The Changing Face of Gaming Audio
Over the last 10 years, there has been a sea change within gaming audio—from localization of voice assets to fully fledged voiceover production, then on to Hollywood levels of music production and sound design. As the games industry has progressed and grown more sophisticated, the processes and practices of recording for this niche have rapidly transformed.
As AAA publishers have localized their games to support a much broader range of languages, they’ve spotted that review scores tend to fluctuate significantly from territory to territory. Where a publisher has received unusually low review scores, it’s often the case that poor text and voiceover dubbing are the source of the problem. Throughout time, game publishers have come to realize that quality localization is a significant factor in international success.
As a result, there has increasingly been a shift away from freelance-based audio professionals and a move toward in-house audio specialists and partnerships with major audio-specializing companies.
In a recent survey from the Game Music, Sound Design, and Virtual Reality Audio Conference, 46% of audio professionals are working on a freelance or contract basis, with the same percentage taking salaried roles. This is a significant change from only six years ago, in 2014, when 60% of audio professionals were working on a freelance or contract basis.
Does this indicate a trend change in the mindset of a whole industry? Are gaming companies really coming to grips with intricate international voiceover issues? Or does this just mean that work-for-hire composers, directors, and producers have sought permanent work? As more outsource audio specialists are moving into the industry, how many of these are soaking up expert audio talent to build out a compelling offering? No matter the industry, audio has always been a freelance -lead service. Regardless, it seems many key roles are moving in-house, and freelancers are actively seeking to land full-time work.
Other interesting trends from the survey show that the number of women working in audio is significantly behind other disciplines within the gaming industry. The 2019 results demonstrated an increase in females entering the field of gaming audio but only by a small percentage. In 2015, the percentage of male audio workers was 93%, and by 2019 this had only dropped to 91%. Among audio specialists, gaming audio specialists make up the highest percentage of female workers at 25%, while only 11% of publisher-employed audio specialists are female. Notably, the UK is the leader in gaming audio equality, with females representing 16.1% of gaming audio workers.
The gaming industry is maturing and growing to meet the needs of new international customers. Twenty years ago, a AAA game would support approximately 500 lines of dialog—often in just one language. Today, a typical AAA project easily features between 50,000 and 100,000 lines. In some cases, several hundred thousand lines. These days, it is not uncommon for a AAA project to provide full voiceover audio in twelve or more languages.
Gaming voiceover audio is becoming big business. For large, complex RPG and MMO games, gameplay with dialogue can add up to over 30 hours or more of playtime. Games such as Star Wars, The Witcher, and Lord of The Rings often pull from multiple novels and print sources to gather content. Star Wars: The Old Republic, by BioWare, is believed to have integrated over 40 novels’ worth of scripted dialogue. Unlike in traditional acting, it’s often impractical to give gaming voiceover actors the whole script, as they can find all the information overwhelming and struggle to focus on their character’s development. The key is to give actors only the information they need for their scenes and ensure they are working with a professional and well-briefed director.
With the launch of new consoles on the horizon, we have a new evolution of features to play with. Sony is launching the Tempest 3D audio engine for PS5. It’ll be interesting to see the changes in audio this will drive; we’re looking forward to the journey.
If you’d like to learn more about TransPerfect Gaming Solutions and our audio capabilities, check out our website.