Feb 242012

A lot of folks, especially in the Flash gaming market, will say that everyone just ignores and mutes the music in the games they play.

A simple question: How do you know this?

I (very) briefly touched on this subject in my previous SteamBirds: By The Numbers article (and the Survival follow-up), but after some tweeting with IndieLoopGarden, I decided this could use its own post.

Opinions are cool and all

Look, I get that you personally might like muting the music. I understand that perhaps you have ideas about people playing in the workplace, without headphones. Maybe the distracting music is a danger to you missing your bus stop. Maybe you’ve had some friends tell you that they mute games too.

But who are you to speak for “most people?

Whenever I hear these opinions it frustrates me. The people that dislike music in games usually do so for good reason in their personal lives, and I probably can’t sway them otherwise. They are loud, too; they complain vocally about it.  Just because you don’t hear people stomping around complaining that there should be more music in a game doesn’t mean they aren’t doing it.

I remember way-back-when on the FlashGameLicense forums – I was asking around for a musician to help with one of my early games. I got into a debate on the forum – everyone was telling me to buy some shitty $50-100 pre-canned music, since no player listens anyway. I started to wonder: if you only put in shitty music, maybe that’s why people hate it?

Since my budget was forcing me that way anyway, I decided to test things out.

Metrics are Better

I’ve been using Playtomic in pretty much all of my games, and it records just about everything someone can do in-game. One of the metrics I decided to watch was how frequently the mute button was pressed.

One of my key metrics is “percentage of players that have hit mute at least once in their play cycle.” This way, someone that pounds the mute button on and off again doesn’t throw my stats off. Sure, there are some problems with  my data collection:

  • Longer content games have a high chance of a mute button being pressed than shorter form games
  • People that briefly toggle music off and on again (say, for a phone call) get counted against me
  • Speaker volumes can be turned down without touching my stats
  • Laptops can be muted without touching my stats
  • I don’t account for mute button size or placement (some are in option menus, some are big on the menu menu, etc)
  • Some of my games have very small sample sizes, some have very large

But I believe I am (still to this day!) the only person collecting any data on music at all. I would love for someone else to jump on this train and collect more data!

Results speak for themselves

Percentage of players that have hit mute at least once in their play cycle:

  • 85%: My earlier, cheaper, and short-form games using pre-canned music costing no more than $100
  • 60%: I ordered a $200 track from a rapid-production-music house
  • 30%: Some awesome music from Roger Levy
  • 11%: RevShare project with custom tracks
  • 6%: The talented DannyB on a big RevShare

The stats got so low (6%?!?!?) that I thought perhaps my metrics were broken. They weren’t, I double checked everything.

Yes, people will “all mute your music,” if by all you mean 85%, and by music you mean the shittiest music you can get.

There are music fans out there. If you make your game sound really good, you might even run the chance of getting a few evangelists on your side.

Prove me wrong. Run your own stats, hopefully more properly done and more scientific than mine. Let me know what you come up with.

Looking for Music?

Want to step up the quality in your game? The best possible way to find good music is to get out there and meet people. Find a musician that is aligned with your values. If you can share a pint with them, you greatly increase your chances of a happy working relationship.

If you can’t make it out to GDC or other conferences, look up people in game-making-community forums, or check out websites like IndieLoopGarden. There’s solutions out there, and none of them have to be ultra-expensive.

Sometimes hanging out at your local pub can work too. I know some video game artists that trade album cover art for a few tracks from local bands. This is amazing synergy that you can leverage too. If you’re not an artist, you might have one on your team.

(or you can always hire me, haha)

  19 Responses to “Measuring the Value of Music”

Comments (17) Pingbacks (2)
  1. Amen! Agh! I’m so glad you wrote this post. I mute games only when I have to, such as when I’m listening to other music or the radio. Otherwise the music is really important to playing the game. I feel immersed and that’s what I want.

    Unless the music is annoying!

    I LOVE the music in Company of Myself and One and One. The music in those games changes as you move through the game – it’s pretty cool.

  2. I have to post again.

    Music is such an important part our lives and almost every other media we consume. Commericals, television, movies. Music is even in stores and restaurants.

    To people who say music is not an important part of video games, they’re just not taking the time to understand how to do it right. There is so much potential. ><

  3. I let people mute *before they heard anything* on The Man with the Invisible Trousers, as a mandatory choice. 39% of players chose to mute. I suspect this captures a lot of the people who were at work and wouldn’t have heard anyway. (But the fear was still enough for them to click off anyway.)

  4. I don’t even see this as a valid debate. What is Mario without the soundtrack? Still a great game, but missing a big piece of it’s heart and soul… Or Halo!?! The sound send chills down your spine…

    Music can’t be discounted.

    I love your idea though, I can run similar metrics in SnowBomber and see what happens. Of course, it’s tougher with Mobile since they can always turn the system volume down instead of mute, but I’ll give it a go :)

  5. Good to see someone who cares about the music in games. It’s the most overlooked aspect of game development although it gives so much personality to the game, as much as graphics! I’m working on my first indie game and I want to make sure my music really has a value; I’m one of those music fans.

