What are video game companies looking for when they need to hire sound designers or composers? Clearly skills like having a great ear, being fluent in modern recording techniques and knowing your way around a DAW are essential. But what specific skills or software are they looking for, above and beyond traditional sound design or composition expertise? What skills will put your resume on the ‘short list’ of people when deciding who to interview and hire?
To answer that question, we analyzed game audio job postings over a 4 month period from April through July 2020, looking at close to 100 job descriptions. We made note of what they listed as required or preferred skills and tabulated the results.
The jobs listed were salaried, employee-positions at companies; they do not reflect freelance work, such as a freelance composer or contract sound designer. Freelance work makes up about half of all game audio work. Also, for the purposes of this analysis, we did not track game audio jobs that were mainly computer programming jobs: i.e. “Audio Programmer” or other positions that did not include creating audio content.
Just about every job posting listed standard sound design skills such as familiarity with a DAW, audio creation tools, recording techniques and the like. So, we left out skills like recording, mixing, etc. However, we did count references to “ProTools” and “Reaper,” which were by far the most frequently called out DAWs.
Most Common Job Titles
There is no standard lexicon for game audio jobs. The most common job listing was for Sound Designer/Game Audio Designer, including everything from “Junior Sound Designer” to “Expert Sound Designer.” The table below shows the breakdown of job title as a percentage of all the job postings analyzed.
Below are the most frequently used terms in the job listings we looked at. Each listing was scanned for terms identical or similar to those below. The scan included the entirety of the job posting: the ‘required’ and ‘preferred’ sections of the job skills area as well as introduction and job function description. As noted above, we are leaving out standard sound design skills, such as “DAW” “professional audio tools” and the like, focusing on those most specific to game audio design.
Not unexpectedly, the most frequently listed requirement was experience. Companies are looking for someone who can hit the ground running and is familiar with what it is like to work on a game project. Of note, however, is that although almost 7 in 10 job descriptions said that “experience” was a qualification, only about half of those specifically mentioned “AAA” experience, 36% in total. (AAA is the term the game industry uses for large-budget, multi-year games such as Red Dead Redemption, GTA and the like.)
Several job listings also implied that education might be a substitute for experience, though not for “AAA” experience (see education, below)
More than 6 in 10 game audio job descriptions specifically called out Wwise as a required or preferred skill for their applicants. Wwise is specialized game audio industry software that takes sound and music files that you make in your DAW and puts it into an interactive format that can be integrated into the game itself. Wwise is completely free for the sound designer/composer and can be downloaded from www.audiokinetic.com.
The process of putting sound into a video game is more complex than dragging a sound onto the right point in a video timeline. Scripting—a sort of simple, ‘programming-lite’ is used to connect a game sound to a game action or event. Scripting was a skill listed in almost half the job postings that we looked at. Although no company expects their sound designers to be computer science majors, having a working proficiency in a scripting language such as Blueprints, C#, Python or Lua can be a big plus when applying for game sound design jobs.
In addition to scripting being used to hook sounds up to the game itself, it is common for a game sound designer to be expected to write simple scripts or bat files to facilitate their workflow. An example might be creating a Reaper script to batch export sound effects or reading dialogue file names from a spreadsheet to match the naming convention required by the game programmer.
As we noted above, the act of putting sounds into a video game can be complicated and can vary based on what game engine the company is using to make their game. For larger, professionally produced games, the Unreal Engine is among the most popular. Someone familiar with Unreal understands how sound can be added to a game using Unreal’s Blueprints or game animations and generally knows how to get around in the Unreal Editor, and may even be fluent in a language like C++.
Formal Education 37%:
One surprising finding was the number of jobs that specifically mentioned that formal education, typically a Degree involving audio or music. 37% of the job listings stated that they preferred or required an applicant with a formal degree, preferably a degree in audio or music. Several of the job openings listed education as a possible alternative to experience, listed above.
For specific audio software, Pro Tools was the most frequently mentioned DAW, with almost 40% saying it was a preferred or required skill. Note, however, that many of job postings listed more than one DAW, with phrases like “.. such as Pro Tools or Reaper…”
Reaper is an increasingly popular DAW for game audio. One of its strengths for game audio production is its extensibility. Through its internal scripting language, it is relatively straightforward to create complex editing or export commands necessary for game audio. The game audio tools Wwise and FMOD also have taken advantage of Reaper’s scripting language to provide a smoother workflow.
Like Wwise, FMOD—specifically FMOD Studio—is a specialized software tool that lets sound designers/composers create interactive sound effects or music in a format that can be more easily incorporated into the game. FMOD Studio can be freely downloaded at www.fmod.com.
Music Composition 23%
Almost a quarter of the game audio job listings we looked at said that having music composition skills was required or preferred. Note, however, that only 6% of job titles had the word “composer” in them, indicating that music composition was the primary job function. About half of the remining jobs that listed “composition” as a desired skilled said the job involved both sound design and music composition. In smaller studios, an employee may be asked to be able to do both music composition and sound design for a game, either by themselves or as part of a larger audio team.
Of those jobs that had “Composer” in the job title itself, 60% included “Wwise” in their list of required or preferred skills, with one in 5 also saying “Unreal” or “Scripting” was desired.
Similar to Unreal, Unity is a stand-alone game engine and editing environment somewhat more popular with smaller studios or indie games. A sound designer with Unity skills will know how to incorporate Wwise or FMOD into a game written with Unity as well as some simple C# (C-Sharp) programming and tagging of animations. Someone with Unity experience also is generally familiar with the Unity game editing environment, and how sound relates to other game components.
Other Skills Listed
Among the other skills listed as required or preferred, but not reaching more than 10% were: C++ (7%), Play an Instrument (6%), Agile (3%),Source Control (Perforce, SVN) (2%), Lumberyard (Amazon’s game engine) (2%) and 3D Art Tools such as Max/Maya (1%),
One final note: The skills listed above are generally technical and specific to game audio, and they are an important part of a game audio designer or composer’s toolbox. But it’s important to keep in mind that the job listings examined were all for content creation roles, where being able to create high quality sound and/or music is the primary skill required, and therefore assumed for all the job postings. In the end, it’s what comes out of the speakers that counts. Great C# skills won’t make up for a poor demo reel.
It is also important to keep in mind that the analysis may be somewhat biased towards larger companies’ listings; larger companies are likely to have larger audio staffs, resulting in more job postings. For this reason, some items such as Unity or FMOD Studio that are more common in smaller studios may be under-represented in this analysis
Getting a job in game sound design or game music composition can be extremely competitive. As reflected in the job postings, game companies are looking for qualified sound designers and composers with the specific technical skill sets listed above. If you want your resume to make it onto the ‘short list,’ when applying for a game audio design job, make sure your skills match what game companies are looking for today.
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Brian Schmidt is a 33 year veteran of the game sound and music business and is the Founder and Executive Director of GameSoundCon