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Getting Into Game Audio Part 4: Know The Business

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This post is part of a series called Getting Into Game Audio (Premium).
Getting Into Game Audio Part 3: Know The Craft
Getting Into Game Audio Part 5 - Making It Happen

In Part 1 of our series, we followed the thread, "Know Thyself". I talked about how your focus and determination can carry you through challenges, and how knowing where you are and where you've come from can help to clarify your course of action to more quickly achieve your goals.

In Part 2, I showed you how selling yourself - even in advance of a robust CV - was an important aspect of getting into the industry.

In Part 3 we talked about the key components of the craft of audio in the game industry, and how the process of learning the craft can help to guide you to success.

In this installment, we'll talk about the Game Industry as a business - the who, what, and where of the industry and how a deep knowledge of games, gaming, and the process of game development can aid in your quest for a fruitful career.

Also available in this series:

  1. Getting Into Game Audio Part 1: Know Thyself – Audio Premium
  2. Getting Into Game Audio Part 2: Sell Thyself
  3. Getting Into Game Audio Part 3: Know The Craft
  4. Getting Into Game Audio Part 4: Know The Business
  5. Getting Into Game Audio Part 5 - Making It Happen

flickr image by karsten.planz

When I first decided that I wanted a career in the game industry, my industry knowledge didn't extend far beyond the Playstation 2 console in my living room. I knew the names of a few game developers and publishers, I knew the names of the franchises I enjoyed, and knew a few famous game designers and composers whose work I admired. I also knew that a career in the industry would require a much deeper knowledge of the inner-workings of game development and publishing, and so I set out to learn as much as I could, even the stuff that didn't really seem 'relevant' to my immediate goals.

Know The Development Flow

flickr image by frumbert

As you set out to get your foot in the door, it is important to understand the basic pillars of the game industry. The more you know about the process of game development and who's involved, the easier it will be for you to engage in intelligent conversation about such topics, and you may even find that your interviews go more smoothly when asked about concepts outside of the audio discipline.

Development Studios

Development Studios are where (most) of the magic happens. These are the dedicated people who put in insane hours to create the games you know and love. They design, program, create, record, implement and test nearly every aspect of the games that you see on retail shelves - from graphics to AI programming to sound design to gameplay mechanics to quality assurance.

Development Studios are typically broken down into 3 primary categories:

  • 1st Party: These are studios which are wholly owned/operated by a Platform Publisher. Examples include Nintendo, SCE Santa Monica, and Lionhead. These studios typically only make games for a single/specific platform - e.g. Lionhead only develops the Fable franchise for Xbox 360, Windows and Windows Phone 7 (all Microsoft platforms). SCE only develops games like God of War for the Playstation platform(s).
  • 2nd Party: These are independent game studios which develop titles exclusively for a single platform, but are not owned by the manufacturer/publisher. An example of a 2nd Party Developer is Epic Games, which makes the Gears of War franchise exclusively for Microsoft.
  • 3rd Party: These are developers who develop not for any particular or specific platform or publisher. Activision and Electronic Arts are good examples, where many sports and FPS franchises are released across multiple platforms.

I encourage you to research some of your favorite developers to find out their development model - where they are located, how many people they employ, how much work is outsourced, etc. The more you know about each developer, the easier it will be for you to make decisions about your next career move.


The role of the Publisher in game development cannot be understated. Though the Developer puts in the majority of the work involved in creating a title, the Publisher assumes the greatest financial risk in bringing the product to market. Effectively, the Publisher is the company who pays for the game to be developed, pays for the marketing, and pays for the manufacture and distribution of the title. If a title sells extremely well, Publishers can stand to make a lot of money. If a title doesn't sell well, however, the Publisher stands to lose much of its investment, as the developer will already have been paid, but those expenses may not have been recouped by game sales.

This explains why there is a constant struggle between new and innovative titles vs. the tried-and-true franchises. In tight economic times, large Publishers are often challenged to reduce their risk by publishing only sure-fire hits (Call of Duty, Madden, God of War, etc.) - because there is some amount of certainty that these titles will sell well.

Publishers often get into the process of game development by supporting what are known as 'central media' organizations. These are teams of highly-skilled and highly experienced individuals who are employed by the Publisher, but aid in the actual development of first and second party games. Activision, Sony and Microsoft all have very strong central media groups which have contributed to hundreds of top-quality game releases.


Outsourcing is a catch-all term for an individual or company who specializes in providing contract services for game developers and publishers. These services can vary widely from animation or texture modeling, AI programming, sound design, music composition or VO production. The way outsourcing works is that a developer or publisher will contract with a third-party company to take on some portion of the development of a specific game.

