Things You Need to Know About Notification Sound Effects
In the last week of October, I started to notice tons and tons of notification sounds in almost every video game I tested. Admittedly, notification sound effects in Windows and macOS can be helpful and even necessary for our workflow.
But notification sounds in games are still not that common – therefore we should use them carefully. In this article, we will talk about notification sounds in games: when they should be used, how to choose a good one, and what is generally bad about notification sounds.
The reason why notification sound effects are so rare in games [as far as I know] is that most players turn [Mute] all off [or keep it at zero] during playthroughs. They’re mostly there for occasional conveniences like getting notified when you receive a gift or something like that (in some games).
The notification sound is often an important and memorable part of the game. Some devs choose notification sounds for their games very carefully, so it can be quite noticeable if they are missing! It seems to me that notification sounds are more common in puzzle games than any other type. Which I think makes sense – notification sound effects don’t have to break your focus on solving puzzles, but still, serve as helpful reminders about what’s going on behind the scenes.
I’ve come across notification sound effects in both 2D and 3D puzzle games too – sometimes it might feel weird for instance if you’re playing 2048 with your headphones on and no notification sound will play when you match two tiles together.
When notification sound effects should be used:
There are some games where notification sounds might not be necessary at all (or the player might prefer to turn them off) and there are other games where notification sounds can really help players. Here’s a little list of scenarios when notification sounds can be really useful:
- When the notification sound is an important part of the game, like in Machinarium and some other point and click games for example – notification sounds can really help players to know what’s going on and remember things they were supposed to do;
- Notification sounds can also be helpful if you need your player’s attention for something right now (so notification sound effects can be a reason to pause gameplay);
- Notification sounds can improve immersion if done properly – but most importantly they shouldn’t break immersion at all. It must be subtle and not annoying or repetitive;
- Notification sounds can be used as alerts or reminders for your player – reminder notification sound effect might be a good way to make a little tutorial about some gameplay mechanics you implemented;
- Notification sounds can also be used as a feedback for players’ actions. This is especially true when they complete certain challenges, collect coins, etc.
In my opinion notification sound, effects are most useful in puzzle games and strategy games. In my experience notification sound effects were most helpful in the following games: Machinarium, A Dark Room, 868-Hack, Defcon and FTL.
How to choose a notification sound?
There is no set rule for this actually – how you choose your notification sound depends on what type of game you have. But I’ll give you a few tips anyway:
- Notification sounds should be subtle and not annoying (unless your game is about scaring players) – notification sound effects shouldn’t repeat too often or play for very long;
- Notification sounds can be musical or non-musical, but it seems that most notification sounds are short musical loops;
- Notification sound effects can also be voiceovers. A voice-over might work well if you’re using notification sounds as alerts/prompts etc.
What is the problem with notification sound effects?
If notification sounds are so helpful in some games – why don’t devs use them more often? I think the main problem is that they break immersion!
When their Mute option works perfectly fine for notification sound effects, devs might neglect to implement notification sounds altogether. There is also a problem with notification sounds that can get repetitive after some time. It’s hard to track how often notification sounds play and sometimes they do get repetitive.
Another problem of notification sounds is their insensitivity (or even unreactiveness) and its temporality too – notification sound effect doesn’t play automatically when the action happens; we need to click/tap on something or press a button in order to make it happen. Some notification sound effects can still be missed by players because they don’t pay attention to them right away. And last but not least – some notification sound effects just aren’t noticeable enough! There are some notification sound effects that simply blend into the background and players don’t notice them at all.
In order to overcome notification sound problems, devs can add notification sounds in games – when notification sounds play automatically. This way they won’t break immersion, because they will always play in situations where notification sound effects might be useful. In most cases, notification sounds that play automatically are synchronization with the action on screen so the player will know better why he got the notification sound and what did it mean.
When notification sounds should NOT be used:
In general, notification sound effects shouldn’t annoy players. If your notification sound plays every single time something happens and after numerous plays.
- Receiving a gift, being able to move an object or perform another action because a certain condition is met, etc.
- When something important happens behind the scenes but you don’t want it to break your focus on the gameplay – for instance, if you’re just about to solve that puzzle!
How notification sound effects should sound like [a quick guide]
In most cases, those notification sounds shouldn’t have any vocals in them – music and effects are more than enough. Also, notification sounds shouldn’t be too long. Really short notification sound is probably best suited for most games (1-2 seconds seems like a good length).
It might look like notification sounds should always be soft and gentle – but that’s not true! If your notification sound can be loud and jarring to alert the player of something important happening behind the scenes e.g. “Warning: laser fired!” then it probably should be loud and jarring. Just keep in mind that notification sounds shouldn’t disrupt the gameplay itself (or at least not when you want them to), so try to avoid using abrupt notification sounds when they’re not really needed.