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indie voiceover guide

Hello! First of all, congratulations on the current success of The Silent Kingdom! I greatly admire indie developers for the incredible work that you do, and I will continue to cheer you on as you progress!

This guide will help you decide which options work best for you, give you a sneak peek into the entire voiceover process, and provide budget approximations based on the current indie rates. Please do not hesitate to let me know if anything needs clarification, or if you have any questions!

Feel free to click the buttons below to help you navigate the guide!

 

timeline and process

This is a general timeline of the voiceover process, including casting, recording, and audio engineering. Please note that this is purely for reference and does not substitute for a finalized schedule.

CASTING

6 weeks

The first week will be spent making the casting document. This will contain information about the project and audition lines for the voice actors to record. Here are some examples of casting documents I have created in the past:

A casting call will be posted publicly on social media. This is a fantastic marketing opportunity for the game, reaching as many potential voice actors and interested players as possible. The casting call will be open for 3 weeks in order to give the voice actors time to record their auditions.

After the casting call closes, I will spend one week listening to all of the audition files and create a shortlist, which will be approximately 5-10 strong candidates for each role. I will send you all of the audio files on the shortlist, and we will discuss the voices together. I can provide my input on their acting potential and vocal characteristics, but the final decision will be made by you! This will be a blind casting, which means that I will not disclose who the actors are until after the cast has been chosen.

I will email all of the voice actors we have selected to let them know that they have been cast. After they confirm their role, I can send them any documents or contracts. This can include a non-disclosure agreement or a talent agreement contract. But it is not mandatory to have these! The trust in the voiceover community is pretty strong and most people are very understanding of development privacy.

AUDIO ENGINEERING

1 week per 50 lines

After the voice actors have submitted their recordings, my audio engineers will get to work on editing the files. Their job is to make the voices sound as consistent as possible, as if the voice actors all recorded in the same room. The voice actors will also be submitting their takes as one large file, and it will be up to the audio engineers to split each file by line and name them according to your preferences.

If you prefer, I can work with the audio engineers to choose the specific takes that we believe will flow best with the game. For example, if Seneca's voice actor chose to do 5 takes of one line, we can pick the best line that works in the context of the scene.

 

Otherwise, we can send you the edited recordings with every take still in the file and have you review the ones you would like to keep. In the example mentioned, we would send you all 5 of Seneca's takes, and you can tell us which one you like best. Please note that this will be an increased cost, but will reduce the likelihood of needing retakes from the voice actors.

 

These will be sent in batches so that you can review them at your own pace. This editing process may overlap with the recording schedule once most of the voice actors have completed their lines. If you find a line that you would like the voice actor to record again, then you can let me know and I will make a note of it. We will go back to the voice actors for retakes once you have reviewed all of their character's lines.

DIRECTING AND RECORDING

3 weeks per voice actor

The recording period is the most difficult to predict. It is expected that personal emergencies and illnesses will happen. Regardless of which directing type you prefer, I generally tell developers that one voice actor equals three weeks of recording. Therefore, if we cast 5 voice actors, then recording lines will take approximately 15 weeks.

 

However, the good news is that 95% of the work will be covered by me and my team! That means that you will be able to put all of your attention into the game while this is happening. I will keep you updated on the recording schedule and progress. You are also more than welcome to be as involved with the process as you want! I will go into the different directing types and how they will be conducted further down.

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RETAKES

1 week per voice actor

There will ALWAYS be retakes. And that is perfectly okay! No one is perfect, and we would much rather get something right than only be halfway pleased with the results. 

Retakes are usually very quick to complete, especially if what needs to be changed is made clear to the voice actor. I would like to mention that retakes are not an additional cost if the voice actor was unable to convey the line properly. However, for mistakes on the production side (including adding a line, changing a word, putting the wrong line, etc), that usually comes at a cost of 50% of the original rate. This will be explained more in the budget section!

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PAYMENT DISTRIBUTION

1 week

Once all of the retakes have been submitted and the lines are to your satisfaction, we will begin distributing payments. We will have a rough estimate of the total cost long before casting. However, retakes and changes in operation will affect the final amount.

