In the first part of our interview, we talked to the Princess Connect! Re: Dive (hereafter “Princess Connect R”) audio production team about their process in creating the audio for the title, and about going the extra mile while doing so.
Here in Part 2, we’re going to learn about the structure of the sound team itself. What is their intent behind making proactive use of young employees who are new to the company, not just in assistant roles but in the handling of major tasks?
- Sound Department ProducerAkihiro
- After working on audio development for global projects in major game companies, Akihiro joined Cygames in 2015. He is also the composer for Princess Connect! Re: Dive.
- Sound Department Sub ManagerRyuta
- Ryuta joined Cygames in 2014. Since then he has worked on such titles as Shadowverse and Princess Connect! Re:Dive, producing sound effects and handling promotion. He is also involved in management.
- Sound Department Sound Mixer and Audio DirectorNobuto
- Nobuto participated as a sound mixer for numerous animation titles at a sound production studio before joining Cygames in 2018. He is also involved in other projects as an audio director.
Placing newly graduated staff in key positions while maintaining sound quality and quantity.
Let me start by asking about some basic points of the team composition. How many members is the Princess Connect R sound team currently comprised of?
Akihiro: Internally, there are fourteen of us, which includes the three of us here. Eight people work on background music, with some dedicated staff members and others just handling one track. There are six people working on sound design. In the same fashion as for the background music, some are dedicated staff and others also work on other projects. We also outsource some work to composers and editors outside the company, so the entire team comes in at more than twenty in the end.
So more than twenty people are involved! With that number of people all working together, can you share some details on how the work is divided up?
Ryuta: We make adjustments both internally and externally to achieve the best possible placement, giving full consideration to the content itself and the schedules of our staff. That’s why we have some staff who are responsible for just one piece of background music.
Nobuto: In my work on multi-audio (MA) for the animated segments of the main story, I also work alongside those involved with sound effects from outside the company. For sound design, we have one dedicated staff member and five others working in-house. Duties are also divided up here in order to achieve optimal placement.
Akihiro: While this is a pretty large-scale audio team for a single smartphone game, we believe these are the necessary numbers to achieve the quality and quantity of audio we desire for Princess Connect R while also considering the work-life balance of each member.
I’ve heard you have a lot of younger staff members on the Princess Connect R audio team. Can you tell me some more about that?
Akihiro: From among the eight members involved in background music, three of them joined Cygames after graduating in 2018, and two after graduating in 2019. That means new graduates are handling the larger part of our work at the moment.
New graduates are placed in key positions? Is that common in game sound production?
Akihiro: I think it’s pretty unique. New employees are normally placed in a trainee or assistant position first to gain experience. In game companies in the past or on small-scale projects, there might have been times when new employees took on key duties, but for something on the scale—not to mention the quality—of Princess Connect R, I think most places would be too scared to leave key roles to new recruits.
What kind of jobs do the new graduates actually do?
Akihiro: They are involved with pretty much everything. They not only create background music, but also direct the performers when recording instruments in the studio, and also direct the finishing track down (TD) process.
They also incorporate their finished track into the game, ensuring that their audio plays under the best possible conditions. For the adventure (conversation) parts, they are also the ones to choose the track to use from among the existing 250 tracks.
I provide direction in the studios run by the new graduates, perform quality checks on the tracks they produce, and provide direction as required if there are any points to modify or areas of concern. I don’t just leave everything to them. They know they’ve got some backup.
Ryuta: They also handle interactions with composers and editors outside the company, manage their schedules, and do things like that for themselves. We have our new graduates do pretty much every task.
I almost can’t believe it. Can people with no practical working experience immediately bring something to the table?
Akihiro: Normally it wouldn’t be possible at all. But Cygames provides not only detailed how-to training, but also training that enhances motivation, meaning they are brimming with energy and can also achieve results.
Generally in the game audio industry, new employees with one or two years of experience have almost no chance to go into a studio packed with performers, direct them, and see their own track come to life. More than that, they’re usually just working with computer sounds—projects that don’t involve the recording of live instruments. They have no chance to go to the recording studio, and will never get to talk to external composers or engineers. I think that’s why they generally get treated as assistants or trainees.
On that point, new graduate staff joining Cygames are in a position to receive major work for themselves and become central figures in recording while talking with both composers and engineers in the studio. I think it’s pretty rare for a new employee to get the chance to handle this much work.It also helps them grow very quickly.
Hearing all that, it sounds like a pretty tough environment for them?
Akihiro: Not at all. As a policy for nurturing new staff members, I think it’s actually the opposite. It keeps them on a focused path, so there’s no unnecessary panic or worry, and it keeps them reassured. Everyone enjoys their work, proceeds in a logical fashion, and maintains just the right amount of both tension and relaxation in their hearts and minds.
