[Originally published in Game Developer magazine's free Career Guide issue, this annual survey provides a comprehensive breakdown of salaries and job prospects for entry-level game developers and beyond.]
Every year, we ask thousands of Game Developer and Gamasutra readers to tell us how much money they made last year, along with a slew of related questions. We get everyone from established developers to newbies to tell us their base salaries, benefits, additional compensation, and other work information so we can show you what to expect if you decide to pursue a career in the game industry.
Interestingly, the average salaries for the entry-level crowd have increased across the board, which stands in contrast to the industry wide trend of small-but-steady growth. Whether you're looking to start a career in quality assurance or business, you'll see salaries rising rather impressively-though some disciplines are paid much more than others.
This year, we learned that the average salary across the entire game industry is $81,192, hovering near the same level as 2010's $80,817 reported average. What that number doesn't tell you is that the industry was significantly more stable this year than it has been in the past several. Only 13 percent of respondents were laid off in 2011, compared to 14 percent in 2010 and 19 percent in 2009, and those that received layoffs were 6 percent more likely to find a new job elsewhere in the game industry (58 percent, up from 52 percent in 2011).
Having a little more money and stability in turn made developers feel more optimistic about their careers as well as the industry as a whole. A majority of developers -- 65 percent -- said they felt "satisfied" or "extremely satisfied" with their potential career path (up 4 percent from 2010), 34 percent believed that there were more jobs in the industry than the year before (up 5 percent), and 54 percent felt that there were more opportunities for game developers than before (up 7 percent).
Nevertheless, there's still plenty of change going on. Independent devs in particular made a big step in 2011: Individual indie developers reported an average $23,549 in primary compensation, more than double 2010's $11,379, while members of independent developer teams made an average of $38,239, up $11,459 from 2010's $26,780. If you are looking to break into the industry, more avenues are available for you than ever before. Here's to living in the clouds.
Average Salary, 3 Years or Less: $66,116
Programmers are in high demand, even at the entry-level; the average salary for programmers in their first three years is higher than that of all other disciplines except business, and it's actually up $10,700 over last year's average of $55,426. Considering we had more programmers respond to the survey than we did last year, it seems that the industry simply can't hire talented programmers fast enough.
But Canadian developers didn't see the same boom-their $74,970 (USD) average across all skill levels was only up about $500. European programmers reported an average of $46,801 (USD), down about $1,400 from 2010.
While women were underrepresented in the workforce even more than usual (2.9 percent in 2011, down from 4 percent in 2010), they did report an average increase of about $8,800, compared with their male counterparts' $7,000 increase. However, the wage gap is still alive and well; the average female programmer's salary ($83,333) is nearly $10,000 lower than the average male programmer's ($93,263).
Artists and Animators
Average Salary, 3 Years or Less: $49,481
Artists and animators with less than three years of experience saw a respectable increase of about $3,700 over the previous year, but their average still places them in the lower end of the spectrum compared to programmers, producers, and businesspeople. Also, would-be game artists and animators should take note: The game industry is kind of a notorious grind on artists, who are often expected to quickly develop a technical specialty and worked hard until they burn out, so be careful when choosing where and how to enter the industry.
Artists and animators in Canada received an average salary (across all skill levels) of $66,651 (USD), up about $3,300. Artists in Europe didn't fare so well, however. Their $35,887 (USD) average salary fell about $5,000 from 2010.
Women comprised 13 percent of our surveyed artist pool, up 2 percent, though their average salary across all skills levels ($52,875) actually decreased about $6,800. Men in art and animation, on the other hand, made $79,124 on average, which is up about $6,200 from 2010.