Interview

POC in Mobile: Chase Bethea's journey as a game composer and the many benefits of game jams

POC in Mobile: Chase Bethea's journey as a game composer and the many benefits of game jams

We are in a pivotal moment. For decades, no matter the industry, people of colour have suffered through a lack of opportunity and a lack of respect, leaving them stuck playing second fiddle throughout their careers.

The games industry is no different, and here at PocketGamer.biz we wanted to do our part and help bring attention to the many incredible people of colour that help make up this sector. That is why we are committing to a new long-term regular feature to spotlight these people and their careers.

So, welcome to our new 'POC in Mobile' series, where discussion about finding a place in the games industry, the various challenges faced as a minority, and what truly needs to be done to make games more diverse will be the focal points of conversations.

This week, we spoke with game composer and technical sound designer Chase Bethea discusses how he began writing music for mobile games and why game jams offer a wealth of experience.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you start off by telling us about your role in mobile games and what it entails?

Chase Bethea: My role in mobile games is as a video game composer/technical sound designer. I am typically contracted by mobile game companies to execute both roles as this gives the best sonic identity for the project and more of a unique experience. For projects, I compose the music first and then use audio-middleware to design specific dynamic cues to align with the mechanics in the game.

There's no need to wait because the longer you do, the more opportunities will pass you by.
Chase Bethea

Why did you want to work in the mobile games industry?

I have always been fascinated with mobile games since playing them on my old Motorola v600 with Gameloft titles. The phone technology and user base have both grown rapidly and it's been my goal to score music for projects that can get into many people's hands to experience and enjoy.

I actually started my career at a mobile game company called Mobotory - co-founded by former Activision employee Alex Bortoluzzi - where I was told that my job was to create "ear candy." Alex sent me home with an iPad with Tremors, Cut the Rope, and Infinity Blade to study, and that's what I've been focused on since 2011.

How would you recommend people get started in games? Any tools or literature you would advise?

You can get started in games by participating in as many game jams as you can. There's no need to wait because the longer you do, the more opportunities will pass you by. Game jams teach you a lot very fast, such as workflow, how you work with others and if the industry is a good fit for your aspirations. I'd also recommend the book The Complete Guide to Game Audio by Aaron Marks which I read in 2011.

What did you study (if anything) for your role? Are there any courses out there that you would advise for aspiring professionals?

I have three degrees (Audio Engineering, Composition and Media Composition) but it only helped a little with working in-game audio. I'm mostly self-taught, so I learned from game jams and the many gigs I booked over the years, as well as the many interviews and articles about similar professionals.

Bethea at The Game Awards pre-show in Los Angeles in 2018

On top of this, I would recommend the School of Video Game Audio run by Leonard Paul, which I've heard great things about. Truth be told, I would actually take this course just to polish the skills I have.

What do you think should be done to improve diversity, not only across the games industry, but across all industries?

To improve diversity people should be persistent in seeking and hiring the qualified candidates, with more mentorship programs being consistently implemented and ran. The steadier opportunities that are given overall, the better off the whole industry becomes. If I have a box of crayons and I'm missing the colours in that box, I would want to fill in those spots with the respective colours that should be there.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered since joining the industry?

The biggest challenges for me have been visibility and being undervalued. I noticed over the years that I am a very niche composer, but niche is not always accepted by the masses right away. With my career title being over-saturated for over a decade now, it has pushed the value of the craft to be worth nothing.

It would be great if recruiters could be more proactive and vigilant to help get people of colour into a career role.
Chase Bethea

To help with this, I study marketing and business through various articles and YouTube channels alongside learning about game design via my physical game collection – now closing in on 800 titles. I'm also trying to learn the latest tools for resources to add further value to my composing and technical skills.

What do you think can be done to help encourage more people of colour to get into games?

Encouragement comes from visibility. Seeing people that are like them in the profession is only heightened by interviews, speaking sessions, performing, conducting and awards in said industry. This needs to happen more than every few years (or even once a decade), as I believe this will naturally help outlined career paths for others to follow.

Is there anything that recruiters should be doing differently to address the lack of diversity across not only games development but all industries?

It would be great if recruiters could be more proactive and vigilant to help get people of colour into a career role. Personally, in my experience, I've witnessed recruiters that have shown a lack of interest and are not bothered about helping you get to a position that you desire.

We need genuine people that care to be in these roles, such as recruiters at Express Employment Professionals, who diligently call, check-up and make the effort to get the missing coloured crayon into the box where it's needed. This would make a lot of difference.

Since the recent surge in the #BlackLivesMatters campaign, what changes (if any) have you seen from across the industry to address the issue?

There's been a change in focus and more of a spotlight given to POC, but I'm looking for longevity in this industry, not just a sizzle reel of opportunities. These options should be standard going forward.

Bethea speaking at the Infinity Film Festival

What advice do you have for other people of colour that are looking at getting into games?

The best advice I can give is to do as much homework about the industry as you can. Be a sponge: watch, listen and read interviews about anyone and everyone in the industry, whether new or old. Literature is your best friend. The knowledge here will equip anyone willing to make the jump.

Lastly, game jams are a must. These are absolutely the best places to learn your strengths, weaknesses, teamwork skills, how to network, and more.

Staff Writer

Matthew Forde is the staff writer for PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about Smash Bros. and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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