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I currently work in Post Production, which can sometimes be a 9-5 gig... and sometimes be a nights and weekends gig.

With my new interest in Game Audio I wonder... is the Game Audio industry much the same? Worse? Better? I am ok with working long hours here and there, but not all the time. I need to recharge so I can be creative and enthusiastic. Also I have a wife and a son of whom I would like to spend time with.

I wanna know what I am getting into. Looking specifically into the Austin area which is already slowed down and chill compared to the D.C area.

Anyone know what I should expect?

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7 Answers 7

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There is a degree of variance from studio to studio, but generally speaking, the work load is related to the game dev cycle.

In my experience there are 3 phases of game dev. Pre-production, production and last few months before ship.

Pre-pro is about exploring ideas, trial and error with music and story, and developing systems/tools that make production more fruitful and efficient. Well managed studios will put an audio person on at this time. MANY do not. This us usually a normal work period as far as hours go.

Production is where most of the assets are created and put in the game. Usually this is split into a series of 4-6 week milestones. The beginning of each milestone is relatively normal. At the end of the milestone you can expect evenings and maybe weekends.

The last 'few' months of a project are long hours. I put 'few' in quotes because EVERY SINGLE title i have ever worked on (12 or so years in game audio) has slipped its deadline at least once, and that slippage usually happens at the end. it is very dependent on the studio/management of the project as to how this goes, but its always hairy.

Another thing about game audio dev is that there is no "audio Post" period unlike in film/tv, where audio is the only team working on the title. Very big changes occur up to the last minute that affect audio hugely (new areas of the game, new weapons or vehicles, big changes to art, new dialog/story elements....). This makes predicting your workload very difficult.

Personally i really like game audio, but the gratification is delayed. I know audio leads that have worked on the same project for almost 10 years before it ships (that is the extreme), but game dev cycles are rarely less than a year and are more often 18-36 months depending on the size of the title.

The above relates to in-house work

dr

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Fantastic Answer David, Thanks! Having worked in Game Audio as long as you have, how did you find stability? I have a lot of stability where I am currently, but if I ever wanted to move I would have to make some kind of jump... and those can be a little scary with a family to support. How do you put yourself in a position to keep the cash flowing? –  Audioandy Sep 20 '11 at 14:12
    
Video games is pretty corporate now (even tho the atmosphere isnt). there are no sure jobs. My last studio (Pandemic Studios) put out 5 million selling games in a row then was bought by 1 company, then another (EA) then 2 years later we were shut down. I went back to freelance (both games and trad Audio post). I worked harder for less $. Eventually i got a long term contract here at Blizzard and as of 2 weeks ago I am a full employee. The nice thing about games is the gigs tend to last a lot longer than trad post gigs. But you need to understand implementation, not just design. –  David Rovin Sep 20 '11 at 20:32
    
@David I hadn't heard the good news -- congrats on the new gig! (Great answer, too.) –  Tyler Sep 23 '11 at 4:56

All the above is true when it comes to 'traditional' games developers that create titles which are released 'as is', in a finalised state (for instance on a disc, in a shop). As those kind of products have a hard deadline, the dev process tends to bottleneck towards a crunch period in the final few months which usually involves lots of long and crazy hours.

There's however also a new-ish or different breed of dev studios who create games that are solely in the online space, and are released initially in a stripped down, beta-like version. Content is then added in stages, indefinitely. In this kind of work cycle, there's deadlines, but no massive deadline as such where everything needs to be done and dusted. In other words, the game is never shipped as such, but rather continuously iterated on, whilst it is accessible to the public. Probably the most famous example of a dev that works like this is Mojang (who created Minecraft), but they're not the only one.

I've been working at a studio for the last 5 months which releases games in this way, and even though we're very busy and we're working hard to meet a continuous stream small deadlines (2 to 4 week cycles for new content that's being released, generally), it seems that this mode of operation avoids a true period of crunch.

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I'll keep my eye open for something like that, Thanks Daan –  Audioandy Sep 20 '11 at 14:16

If you're lucky enough to be an in-house sound guy -- which is rare; I only know of two or three here in SLC, and they work for Disney and EA -- you'll get standard 40-60 hour work weeks, until it's time for shipping, and then you're pretty much excepted to help in the crunch, which are absolute nightmares (and huge problem with the video game industry as a whole).

If you're freelancing, which is pretty common for anyone doing game audio -- because it's really hard to justify a full-time sound person on staff -- you'll be doing the same thing as any audio guy. Lots of ebb and flow, and a few sleepless nights closer to the deadline.

It's sixes... If you're a decent freelancer, and can keep yourself busy, I'd stick with that. If you're like me and have a hard time budgeting around an unsteady paycheck, an in house job is the way to go... if you can find one.

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Thanks Dave, I am very much like you, i Need a steady paycheck! Thanks for the advice –  Audioandy Sep 20 '11 at 14:13

In my experience, it all depends on the culture of the studio, your boss and the publisher you are working for. If the project is well run and the audio department is well informed, and the publisher is happy with the games progress then you shouldn't have any surprises, which means you can pretty much control your own work flow to your specific requirements. As @David Rovin said the problems come if the panic sets in for milestone deadlines or shipping, which can get quite hairy. From what I have heard, mobile game companies, or companies that have a high turnover of games usually have better time management skills than those doing AAA, because they more used to the routine of shipping.

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Yeah I had thought about that! I feel much more at home with smaller companies anyways... however, do companies like that have the abilty to keep an audio guy on full time. If not how do you find financial stability? –  Audioandy Sep 20 '11 at 14:15
    
@Audioandy I can only really talk about Europe as I am not familiar with the US mobile / casual games companies, but I guess it is pretty similar. Basically if a company has 30+ employees, they are either doing enough games to keep a full time audio guy busy or have big enough projects to justify a full time audio guy. This is irrelevant of the types games they make. However at the moment I think working on a AAA is probably riskier than doing iOS - concerning financial stability of an in house position, unless of course you are working for one of the big guns like EA, Sony or Microsoft. –  RedSonic01 Sep 20 '11 at 19:31

I worked a 30 hour shift a few weeks ago. But that was for a deadline. It just depends on how fast you can get your work done and how crazy the deadlines are. But on average I would say it is not the normal 9-5. Lots of late nights.

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I've only been working in the industry for a month, but so far, because we're wrapping up a project, I've been doing roughly 55-60 hour weeks. I've been told it's 40 hours the rest of the time though, with flexibility on how you do those 40.

Hope this helps.

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Oh that sounds pretty nice. –  Audioandy Sep 20 '11 at 14:18

It can vary hugely. It ought to be 9-5 but is usually more and sometimes a lot more. Some companies actively discourage extended working hours and avoid crunch but there have been some famous examples (Rockstar, EA, etc.) where people worked a punishing schedule that included weekends for months on end.

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Yeah I had heard that about a company out here in the D.C area. It sounds fun and interesting to work on games, but I don't want to be used and abused and hate my work daily. –  Audioandy Sep 20 '11 at 14:18

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