For example, when developing God of War, Sony may have used outsourcing for VO recording by contracting with a specific recording studio in order to record the voiceover for the game. Likewise, some studios outsource the motion-capture for their games to specialized companies and facilities.

For audio, outsourcing can come in the form of composing, arranging, orchestrating, sound design, field recording, audio integration and voiceover production. Companies such as Soundelux, GameAudioAlliance, SomaTone Interactive, Pyramind, Bay Area Sound, and Omni Interactive Audio are all examples of audio outsourcing companies who can provide a wide range of services to game developers and publishers.

The bottom line for you is to consider where you would most like to work - in-house at a game development studio, for a publisher in their central media or production team, or for an outsourcing company or as an individual contractor. Each scenario has its benefits, and I encourage you to research more to find out what style suits your goals.

SIDEBAR: Know The Other Disciplines

flickr image by Lel4nd

Before moving on to the last section of this tutorial, I want to point out a very important aspect of getting into the game industry. Though it goes without saying that you need to be intimately familiar with all the various aspects of working in audio for games, it is also crucial to have at least a basic understanding of the other disciplines involved in game development.

A solid understanding of the entire game development cycle, including all the people required to make a game, is necessary to full understand your own place in the scheme of things. With this in mind, let's (very) briefly talk about the other disciplines.

  • Production: The Production team includes producers, project managers, development managers, and others who help to craft and fuel the machine of game development. These are the people responsible for negotiating, scheduling, staffing, communicating, and focusing the development team in order to ensure a game is developed on time, on budget and to a high quality bar.
  • Engineering: The Engineers (also called programmers) are the people responsible for the coding of a game. This includes AI programming, gameplay programming, graphics programming - basically anything that involves writing code and ensuring all of the game's technical elements work together. They also ensure the game builds and executes appropriately for the target platform (and any test platforms). An audio engineer specializes in audio programming - supporting the needs of the designers and audio team in order to create features necessary for great audio in the game. These people can be your best friends - so treat them well and with kindness and get to know as much about what they do as you can!
  • Artists: Artists are responsible for the visuals in a game, including animation, visual FX, user interface design, character models, textures, environments, lighting. Some artists spend more time in a purely visual design space, while others focus on more technical elements such as character rigging or FX system development.
  • Design: Designers are the people who help flesh out the game world - both in written and technical form. These people develop game levels or maps using specialized toolsets to create functional spaces out of the various elements created by the artists and programmers and audio designers. Game designers work very closely with audio designers to ensure that the experiences they create are communicated effectively through audio.
  • Quality Assurance: Affectionately known as 'testers', this is the group that puts a game through its paces from start to finish. Some people think they'd love to be a game tester so they can play their favorite games all day long and get paid to do it. But you must also understand that testers also have to play those games in their most ugly, broken and unfinished state - over and over and over again. By the time the game is ready for release the testers have (hopefully) found and reported every possible issue that might cause problems for the consumer, but they also provide critical qualitative feedback to help provide a more polished experience for the end user. Get to know these people VERY well - there is nothing so valuable to an audio designer as a tester with a good set of ears!
  • Writers/Scriptwriters: It would be easy to lump writers in with designers, but the truth is that a great writer is a HUGE asset to any development team, and a great writer is invaluable to any audio person who has to handle VO production at some stage. Writers are responsible for making sense of the game world, and for crafting its narrative - either in written or spoken form. A writer is an important ally for audio designers because your work can be made infinitely harder or easier depending on how organized they are. Make friends with them!

  • Knowing the Who and Where

    flickr image by cassandrajowett

    Finally, I'd like to touch briefly on the importance of knowing the who and where of game development. As the variety of games continues to grow, development studios also grow in size and number. It is important for you to consider where you'd like to work, on what types of games, and with what types of companies. You may decide that working as a contractor for a small studio is your cup of tea, or you may decide that relocating to a major metropolis and working for a huge developer/publisher is your dream. Whatever the case, familiarize yourself with the different types of game studios, and where they can be found.

    Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are a few of the major hubs of game development in the US. Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto are home to many of Canada's most profitable studios. Likewise, London and Brighton are known for their game studios.

    Check out websites such as GamaSutra, Develop and GamesIndustry.Biz to learn about the studios you're interested in.

    To Be Continued

    This concludes Part 4 of our series. There's still more to come, so let us know in the comments what YOU want to know about Getting Into Game Audio!

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