How to Charge Customers for Your Game Audio Work
If you freelance in the world of game audio, you likely have been or still are confused about how exactly to charge for your work.
There is no set standard for game audio pricing structures.
Should you charge per hour? Per asset/min. of music? Per cups of coffee? In this article, I'm going to discuss the right way to approach selling your services to developers and why one method is the clear winner while the other adds unnecessary friction to your clients' decisions.
Gotta make that money! But how...?
How Should You Charge for Your Work?
I'm about to lose some people already I can feel it, but I don't believe in charging people an hourly fee for sound design or music.
When developers ask you for a quote, they're not looking to see how much it costs to rent your time.
They want to know how much it will cost for you to take their vision and translate it into beautiful game sound and music.
Your customers are not paying for your process, they are paying for the results.
So How Should I Quote for a Project?
I personally prefer to leave out hourly considerations entirely and do a project price based on the expected amount of assets.
Because quoting based on an hourly price makes it about you. Quoting based on an overall project price makes it about them and their game.
How you calculate your price behind the scenes might very well be based on how many hours you expect to work on that project.
The client doesn't need to know that and probably doesn't care.
But Why Should We Discuss an Expected Amount of Assets?
The amount of assets is something that the developer can reasonably define themselves.
Even if they miss the mark, they are the ones making the decision and therefore will feel more comfortable talking in terms of assets rather than hours.
Because how would they know how many hours it takes to make sound and music?
When you quote for a project based on a ballpark estimation of the number of assets and/or minutes of music, you get the best of both worlds:
You give them a hard number they can actually plan their budget with.
They feel in control about deciding the amount of work rather than you telling them how many hours it would be and them having to simply believe your estimate is correct AND...
You protect yourself by having a set amount of work to point to in case the project grows in size and is no longer manageable with the original budget.
But How Do I Protect My Time if No Time Limit is Specified?
In my terms and conditions (which I have developers sign off on before starting a project) I use the number of assets to establish an agreement that defines the uncertain nature of asset/music lists.
Here's the exact quote from my contract template:
"For large-scale, creative projects, it's hard to know exactly how many sound effects or exactly how many minutes of music will be needed.
For this reason, my quotes allow for a little wiggle room. If a few more sounds/minutes of music are needed than originally planned, I have no problem with that. If it's a few less, I hope you will be ok with that, too.
Just to put a number on things so that it is crystal clear, I think a 10% swing in either direction is possible and indeed acceptable. Anything above or below that mark and I believe both parties have a right to discuss the original quote and whether the price needs to be adjusted."
This wording has worked very well for me in the past because it gives the developer confidence that their estimation doesn't need to be perfect while giving me confidence that, in the case that they were way off the mark, I have a clear document to point to when I approach that 10% threshold and need to renegotiate.
Since my quotes always have some safety buffer built into them, going 10% over plan (as almost always happens, I've never had a project that was less than planned) is not a problem.
One Other Option
The only other method I've come across that I believe to be better & fairer than this one is charging based on a percentage of the development budget.
This method is great because it reduces friction entirely by basically saying, "for X% of your development budget, we will completely take care of all sound and music for you no matter how much or how little it is".
"X%" will likely be somewhere between 5-15% depending on the role audio plays in the game and other factors.
Percentages? I'm a musician! I can only count to four...
As you might have guessed, the only issue with this approach is that it assumes the project:
has been fully funded and;
the audio wasn't drastically underestimated during the budget calculations
Many of us working with self-funded or crowd-funded indie projects simply won't have the luxury of seeing hard budget numbers and will likely prefer the first method based on the asset estimates.
As with many other aspects of running a business, your main focus should always be on your customer.
If you put yourself first (e.g. charging hourly because that's most fair to you even though it adds friction to your client's decision), you put your entire business at risk because your customer will react unfavorably to any situation they feel leaves them at a disadvantage.
"It takes months to find a customer... but just seconds to lose one."
Put systems in place that assure you are paid fairly for your work while still leaving your customer in charge and you will surely see better results when negotiating your next game audio gig!
I created The Game Audio Pro with the goal of helping others understand the fundamental business skills that are often the difference between success and failure for freelancers.
If you're ready to take your game audio career to the next level, download my guide to The Most Important Mindset for Game Audio Success.