Whether a big-budget AAA video game or Indie darling, video game voiceover and sound design drive many player interactions. They can encourage or dissuade them, get them riled up, and push them into the plot. Players emerge hours later bleary-eyed, not totally sure how they got there, and gloriously triumphant. It continues to grow and evolve, with voice acting becoming a steadily increasing presence among players of all ages and interests. The world is the video game industry’s oyster.
The idea of pulling an all-nighter binging a tv show might seem like an invention from the Netflix era, but gamers are the original bingers. Today a gamer plays an estimated eight hours a week, with 18 to 25-year-olds binge playing for an average of 6 hours and 34 minutes. If the game is good enough and life doesn’t bang on the door, a true gamer can play for a lot longer than that. That’s a lot of high-value content to keep the player engaged.
A narrator with an actor’s ability and a storyteller’s charisma is fundamental to the video game experience. We welcome the player into the world and start the game off with all the intrigue and immediacy that a gamer could want. Chatting to them as if in a conversation, guiding them, and entertaining them through the voices of old favorites and new characters to love or loathe.
What’s new in video game voiceover? Everything.
Innovation, Experimentation, and Storytelling
The video game audience is continually expanding. Big brands are looking to be more inclusive. Finally, brands inviting new demographics into their worlds create games that appeal to them. With new demographics come new ideas. In 2016 just 2% of video games had a female protagonist. 2020 saw us making the jump to 18%. 41% of players in the United States are female. 67% of lady gamers claim the most important factor is the story. Storytelling is where good voiceover shines.
Realistic Video Games and Voiceover
Realism is a big word. Often people mistake it for good graphics and leave it there, but no singular thing makes a video game realistic. Instead, it’s a combination of elements coming together seamlessly. Video games with otherworldly settings that defy possibility have been described as realistic. In comparison, high concept graphic realism can fall into the uncanny valley, inexplicably off-putting for the player. Simple artistic designs and renderings can sometimes feel more realistic, even with weaker graphics. Excellent voiceover performances can generate emotional, immersive realism. A storyline with highs, lows, and subtle in-betweens delivered engagingly can achieve more than good graphics alone could ever do.
The four main aspects that a video game needs to achieve realism:
- Voice acting
- Graphics and design
- Player mechanics
A More Immersive Experience
It’s a delicate balancing act, juggling art and science to entertain, connect, and immerse the player. Gaming companies are establishing better character development and story arcs. And they are incorporating better video game voiceover to tie it all together. Voiceover for action video games is an exercise in excitement, a thrill that exhilarates the player. Artists grunt and groan as the player performs daring feats of physicality. Simulation games need a more true-to-life approach, funny, heartstopping, or as mundane as a trip to the grocery store. Train, plane, and other hyper-realistic simulated scenarios require a def touch that gets to the routes of real-world scenarios. Blaring warning lights and voiceover alerts give the player the freedom to explore situations in real-time.
Voiceover artists deliver authentic stories, sell character arcs and make graphics more realistic and true to life. We add nuance and backstory through intonation and get the player’s heart pumping by dropping in critical information and player mechanics as seamlessly as possible.
Voiceover and World Wide Reach
The gaming industry boomed during the pandemic. People were at home, and they were bored, so they turned to gaming. Kid’s played in-between lessons, and adults rekindled a passion for video games, making an already massive market even more significant. It is a market just waiting to be entertained. Clever gaming studios are taking advantage of these ready and willing audiences. Once all the major costs of programmers, game artists, and management have been outlaid, it’s a small step to dub the voiceover and relaunch to a whole new and profitable market. Titles are being translated into different languages and released to international audiences. For voiceover artists, that means more localization and dubbing work, this is also true for TV shows and movies, but that’s another topic.
Video Game Voiceover Has a Lasting Impact
Games can cost upwards of $50, and the more expensive the game, the higher the expectations. Gamers expect value for their money, and they want their dollars to translate into immersive characters, gameplay, graphics, and excellent voice acting. A once forgiving audience might have gotten over poor VO. Nowadays, voiceover in video games is more valued. Top ten lists of the worst voiceover in video games abound. Often it’s for a laugh, sometimes it can be a bit cruel, but the fact remains that lackluster voiceover can give a game terrible press and a bad name.
Diversity in Video Games
Hollywood and big brands have been criticized for whitewashing voiceover characters over the years, such as hiring non-white actors to play people of color. The argument has always been that since nobody can see the actor, why does their skin color matter? The problem is conscious and unconscious bias makes it more likely that white actors get hired for POC roles. At the same time, non-white voice actors struggle to find jobs, even for characters who look like them. Why are so few POC voiceover artists hired to play white roles if skin color doesn’t matter?
Hiding an all-white cast behind seemingly diverse animations is frowned upon and is changing for the better, though not fast enough. This increasing trend towards inclusivity and diversity will bring in a broader range of talent and ideas, including LGBTQIA+ communities. There is ample room for different stories to be told.
Diverse voiceover artists offer a range of benefits, including:
- Voiceover artists of color bring authenticity to characters of color.
- POC voiceovers are likely to be more attuned to any problematic scenes. They recognize dog-whistling and other insidious issues.
- Diverse casting is more inclusive and provides younger viewers with more role models to aspire to.
- More inclusive games invite larger audiences to participate and buy, which improves the quality of the experience, if not the production values.
- More ideas and cultures will reduce stereotyping and lead to more authentic and immersive gameplay.
Video Game Voiceover is Gaining More Respect
The voiceover industry as a whole is exploding, and video game voiceover, in particular, is establishing an almost cult-like following. Gamers recognize the amount of time, effort, and strain in vocalizing a character. Gamers get (sometimes angrily) attached to their favorite video game characters. Changing the voiceover artist or dubbing with someone who ‘doesn’t get it’ can put off a once-loyal fan base. A voiceover artist’s job is to tell a story, invoke emotions and invite the player in. It’s not surprising that gamers get attached to the voice they are used to and the characterization that they have grown to love and respect.
Getting past all the percentages and stats, gaming (and voiceover) has a lot of room to grow and expand. Voiceover artists will have more opportunities to showcase their skills and connect on more emotional levels with the player. The video game industry is only just beginning to stretch its legs, and soon, it’s going to be on the move. It will knock our socks off with more immersive gameplay, better graphics, and of course, better and better voiceover.