background music for games

Background Music for Games | Listen, Stream or Download

Getting the right soundtrack for your games – be it as a livestreamer or a video game developer – is a fundamental task.

Background music for games, or gaming music (also known as BGM (Background Game Music) or VGM (Video Game Music) is music that can be used as background music in video games.

These terms are used interchangeably by both livestreamers of gameplay (for example, Twitch streams) and video game developers (for example, game designers who are actually designing and building games).

For many, find good background game music is daunting and overwhelming but there are certain steps you can take to get the most out of your background game music from using the right mood music, using game music effectively to build your world and tell your story and finally, getting the right music licence type to ensure your game music is safe to use today and for many many years to come.

What music genre is used for gaming videos?

The music genre used for gaming videos and video game developers depends on the type of game.

This is true for both video game developers who are designing games or live streamers, who are producing gaming videos and livestreams.

Ideally, the music should be matched to the game and play style and enhance the gamer experience.

Typically, we rely on history and games that have gone before to help us decide what is the most suitable genre of music for the genre of game.

At the end of the day, it is completely the creative decision of the game designer or live streamer to use whatever genre of music they want, however sticking to the typical pairing of the game genre to the typical music genre is a safe and reliable approach. For example, action shooter video games will typically be paired with Rock Music.

Below is a list of typical game genres that exist today and some musical genre suggestions that historically work.

GAME GENREGAME EXAMPLEMUSIC GENRE EXAMPLE
ShootersCall of Duty, BattlefieldRock Music with guitars and drums
PlatformersMarioPOP, Rock or Retro Video Game Music – This video game genre does not have a very strong stereotypical music genre and really, anything goes!
AdventureUncharted: Golden Abyss, SkyrimOrchestral Cinematic Music, Medieval Music, or Celtic Music.
RacingGravel, DescendersRock or EDM (Electronic Dance Music)
HorrorResident EvilOrchestral Cinematic Music, Aggressive Rock, Metal
PuzzleMinesweeperDance Music, POP Music – This video game genre may use a variety of musical styles.
StrategyCivilizationOrchestral Music, Choral Music
FightingMortal KombatRock Music, Orchestral Cinematic Music
StealthAssassins CreedEpic Orceshtral Music, Inspiration Rock Beats

How can I use music to increase game immersion?

Music is fundamental to enhance game immersion. When we reach full game immersion we reach a state of “flow” where we forget all worries and the passage of time goes unnoticed.

It is reaching this full state of immersion that makes playing and designing video games such an incredible experience in my opinion.

Much research has been completed into the field of game immersion, but for me, one of the most notable papers was published in 2004 by Dr Paul Cairns and Emily Brown titled, A Grounded Investigation of Game Immersion”.

The paper concludes that there are “Three Levels of Immersion”.

These three levels of immersion are very important for game designers and VGM composers to understand in order to lead the game player on a path to total game immersion.

The three levels outlined by Dr Paul Cairns and Emily Brown are:

  1. Engagement
  2. Engrossment
  3. Total Immersion

Step 1 – Music and Game Immersion – Engagement

Engagement is the first step in a video game where we help the gamer overcome the initial “work” involved with starting a game.

It takes a lot of time and learning when starting a new game, and for many if these early stages of a game or not engaging and fun, the gamer will not continue.

In most games, the early stages include picking your character, learning the controller and training.

Typically we will want calming and reassuring music at these early stages. We want to say to the gamer, “hey, come on in, this is a world you wanna be part of”.

Music for Navigation and Player Engagment

After the initial steps of a game, music is used in fundamental ways to maintain gamer engagement.

A classic example in which music is used in a subtle yet very effective way is to help the player navigate the game.

For example, no background music will subconsciously tell the gamer that this is a boring area not of interest and someplace you should move away from.

Music Hinting in Video Game Enagement

Musical hinting is used extensively in progressing the story of a video game.

Musical hinting in video games is the art of using musical cues to inform the player of certain game aspects, for example as the player draws close to a certain area, the music score could rise and play a familiar or distinctive tune, letting the player know that this is a special place and someplace in the game that they should check out.

Another classic example of music hinting in video games is using music as a warning as enemies approach. You may suddenly get dramatic fight music, which will raise the player’s heart rate and increase game engagement.

