I speak to this from my own experience, and hope that it may be helpful to other audio designers and game aficionados all around.
Audio is an integral part of a video game. In fact, even a simple score can create a very large impact. Take the classic: Space Invaders. The music is 4 tones, but is considered by many to have one of the most successful scores.
Midway imports Space Invaders from Taito. A great example of simple, effective sound design, Space Invaders owes a large part of its appeal to its menacing, paranoia-inducing soundtrack. Not music per se, the thumping audio track actually accelerates in tempo as the enemy invaders draw nearer (and move faster). The effect: sweat, panic, and increased blood pressure in a generation of gamers.
From “A History of Video Game Music” on http://www.gamespot.com/features/6092391/p-2.html
As the music speeds up, so too does the heart rate of the player; this is so much so, that if one plays Space Invaders with the TV on mute, s/he will find the game to be much easier. (give it a try! PLAY HERE).
Clearly audio has a great role to play, even on the most basic levels. Audio plays a very visceral role in game immersion and great audio will enhance your game, bringing it to the next level.
So now that the WHY is covered, we will move on to the HOW.
Using an in-house audio provider will surely create a tighter product as the audio designer is involved in and surrounded by all aspects of the game. Of course, budgets do not always allow for in-house audio, and so many game companies choose to farm out the audio to a wide slew of providers of which I am one.
From environmental sound design and SFX to custom compositions and interactive scores, there are many types of audio assets that will add to a game. What all these types of audio have in common is they are all best approached through the five guidelines below.
1) Bring the audio designer into the game development cycle early.
Audio is often thought of as something that can be dropped in last minute, and as an audio person myself, I can often tell this to be the case when playing the finalized game. If the audio provider was brought in early, s/he can give many creative ideas of how to use the audio in a game to not only react to the game, but even advance the story (such as interactive music that gives feedback to the player letting them know they are moving in the right direction). If the audio designer is made aware of the story and game mechanics nearer to the beginning of the production cycle, a more interactive, interesting, and polished sound track can be created.
2) Relate some examples of what you like via links/samples.
Producers, programmers, artists and audio designers are not always speaking the same “language.” If a producer is looking for a sound to be more “sad“, I can easily modify the sound to be so; yet, descriptions are not often that simple. The complications arise when words of more depth are thrown around, or