Do you want to become an actor who specializes in video games? Unlike film and television audiences, gamers recognize established actors’ voices—without attaching a name or face. Video game industry veterans may have fruitful careers, like Troy Baker, though they do not yet receive the same widespread name recognition as Meryl Streep or Morgan Freeman.
Despite the lack of acclaim, video game actors reach a global audience, often for a longer duration per project than film or TV. But getting a foot in the door is a daunting task. How do I finagle my way into that very first role? What do casting directors look for when hiring for video games?
Julia Bianco Schoeffling is a casting director, and she’s here to help. She’s worked as part of the casting department for a slew of games, from Cyberpunk 2077 and Aliens: Fireteam Elite to Tell Me Why and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Her newly released book, The Art and Business of Acting for Video Games, is available to purchase online.
According to Schoeffling, the fact that big games even have a casting director during development is relatively new. This work was previously done by a game’s voice director, but directors’ needs are shifting. They’re searching for diverse actors who are comfortable putting on a bodysuit and a facial rig to do performance capture, in addition to vocal roles. “The casting demands have gotten more intricate and more nuanced,” she says. “The job has just become a bit too big for voice directors to handle on their own.”
As a rule of thumb, you should approach acting for video games with the same seriousness you would give to movie and TV performances. You may need to be part of the SAG-AFTRA labor union to audition for many roles, especially those offered by large developers or publishers. In her book, Schoeffling lays out the basic info about agents, auditions, and taking care of yourself during the whole process.
What does Schoeffling think is essential for success as an actor in video games? “I say acting classes before anything else. You can’t replace acting with gear.” When you’re ready to land that first role and feel confident in your craft as an actor, it’s not necessary to start by purchasing pricey microphones and gear. A wired mic plugged into a smartphone could be a decent enough setup for those testing the waters, and you can always upgrade incrementally as you get feedback about what sounds good and what doesn’t.
You’ll also need to be familiar with the differences between a demo reel, which often displays your general talent as an actor, and a pre-tape, which is a request for specific lines of dialogue. You’ll notice that many people within the industry stray away from the phrase “voice actor.” Why? It’s limiting, and professionals increasingly take a holistic approach to acting. Especially for performance capture roles, the focus is no longer on those two vocal cords in your throat. Every muscle in your body can get in on the action.
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When going into an audition, make sure you understand whether the gig will be recorded in a studio or you’ll be expected to use your own equipment at home. For those who have the personal budget to get a new mic and accessories, check out the audio gear section of our guide to starting a podcast for relevant recommendations. In addition, read WIRED product writer and reviewer Eric Ravenscraft’s thoughts on the popular HyperX Quadcast S.
You don’t need to identify as a frequent gamer to land roles in video games, but you should be familiar with the medium’s structures. Schoeffling recommends at least watching other people play. “The cadence and the energy and the speed. It’s different from animation. It’s different from film,” she says. Watching long-form Twitch streams or YouTube videos gives you a better idea of how other actors approach video games.
What kinds of things do actors who play games in their free time need to understand about the development side? Schoeffling says, “I think the biggest thing to understand about game development is that it’s a long process. It’s typically not something that happens in a year; it’s something that typically happens in two to three years, sometimes seven.”
Try your best to resign from shitposting on Twitter, as hard as that may be. Schoeffling confirms that actors do get passed over in the competitive marketplace due to the leaking of information or public airing of grievances on social media. Actors will also often be asked to sign nondisclosure agreements. She says, “I think that expecting an NDA or expecting that you are basically under NDA, even if you haven’t signed one, is a great practice. Discretion is hugely important.”
Rejection is part of any burgeoning actor’s routine, and Schoeffling encourages people to grasp that a lot of the decision-making process is out of their control. It’s possible to lose out on roles for reasons that have nothing to do with your demo reel or pre-tape. For example, you could miss a callback because your voiceprint sounds a little bit too close to someone they already picked. Now, stop being so harsh on yourself! Seriously.
“Actors will submit hundreds of auditions and hear nothing. The only thing you know is that you’re still getting auditions,” says Schoeffling. Don’t come into an audition expecting words of affirmation. Find people that you can trust, online or in-person, who will dole out encouragement.
As an actor, it’s important to prioritize your mental health. Find laid-back hobbies or other modes of self-expression so your passion for acting does not become all-encompassing. Yes, you can make money acting for video games, but relying on it to be your sole source of income from the get-go is not financially prudent. Schoeffling says, “I know a few actors who have decided to have another career in addition to acting so that the pressure is not on every single one of their auditions to make their living.” There’s no shame in having passion for a creative pursuit that doesn’t pay your bills.
Although it’s not always an option, actors from underrepresented backgrounds who publicly disclose their identity may receive attention from casting directors. “If you are comfortable with making sure that the outside world knows your background and your identity, those things really help us when we’re searching,” she says. “Yes, we search on the actor sites and whatnot, but we’re also on Instagram.” Look into groups like the People of Global Majority’s voiceover list, Voices of Color, and Queer Vox for more resources created to benefit underrepresented actors.
Be protective of your labor and keep an eye out for exploitative situations. The job of a video game actor is not particularly luxurious, even if this is your dream career. Finding a supportive community can be as crucial as drinking plenty of water and clearly enunciating. Despite the lack of mainstream recognition, Schoeffling is optimistic about the future of the industry for actors. She says, “There’s starting to be a lot more respect put on games from the entertainment world.”