When that total has been decided, we will have you send the full amount through a PayPal invoice. This will include all of the payments for the voice actors, casting, directing, audio engineering, and any other services you commission through us. I will already have payment contracts set up with the others and will distribute payments to them immediately after receiving the total sum from you. This simplifies the whole process for you since I will be taking care of making sure everyone receives their payment. It also allows us to build trust between our studio and voice actors we may want to work with in the future.

And that pretty much covers the entire timeline! Of course, even after payments are made, my team and I will be around for you to contact whenever you need us. We will also be actively supporting the game and advertising any updates you release!

 

FULL VOICEOVER

All words on the screen are spoken.

Voice actors will record all lines of text when a character speaks. Character thoughts and narration are optional, but recommended if there is room in the budget.

PROS

  • Best for immersive storytelling

  • Helps those who have difficulty reading

  • Adds personality to the character

CONS

  • Most expensive

  • Takes the most time to record and mix

  • Significantly more files

PARTIAL VOICEOVER

Only efforts are spoken.

Voice actors will record a set number of lines that will consist of "efforts", which are sounds that match the expression of the line. For example, a character who seems shocked might record a gasp, a character who has been stabbed will record a wince, etc. These can be reused multiple times throughout the game for similar-sounding lines.

PROS

  • Least expensive

  • Very quick process

  • Most suited for combat-based games

  • Encourages reading

CONS

  • Limited to expressions

  • The tone may not 100% match the line

  • Does not add much to the character

HYBRID VOICEOVER

Small phrases and efforts are spoken.

Voice actors will record a set number of lines that will consist of 1-5 worded short phrases, full lines, and efforts. Some phrases are unique, and some can be recycled for similar lines. 

 

For example, Seneca's line is "Do not fret, my princess. I have a message for you". The voice actor may say "Do not fret, my princess" to make the line unique to this specific situation. OR, the VA could say "My princess..." so that it may apply to other lines he speaks in the future.

PROS

  • A good compromise of the previous two options

  • Usually as quick as partial voiceover

  • Puts importance on certain lines and scenes

  • More variety than partial voiceover

CONS

  • Similar to partial voiceover

  • Can be confusing with some lines being unique and others being repeatable

voiceover options

Before we get to budget, we first have to talk about the three types of voiceover that games typically use: FULL, PARTIAL, and HYBRID. Some games will use only one type throughout the entire playthrough, while others will use a combination of all three. It is highly dependent on what type of game it is, budget, time investment, and general interest.

 

directing options

Directing can be done one of two ways: self-direct or live direct.

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SELF-DIRECTING

If actors self-direct, they will be responsible for their own performance. This means that all of their lines will be recorded based on their own interpretations of the scenes. However, in order to make sure that everyone is keeping up with the recording schedule, we will assign deadlines for each chapter. For example, we may set lines for the prologue to be due 3 weeks after casting, with lines for Chapter 1 being due 4 weeks later, and so on.

  • PROS​​

    • Recommended for PARTIAL voiceover

    • No directing fee

    • The audio engineering team can deliver batches of lines by chapter rather than needing to wait on certain actors

    • Good for characters with less than 30 lines

    • Relatively painless for the directing team
       

  • CONS

    • There is a higher likelihood that the scene will not be interpreted correctly, and multiple retakes will be needed

    • Especially for international talent, they may have a lot of questions about scene context

    • Usually more expensive for projects with characters that have more than 30+ lines

    • Communication between you and the voice actors will be a lot slimmer, and things may get lost in translation

    • You will have to spend a lot of time making thorough direction notes for each line in order for the voice actor to understand what is going on

    • The actor will not be able to act off of another person, and may make conversational lines awkward

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LIVE-DIRECTING

If actors are directed live, their performance will be monitored and guided by the directing team. This means that all of their lines will be recorded based on multiple professional interpretations of the scenes. Recording sessions for each actor will be scheduled over a set amount of weeks. These sessions will be logged per hour, and the actor will be expected to complete a certain amount of lines in that time. A voice director (that's me!), audio engineer, and translator (if needed) will be present at each session to help give actors notes on their performance live.

