Getting Into Game Audio Part 5 - Making It Happen
Dear reader - you've made it this far. You've examined and honed your skills, clarified your desires, and learned as much as you can about the industry. The time to dive in is NOW! You've decided that you really DO want to get into the game industry, and you really DO want to work in the audio discipline. What now?
Hopefully, by this point you've followed some of my advice, as well as sought advice from others in the industry. You're busy working on a demo reel, showcasing your talents. You are perhaps contributing some of your free time to a MOD or Indie Game, or perhaps you've already secured an entry-level job in the industry. Below are my final thoughts on continued success and growth within the industry.
Also available in this series:
- Getting Into Game Audio Part 1: Know Thyself – Audio Premium
- Getting Into Game Audio Part 2: Sell Thyself
- Getting Into Game Audio Part 3: Know The Craft
- Getting Into Game Audio Part 4: Know The Business
- Getting Into Game Audio Part 5 - Making It Happen
Keep Learning: Know Your Tools, Know Their Tools
A key component to continued growth in the games industry is keeping your skills up-to-date. Even more importantly is honing and refining your skills in such a way as to maximize your creative output. In the world of digital audio, there's always a tendency to look at new and improved tools as the solution to all our problems. I'm sure we've all had a thought along the lines of, "If only I had Plugin-X, then I could really make the sounds I want!" Of course, once we have Plugin-X, we often realize it wasn't the magic bullet we were hoping for. Instead, learning the tools we have, limiting our choices, and refining our techniques often yields the best results.
In this way, it is important to constantly balance your choice of tools, and how you choose to spend your time refining your skills. In my opinion, and for the game industry specifically, these are some important components to consider, depending on which discipline you're in (music, sound design, integration, field recording, programming, etc.).
- Focus On Deliveries - Assuming the workload is (relatively) manageable, if you're not meeting deadlines and delivery milestones, you're not doing your job. In the game industry, your primary focus should be on delivering on time, on budget and with high quality. If you're able to achieve that, you're way ahead of the game (so to speak). At the very least, you should be focused on delivering the content that is asked of you.
- Focus On Creative Output - Once you've met the spec requirements, you need to focus on quality and creativity. This is what sets you apart from the rest of the crowd. If you can consistently deliver great quality, original, creative content, you will become known for your work.
- Focus On Refining Technique And Learning New Tools - When you are not explicitly focused on delivering, focus your time on refining your skills and workflows. Some things to consider here are: improving your listening abilities, improving your mastering skills, learning new tools (like industry specific middleware such as Wwise or FMOD or Unreal), or introducing new systems of file management that may improve your capacity for delivering great content.
- Focus On Raising The Quality Bar - As you focus on refining technique, do so with an eye and ear to raising the quailty of your deliveries. Sometimes this means listening more critically, comparing to other content (from other games, etc.), or examining other techniques for completing your work. Sometimes, though, this means investing money into better equipment. Improving your sonic palette, improving your microphone and preamp selection, better quailty monitors, etc. - these are all tools which can, at some stage, improve the quality of your work...but...
- Only Buy New Gear If It Helps With The Above - It is important to remember that it isn't a requirement that you constantly buy new software and hardware just because there's a great sale on, or a limited-time group-buy. Upgrade your gear if these purchases will help you deliver better content, deliver more content, or deliver content in a shorter timeframe. This is a great way to keep your spending relative to your output.
He Who Documents, Succeeds
This is a bit of an oversimplification, but when working as part of a development team, your ability to document your workflows and pipelines and techniques is directly related to your value in the organization. I often use the 'hit by a bus' metaphor. The work I do for the team should be documented to the degree that, if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, someone could go to my documentation to figure out exactly what I was doing, which of my tasks were complete, and the techniques and tools I was using to complete them.
As your level of responsibility increases, say from sound designer to audio lead, this responsibility of documentation will increase proportionately. Learn how to do it well, and early, and it will pay off in spades.
Balancing Pride and Humility
I've been fortunate to meet and spend time with some of the most interesting and successful audio designers, directors and composers in the industry. While their roles, experiences and accomplishments vary widely, in my opinion most successful audio folks in the industry all share one overarching character trait: humility.
Indeed, all of the people who I most admire in the industry seem to have a magical balance of passion, persistence, and discipline, all tempered with humility. I raise this important topic because as you grow along the path of game audio (or any career) it is important to learn the delicate balance of pride and humility.
You should have pride in your work and your accomplishments. You should be able to speak clearly about your goals and achievements, and you should be able to 'sell yourself' (without sounding like a salesman) by displaying this pride in your work, in your portfolio, and in your marketing material.
At the same time, having humility about your capabilities and accomplishments is also necessary. "If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself." (Max Ehrmann, Desiderata) As I mentioned earlier, the people who are truly successful in the industry are people who recognize the value of their contibutions, but who also recognize and admire the work of their peers. They recognize their own contributions to the team, the game and the industry, but likewise they understand that a vast network of contributions from all over the world have allowed them to be where they are. Moreover, they recognize and applaud the accomplisments of their peers, the strive to improve the quality of their work, as well as innovate and drive the industry forward. These are team players of the highest order. Learn to be one of them!
A final note on commitment, discipline and attitude. I'm here to tell you that if you are willing to fully commit to this industry as a career, disciplined enough to put in the work, and carry with you a positive, can-do attitude (tempered by a deep understanding of the real challenges facing the industry and your chosen profession), there is no possibility of failure. Truly, the game industry, and I think audio in particular, rewards those who work hard, who make high-quality contributions to their team, their employer, their games, and to the industry at large, and who continually engage and strive to raise the bar. If you're willing to make this commitment, I guarantee you'll be successful, that you'll work with some of the brightest, most talented, and devoted individuals in any industry, and you'll enjoy a career of meaningful contributions - and have fun while doing it!
Below you'll find just a few resources for learning more about Games and Game Audio. I hope you've enjoyed this series, and that you've learned a thing or two. I'm always happy to share my journey and experiences, and I hope in some way it has helped to inspire you on your own path. As always, if you have questions or comments, let me know! All the best to you on your journey!
- Gamasutra - A great resource for the latest industry news, as well as lots of discipline-specific content from novices and experts alike. The Audio section is full of excellent articles and op-ed pieces. Also has a great 'JOBS' section for the latest openings (predominantly North American based). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED READING!
- GI.Biz - Another great site for the latest industry news, trends, and op-ed pieces. Also has a great JOBS section (mostly European based).
- Yahoo! Game Audio Pro List - A mailing list for Game Audio Professionals. Lots of great contents in the archives, as well as an active membership for discussions.
- GameAudioForum - A web-based bulltetin board/forum system specific to game audio professionals. Tons of great content and a small yet active userbase.
- Game Audio 101 - A site dedicated to introducing you to game audio. Somewhat focused on mobile-gaming, it still has lots of content relative to all game developers.
These are just a few of my favorite books on Game Audio:
- Complete Guide To Game Audio - A great introduction to the industry, tools and tech of game audio.
- Audio For Games - Now out of print, this is still a great book if you can find a copy. Covers some more in depth stuff regarding production workflows, tools and technology for the slightly more advanced reader.
- Fat Man On Game Audio - More philosophy than tech, this book reads like the "Be Here Now" of game audio. Imagine if Master Yoda had been an audio designer, and wrote a book - this would be that book.