I get emailed a lot about how I got my first gig and how to get gigs. In the short time that I’ve been involved in the game sound industry things have changed, quickly.
Now before I begin I want to say that I by no means think that I am all knowledgeable and have the same experience as the seasoned pros. I don’t. My sound career has only just begun. The reason I am sharing this advice is because of the fact that we all know how fast technology moves, and what I write now will not be relevant in the next few years. I’m sure the pros who have 10-20 years will say the same, but since what I have experienced is recent, it can applied to today. So instead of me writing this 10-20 years down the line (I really hope I am still doing this then!) when it won’t be relevant, I thought I’d share it whilst it still is.
I jumped ship the world of game audio in 2006, well, I jumped ship to the world of audio with the hope to do game audio. So in terms of my sound career as well as my game sound career I’m still just a newbie compared to the big boys. I also have had to take a 2 year break during this period due to unforeseen consequences (Mr. Freeman), so in terms of game audio I have been around for about 4 years.
Nuclear Dawn - About as far as it got as a mod
Back when I started the advice I kept receiving was “JOIN A MOD TEAM, JOIN A MOD TEAM, JOIN A MOD TEAM!”. That is when www.moddb.com was king for us up and comers who wanted to get used to the world of game development, get our hands on industry tools and start crafting the experiences we loved to play. I started out on a mod called Off Limits (http://www.moddb.com/mods/off-limits) then moved over to Nuclear Dawn (which was then made into a commercial game, I didn’t have anything to do with the sound on that though http://www.nucleardawnthegame.com/).
Working with Nuclear Dawn was a fantastic experience as all of the developers were industry veterans, aside from me. It was extremely daunting, having not only pressure to create sound content that would match the quality the other “departments” were making, but also self pressure to try and impress these guys. I worked hard and unfortunately, the mod fell flat on its face, but what a fantastic learning experience it was.
Back to the topic at hand – in the last 6 years the AAA, blockbuster entertainment Hi Def game scene has exploded. This has led a lot of developers going all or nothing with whole studios and peoples livelihoods to build these experiences. Due to the giant budgets, epic team sizes and amount of work needed for these types of games, it has led to a lot of developers not bothering to release development tools to the mod community. This is due to the amount of money poured into these tools, and devs not wanting to, essentially, reveal their magicians secrets.
There are those developers who have released the tools to the community (Cryteks Cry Engine 3 being a recent one), which do tend to get a lot of support. But the fact is that the sheer amount of work, effort, man hours and content needed to create a mod that won’t be forgotten in a day is close to what these giant studios are doing. And 99% of us are unable to do this for free as we all have bills that need paying! This is one of the main reasons the mod scene is dying (in terms of the big story driven experiences of the past) and why it is not (in my opinion) the best route into getting your foot in the door in game sound.
So.. where do we go from here? You’re a sound designer itching to get into game audio, you have a show-reel, a portfolio website and the know-how. Now all you need is that first project to put all this creativity to use. Well, out of the embers of the mod scene has arisen a far bigger, better, creative scene. The Indie Scene! The “official” term for an independent developer is a person/group of people/studio developing a game from an independent money source outside of a publisher (it could be bank loans, own pockets, investors etc), or even from no money source at all. There have been some massive indie hits recently, such as Minecraft, Amnesia The Dark Descent etc. The scene has also now garnished its own festival, the IGF (Independent Games Festival) http://www.igf.com/.
Now, how do you fit into this scene? How do you go about selling your skills to these independent companies and where do you find them?
Firstly, I’d like to point out that if this is your first gig then I suggest you offer your skills for free, or at least charge a low price. The two reasons behind this are – you WILL screw up and you DO need the experience. No matter how good your sound design is, the first project you work on will be a massive learning curve, and can be quite embarrassing for yourself if you’re unable to deliver on your promise due to lack of experience when the developers are paying good money for your services. I know this contradicts what I said above about bill paying, but you will save yourself a lot of hassle this way and are far more likely to work on a good project.
So lets dive into exactly what you should do -
Start out by writing a template email, this should be brief and to the point. This email should explain who you are, what you do and examples of your work. Making sure you point out that you are passionate about games, sound and have a drive that will help inspire a team.
When writing this email, make sure you save some space to write a sentence or two about the project/studio your applying for, but we’ll touch on that later.
My template email I have used to successfully land gigs has been this -
My name is Samuel Justice as of writing this I’m 23 years old. I am a technical sound designer and massive gamer, a bulk of my life has been spent around these hobbies.
I am passionate about audio and games which drives me to design, create and implement creative, quality and innovative content. My work stretches across a large variety of game genres and platforms. I am both technically and creatively driven and show a huge dedication to the art of sound design and the way it’s used in games.
[insert sentence or two about studio/project]
My portfolio can be found at www.samueljustice.net and features showreels, project information, an active developer blog and contact information.
indiedb.com the place to be (for the moment)
Now where do you find the projects to send these emails to? Thanks to the indie scenes explosion there are a number of sites you should constantly check and look
- www.indiedb.com – created by the guys who created moddb.com comes indiedb, the home for indie games. Indie developers will regularly post updates about projects they are working on and will sometimes advertise positions.
- http://forum.unity3d.com/ – This is the forum for the Unity Engine – the unity engine has been a driving force behind a lot of modern day iOS apps and indie games. The forum is where a lot of developers hang out and post their projects and look for personnel.
- gamesinudstry.biz – a news site that sometimes posts news pieces on independant games and developers, one to watch, but also has much higher traffic so you’ll be competing against a lot of people.
These are just are small selection, do a bit of googling for game databases and various other places where people post up projects in development. You don’t want to be posting on places where developers post completed projects.
Most people seem to only apply for open positions which obviously is a good choice in one regard, since there’s a position available! But most my recent gigs I’ve landed is due to me browsing these sites, seeing a project I might be interested in and then emailing the developers. I do not know if they are actively looking for a sound designer but I’ll email anyway. The keyword to all this is to be extremely proactive. Get out there and make the opportunities for yourself, don’t sit back and wait for vacancies and apply. Email every developer under the sun if needs be!
When you’re emailing the developers, write a sentence or two about the project your applying for. Like mentioned above in the email “[insert sentence or two about studio/project]”. This will show the developer that you’re interested in the game and are passionate about the creation they are making. You’re much more likely to get a response if you open up and explain why you like the project and why you think you’d be suited for it, instead of just rambling on about yourself and skills. You need to show the developer how you will help help the team and the project grow.
So there it is.. that’s my advice, some of you might think it’s completely mad and others might’ve had success with similar/same techniques.. everyone’s different. I’m just sharing my experiences, I hope this helps!