Crazy requests often seen in the industry, like “make four or five background music tracks in a week,” aren’t something that we do here. It’s fine to take a month to make one track. But if you take the time, you need to make something high quality. In actual fact, the tracks are often finished in a few days, but we never put any pressure on our staff. Our focus is on completing each track with the highest possible quality, without any demand for speed.
Ryuta: Of course, the update schedule for the game is fixed, so we need to produce a certain number of tracks within a fixed period. For Princess Connect R we add seven to eight new tracks each month, so we cover that by adding additional staff or outsourcing to external composers. While considering the workload placed on each staff member, we give them the duties that we know they can handle. That way, it’s also a positive approach when it comes to nurturing new human resources.
Akihiro: All of the composers to whom we outsource—including Kohei Tanaka, who created the theme song—are at the top of their game, and so we need to create quality that can match their tracks. Rushing doesn’t create anything worthwhile, and if you don’t take your time you don’t get attached to the work. Nothing good comes from unnecessary pressure; all you’ll do is crush their spirit.
Nobuto: Even veteran staff can crack under pressure. That goes double for new recruits. If they become too scared of the pressure, they may hold back from discussing important matters with their superiors. That in turn creates more fear, which all leads into a negative spiral.
Having them face the job head-on and approach it thoroughly does seem to be the best approach. But is there a risk that being new to the work, they don’t have a feeling for the suitable speed at which to proceed and may hurry without being aware of it?
Akihiro: In order to prevent that from happening, the sound department at Cygames has thoroughly implemented the way of thinking that “speed does not equal good work.”
Making music isn’t easy, and the length of time it takes to make a track has nothing to do with our users. Our primary goal is to keep our users happy and satisfied.
Ryuta: For that reason, our staff manages their own schedule for themselves as soon as they join the company, planning how many tracks are required within what time frame, how many they will make for themselves, and how many to order from external composers.
Akihiro: Of course, they can’t do everything perfectly right from the start, meaning they may miss deadlines or their work might not be sufficient quality. My job is to decide the correct steps to take when that happens, providing both psychological and practical support in the workplace.
However, everyone has been coming along so well, I rarely have to go down into the workplace anymore.
Everything comes down to their will to work! Nurturing the next generation in the Cygames way.
That sounds like a tough, but also caring way to train employees. Is there anything else Cygames does that you think is unique to the company in terms of nurturing new employees?
Ryuta: If people speak up and say they want to do something, we generally let them do it. If people say they want to handle a specific part or want to undertake a specific job, we tell them to go for it. Fundamentally, we respect the will of each individual and entrust them with work accordingly.
Nobuto: There’s a suitability for certain categories within the audio field, meaning that normally after joining a company some people will just make background music or just make sound effects.
But at Cygames, people who make sound effects can make music if they want to, and the opposite is also true. Of course, they can also focus on a single category if they wish. We foster an environment in which people can challenge whatever it is they want to do.
Akihiro: This isn’t limited to just the audio professions, but something that’s true across all of Cygames. One of the new graduate members of the Princess Connect R sound team actually joined the company as a general employee.
The hiring slots for creative positions like audio and for general employees are totally different, and there are almost no examples of anyone crossing between them in the past. His desire to do so was very persuasive, however, and so he achieved a position in the sound department. Of course, he had taken an interest in audio and studied it on his own, but I still think it’s rare for a company to allow a transfer like this.
Nobuto: It’s a pretty unique trajectory to take, but he continues to work hard alongside the other young members of the sound department. He’s an excellent worker!
Giving him a push toward challenging himself has led to further growth. That’s good to see. Now, how about sharing the most important traits you think are needed when working as part of the sound team.
Akihiro: The most important thing is to value the team. Everyone is unique, meaning they have their own different strengths and weaknesses. We try to draw out each other’s strengths to create the best possible product. That’s an application of one of our mission statements to always be aware you’re part of the Cygames team. Everyone really does get along very well.
Finally, how about a message for our readers who are interested in working at Cygames!
Ryuta: I think Cygames provides an excellent working environment for new employees. We chatted about this already, but I’d like to reiterate that it’s easy to take on new challenges with us. I think there are very few companies that allow you to set your own pace like we do.
Nobuto: We’re a company offering a wide range of opportunities. We generally allow creators to try whatever they want to try and have their backs when they do so. I think it’s an excellent environment for people who are driven or who have something specific they want to achieve.
Akihiro: It doesn’t matter if you have an established career or not. This really is a job where you can do the things you like, and things that are fun. All of our new graduates say that they are happy to have joined us. Anyone who’s interested, our doors are always open!