Promotion and Emotion: Sonic Branding and Indie Games

Posted by Vince on08/12/2012

Today I stumbled upon this rather entertaining video of EA logos the company have put out over the years, both the regular and 'limited edition' varieties for specific games

I don't know about you but this video genuinely made my heart beat a little bit faster. OK, speaking as a single guy in my 20's I guess I fit pretty much perfectly into EA's target demographic. Still you can't help but be impressed by the sheer production values - I mean wow, here's a company that means business.

Maybe I'm just a geek, but my strong emotional response to the watching video made think about what a powerful thing branding can be. Naturally, being an audio guy I was as much in admiration of the amazing sound design as I was the graphics. You only have to watch part of the video with the audio muted to appreciate how much of a role the sound design plays in breathing life into the images. The audio really seems to command your attention and in each case creates an interesting, exciting atmosphere that the images alone might struggle to evoke. I suspect this is exactly what they were going for.

The technological sweeps and hits used are consistently big, modern and cinematic in nature, reminiscent of movie trailers. This gives us a strong impression of the company's AAA status and also places us firmly in the soundworld of big budget hollywood films.

But rather than using a single signature sound, EA took things a step further by customising the logo to imitate both graphical and sound elements of the game as part of the logo itself - literally embodying the game on show. Action, fantasy, excitement, thrill, escapism, professional quality - all these ideas get linked back to EA, transforming it from a transparent corporate entity into a characterful, tangible presence.

Sonic branding for smaller games companies

With the increasingly competitive nature of the indie games market it has never been more important for developers to be able to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Yet it is surprising how many indie game studios fail to recognise the power of branding to help them get established, or else they focus only on the visual identity of the brand. I suspect a certain indifference toward branding among indies may have something to do with the DIY nature of the 'indie spirit' which deliberately distances itself from large corporations such as EA. Furthermore, 'indie success stories' represent the tantalizing notion of the indie games market as a meritocracy - all you have to do is create a really great game and you will be rewarded with millions of downloads.

In reality though, competition is greater than ever and the phenomenon of the 'one man dev team' has led to increased unpredictability from the consumer's point of view. In this climate, having a solid brand can be a very reassuring thing.

A 'Sonic Logo'

As a developer you don't have to commission a new sound for every major release like EA to take advantage of sonic branding. Most large game companies will also use single or multiple signature sounds (or 'intel moments)' to accompany their logo. Again, its all about making that emotional connection with the viewer to both flesh out the brand and make the viewer more likely to sit up and take notice - even in the absence of flashy CGI explosions.

Having a sonic, as well as a graphic, logo can be a great way to:

  • increase brand awareness by drawing attention to it in the first place
  • make your brand more memorable by associating a sound with the image and creating emotion
  • reinforce the connection between the game itself and the wider brand
  • show that you are the sort of company that aspires to AAA production values - get a one up (or 1up) on the indie competition who are too busy to give thought to such things
  • show off how creative you are - this is a creative industry after all!

    With the promotion of indie games occurring largely in the digital domain, it doesn't require much imagination to think of the many ways of implementing sound- here are just a few ideas:

  • At the start of branded game trailers
  • In games themselves before the initial menus
  • Preceding gameplay clips on Youtube
  • Any internal (non-published) corporate video content produced
  • On the website (e.g. click the logo, hear the sound)
  • Audio or video podcasts relating to the game or development

    Creating a Signature Sound Logo

    Creating a sound logo should take a good amount of time and research because the use of any sound in a way that appears to be poor quality, cheap, confusing, inconsistent or simply generic can be more damaging to the brand than using no sound at all. Collaborating with somebody who understands audio fully will open up a wide range of possible tools:

  • melody
  • real life sound effects
  • voice: saying the company name
  • ambience
  • 3D movement (panning - left + right and filtering/reverb - backward + forward or genuine 5.1)
  • synthesis/artificial sounds
  • use of non-musical sounds in a musical way
  • use of musical sounds in a non-musical way
  • morphing between sounds

    Ultimately a careful consideration of what makes your brand unique will get you much further than rushing to replicate the wooshes and booms of AAA games companies.


    The notion of making consumers more aware of the brand and not just the product is well established, as is the concept of treating the brand as unified experience that includes things like sound. These are powerful ideas that I would argue are perfectly possible to put into practice even at the smaller scale where budgets are more constrained.

    If you're a developer would you consider implementing 'sonic branding'? If not why not? Have you dismissed it as unimportant or simply unattainable?

    What is your favourite sonic logo?
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