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9 Oct 2013

Hiring Voice Actors For Your Indie Game

If you thought Grand Theft Auto V’s voice actors sounded authentic, there is a reason for that: Rockstar Games hired real criminals, real gang members whenever possible. They wanted the speech of the characters to be as true-to-life as possible. Many may see it as an unnecessary risk, it’s simply one small realistic detail of many that has made GTA V a realistic world full of crime and danger.

Yet this begs the question: how can indie developers find the ideal voice actors for their game? Of course, hiring criminals for your indie game if you are developing a game about criminal activity is a risk you probably shouldn’t take, but even so, there are techniques to finding the ideal voice actor for your indie game. Take a few of these pieces of advice to heart, and use them whenever you need to find voice actors for your indie game.


The Amount of Dialogue in Your Game

How much spoken dialogue is actually in your game? For example, if it is a platformer that contains only has a few seconds of spoken dialogue between levels (equaling up to only a few minutes of dialogue in the entire game), then feel free to find a voice actor that has a more laidback, casual tone to them. You may even be able to use an amateur voice actor to record the lines of your game at an inexpensive rate. And if your game only features a few lines of dialogue throughout the entire game? A friend or family member is a fair candidate – especially if the dialogue spoken is generic in nature.

However, if you are developing an indie game that contains hours of dialogue and features a few lead characters (each of which will be speaking extensively), then you need to hire professional voice actors for your game. If players are going to be listening to your characters regularly throughout the game, you need quality voice actors that can continue to speak in-character at all times without faltering. Bad voice acting can make or break an otherwise awesome game; take the Shenmue series for example. As much as I love the series, the voice acting in the English versions are absolutely atrocious. Granted, it gives the game a bit of charm, but if you are looking at the voice acting objectively? It’s some of the worst voice acting you will ever find in any game, ever. Take a look below to see what I mean.

Moral of the story? If your game is going to feature an extensive amount of dialogue, hire talented voice actors to provide you with the results your game needs.

Know Your Characters

As with any type of acting, you need to find a voice actor that can provide your character with a voice that fits. You do not want to hire just any voice actor – after all, how much of an impact would your knight in shining armor have if they were voiced by a voice actor that specializes in playing an elderly man? So how can you be certain that you are hiring a voice actor that is ideal for one of your characters?

It’s simple: know your characters. Before the process of hiring a voice actor begins, you need to have an idea as to how your characters will sound. What kind of dialect will they have? What will the tone of their voice need to be? What is their age, their background, and so on? Do they need to have a fierce, grizzled sound to their voice or is the character supposed to sound like a teenage girl? Ensure you have an idea as to what your character needs to sound like so you can provide the information to your voice actors. From there (and if they are good), they will fill in any blanks regarding how your character sounds.


Where to Find Voice Actors

By now, you know whether your game simply needs a few generic lines of spoken dialogue or if it will require the aid of one (or several) professional voice actors. You also have an idea as to what type of voice your character(s) will have, so now comes the tough part: finding the voice actors that can truly deliver awesome spoken dialogue for your characters.

If you have access to a studio or you have your own equipment and a room solely for recording audio, then finding voice actors in your area is the best approach. You can do this by posting an ad on Craigslist, posting an ad on an outsourcing site such as Elance, Odesk,, etc., or by simply visiting a local university’s theatre/sound engineering department and placing a few flyers regarding what you are looking for (with permission from the heads of the respective departments, of course).

Places such as Voice Acting Club and even are ideal places to look for those in your area.

When considering hiring candidates, always ask for a sample of their work that involves asking them to read a line from your game in a certain voice. This will give you an idea as to whether or not the working relationship is worth pursuing further or if you need to pass this candidate by and find someone else.

Of course, you do not need to hire voice actors that are solely located in your area. Rather, you can also hire voice actors from across the world. If you do not have any recording equipment or access to a studio for the foreseeable future, this is an ideal option as you only have to pay the voice actors instead of renting a booth, buying equipment, and so on. If a voice actor is getting regular work, you can be assured they have access to a proper recording studio and equipment, so this should not be a issue.

As stated above, ask the candidates to record a few lines of spoken dialogue from your game in a particular tone so you can discover whether or not they are suitable for your game.


The Recording Process

Once you have found your candidate (or candidates, as the case may be), consistently provide them with lines to record and deadlines for the lines to be sent back to you. With every line, be as detailed as possible regarding what kind of tone you want to hear from them. And if you can be there with them as they record some of your dialogue? This is all the better! If you hired a local voice actor, be there with them in the recording studio as you listen to them record your lines.

If the individual is recording the lines remotely, listen in on them via Skype from time-to-time to provide them with instant feedback (just be sure to provide them with feedback once they are finished recording the lines).

Finding voice actors isn’t easy – in fact, it can be time consuming, semi-expensive, and will take a considerable amount of time to get the lines that you need perfected. Yet, at the end of the day, if you know that your game will benefit from spoken dialogue, the struggle is worth it.

3 Responses

  1. Metal

    What about payment?
    If I’m going to feature their voice in my game, should they be paid in a commission form? (a one time payment for so many lines of dialogue).
    Should they be paid based on the sales of the game?
    Or is there another method?
    What would you consider a reasonable payment for a game that has of fewer than 600 words, per character, for an amateur voice actor?
    I know that I would never have the funds to pay a professional, and I’m okay with that, because I know of a few people, but at the same time I want to make sure that they are paid fairly for their work.
    Regarding the type of game and dialogue I’m looking at.
    The game will most likely have a visual novel style to it, but the voice overs would be based more around what the character’s emotions are, than the actual dialogue that is spoken.
    For an example, dialogue: “I understand.”>voice over: “Uh-huh.”; dialogue: “I can’t believe you said that to me!!”>voice over: “Wha!!”.
    It may also include some RPG elements, like a battle system, so there will probably be moments where the characters talk while preforming actions.
    Some examples: “Take this!!” (while attacking an opponent), “This should help!” (healing a party member), “That was too easy!” (victory statement), etc.

    1. Dusty

      Very good question. First of all, I would never pay in commission form; you have no idea if your game is going to take off and the actor will be expecting some sort of generous payment. Honestly, you’d be better off going to a forum and asking people to volunteer rather than going the commission route. A Deus Ex mod called The Nameless Mod did this a long time ago, and they received a ton of dialogue for free because so many people wanted to be part of the project. That’s definitely a possibility.

      If you would prefer to pay someone (and it’s probably the best route to go if you want results fast), I would first gather their dialogue and look at how many lines they will be speaking. Post an ad somewhere(perhaps on an outsourcing site, forum, etc. – any of those is fair game), ask for samples, and find the actors that fit your characters. From there, just let them know the nature of the dialogue and what you feel comfortable with paying them, then mention you are open to negotiation. I couldn’t tell you what the current going rate for amateur voice actors are at the moment, but if you Google ‘voice actor forums’ or even search for voice acting subreddits on Reddit, these places will have people that will tell you the proper rate for amateur voice actors for your game.

      Be sure to also include a contract that states the voicework they record belongs solely to you and an NDA that states they cannot leak any sensitive information about your game.

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