Finding and collaborating with voice actors: A guide for indie game developers

As an indie game developer you’re likely wearing many hats (except for being a voice actor, obviously). From concepting your dream game to creating a game design document, coding the mechanics, creating the art and yes, even marketing the whole thing – there’s a lot to manage. One often overlooked, yet crucial, aspect of the development pipeline (especially by indies with small budgets) is finding and collaborating with voice actors.

Engaging voice performances can elevate your game’s narrative, and create a memorable experience for players. If you’re wondering how to even find voice talent and then how to go about interacting with them, look no further – we’re about to unpack some helpful tips!

How to find voice actors for your indie game

Let’s not beat around the bush…the best place to find voice actors is on Twitter. Well, it’s called “X” now, but still. The community of voice talent is a warm and extremely friendly bunch, and you’ll have a lot of fun interacting with them. They frequent the tags you’re likely already using to promote your indie game – #screenshotsaturday and #wishlistwednesday. Posting about your game and your requirements for voice during at these times can get you in quickly with them in no time.

Evaluating the talent and building rapport

Anyone responding to your posts will often have their demos or portfolios linked in their profiles. Oftentimes, they’re links to Soundcloud or a built-in audio player on their site. Seriously, take time to dig through these and listen to them on repeat. You’re looking for quality audio with little to no background static, a range of character (unless you just want one specific voice), and the ability to deliver the emotion your game narrative requires. Remember that a good voice actor does more than just read lines. They can imbue your characters with a sense of realism and personality.

Remember that voice actors are part of your creative team, even if you just contract them. They can provide feedback and help refine your game’s narrative delivery. Be open to communication, and respect their creative process. They are your characters, after all! With a little direction, they will likely exceed your expectations, so trust them with the process.

Collaborating with an expert in another field

Don’t be shy about asking for changes or slight variations in their delivery though. The key here is communication. You may not have all the jargon or the exact words to explain what you want, but that shouldn’t deter you. This process is much like describing a piece of art. You can explain it using any language that makes sense to you, whether it’s technical, simple, or even flowery.

Use the language you’re comfortable with and try your best to convey the ‘feel’ you’re going for. Your voice actor is a professional at interpreting what you are ‘trying’ to say, even if your words aren’t conveyed using their industry-specific terms (and they likely won’t be until you get a bit of experience!). They’re used to turning your bumbling, ridiculously odd descriptions into comprehensive feedback for changes.

For instance, if you’re seeking a particular voice style, you might describe it as “soft and comforting,” “harsh and grating,” “warm and inviting,” or “cold and aloof.” While these descriptions might not be entirely accurate, they provide a clear emotional and tonal direction that your voice actor can understand and aim for during their next reading. Remember, with the exception of a newbie voice actor, you’re working with someone who is at least comfortable or proficient with their tools and craft, so give them direction and then let them work their magic!

Compensating fairly and being willing to barter

Compensation isn’t just about handing over a paycheck. Especially in the indie game world, where budgets can be tight, it’s really important to think creatively about how to fairly compensate your talent.

Money is, of course, the most straightforward form of payment, and you should always offer it as a first resort. However, for some voice actors, particularly those just starting out or looking to expand their portfolio, bartering can also be a viable option. They are running their own business, much like you, after all. They need to polish their online presence, market themselves, and might have tech needs that they aren’t able to meet on their own.

As a solo indie dev, you’re likely multi-faceted and have some time to spare between your project, so this is where you can step in. To be honest, it may even be worth sacrificing some time if you’re getting such great value in return!

Maybe they need a better website, or a new logo. If you have these skills, or have a team member who does, then leverage your abilities to help someone out while getting voice lines taken care of for your project.

You’re a professional, so act like one

Remember, though, that the key here is fairness. The value of the services exchanged should be roughly equivalent for both of you. All of the terms should be clearly laid out and agreed upon by both parties as well to avoid any potential misunderstandings. Find a common ground, and write it down.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while barter agreements can work well on a project-to-project basis, they are not a great long-term solution for professional voice actors who need to cover their living and business expenses. VAs have to eat too, you know!

As your business grows and generates revenue, a move towards standard compensation will show you to be a professional in your own rite and respectful those you work with. You’ll also get more actors who want to work with you again on future projects, which is a big plus.

Negotiating Rates and agreements

Some VAs may be willing to negotiate rates, particularly if they’re interested in your project or if they’re looking to expand their portfolio. Remember, however, that negotiation is a two-way process. It’s about finding a mutually agreeable solution. Open, respectful communication is key here.

Be sure to draft an agreement that outlines the job scope, payment amount, and any obligations related to the work. This not only safeguards you and your game but also shows the VA that you value their work. If you don’t have a contract in place, remember, it protects both you and the talent, and there’s no shame in setting it up. If they see you’re serious, they’ll feel more comfortable working with you. Don’t just perform a virtual handshake!

Voice actors bring indie games to life

Remember, collaboration with a voice actor can breathe life into your indie game. It’s about finding the right talent, treating them fairly, and establishing a good working relationship. I firmly believe that VA talent is a beautiful thing and that anyone who wants to take dev seriously should consider hiring someone to bring their characters to life. If you’re reading this, it’s time you take the plunge – who knows? You might just find the perfect voice for your protagonist!

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