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2006 Game Developer Salary Survey Now Available

Zonk posted about 7 years ago | from the what-are-they-making-now dept.

Businesses 46

Gamasutra's annual game developer salary survey will be coming to subscribers of the magazine in the next issue. As always, it looks at the current trends in payment for folks in the games industry, and some of that info is now available online. "According to the new survey, conducted in association with Audience Insights, the average salary in 2006 over all American game programmers was $80,886 - basically flat on the year before, thanks to an influx of entry level coders to the game business, but with significant increases for veteran programmers. The 2006 average for artists was $65,107, again basically flat on 2005, though average salaries of experienced lead artists and animators rose the most. The game designers' average was $61,538, with salaries scaling within a $5,000 range over the last 3 years over all experience levels." The new survey also marks the kickoff of Game Developer Research, a division aimed at doing quantitative analysis of games and gaming trends.

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46 comments

Unfortunately... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18579021)

That only translates into 9.50 an hour.

(8.00 an hour at EA)

Re:Unfortunately... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18579841)

That only translates into 9.50 an hour.

Oh come on. Just round it up to 10 rupees and call it even.

Re:Unfortunately... (1)

Cornflake917 (515940) | about 7 years ago | (#18580555)

Actually, you bring up a good point. I wish they also asked the programmers how many hours they worked per week. I want to know if the game industry is as rough as people say it is.

Re:Unfortunately... (1)

Micklewhite (1031232) | about 7 years ago | (#18580941)

Yes the industry is shit. My friend got fed up with the abuse at Rockstar games and got himself fired (working 9-5 is apparently a good way to get sacked). The general rule of thumb is you only go into video games if you're tired of having a personal life.

Re:Unfortunately... (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | about 7 years ago | (#18581889)

I've got a few friends who each have worked a couple different jobs in the game industry.

The short version is, yes, it is that bad.

The long version is, I wonder sometimes. On one hand, they're very often there late at night and on weekends. On the other hand, a lot of these guys roll into the office at 11 in the morning, surf the web for half an hour and go to lunch. Team goofing off seems more accepted in the game industry than any other programming or art job, too -- if you want to take an hour to play pool or Warcraft, even if these have nothing to do with the game you're working on, more power to you. Does this all still add up to more than 40 hours of real work a week? Probably, but it probably doesn't add up to 80, either.

The only thing I feel sure of is that, with few if any exceptions, you can't really work 9-5 in this industry. This is not a job for people who want to have kids and actually see them.

Re:Unfortunately... (1)

psyclone (187154) | about 7 years ago | (#18583543)

It is not just game developers that function in groups with "goofing off time". Any non-corporate (or non-corporate-wannabe) software company allows engineering teams to work the hours they see fit, as long as they get their shit done. And usually, they have unrealistic deadlines. So blowing off 6 hours a week (~1 hour a day) is nothing compared to their 50+ hours of real work they do.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Creative people work creatively. Smart companies allow developers time to mess around. As generally they discover ideas about how to do their job better.

Any Gamasutra subscribers here? (2, Insightful)

mobby_6kl (668092) | about 7 years ago | (#18579119)

I'm not a game dev and not planning on becoming one in the near future, but it would be interesting to see some more statistical data on this. As we (should) all know, the simple average is not very useful is cases like this, it'd be nice to at least see the median and standard deviation values. Or a histogram for each of the major categories.

Median and std dev useless (2, Informative)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 7 years ago | (#18579147)

Mediann and std dev are useless. They only really apply for normal distributions. Salaries tend not to have a normal distribution so they lose their value.

Re:Median and std dev useless (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | about 7 years ago | (#18579441)

Well, maybe game dev's salaries are normally distributed, but we wouldn't know that from just the averages :)

Re:Median and std dev useless (2, Interesting)

illegalcortex (1007791) | about 7 years ago | (#18579487)

Possibly true, but I would argue that averages are much MORE useless. At least with medians you'd get a chance of filtering out the high paid outliers. I think a histogram for many different areas of the country/world would be the main thing you'd need to actually make any sense out of this.

Re:Median and std dev useless (1)

russ_allegro (444120) | about 7 years ago | (#18579517)

Central Limit Theorem?

