Why are game developers afraid of third-party audio engines?

Years ago it used to be one of the game developers in the team who was managing the sound of the game. Programmers would usually found sound and implemented them into the game engine. However, just like other parts of a game, the sound has become more and more diverse and advanced in video games. Sound designers would create sounds and handed them over to the development team, but beyond that, there was no interaction with the sound from the designer or the team. Implementation is half of the reason a game sounds good, so the best person to operate this is, of course, the sound designer or audio director.

Nowadays, popular game engines like Unreal Engine or Unity have complex and flexible audio engines implemented in them, but there are companies like Audiokinetic and Firelight Technologies that invest on separate third-party middle-engines known as Wwise and Fmod which are very powerful and easy to use tools to achieve more dense and flexible sounds.

However, as a sound designer, I’ve had this problem of convincing the client (Development team) to agree on using these audio engines, especially on smaller projects like mobile games. But what are their main questions, fears, and reasons that wouldn’t allow the audio team to use these helpful tools to achieve better and more optimized sounds?

I think the sound designer has the most say in using third-party sound engines because it’s he/she that is responsible for working with these tools. Wwise and Fmod offer more focus on the content of the sound rather than the technical aspect of it. Firelight Technologies explain this factor very well. “ It frees you to focus on the most interesting part: the content,” Raymond Biggs, Studio Product Manager of Firelight says. “Even if you have specific requirements, using a mature audio API lets you focus on the what’s going to set your game apart, without needing to reinvent the wheel. The other great thing about using these engines is they allow you to iterate quickly. You can start with a rough sketch of the audio in your game, using placeholder assets, and continually refine. By offloading the implementation to an audio engine, the content is free to evolve without touching any code.” The ability to change the sounds and trying new approaches without even changing anything in the game engine is something vital for the development team. It wouldn’t compromise any code or any parameter, and the people in charge of the audio are entirely responsible for how a game sounds.

Using a third-party audio engine gives the developers and sound designers even more chances to work together. Sound designer with the knowledge of Wwise or Fmod can work on any project with any engine supported by these softwares. The workflow, the technical differences between teams are not the concern anymore, because these mid-engines provide the sound, not the engine. Imagine if you want to write your audio engine for the game, It takes a lot of resources, testing and many hours of educating the new sound designer to learn the process, and evidently from a technical perspective, it wouldn’t be as stable and functional as these softwares with full teams of developers working on it for years. From the financial perspective, using, for example, Fmod is very beneficial since it’s free for indie game developers with a certain amount of budget. I’ve worked on many mobile games with Fmod, and without paying a penny, we were able to implement the most complex and high-quality sounds into the game, without taking so much time to develop them or bothering technical staff of the team. All I needed was already made ready in this sound engine, we didn’t need any complex coding or finding solutions for a particular event or a sound.

In the beginning, it’s a very ambiguous and daunting move to use third-party sound engines, but when you understand the process, you’ll realize how much more comfortable and more fun is the process of implementing sounds to the game. You can use tricks in these engines to make the game run faster with the lesser amount of size, and all of these are achievable without writing any code. Of course to run the basics and connecting the main engine and sound engine you’ll need some coding, but it’s a straightforward task, especially with lots of videos and supports companies provide. 

So, as a sound designer, I ask the people involved in the development team to reconsider using these audio engines for at least once. It’s going to surprise you how the quality of your sounds change and how it’d serve the process of making games more comfortable.