  • PROS​​

    • MUST for FULL voiceover

    • Recommended for HYBRID voiceover

    • Great for characters that have more than 30 lines

    • Can complete 20-30 lines per hour

    • The director can read out other characters' lines so the actor has a scene partner to act off of

    • Questions can be answered live rather than waiting days for a response

    • Only brief direction notes on the script will be needed, since more of the scene will be monitored by the director

    • All of the lines for a major character can be completed in a few days rather than waiting several weeks for the voice actor to record

    • The director and audio engineer can monitor audio errors live

    • The likelihood for retakes gets reduced drastically

    • You are more than welcome to attend these sessions!
       

  • CONS

    • If there are a lot of sessions, the directing fee can become expensive

    • Too costly if there are not very many lines to record

    • The entire schedule can be thrown off if multiple voice actors are unable to make it to their sessions

    • If the voice actors have difficulty understanding English, verbal direction will not be as efficient with a language barrier and a translator will be necessary

      • I can communicate to international voice actors through business emails, but trying to describe specific mistakes properly during a live session will be difficult, and I will need to call in my translator to be there to assist, which will be an additional cost.​

 

motion design services

I also wanted to bring another one of our services to your attention! We also offer motion design, which are animated still images. While we were playing through the demo, we thought some of the CGs would look amazing if they were partially animated! My motion designer is an employee for WEBTOON and she creates their ads and trailers. If you ever have an interest in motion design, feel free to let me know!

 

translating disclaimer

Generally, if you want to have voiceover in a certain language, you should also have the game fully translated in that language. This is especially true if you are planning to include FULL or HYBRID voice acting, since much of the script will need to be translated anyways. If you plan to have mostly PARTIAL voice acting, then it is not worth the additional cost of hiring international talent and translators because anyone, regardless of the language they speak, can perform efforts. Additionally, it will be difficult for international voice actors to audition if they cannot play the game in their native language. Rather than 1000 auditions of English or Spanish speakers, you may end up with only 50-100 Japanese speakers, none of which are guaranteed to have high-quality audio or performance capabilities.

Hiring international talent, especially in a language you do not speak yourself, is about three times as expensive as hiring voice actors in your native language. This is due to high translator costs during directing, as well as sessions taking roughly twice as long when information has to be translated twice.  This will limit you on your voiceover options.

I would also like to clarify that anime seiyuus will be impossible to obtain on an indie budget. Seiyuus have extremely expensive agencies, which will not only cost five times the amount of what you can offer an industry actor in Europe and the United States, but approval by an agency could take weeks to months, and has a high likelihood of being rejected for not being produced by a major studio. The submissions you will receive from Japanese native speakers will be indie and hobbyist voice actors.

In summary, it will cost the same to have the entire game with FULL voiceover in both English and Spanish with actors who have professional credits than it would to have HYBRID voiceover in only Japanese with actors with no experience.

 

BUT! Please do not be discouraged: It is possible to include Japanese voiceover, and we can definitely make it happen. You have my word that I will do my very best to make your dream come true. You must be prepared for the cost, time commitment, and smaller pool of candidates, so please keep this in mind as you consider voice talent!

 

gameplay voiceover

I want to talk about how certain types of voiceover could fit each different form of gameplay. The Silent Kingdom features three primary gameplay mechanics: dialogue, cutscenes/CGs, and combat. Below are some examples of what each mode of gameplay could sound like with each type of voiceover:

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DIALOGUE

FULL VOICEOVER

PARTIAL VOICEOVER

HYBRID VOICEOVER

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CUTSCENES AND CG'S

FULL VOICEOVER

PARTIAL VOICEOVER

HYBRID VOICEOVER

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COMBAT

PARTIAL VOICEOVER

HYBRID VOICEOVER

Combat sequences only need PARTIAL or HYBRID voice acting since it is mostly battle sounds! The difference between the two is that HYBRID combat voiceover would include lines for when the character enters the field, dies, and when they use special skills, or "ultimates". For example, a character may say "I won't lose!" when they are selected on the screen. They may also say "Not my best day..." when their HP is zero. If you have certain skills, such as "Valiant Charge", you could have the characters yell the name of the skill or a special line. They could say "Valiant Charge!" or something like "Give me courage!".