Re:Median and std dev useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18583919)

Salaries are neither independent nor identically distributed; further, I don't know whether there are enough game devs that CLT applies anyway.

Re:Median and std dev useless (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18579797)

Well, for normal distributions, the median is equal to the "average" (the mean).

For non-normal distributions, the median is useful, since it does reduce the effect of outliers at the extreme ends, as someone else mentioned. That's why newspapers usually talk about the median family income of a country, instead of the mean, for example.

Re:Median and std dev useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18582493)

Just to prove my point, the U.S. Census Bureau explains how the median is more relevant than the mean in measuring U.S. household income, which is clearly not normally distributed:

http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/p70-88.pdf [census.gov] (Page 2)
"The distribution of wealth in the United States has a large positive skew, with relatively few households holding a large proportion of the wealth. For this type of distribution, the median is the preferred measure of central tendency because it is less sensitive than the average (mean) to extreme observations. The median is also considerably lower than the average, and provides a more accurate representation of the wealth and asset holdings of the typical household. For example, more households have a net worth near the median of $55,000 than near the average of $182,381."

Never mind that! (2, Funny)

Threni (635302) | about 7 years ago | (#18579279)

I want to know what Atari 2600 developers are up to! I bet they're living like gods!

Salaried or Hourly? (1)

Herkum01 (592704) | about 7 years ago | (#18579457)

The pay for it someone in the industry seems decent at $80,000~. I would take that in a minute. On the other hand, how many hours per week do they work? If they are putting in 80 hour weeks, I would not be so willing to even consider such a position.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (2, Insightful)

bmac83 (869058) | about 7 years ago | (#18579615)

My guess is that people in the game design industry are there because they love it, not necessarily for excess compensation as compared to salaries paid in other fields within the industry. So, excess hours over the standard workweek are probably acceptable to many people.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 7 years ago | (#18581177)

"My guess is that people in the game design industry are there because they love it, not necessarily for excess compensation as compared to salaries paid in other fields within the industry. So, excess hours over the standard workweek are probably acceptable to many people."

... right ... how long are they going to "love" 80-hour weeks ...?

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | about 7 years ago | (#18581451)

See thats not hard to do however in reality the question is:
"How long are they going to 'love' 80-hour weeks doing the work of a trained monkey?"

They're no more "making games" than the guy who tightened bolts in a car on the factory floor back in the day "made cars." Short of self-delusion or lottery player sort of reality distortion (that they'll get more creative control before going insane and burning out) they'd be about as close to "making games" as a code-monkey is in any other field.

More fun than tightening bolts (1)

MDiehr (1065156) | about 7 years ago | (#18583349)

It's a bit more than just tightening bolts. Factory workers don't get to test drive all the cars-in-development. They also can't adjust where they add bolts to see how it affects the ride.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

obarel (670863) | about 7 years ago | (#18579753)

Which just goes to show that salaries should be given per (real) hour, not per annum.

If instead of working 40 hours a week I give 50, I actually earn 20% less - it's simple really.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

dslbrian (318993) | about 7 years ago | (#18580027)

If instead of working 40 hours a week I give 50, I actually earn 20% less - it's simple really.

A friend of mine knew someone who at one time was working 80 hours a week, pulling in $80k or so. At first he thought the $80k figure sounded real nice, but he said that person told him viewed from a different perspective it was the same as working two 40hour jobs, at $40k each (which IMO would be nuts). Apparently that person had quit the "two jobs" and took a somewhat lower paying job elsewhere, wherein he had more spare time (and in that newly found spare time he managed to make money on the side doing something he liked - teaching ski lessons).

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 7 years ago | (#18581397)

Actually, you're earning even less. Overtime at 1-1/2 the base pay starts, depending on the jurisdiction, at either 40 hours or 44 hours. Double time usually starts at 60 hours.

For example, working a 40-hour week at a base rate, 20 hours at time-and-a-half, and 20 hours at double time, a person who earns $80,000 a year has a base pay of $13.99 per hour.

Even if they only get time-and-a-half for the other 40 hours, that's still only $15.39 per hour.

Either one is a far cry from $80,000 p.a /52 weeks /40 hours per week, or $38.46/hr.

