A while ago a` twitter thread had me thinking again about devs not listening to a game while in development. Now I know the main people that will read this will be audio people. I know I’m preaching to the choir in a large respect. Now I have a few theories/ideas about how our dev culture helps reinforce muting the game. Now these are just my thoughts. I don’t have any actual data to back them up. Just observations from my work. I will say there is no promised land. We’re still all wandering the desert on this. But maybe some of my observations and tips will help communicate this stuff better with your devs.
The first is I feel open office lay outs are a bad starting point to getting people to listen to games. No one can fire up any speakers with out bothering anyone else. Which means you have to wear headphones. And lots of people do not like to wear headphones for 8 hours a day. Communicating with your team members is harder with headphones on. Or you’re using them, with your own music, to drown out the rest of the office and focus. It also means its hard to share and comment with another person about the audio. I don’t know about you but I rarely see headphone splitters at lots of peoples desks. This is what I consider the first step in unintentionally creating a culture of muting the game you’re working on.
I also think that the culture of “first thing I do is mute the game” leads to two things. Devs become abnormally used to the game with no sound. With everything always being muted that becomes the unconscious default. And secondarily, I think it subtly and mostly unintentionally shows a devaluing of audio.
This is aimed at game devs. Not you people really. So, game devs who mute cause it “drives them nuts.” and playing the same level over and over doesn’t? Walking down the same hallway 1K times doesn’t? Everything about playing a game during dev will drive you nuts. That’s part of the job. We’re not playing finished games. And that “mute first thing” mentality, while I can understand the need to take breaks shows how much you de-value audio. It’s not part of the experience for you. Also, if it can drive you that nuts it shows just how valuable and important it is. Something with the power to drive you nuts will really hurt or improve your game. By being part of the “mute first” culture you’re showing both how important audio really is (cause it has the power to drive you nuts) and that how much you don’t value audio as part of the whole experience.
No those aren’t the only reasons dev’s shut down audio right away. I’m sure people have more reasons than just what I’ve said. But what do we do about it?
Possibly a shock to the audio people, but I’m not saying all dev’s should be listening to the game all the time. There are times to be taking breaks. There are times when you really need to focus on one thing jumping in and out of the game and audio can be a distraction. There are times to turn off the audio. But the majority of the time we should all be listening. We should all be contributing to each others game areas. How many times has a designer or programmer spotted an art bug? Especially with audio usually being the smallest staffed area on a team, the more ears on during play the better off you’ll be.
Getting people to listen more is problem you need both the carrot and the stick for I feel. You’ve got to lay down the law but also be encouraging about it. One step is being more visible. If you’ve got an open office go actually sit with your team as much as you can. Maybe it means you’re out there working on headphones part of the time. Work on your leads to understand how much you need more than just the audio team ears on the game. Getting them on board can trickle down to the rest of the team. Work on getting those key people on board. And in some cases you may need to get into some “No, you have to listen to the game.” with some people. But overall it’s not accusing people of not listening/caring, it’s about showing you want their input. And for that input to happen and matter they need to be listening to the game more often than not.
This of course is not the definitive write up on this. There are more reasons why dev’s don’t listen or mute first. There are more ways to get devs to listen more consistently to the games. Let me know you’r thoughts.