Step 2 – Music and Game Immersion – Engrossment

Engrossment is the level of game immersion where the gamer is already immersed and about to invest a lot of time and emotion into this game.

This is where the mood of the music becomes very important.

Game designers will use strong visuals and artwork, a great storyline and compelling tasks to keep us engrossed.

The background game music also plays a fundamental role in keeping the game player in the game world and ignore the passing of time.

This is where the world of music for video game composition and traditional music for films can overlap.

Common background music approaches you can use to keep a player engrossed are:

  1. Assign musical themes or musical instruments to characters. This will create a connection between the music and the chraters and reinforce our bound with them.
  2. Use music associated with the game world. For example, outer world or sci-fi games could have a futuristic musical score or fantasy games where the lead character visits a tavern could have traditional medieval music playing to build atmosphere.
  3. Always use the right mood music to match the on-screen storeytelling. Using the right mood music will envoke the right emotions in the game player and keep them engrossed in the storeyline or gameplay. by using the right music.

Step 3 – Music and Game Immersion – Total Immersion

Total immersion is like the holy grail for video game designers and what the final goal is. It is the point at which the player has invested time and emotions into the game. Plus, they have obviously stuck around long enough to prove that this is a good game and the designers did a good job!

To get to this stage, a lot of the work has already been built up from step 1 and step 2, however, now we need to give the game player the reason to be totally immersed and stick around.

According to Carins and Brown, the Total Immersion Stage is reached when the two following prerequisites are met.

  1. Attention
  2. Empathy

Music & Game Attention

Game player attention at this stage goes beyond playing the game for long periods of time. Instead, it is a more profound level of attention and focus that captivates the player, who may even experience the state of “flow”, where they are not aware of the passing of time and are 100% in the game.

Music and auditory cues are essential to building this state to keep the deep attention and focus of the gamer.

Music & Game Empathy

Empathy at the total immersion stage of game play is a stage at which you completely empathise with your game characters. You feel for them and want them to complete an action.

Again, the importance of video game background music is essential to build emotion in the game and allow the game player to connect emotionally with the story and characters.

Where can I find free music for games?

As music for games, [also known as BGM (Background Game Music) & VGM (Video Game Music)] has become so popular, there are multiple avenues to download free game music.

However, with all game music, be it for live streams or video game development, ensuring that it is safe to use for long term use is essential.

You need to choose a library of trustworthy music that has a music licence that allows you to use the music safely in your content, long term.

For example, if you design a video game in 2021, it may still be popular in 2031, and you really don’t want to be reprogramming your game to re-synchronise your music as you have to replace it.

Personally, I recommend royalty-free music as the best music option for gamers – both streamers and game developers.

Royalty free music, is a music licence type where you can pay a one-time fee and use the music forever in your content. The best thing about “free” royalty-free music, is that it actually free so you have no upfront costs.

My best advice if you are looking for free background music for games, is to ensure you use a royalty free music library that issues you with a music licence that you can read and understand with long term music use.

Therefore, in 10 years, (or even 10 weeks!) if that music library gets bought out, they will still need to honour your music agreement. With a written music licence, you can prove to anyone who asks where you downloaded the free music and how you are allowed to use it.

My music library is still on the small side but is growing, and you can download free royalty free music that is safe to use long term as background music in video games or as background music for live game streams.

In addition, I provide a professionally written music licence agreement, so you can prove to whoever may ask, where you download the music from.

The only thing I request in return is that you add a music credit to me as per the example written on my licence page here: [Licence Page]

Royalty Free Music for Video Game Developers

Below are some of my Celtic and Sci-Fi themed background music that is free to download and can be used as background music in games, by both streamers and game developers.

DMCA Safe Music for Livestreamer

If you are looking for DMCA Free or DMCA Safe music for Twitch and live game streams and don’t want the hassle of downloading music, you can stream my Royalty Free, DMCA Free music on Spotify.

Check out my streaming page for the links to my Spotify profile and DMCA safe music on Spotify.

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All my music is free to use background music in games, both for live streamers and game development. If you would like to help me out so I can produce music faster and get more tunes in my free music library, please consider “Buying Me A Coffee”. Peace. x

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