And don't forget the compulsory perks, like a paid meal (both the food AND the time to eat it paid by the employer) for any work day in excess of 12 hours - which will be all 6 days (pretty much everywhere requires the employer to give all workers 32 consecutive hours off each week no matter how many hours are worked). So, even at $10 a head, that's an additional $3,000 p.a., plus the time to eat it at (at least) time and a half, and possible double time and a half.

And for those who put in 100-hour weeks ... well, you're earning a base salary of $11.84 if you're in a time-and-a-half jurisdiction, and only making $6.16 an hour as a base salary.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 7 years ago | (#18581433)

Hate replying to myself but the last bit got clipped...

and only making $6.16 an hour as a base salary if you're in a double time and a half after 80 hours area. Your pay would be 40 hours at your base rate, + 20 hours at time and a half (equivalent to 30 hours at your base rate), plus 20 hours at double time(equivalent to 40 hours at your base rate) and 20 hours at double time and a half,(equivalent to 50 hours at your base rate). In other words, your cmpensation should total the equivalent of 40+30+40+50, or 160 hours at your base rate, for a 100-hour week. Plus time paid to eat the over-12-hour day meal, plus the meal itself. If you're "eating" all this by working 100 hours a week for $80,000 p.a., you're actually making less as base pay than someone earning the minimum wage would in many areas.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

obarel (670863) | about 7 years ago | (#18595457)

There's another problem here.

Most people earning $80,000 would not feel comfortable asking for the "perks" as you call them. After all, they're earning a good salary, why should the employer pay for their meals (and what would the employer think if you said "by law you owe me this"?)

So yes, most people would "eat" their pride (and the price of workplace culture) and pay for their good jobs in a way that someone on minimum wage would never dream of.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 7 years ago | (#18598685)

80 hours a week and you don't get the perks that have to be given by LAW? For 80 hours a week, enlightened self-interest says the employer better have a few non-statutory perks lined up, or they'll end up with a burned-out no-morale employee, who is no good to anyone.

And, as I pointed out, $80k for 80 hrs/week is not exactly good money - their base salary before overtime is only $13.99/hr - a far cry from the $38.46/hr. that someone making the same for 40 hours is getting. So, after they've put in all those hours, and drop back to 37.5 hours a week (because you can be sure that anyone who won't pay the statutory overtime meals isn't going to pay a half-hour lunch), they'll be grossing less than $525/week, or just under $27,300 p.a.

If they need you that bad that you have to work 80 hours a week, you're entitled to some extra consideration. Or doesn't the persone who submits to this sort of abuse not have any pride in their work?

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

Psychochild (64124) | about 7 years ago | (#18603399)

...they'll end up with a burned-out no-morale employee, who is no good to anyone.

Unfortunately, most companies don't see a problem with this. As a colleague of mine in the industry said, "There's no shortage of 24 year olds wanting to get into the industry." For the low-level talent, there's little mercy because the parts are easily replaceable. If an individual tries to rock the boat, they are gently reminded that there are other people willing to work for low wages.

On the other hand, you can make some serious money if you have significant experience with the "hot" item of the moment; for programmers that's console programming experience, for designers that's a shipped title in a hot genre/medium. For example, I'm an experienced MMO designer/programmer with almost a decade of experience. I am currently working under contract making a nice five-figure rate per month. (It helps that I'm working for a European company and therefore getting paid in Euros. It's also in my contract that my work week is 40 hours, but sometimes I go over. Shhh! Don't tell my bosses. ;) If I were some random guy off the street, I wouldn't have this opportunity and certainly wouldn't be making as much money.

The experience has not come easy, though. I had to work for low wages when I started my career all those years ago (working at the now defunct 3DO) making a rather humble $40k in Silicon Valley near the peak of the dot-com days. I also started my own small game company and made peanuts doing it for several years. But, the experience I gained and my ability to do incredible amounts of work with a small team make me very valuable to people who need my experience. Most of the other high-paid people in the industry likely have similar stories; they started humble, paid their dues, got lucky enough to work on a "hit", or some high-demand tech, or in a key genre/medium and now make good money.

Some more information from someone working at the upper end of the pay scales. (Finally! ;)

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 7 years ago | (#18603693)

"If an individual tries to rock the boat, they are gently reminded that there are other people willing to work for low wages."

