :D The 8 kbps speech is still very noticeable to me, but 16 kbps is already in something that wouldn't necessarily break immersion. Of course, that still means half a gigabyte of audio per hour which may be quite a lot for a text-heavy game. \$\endgroup\$ – Luaan Apr 5 '16 at 12:18
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Time, is the problem. When you try to localize the voices for every language you publish, you would need to spend so much time on voice-over.

FPS games are luckier in this perspective though, they have much less texts to voice, compared to RPG games.

Synchronizing animations are another problem. When you are voice-overing a character, it would be so much unrealistic to watch that character making noises without moving it's mouth, or etc. So, less voice = less effort on syncing animations with voice.

And actually, considering most of the gamers usually skip the dialogs to read the summary, spending most of your efforts on voice-acting is some kind of "playing for the audience".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Every elder scrolls game ever proves the point about synchronization. Although every elder scrolls game also proves that people don't mind too much about that problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Voo Apr 3 '16 at 20:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not convinced that "most players" usually skip the dialogue. \$\endgroup\$ – Stephan Apr 4 '16 at 9:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Stephan Go watch "Soldier Boy plays Braid" on YouTube and your faith in the general population's level of caring with regard to story-line will be drastically reduced. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Apr 4 '16 at 13:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Stephan Not that it stopped J.Blow from ignoring the general public's desires and making games that he wants to make. If you're in it for the money, it's almost guaranteed your game won't be as good as it could have otherwise been. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Apr 4 '16 at 13:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Skipping the dialogue depends on how in depth the story is. If people can skip the dialogue and still finish the game you've either A) Succeeded in making the game straightforward to play or B) Failing to make your story detailed enough to grasp the player's interest. Games in the Legend Of Zelda series tend to have some plot but relatively few twists (or in most cases it's "show don't tell"), games like Skyrim have such deep intertwining plot that it's easy to lose track of the story so some people choose to ignore or skim it. It's a fine balance. \$\endgroup\$ – Pharap Apr 5 '16 at 0:34
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Producing voice content is time consuming, tedious, and requires a lot of prep work to cast people that can act to fit the role and get them engaged in that role, MMOs typically have a vast amount of textual content in comparison to other games which means much more time in a recording studio. It costs more money than you'd think, actors aren't the only people, you have designers, writers, audio engineers and producers in addition to your actors. Everyone has an hourly rate, people don't work for free. Game budgets go a lot more quickly than you'd like. (It really does take a significant part of a budget for most games that choose to include voice over)

Voice content isn't as flexible, it's not as simple as a content file edited by a writer and sent out in a patch, you actually have to go back to the studio and record more audio or rehash what you already have. You're not going to iterate and develop the content in your world as quickly if you have to deal with voice content matching your changes to your interactions/characters/environments.

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