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Why Your Game Failed

Sound is a weird thing, isn’t it? We rarely consciously notice it, except when it’s absent. It’s like a shadow; it only exists as a part of something else. You’re in a restaurant and a dish shatters. You look over to your left and see a broken dish, and never think about that sound again for the rest of your life.

I can’t recall the name of the psychological need for pairing sound and visuals, but the film world relies on it heavily. As developers, directors, producers, etc., we get a little too entrenched in the notion that sound is only a followup, a by-product of an action, and that convinces us that it’s barely worth our time. Budget troubles with your indie game? "Eh, I’ll find some free sounds online somewhere instead of hiring a sound designer."

You couldn’t be making a worse mistake.

I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen devs with great games, truly wonderful games, go to Steam,, Kickstarter, and I can tell they’ve thrown together their sounds themselves. Their games barely got any notice. Or, they get noticed and rated very poorly despite excellent visuals and storytelling. Why? The sound was sub-par.

This lack of attention (or inflated belief in your sound ability) will hurt you, and it all goes back to how little we think about sound, but how much we need it at a visceral level.

Nobody consciously thinks about sound design.

If your game has terrible sound design, your gamers/customers won’t think that. And I don’t mean just bad sounds - I mean a lack of an overarching sound aesthetic and design plan. They’ll only feel dissatisfied. They won’t blame the sound, they’ll blame you but they won’t know why. Your game will fail - and that’s fine! Failure is often a signifier, a signpost pointing you in the right direction so you fail better next time. It’s often glaring and bright and loud why you failed. But it won’t be if you don’t put the time into sound, it’ll just be an unspecified lack of contentment or fullness, which is the most frustrating kind of failure.  

Sound is satiating; it fills you up when someone is telling you a story, in any form. People emphasise visuals heavily but if you think about it - every single one of our modern storytelling avenues uses sound. Some even use it exclusively such as radio, podcasts and books on tape. We don’t really have mainstream storytelling that uses visuals exclusively. That means something. It means that on a deeper level, we need sound more than we need visuals.

Am I saying put more of your budget into sound than visuals? Absolutely not. Let's not get crazy. I'm simply saying you need to make a sound budget, and you need to hand the job of doing audio off to a specialist. If that means delaying your expected release a month or two, so you can save up a month of wages to spend exclusively on audio, so be it. It's not that you don't have a budget for sound, it's that you aren't willing to make one, and your game will suffer for it.

Sound design can make or break you, and chances are decent no one will realise it.