With cell phones that can record sound and video so pervasive, that's a quick way for a company to lose a large lawsuit, as well as get slapped with all sorts of fines for breaking labour standards. The days of "shhh ... put up with being overly exploited or you're gone" are gone.

The "people are interchangeable parts" philosophy is short-sited on the employers' part, but it explains the poor quality of a LOT of stuff. People with low morale, bad hours, etc., how can you expect them to put the same quality time in as someone who is proud of what they do, who they work for, and is making enough so that they don't have to deal with the wolf at the door? Better to hire fewer people, and pay them more. The mythical man-month is a fact.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

Psychochild (64124) | about 7 years ago | (#18612717)

With cell phones that can record sound and video so pervasive, that's a quick way for a company to lose a large lawsuit, as well as get slapped with all sorts of fines for breaking labour standards. The days of "shhh ... put up with being overly exploited or you're gone" are gone.

Unfortunately not true. Shockingly enough, it'll probably be your co-workers that put the pressure on you rather than the top bosses. In the last few months of my work at 3DO, the team was deathmarching to the release of a product that I take little pride in. My programming mentor told me I should come in some extra hours "to support the team". He also casually mentioned about other teams, such as the High Heat team who had a couch in their area and took turns sleeping there instead of going home. "Of course, that's crazy!" he told me. "You shouldn't be here that long." The subtle hint was that I had it easy working 12+ hour days, 6 days per week. I actually got to go home! Not an open-and-shut case even if I had gotten a perfect recording of the situation.

You also have the issue that some of the younger game developers are only too happy to be exploited. When I was working on a project I enjoyed, I willingly came in on weekends or even holidays to put in a bit of extra time. I wanted to work on the game, and my significant other understood completely (bless her, I'm a lucky guy). The problem is when this turns from something the developer willingly does to something that's worked into the schedule in order to meet quarterly reports. That last project I worked on at 3DO was developing a game in 6 months, when the average back then was only 12-18 months. Yeah, someone in management figured we could do it by working continuous crunch. But, the game did poorly and it was for rather obvious reasons.

Anyway, it's not an easily cut-and-dried topic. It's a grand combination of naïve young people, natural enthusiasm for working on games, and the greed of managers willing to exploit it. Only that last one makes the whole thing stink as bad is it does at larger companies.

Some more info.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 7 years ago | (#18614433)

Its sad, and a lot of people don't know that its illegal to pressure someone to put in unwanted overtime, paid or unpaid. Employers that want to last would make sure this sort of culture doesn't exist. Sure, they benefit from it short-term, but long-term, its a road to disaster. Short-term gain for long-term pain.

Yes, when you're working on something you enjoy, you don't mind the extra hours ... but you eventually become stale and lose perspective. Not a good thing.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18580495)

The pay for it someone in the industry seems decent at $80,000~.


It depends. Are most developers still in areas like California and Seattle as opposed to Omaha and Syracuse? I'll take 50k a year based on 40 hours a week (and a life) in the latter two versus 80k a year based on 80 hours a week in the first two.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

JNighthawk (769575) | about 7 years ago | (#18581667)

Exactly. The average takes into account all of the studios in the high cost-of-living areas, so $80k in Cali is equal to $45k out in the midwest.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

bobstevens_took_my_n (799815) | about 7 years ago | (#18583821)

I was wondering if that was an exaggeration, but some random "Cost of Living" calculator put it right on the dot... $80k in San Fran is as good as $45k in Champaign.

That makes me think I might have asked for about $15k too much when I interviewed at V a few years back. Yikes.

It's even more startling considering that I was looking at non-programming jobs in the midwest paying not much lower than $45k... so odd.

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

Captain Segfault (686912) | about 7 years ago | (#18584225)

$80k in San Fran is as good as $45k in Champaign.

That's total bullshit.

Sure, I'm paying twice as much for an apartment here on the SF peninsula (working across the street from EA, no less) than I would have in Champaign. I'm also paying somewhat higher taxes. On the other hand, my basic living expenses are a small fraction of my salary, and Amazon and Newegg are no cheaper in Champaign than they are in San Francisco.

I mean, heck, it's not like you're going to buy a car for $20K here but get the same car for only $12K in Champaign.

