How Much Game Makers Get Paid

How Much Game Makers Get Paid

Making video games sure looks like a fun gig from the outside, doesn't it? Pouring your talents into a creation that can get played by thousands or even millions of people worldwide is not something many people can say that they do. But bragging rights and cool points don't pay bills. Just how much did video game designers, programmers and artists earn in 2013? Let's take a look.

Thousands of game-makers participated in Gamasutra's annual salary survey earlier this year and the results — broken down by creative discipline and focusing on the state of he industry in the U.S. — have just been made available. Is a career in game making a worthwhile pursuit, financially speaking? Depends on what you do and who you do it with.

The average overall compensation of American game developers was $US83,060. The average annual salary for a solo indie game-maker in $US11,812, down a whopping 4% from last year. But if you were part of a crew of indies, things were better with an average of $US50,833. Programmers earn the most cash, pulling down an average of $US93,251 a year. Artists and animators get about $US74,349, while producers and game designers were paid $US82,286 and $US73,864 respectively. A fuller breakdown (remember these are averages):

  • Programmers: $US93,251
  • Artists and animators: $US74,349
  • Game Designers: $US73,864
  • Producers: $US82,286
  • Quality Assurance: $US54,833
  • Audio: $US95,682
  • Business & management: $US101,572

Despite the seemingly constant layoffs the industry faces, salaries have largely increased from five years ago. The report notes that gender pay equity is still a long ways off — despite being better than the national average — with women $US13,000 less a year for doing the same work. You can look at the whole salary survey here.


    That's some decent numbers there.

      true as that may be, those figures are based on people who've been well established in the industry for 3-5 years. As an entry level person, you wouldn't be likely to get close to those numbers. When I started as an artist (and granted this is in aus, so a little different) I started on 35k. Also that was back in like 2000-2001 too, so things may have changed a little, but I suspect that entry level game artists in aus would start on around 45k now?
      So yeah, while they are nice figures, you'd have to work your ass off to get there first!

        They're averages, so if the average salary is $90k, any individual earning $130k is balanced by one earning $50k or two earning $70k.

        Certainly, as with almost any profession, new & unproved employees will be paid less.

        You would probably find that these numbers are less than that for programmers not in gaming, as the end product gives added incentive. Basically, you don't need to be paid as much for doing work that you love.

      depends, compared to Australia, a Programmer/coder in any other industry of IT would make multitudes more than that.

      QA is severely underpayed compared to QA for any other industry and completely makes me understand why games are so buggy these days.

      Audio getting paid more than the coders, artists, animators, and producers is very strange too...

        Compared to the median income of US households (not person, household) it's double. It's a decent income. My point was that game development is not a terrible choice monetary wise, at least in the US.

          Yeah, I was pretty surprised by those numbers - they're definitely pretty good for the US.

          Mind you, that's assuming you get to stay employed for most of the year. That fifty grand for QA looks a lot less appealing if you're only employed half the year.

        for Audio, usually you hire them to do the soundtracks as a contract, so the payment is usually higher.
        As for programmer, that figure is very unlikely unless you are already well established in the industry and has few good references. I am not sure if this number is doable for programmers in Australia without few years of experiences and 1-2 indie games.

        If you read the report, they acknowledge a lack of data points for audio, and it shows that they're all seniors with 6+ years experience. So that skews the results a LOT.

      Gotta remember that their per hour rate is probably a hell of a lot lower. One of the worst things about the industry is salaried workers getting forced to crunch for months on end - so they may end up being paid not much more for their time than an entry-level office worker.

    Poor QA dudes, always getting the short end of the stick considering how important their job is.

      heh and you'd have to be a QA lead to even come close to that kind of money. Most testers and QA people in aus tend to be hired on a casual basis for minimum wage :\ In the game industry anyway.

      Last edited 23/07/14 8:42 am

        I totally can't remember what my pay rate was as a tester, probably something like 20/hr. Didn't seem that bad, especially for sitting around playing games all day.

          That's pretty close to minimum wage, these days, for over-21s.

            Heh, that was my rate at the ABC the last few months too. Still seems like a lot to me :P

            Also way2necro.

            Last edited 10/03/15 3:28 pm

              It's these damned, 'Also on Kotaku' links! I obviously missed many things!

                I couldn't resist the change to legitimately use the term "necro" again. It's been a while.

        From what I've heard the casual rates aren't that bad usually, but the work conditions and the unstable nature of the casual work is what sucks balls.

    It's probably worth noting that the report identifies a possible cause of the gap in pay between genders as one of continuity - ie. women are more likely to encounter disruptions in their career that reset the 'veteran' pay most companies issue. If this is true, then employees appear to be treated equally regardless of gender, but men are more likely to prioritise work ahead of other life factors.

