Why Do So Many Video Games Have Such Bad Voice Acting?

A friend sent me this YouTube video — "The 50 Worst Moments in Video Game Voice Acting":

Is this supposed to be funny? Watching the clips, I felt gripped with terror that at any moment I'd be hearing one of my own performances.

Mercifully, I didn't make the cut. But it got me thinking about a question I'm often asked. It's not the nicest thing to say to a voice actor, particularly one who does video game VO frequently. But it's a legitimate question, and it deserves an answer: Why do so many games feature less-than-stellar voice acting?

First off, I'm not sure that so many games have inferior VO. Lots of games are praised for their excellent voices — sometimes even when the game overall isn't.

But the industry is vast, and hundreds of titles are produced every year. A significant number have acting that most fans would agree is sub-par.

I can tell you why in a word: Budget.

When game developers don't have much to pay for sound design, VO performances usually suffer.

Big companies tend to have the beefiest budgets, and therefore the best audio. Music, sound effects — it's easy for these to be superior when there's no trouble paying for them.

Smaller outfits lack monetary oomph. Limited funds means fewer options. When you have little money to pay people, it's a challenge to attract top talent.

This is true not only for actors, but also for directors. A stellar voice cast needs guidance. It's hard to be believable if you don't understand the context of a scene, or if the meaning of what you're saying isn't clear to you.

Sometimes merely having a director is a luxury. I've done sessions where the only other person in the studio was the engineer. If I had questions about the script or my character, I was entirely on my own.

Video game sessions tend to be about recording lines; actors are recorded individually, with each bit of dialogue performed as a separate take. For leading characters with hundreds of lines, this means many hours in the studio.

I once worked on a game where we began by doing three takes of each line. Later the producer said this was taking too long, and reduced it to two takes per line. Eventually we were in such a rush to finish, I did just one take of each line.

When cash is tight, you're ruled by the clock.

As the video game industry has grown, the caliber of the voice work has steadily improved. When I started doing VO in the mid-90's, hearing dialogue coming from a game was a novelty. One company I did voice work for had only recently started to use real actors — before then, the programmers and game designers themselves voiced the characters.

Today's gamers demand more — and should!

Kevin Delaney is an actor and voiceover artist in Los Angeles. His video game credits include World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, The Matrix: Path of Neo, and Disney's Kingdom Hearts II. Check out his blog at http://VoiceoverNinja.com

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