I turned to my coworker this morning and told her I was writing an article on mobile game soundtracks. Her response was “Oh, I always turn my sound off when I play my mobile games.”
As I’ve been researching stats and information about mobile game soundtracks, I’m stumbling upon this sentiment quite frequently. Some folks prefer to listen to their own music while they tap through their handheld platformers, puzzles, and card games. Some silence their phones so not to disturb public areas. And some players just find that most mobile game music is not terribly exciting. Back in 2013 a survey was conducted by a company that made it easier for devs to add sounds to their apps. Not surprisingly they found that 73% of mobile game users play their games with the sound on. Obviously I find this study suspect. However, this was the only data I could locate on the topic.
So, I ran my own little informal study. 100% of my respondents (roughly 50 people) said that they typically turn off music while playing (for the above stated reasons). However, they all had great recommendations of mobile games that they DO play with the the sound on. I’ll list those at the bottom of this article.
Most of the responders said oh so casually that they definitely do listen to the sound/music while playing console games. Answers ranged from: “It’s immersive”, “It’s an important part of the story” and “It’s more like watching a movie.”
However, this might be shifting in the future. Apps are being released which will allow players to listen to iTunes, Spotify, or the like through their headphones, instead of their gameplay. I found quite a few websites where people were requesting this feature. So the default of console gamers being immersed in their gaming soundtracks may be lessening in the future.
Why is this something I’ve been researching? Mobile gaming soundtracks are not something I’ve ever paid attention to. I usually mobile game while watching TV, so I never stopped to consider that someone put time and thought into the sounds in their game. I’m typically reaching for the “mute” button so quickly that all I catch is an opening refrain.
I was actually inspired to look into this by our Cascade team. We were in a meeting when the team lead starting talking about the additional songs that they’d released in their newest update. I was immediately intrigued. The team lead was quick to inform me that the Cascade team is really proud of their game soundtrack and they receive great feedback from players. So it makes sense to invest time and effort into composing new songs for listening pleasure.
I spoke to Sean Hoffman, the composing genius behind the Cascade soundtrack. Among other things, he’s played with a band called the Bedroom Walls and worked extensively in the LA music/art scene. He was willing to sit down with me (via email) and had some great insights on Cascade and mobile gaming music.
As far as mobile gamers listening to music, I’m not really sure. I read all the reviews on the app store and I would say 1 in 20 are about the music, so some people listen. My goal was to make the music more like songs which I think differs from most mobile game music (in my humble opinion, most game music leans more to the sound design side). I believe the people listening to the game are more musically sophisticated than most game companies/composers give them credit for, I’ve seen posts where people mention references to musical quotes in the songs that are indeed correct. So my basic philosophy with game music is this: make it fun, steer clear of harsh noises, don’t be afraid to be creative and with Cascade, it has to be funkE, cuz that’s what Jasper likes.”
Here are some other great soundtracks to check out:
Two Dotsis a puzzle game where you string together as many dots as possible. Whoever designed this game is a genius. For such a simple concept it’s beautiful to look at, and amazing to listen to. The soundtrack is quirky and delicious. Speaking of delicious soundtracks, Monument Valley‘s soundtrack (Stafford Bawler) is available on Spotify. It could replace your ambient work music.
“I think for me the best part about working on the audio for Monument Valley was the opportunity it gave me to get really creative, experiment and try ideas in terms of both sound design and musical composition and production I would normally have not had the remit or time to produce. Such opportunities are rare, especially in a professional role in the games industry so my experiences and memories of working on that title are something I will cherish.” ~Stafford Bawler
So, what have I learned about mobile game soundtracks? There are lots of possibilities for development in the area. Some teams are already focusing on making their soundtracks as good as possible for fans. And, I will be paying more attention to what’s happening in the music department in my favorite mobile games.