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Hi, everyone, the title of this question cannot say exactly what I'd like to discuss here, but here I go:

Lately I started to work as a sound designer for games and been more attentive on companies who create apps and games mostly for mobile platforms, in Portugal.

There are some question I ask myself that make me feel very confused and actually sad about the way people would disregard sound in a minute. As an example, one case I 'studied' had the programmer doing music and sfx because it is something he / she enjoys; are the music and sfx good? No! Would it sell more if there was a dedicated sound person doing it? I actually don't know. Another example is that on a tight budget or if there is the need to reduce staff who would go first? It's so easy to think that the sound designer is disposable and someone else would take some days to get sfx from freesound or something.

I know this is a cruel and cold vision - I don't believe in this and I personally have a pretty straight idea about our role - but how can a sound designer make him/herself indispensable in a project? (please, beyond the obvious of doing a great work , being cooperative and having human skills) I think that a certain mentality change is needed, how to achieve this?

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Approach your explanation of the importance of sound from a marketing and branding perspective--that is what is important to developers. Sounds applications make shape how the application is perceived--if skype's message alert sound wasn't carefully created it could have a serious negative effect on their branding. This is why there's outcry about the irritating new Facebook alert sound. Harsh sound design has a negative effect on user experience.

Also, in the touch-screen world, sound provides us the feedback that buttons used to provide. People don't realize how much work and research goes into making buttons satisfying to push. It is now the job of sound to take that role. Proper sound is an important subconscious seller.

  • Comparing gadgets or non-game apps to games is not that appropriate comparison, because gadgets and utilitarian apps are more about functional user experience (making it make sense, making it informative), whereas games are art and entertainment. I think in games you need to consider the artistic viewpoint to sound (how does it reinforce the game's atmosphere, make it more entertaining and tell its story better), rather than see sound on a purely functional level. Brand sounds are a slightly different story as well, but surely iconic games need iconic sound to make the entity iconic – Internet Human Mar 28 '13 at 19:23
  • Yes, I'm definitely referring to the app side of things here--I feel the game side of things had been covered well enough. – ashellinthepit Mar 28 '13 at 20:59
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Game development is actually slightly more harsher to the programmers, because few people care about how the technology behind the game is constructed. All they care, for a reason, is the game: what they see, hear, read and can feel. Thus, the work of the programmers is generally not noticed or studied, because it's simply not apparent to those that aren't programmers and of course it's not the reason for why games are played.

Gameplay/game design and visuals/graphics are what sell games. Then comes the soundtrack. Sound design might not itself add noticeable value apart from what is required to support the gameplay and graphics, but a good, enjoyable OST will definitely generate more value for the player. Look at all the game scores that you can enjoy, even if they're not running in the game.

If you're worried that (small) games can do without dedicated sound guys/gals, then you might want to do something about it. For example, do better work than what's available with downloaded sound packs, production music libraries, hobbyist DAW experience and a microphone. But I bet that when the project is just large enough (and not a one-man or say a 5-man project with a minimal or no budget), most people begin to stray away from being jack's of all trades and begin to appreciate, if they can get someone to focus on those 10000 sound files for them. When the budget is bigger, then there's definitely more focus on audio, which can generally receive the least consideration, as sad as it is.

Oh, and it's very possible that some developers may be ignorant about what would be the best or the need for their game in terms of art content (especially if they're not "art-inclined" at all). After all, there are some, mainly mobile/browser games around that have horrendous graphics and sound, but the code works. Or then it might just be that they prefer to have their own take on sound as well (e.g. if it's their game idea). If you're working with someone who doesn't see the value that you can bring, but which you see, then you'll have to show what you can do.

What comes to the general question of the importance of sound in an app/game (or anything for that matter) and how people look at it, that's subjective.

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It's an interesting question, and I agree with you that it is sometimes very depressing that sound is forgotten on low budget games. On the other hand there are some fantastic breakthroughs being made in game sound, from the minimal electro-acoustic score of Limbo to the BAFTA nominated The Nightjar trying to teach the public how to listen (like we do).

Just like in film there are always going to be releases with bad sound, but most really great films or games have good sound. Good game developers know that.

Not really an answer to your question, but I think the mental shift towards the importance of sound is happening, it's just happening slowly.

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Unfortunately, that's the current situation. Furthermore, i see you live in Portugal aswell, and that just seems to make it a lot harder, since the society could not care less about artist within the country. So, my answer is based on what filmmakers usually tell me: create a great reel and practice your speech when it comes to making them realize that foley work/sound design is more than free sound fx.

PS: uma sound designer de portugal, por aqui? nem acredito :)

  • I don't think this is strictly Portuguese, but the problem here is that we have no education for sound. As said above I do think things are changing a bit but it requires a lot of patience. In time, we will be part of team as well and as much important in the eye of the boss. – Melissa Pons Mar 28 '13 at 23:58
  • It's surely the boss' and the company's problem then. I would assume that something like Nintendo has a slightly different attitude to their art departments (games like Super Mario 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time are widely considered to be works of art, especially in their music/audio as well, rather than being "just games"). – Internet Human Jun 8 '13 at 9:47

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