 

budget

We are finally here! Let's talk budget!

Everything that I had explained in the previous sections is about to be calculated together. Please note that these are general estimates based on the current industry rates! It would be extremely helpful if you have a rough idea of the final word count to help you with the calculations.

You will also notice that I have included minimums. Minimums allow the voice actor to be reassured that they will be compensated a minimum amount. However, this also benefits you! Especially when you get to casting characters who do not have as much screen time, you can always use the same voice actor to voice smaller roles as well. Using 5 voice actors to voice 20 characters is significantly cheaper than paying for 20 voice actors.

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FULL VOICEOVER

$150 USD per hour
2 hour minimum

Anything that contains FULL voiceover MUST be live directed. This is why the rate is calculated per hour.

PARTIAL VOICEOVER

$5 USD per effort
$50 USD minimum

Since a list of efforts will be significantly smaller than a whole script of lines, you do not have to do live-directed sessions. This is compensated by the higher rate per effort.

HYBRID VOICEOVER

$100 USD per hour
1 hour minimum

Similarly to FULL voiceover, it is highly recommended to have live direction for HYBRID voiceover. However, since these sessions are less strenuous and shorter, you can charge a smaller rate and have a shorter minimum time.

CASTING

$300 USD

This is a flat fee, meaning you will not pay more than this for having a large cast!

DIRECTING

$50 USD per hour

This covers the cost for the director and the audio engineer.

AUDIO ENGINEERING

$0.25 USD per line

SCRIPT TRANSLATION

$0.02 USD per word

DIRECTION TRANSLATOR

$50 USD per hour

This covers the cost for the translator during a live directed session.

MOTION GRAPHICS

$35 - $200 USD per image

This greatly depends on the complexity of the image, and will be quoted for each individual CG.

 

my suggestions

DISCLAIMER: The following estimations are NOT exact and are based on my calculations for another game. This should be treated as a professional opinion rather than a finalized quote.

Yep, that is a LOT of information and numbers! I can totally understand how confusing and overwhelming this must be. Although we will not know the total cost until after the scripts have been completed, I can help you create a rough estimate based on a similar game we have worked with: Student Union.

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Student Union is a visual novel that is set to be approximately 40 hours of gameplay and 500,000 words. For this massive project, we estimated that the total cost of voiceover would be $18,000 USD. And I predict that The Silent Kingdom could potentially cost less! Let me explain:

Student Union uses 2 types of gameplay: dialogue and cutscenes/CGs. The creator requested that approximately 225,000 of the 500,000 words (45%) be voiced. 

The Silent Kingdom has dialogue and cutscenes as well, but it also has combat. Even if the game ended up being 50 hours long, the combat system allows you to choose a more cost-effective route. This can be achieved by using a combination of the 3 types of voiceover: FULL, PARTIAL, and HYBRID.

Here is my suggestion:

HYBRID for dialogue

FULL for cutscenes/CGs

HYBRID for combat

This allows you to take full advantage of live-directed sessions. HYBRID combat and HYBRID dialogue will finish significantly faster than the more rare FULL cutscene. Rather than paying separate rates for each voiceover type, you can combine them all into $150 per hour sessions. 

After playing through the demo, I made a note that the voice actress for Erinys would need only an hour session to complete her lines for the prologue. This excludes all narration and thoughts because they are usually not voiced in visual novels. Assuming there will be 3-4 chapters after the prologue, I can predict she will need a 3-hour session for each chapter. This is because many of her combat and dialogue lines will already have been completed in the prologue recording session. The sessions will focus more on the CGs she is involved in, as well as additional dialogue. Therefore, the total recording time for Erinys, the character who will talk the most, is approximately 13 hours. This equals $1950 USD.

Now let's talk about the boys! Assuming all 3 potential male love interests (I am including Ares in this) have equal screen time, we can estimate their cost relatively easily. Most of Erinys's voiced lines will be talking to one of the three love interests. Therefore, we can split her 13 hours amongst the three. In the time that Erinys is speaking to a character that is not the three love interests, we can use that as a buffer to calculate interactions they may have with each other or other characters in the story. Therefore, the total recording time for each male love interest is approximately 5 hours. This equals $750 USD per guy.

