[Originally published in Game Developer magazine's free Game Career Guide issue, this annual salary survey provides a comprehensive breakdown of salaries for entry-level developers and beyond.]
Game Developer's salary survey is an objective look at who's earning what in the game industry. Developers of all experience levels and job descriptions give us information about their base salaries, benefits, and so forth. From there we can get the big picture of game developers' salaries. In this special Career Guide edition, we present to you our entry level-focused 10th anniversary salary survey.
As a newcomer to the game industry, what can you expect to earn? That all depends on where you are and what you do, but don't expect instant riches. Very few game developers are rolling in cash, but our survey at least proves you can make a decent living doing what you love.
In 2010, the average salary across all disciplines and experience levels rose $5,244, over 2009. The number of respondents whose salaries increased in 2010 was up across the board, with the biggest increase coming from those in production, 73 percent of whom reported higher income than last year.
This year was one of proving for the social game space, and we believe that contributed somewhat to the overall raise in salary across all disciplines. Social games are also a good place to cut your teeth, since many small companies are making big waves, as the space forms its own set of best practices, outside the confines of the traditional packaged game industry. Meanwhile, the indie segment has continued to rise in prominence as a source of opportunity and employment for those looking for a different path. Last year, we included indie developers and independent contractors in their own listing, a practice we continued this year, though with a slightly lower response.
A major takeaway from the comments section of our survey (available in the April issue of Game Developer) revealed that while, in general, salaried developers are making more money, independent developers are a lot happier with their lot in life. Worth considering when you decide in what way you'd like to enter the game industry.
Average Salary - 3 years or less: $55,426
Programmers are the backbone of the industry, and their hard work is certainly rewarded. The profession continues to be one of the highest paid in the industry, though this year coders have been eclipsed by producers in salary levels.
The average salary for programmers of three years experience or fewer rose by over $1,500 this year, a modest increase. Overall though, the salary averages dropped for programmers.
This fall in salary, combined with a rise in the number of respondents in the entry-level categories is likely an indicator that companies are hiring more fresh-faced computer science graduates. This is something to keep in mind as fledgling programmers enter the industry in 2011 and 2012.
Programmers in Canada fared better in 2010, earning $74,473 in 2010, up from $67,937 (USD) in 2009. European programmers also saw a rise, earning $48,230 (USD) on average.
Artists and Animators
Average Salary - 3 years or less: $45,714
The average entry-level salary for artists was up only slightly from last year, and in fact the biggest decrease in 2010 was found amongst lead artists and tech artists with over six years of experience, with their average salary falling to $89,519 in 2010 from $97,206 in 2009.
Young artists are often hired, compartmentalized, and burned out very quickly in the game and film industries, so take care in choosing where you want to go. There may be indies that need you more than the big guys do.
Canadian artists found their salaries increasing on average by $3,877, up to $63,277 (USD). The increase was largely found amongst artists and animators, whose salaries increased from $50,565 in 2009 to $56,630 (USD) in 2010. European artists also found themselves earning more, with an increase of $3,459 from 2009, bringing the average salary up to $41,611 (USD).