    Just check the Touhou Project, a Japanese indie game series whose fandom was made up around it’s music, and now it’s the most succesful Japanese doujin game.

    “The sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie”, George Lucas.
    Almost the same goes for games… just include gameplay on the expresion.

  6. I just checked my own Playtomic stats and here’s what I found.

    Pixel Purge: 6.4% Muted Music
    Jetpack Jerome: 1.2% Muted Music (there may be something wrong here)
    Melee Man: 8.4% Muted Music (33% of which unmuted it at some point later in the game)

    I track my Music, Sound, and Voice channels separately, so these are just the ones that muted the music (or everything at once via the M key).

  7. My anecdotal experience fits with both Thomas’ and with Andy’s experiential data. About half of the people I know play with speakers off (Thomas’ 40%). The other half mute music that they don’t like but usually give it a chance. There’s nothing you can do for the first group unless you put up a “play with headphones for best experience” message or something at the beginning. On the other hand, the latter group responds almost entirely to music quality and 50% is still a big portion of your market so it’s probably best to make them happy!

  8. I’m so glad you are doing this, Andy. Music is so important for emotional impact. Now I can point to this the next time Dan Cook tells me everyone turns off the music :)

  9. Your metrics are interesting, but they only prove that some music is so bad that people won’t tolerate it. So, lesson: don’t include bad music in your game.

    And, certainly, I agree that -really great- music can enhance a game. I love the music in some of my favorite games “Curse of Monkey Island” comes to mind.

    But does tolerable music (music people don’t mute) actually enhance sales? Does it actually add value? Or is it just an alternative to silence that people are too lazy to turn off?


  10. Good questions, Phil, and my data is pretty terrible at measuring.. well, anything. I suppose this article isn’t so much a “I HAVE PROVED IT OTHERWISE”, it is more of a “stop spouting crap that you have no figures to back up”.

    I want everyone to question the validity of “everyone mutes” instead of just going along with it because it “feels right” or whatever.

    I really really hope someone does a proper science-style study that answers your questions.

  11. Oh, and what I think is your key question – “Will good music increase sales?” – I don’t think we’ll ever have a clear answer on that. Too many other variables at play.

  12. I’m listening to the “indie music bundle” and I’ve played very few of the games in it. So here’s a data point: I might buy Sword & Sworcery because of the bundle music. It’s that good.


  13. Ashamed to be so late to the discussion, especially since you gave our site such a nice shout out Andy, thank you :) Some thoroughly enjoyable reading here and some great points made in the comments too. One word I’m surprised hasn’t really come up yet is ‘branding’. AliMonty touched on it by saying “it gives so much personality to the game, as much as graphics!”. Music has the ability to impact (by default) the entire duration of a gamer’s experience. In my eyes (or ears) sound definitely plays as much of a lead a role as graphics (and in some cases more – just think of some of the early arcade games), creating the brand of the game that the gamer ‘buys into’. You wouldn’t use a stock graphic for your main character, would you?

  14. “Will good music increase sales?”
    I’m a special case since I’m REALLY into music, but a good soundtrack will absolutely sell the game to me. I’m pretty careful about what games I buy, and if the soundtrack is outstanding it gets me off the fence. This is totally anecdotal, though.

  15. I can add one more data point for the analytics question. With my game Bus Jumper, the ‘music off’ selection has been clicked around 20k times, and ‘music on’ has been clicked around 15k times. This is over around 160k unique users and 500k game sessions. The soundtrack is Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’, which I think is a somewhat unusual choice for a video game.

    Not quite sure what to make of those numbers. I suspect a lot of people just like to fiddle with the controls to see what they do. There are probably many ways to slice this, but one way to look at it is that about 5k people ended up with the music off. Over 160k users, that works out to about 3%. Even if I take the most pessimistic view possible, that’s 20k users out of 160k, which is 12.5%. I’ve definitely received compliments on the music in the marketplace comments.

    So I would agree with you, ‘everyone mutes’ doesn’t seem to apply in my case.

  16. This is great research, and congratulations for carrying it out! I’m not at all surprised that the quality of the music is a factor in people’s decision to mute, and it’s great to see this issue explored.

    There are certainly some players out there who will not tolerate in game music and replace it with their own at the drop of a hat. Personally I *hate* this. I’ve come to quite dislike looking at the titles that come down the pipe on the 360 at a friend’s house because it really destroys my aesthetic experience of (say) a mining game to hear Snoop Dogg playing over the top. Ugh. Don’t get me wrong, I like the D-o-double-g, but there’s a time and a place.

    Music adds to my experience of a game, great music enhances it immeasurably. Carry on, good sir, carry on!

  17. Quote “Want to step up the quality in your game? The best possible way to find good music is to get out there and meet people. Find a musician that is aligned with your values. If you can share a pint with them, you greatly increase your chances of a happy working relationship.”

    I just met you a few weeks ago and that exactly what happened at the Fernwood Inn.. very interesting to be reading this article now because it was written two months ago before I knew anything about you Andy! I think those metrics are awesome and represent what we talked about. I hadn’t considered rev share with game developers but now maybe I should ha :D

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