And, as I see it, there is no reason a company in Champaign should pay me less just because it is cheaper there. My work is no less valuable in Champaign than it is here. Sure, I could live comfortably on around what I pay for just rent here, but why should my employer pocket the difference?

Re:Salaried or Hourly? (1)

JNighthawk (769575) | about 7 years ago | (#18586231)

When rent is as big a portion of your income as it is, it *does* effect how much you need to be paid to live. Consider that your rent is double what mine is, and that rent takes up around 1/4 of your salary. That means you would need to be paid 25% more than me to have the same amount of money after paying rent. Now, when *everyone* has that problem, the prices seep into everything else, not just rent. Your work is worth the same, but the money is NOT. That is why there are pay differences based on area.

Priority? (1)

tzhuge (1031302) | about 7 years ago | (#18579593)

Did anyone else totally not expect the order to be: Programmer > Artists > Designers?

I was very much under the impression that game designers were kind of like project managers for games...

Re:Priority? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18579811)

Game designers are sometimes leads or creative direction but rarely perform real project management in addition to game design - when they do they shift to Production and are probably entered in this survey as such.

Re:Priority? (2)

xero314 (722674) | about 7 years ago | (#18579899)

I was very much under the impression that game designers were kind of like project managers for games
If designers are like project manager (not exactly they way I figured it would be) then the game industry would be the first one to get the pay scale correct.

After all it should always go People Who Mostly Work > People Who Mostly Play > People Who Do Nothing.

Re:Priority? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18581419)

Except that without someone managing a team you usually get s*** as a result (specifically high velocity s*** going towards the closest fan). So yes, a good manager does a lot. Like I say quite often: just because you work in a crappy company and can't find better employment doesn't mean your experience is worth anything.

Re:Priority? (2, Informative)

GaratNW (978516) | about 7 years ago | (#18580401)

The concept of "game designer" is very obfuscated from an outside perspective. Inside the industry, it can go from "lead designer/creative director", who are very much like project managers, to "Level designer", "ai scripter", "world builder", including tasks like placing hundreds or thousands of creatures, placing furniture, writing quests, simple and complex in whatever tools are available. Again, it covers a huge experience level, and skill set composition. Hence why the salary is shown so low. For every one creative director making $100k or $150k, you have 10 to 20 level designers, script writers, etc making $30k to $50k.

But, speaking as a project manager in the games industry, in response to someone's snarky comment below. A project manager in the games industry that doesn't do anything... doesn't last very long, in my experience. There's not nearly enough money flowing freely through most companies to put up with dead weight. Well, not at most companies anyway. Dead weight, period, usually doesn't last. Or maybe I've just been lucky. :)

Cheers.

Re:Priority? (1)

mikael (484) | about 7 years ago | (#18580787)

You have producers to do the daily management of the project - the game designer provides a list of all the features to be added to the game, while the producer maintains this list and hands them out to the programmers one at a time.

Maybe it's worth it in the long run. (1)

physicsnick (1031656) | about 7 years ago | (#18579713)

Hm. That's quite a bit higher than I expected. Maybe it's worth getting into game programming after all.

My gut reaction is that the price is skewed by a guy who's biweekly paycheck is a new Porsche... ;-)

Re:Maybe it's worth it in the long run. (1)

PhoenixOne (674466) | about 7 years ago | (#18580349)

If you have experience program for the PS3 and don't mind 90-hour workweeks, I can help get you a job before the end of the week.

Otherwise, you'll be lucky to find an entry level job that will pay you well below the average and work you 90-hours. If you survive that job, and you are lucky enough to get some next-gen console experience, you can start making some serious money.

I wonder what the standard deviation is.... (1)

asLEEpy (1075353) | about 7 years ago | (#18581763)

The salary for game programmers is higher than I expected, and I think it might be actually higher than the average salary for a general programmer... the standard deviation must be huge, or I should start programming games more.

Re:I wonder what the standard deviation is.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18583013)

There's a big difference between programmers and game programmers. The best I can describe it is ... creativity. A project team doesn't need someone who has to hand fed tasks. A coder that can not just solve the usual interesting puzzles, but actually take the initiative to make it 'fun' is someone who will get the big bux over time.
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