We can now estimate the cost for each minor character. Many will be unable to reach the 2 hour minimum per session. Because of this, I would highly recommend having these voice actors play multiple roles. You may need 4-5 unique actors per chapter. Here is the good news: You can change the rate for these smaller roles because their sessions will be less vocally intensive. Since they will only be providing HYBRID voiceover, I would recommend offering $100 USD per hour with a 1-hour minimum. If each unique actor only requires a one-hour session, then we can predict that 20 additional voice actors will cost $2000 USD total. This seems like a lot of voice actors, but I can guarantee you that you will not need this many. I am simply using 20 voice actors as an overestimation since some roles such as Circe will require more time to record.

ESTIMATED COST FOR VOICE ACTORS: $6,200 USD

Now we can get into production costs! As mentioned before, casting is a flat $300 USD. For this game, I recommend we hold two casting calls, one for the major characters and one for the minor characters. Having multiple casting calls does NOT raise the rate. This is because most of the auditions are filtered together and not by individual characters until the very end. The flat fee covers the cost of our yearly website and software subscriptions rather than the cost of a casting service. I genuinely enjoy casting more than anything, and I am more than happy to provide a flat rate if it means getting to work on projects I care a lot about!

On to directing! Based on the previous costs, we can predict that the total recording time will be 48 hours, which means the directing cost will come out to $2,400 USD.

Audio engineering is going to be difficult to predict. Erinys will most likely have around 500 unique lines. The guys will each have approximately 300 each. And the minor characters should not exceed more than 20 lines each. Therefore, the estimated total line count would be 1,800, making the total cost for audio engineering about $450 USD.

For this total calculation, I will be excluding translation so I can show the difference between English and Spanish voiceover versus Japanese. I am also excluding motion graphics services since that is entirely optional!

ESTIMATED COST FOR PRODUCTION: $3,150 USD

TOTAL ESTIMATED COST FOR ENGLISH OR SPANISH VOICEOVER: $9,350 USD

Here comes the hard part: translation costs. Immediately, a translator doubles the cost of voice actors. This is due to translating English instructions into Japanese for the Japanese voice director and translator. Essentially, twice the amount of instructions are given, thus each session takes twice as long. Therefore, the total cost of Japanese voice actors is $6,200 USD.

Casting and audio engineering will remain the same: $300 USD and $450 USD.

 

Accounting for both directing and translator fees, live direction will cost $4,800 USD.

Lastly, translating the entire game into Japanese will easily be the highest cost. Taking Student Union's length as an example, if the game ends up being near 500,000 words, translation costs will be roughly $10,000 USD.

TOTAL ESTIMATED COST FOR JAPANESE VOICEOVER: $21,750 USD

So where do we go from here? My personal recommendation is to set $25,000 as the goal for voiceover! I do not think you should settle for less in order to reach your dream. Let the Kickstarter decide if it will be possible to include Japanese voiceover. And if it ends up not reaching the goal, I just wanted to let you know that you still have options. English and Spanish are cheaper options. We can still discuss the possibility of doing the entire game as HYBRID Japanese voiceover, which will reduce many of the costs. Unfortunately, PARTIAL voiceover using Japanese voice actors is not feasible, and I would recommend looking into casting English or Spanish-speaking talent instead. 

Another idea you could consider is doing either English or Spanish voiceover first, and then doing a Japanese dub after the game has gained some sales. The setting is very European-based, so English and Spanish voiceover would actually make a lot more sense being the original voices, and then having other languages be the dub. Since it would be a dub of the original, the cost for both voice actors and directing is almost halved. Unfortunately, the cost of translating the full game will still be the largest obstacle unless you are able to find another solution.

And that is pretty much everything! If you made it this far, thank you for bearing with me! I know I covered a LOT, so please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. I am more than happy to answer them! I know that the large numbers can be scary, but I can assure you that we can make anything possible if we plan everything well!