Every Game needs sounds, right? Sure, but not every game might have the budget to hire a dedicated sound person. The good news is, that there are lots of resources out there enabling you to achieve a decent game audio quality-level on a low or even no budget. This article runs you through different possibilities and offer a resource list for free sound effects at the end.
Free sound effects
Currently there are numeorus websites out there offering free sound effects. Most of them feature user-generated content, so they’re able to offer a huge number of sound effects on their platform. Just to name an example: freesound.org, the most popular source for free sound effects, features over 600,000 sounds in their repertoire. Naturally you will find most of the sounds you’re looking for in some form somewhere on the internet. It is just a matter of searching them out. And even then it might not be a 100% fit, but you will most likely be able to work with these free sounds.
Should you pay for sound libraries?
Which brings us to the next alternative: Paid sound libraries. If you’re looking for impressive high-quality sound libraries, Boom Library is the go-to library for many AAA-projects or big movies. But if you’re a small studio which doesn’t want to dabble too deep into the sound design territory, this might actually not be the best route for you.
Different Kinds of Sound Effects
Generally, you can divide library sound effects into two categories: Firstly, there are Component Sound Effects. You could also call them simple or raw sound effects. They are the building blocks sound designers use to create more complex sounds. On their own, they might sound rather underwhelming. But there are of course also Designed Sound Effects, which are fully fleshed out sounds, often intricately layered, processed and consisting of multiple elements to create one specific sound experience. This is what you might hear in an end product such as a game and these are actually the sounds you want to plug directly into your game.
The Risk of Finding the Right Library
Not all, but most paid sound libraries rather aim at professionals and therefore offer sounds that are more meant to be a sound component than a stand-alone sound effect. So when buying a library you’ll want to make absolutely sure, that it contains the right kind of sound effects for you. However, most of the time you won’t be able to listen to all sounds from the library before purchase. This risk factor is why I would generally recommend against going for paid sound libraries as a Game Dev because it can be tricky to find just the right library with exactly the fully designed sound you need. Then, it might just be better to stick with the free alternatives because they will give you a bigger pool of sounds to choose from.
Designing your own sounds
There is of course also another way: Design your own sounds. All you need to get started is a microphone and a Digital Workstation (DAW), like for example Reaper, which also offers a free trial. This is a great way to be creative, acquire new skills and have fun. There are lots of YouTube tutorials to point you in the right way. Just to name one: Marshall McGee makes very entertaining and insightful videos about sound design. But surely designing your own sounds is going to be a rather time-consuming endeavor.
When using sound effects and especially with free sound effects you should always check if you’re actually allowed to use the sound in the way you want to. Some licenses might exclude commercial use and require attribution of the creator. Others will prohibit you from editing the sound. It might seem a bit tedious, but it is managable and ultimately a small price to pay, given that the sounds are free.
If you are working on a bigger project, especially if it’s going to be commercial, I would recommend keeping track of where you got which sound effect from and what the respective license is. This might save you a lot of work down the road.
Behold! Here finally comes my list of free resources for sound effects. I selected these websites in particular, because they make searching for sounds fairly easy, and out of all free alternatives I know they offer the best quality. Just be mindful that even if there are free sound effects out there which are of very impressive quality, on average, free sound effects tend to not have the same level of quality as a paid sound library or a sound designer might offer.
Websites for Free Sound Effects
Zapsplat features lots of high quality sound effects, attribution is required and commercial use allowed.
OpenGameArt does not only feature sound, but also other free game assets. You can filter sounds by types of licenses like different kinds of Creative Commons and GPL Licenses, most of which require attribution, but are fine for commercial use.
As mentioned before, freesound.org the most well known resource for free sounds online and probably also the biggest. Not every sound is high quality, but it is a very good resource. They also have different types of licenses, which you can also search for via filters.
Mixkit is also a useful resource. You can use their sound effects in Games, even commercially. However, if you’re also looking for free music, please mind that their license doesn’t allow their music assets to be used in Games.
The Sonniss GDC Bundles
Sonniss has released extensive sound effect bundles for the Game Developers Conference (GDC) from 2015 through 2023 (except for 2021 and 2022). According to the Sonniss Website all of the sound effects are royalty free and commercially usable. No attribution is required and you can use them on an unlimited number of projects for the rest of your lifetime.
In contrast to the other platforms I mentioned, the Sonniss Bundles are only available to download. The 2023 bundle is around 44 GB and all of the bundles combines take up about 200GB of space.
Please always check if the license allows the use you intend (and they also sometimes change their licenses)! Hope this helps you!