Measuring the Value of Music

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)