Freelance Careers and the Twilight Zone of Game Audio
If you think the audio jobs posted on the web are the only ones out there, think again. There is literally an ocean of games in development that need audio help. From embedded handheld games to theme park rides, there are tons of interactive products that rely heavily on sound. These gigs reside in the twilight zone of game audio. (cue eerily appropriate music) How does one go about finding such jobs though? By doing a little detective work and being awesome, that's how! Not everyone is willing to relocate to a new part of the country and attend school before jumping into AAA development.
There is a hidden realm of interactive development only glimpsed when strolling down a toy aisle at walmart or in an arcade. As a freelancer, you learn to stay hungry and be grateful for each and every morsel of work. It becomes second nature as you roam the forest for that next delicious project. I've done casino games and arcade machines but my most memorable project was Lobster Zone, a coin-op machine that lets you try and catch real lobsters with a giant claw! If successful, the lobster gets dropped into the shute just like a pepsi. Then, it is taken to the chef and cooked to perfection. (yum) If you spend time poking around the leisure entertainment industry you'll find some crazy stuff.
Leisure Entertainment expos are ripe for such quests. After all, they are the side door from which I entered this career and wrote about in my ebook. These expos are housed in huge convention centers filled with hundreds of coin-op machines set for free-play. This means everything from real pinball machines to those basketball shooting games to Big Buck Hunter 3D and Guitar God III. This is the periphery of game development and a bit off the beaten path.
These expos are great, because you can talk directly to the descision makers. Of course, you'll need to have some pro business cards and be prepared to meet a ton of folks. Chances are, you'll be the only game audio person they have ever met. It's important to note however, that this part of the industry has it's share of con artists who simpy rip off other companies ideas. Seek out quality contacts and be sincere in your intentions. They need your skills and talent badly.
What's astonishing, is that brand new arcade machines are being produced with crippling audio standards. The audio is smashed down to unimaginable sample rates and burned onto a ROM chip, where it will forever annoy patrons who so much as walk by! Luckily, these are slowly being phased out by newer boards with mp3 support. You'll see all these things and more in the leisure and gaming expos.
Of course, the companies making these machines compete with each other by using sheer loudness. Your music not only got squashed, but it's now being muffled by the other loud machines! The challenge is fun though, and these companies are much more open to wild ideas for audio content/hardware. I recently talked a client into adding a subwoofer to a giant arcade machine. They actually sent a unit to my house so I could find a suitable subwoofer for production. Nothing gets their attention like some deep bass! I got to keep it too, so now it rocks the garage and has become the life of the party.
My hope is that more game audio people saturate this sector. That's what it will take to get the overall quaility bar lifted. The freelance career can be an adventure and a rush. Game audio jobs are on the rise but you'll need to lift each and every stone to find them all. Get a mileage credit card, fly to far flung countries and write it all off as a real business expense. Here are a few of the leisure expos for 2013. Chances are, you'll be the only game audio person in the entire city (or country).