      Yeah, America is the only developed country with no maternity leave system in place.

    These numbers wouldn't be Australian numbers. In Australia the numbers would be significantly less than that across the board (I say this after being in the local industry for 11 years).

    If all you want is money, game development (especially in Australia) is not where it's at. You definitely need to have passion for the job and what you do. There's more to a job than money though IMO, and honestly I've done a stint in corporate IT and while the pay is better, it's boring as hell. I'd much rather be making games.

    Last edited 23/07/14 9:09 am

      That may be the case currently... but it comes down to the development house and how they've organized a salary structure and bonuses.
      Just because it isn't the norm at the moment, it doesn't mean that it won't take just one company to set a higher standard.

      a stint in corporate IT and while the pay is better, it's boring as hell
      Boring as hell - yes. But still, I'd rather have the money to pay off debt, save, and spend on things like holidays.

        Nothing wrong with that. If what you want is money, then that's where to go, and you tolerate the job because the money is good. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

        That's not the way all people roll though. For some like me, a job is more than just a way to earn money. You are after all spending most of your waking hours at your job and you're doing it at least 38-40 hours per week, so IMO it needs to be something you enjoy doing.

      Then you're doing corporate IT wrong. There are some extremely interesting roles out there. Foreign exchange and finance is incredibly rewarding and interesting. Defence is awesome, creating simulators for helicopters or working on systems integration on the Air Warfare Destroyers or submarines. Yes, there are boring roles but there is a wider variety of projects to work on and the end product is far more useful to the general public than (I'm sorry to say) trying to get a canonical vase to display properly inside a virtual toilet in Deus Ex.

      Even though I love playing games, working in the industry as a programmer would be as boring as watching poopoo harden and probably drain me of any motivation to turn on my PS4. You'd be overworked, have no input, working on a small insignificant part of a bigger thing. Indie is certainly more interesting, but still incredibly hard work... all those numerous blog posts by devs moving from blockbuster game titles to indie titles are pretty telling and those guys don't earn 100k a year. Game developers will never earn as much as IT workers in other industries, it's simple supply and demand. Unless you are a CliffyB, but being a douchebag would come with your 1 billion dollar a year salary.

    This is average earnings, not average wage. What the report has failed to capture (at least from my quick scan of it) is the average hours worked to receive this total pay.
    After all, the long hours and crunch periods are one of the biggest complaints about working in this industry.

      I was about to make this point too. Average earnings opens up to other income from their employers like share options and bonuses. Those can add up!

    for a US paypacket, thats pretty good.

    There surveys are never accurate. Many of these surveys occur at big Game Dev Conferences, which next to no game company will send a junior/ entry level employee to. Not to mention it doesn't take into consideration how long someone has been in the industry.

    My advise to anyone interested in the games industry- don't believe these numbers. While some people will earn as much or more than the numbers listed they'll have been in the industry for 5+ years and be in senior/lead roles.

      Yeah, the warning is entirely fair. Particularly in Australia.

      This survey in no way represents the salary you will earn working as an employee of a company in the Australian games industry. I took a 25% pay cut to get in, and have almost doubled my salary in the 2 years since (somewhat involuntarily) getting out.

      It's an amazing, amazing industry, and incredibly rewarding to be part of it, but do not set your expectations according to these statistics (or all the indie success stories that you love reading).

    Second from the left guy is the QA Dude, coz he can't afford a shirt. Only a singlet. Only a singlet.

    Last edited 23/07/14 11:44 am

      They told him a singlet was a sure fire entry level shirt. They told him once you've got the singlet sleeves and collars would be a sure thing. Stick with us, work hard and you'll be printing a picture of Che Guevara on it in no time.

    "Quality Assurance" with game companies jumping on the "early access" shitwagon, people are paying the company to test games nowdays..

      Well, to be fair, I highly doubt they get the most effective results from EA testing, though. A bad Steam Review, ("Buggy as fuck, developers don't respond and close my swear-filled posts! CONSPIRACY") or failing to submit detailed dxdiag and more, with solid reproducible errors - not just some screenies of the thing in action - aren't going to help a developer in identifying their bugs much, but they're the bread and butter of professional QA. Definitely one of those cases of getting what you pay for. ...Or what people are willing to pay you for.

      To my mind, EA's less about QA and more about balance-testing, community-engagement, and I think you'd have to be pretty naive to think that some studios haven't factored EA sales into their ongoing operations budget.

      Last edited 10/03/15 3:17 pm

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now