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  • Game Developer Salary Survey 2012

    - staff

  • Layoffs

    Jobs in the game industry appear to be getting slightly more stable. Of 3,100 respondents, 13 percent had been laid off in 2011, compared to 14 percent in 2010 and 19 percent in 2009.

    From those people who were laid off, 58 percent found new employment in the games industry, 19 percent went into contracting or consulting, 10 percent founded a new company, 13 percent went into independent games development, and 13 percent haven't found new game development work. (Note that for this survey question, multiple responses were allowed.)

    A significant amount of respondents reported being laid off and rehired by the same company, either as a contractor, or as a salaried employee with a different job title (but the same responsibilities).

    Fewer laid-off developers opted to start their business, join an independent studio, or go into contract work this year. This could be a sign of a slowing bubble in the social and mobile sectors, which were giving away massive amounts of cash in recent years.

    The Indie Report

    This is the third year we've collected data for our indie report, where we survey individual independent developers, independent teams, and individual contractors for their perspective on the industry. Out of those three groups, independent contractors made the most, though both individual indies and members of indie teams pulled in significantly more in 2011 than they did in 2010.

    Independent contractors averaged $56,282 in 2011 (up $800 from 2010), individual independent developers averaged $23,549 (up from $11,379 in 2010), and members of independent developer teams averaged $38,239 (up from $26,780 in 2010). As the indie game community continues to mature and grow financially, it also seems to be consolidating somewhat. Compared to 2010, more independent developers are working in teams rather than going solo.

    Indie games made a bit more money in 2011, too. 48% of independent developers made less than $500 from the sale of their game, down from 55% in 2010. 16% of independent developers made over $60,000 from the sale of their game in 2011, compared to 8% in 2010. Meanwhile, nongame revenue streams (nongame DLC/additional content, sponsorship or ad opportunities, and awards/grants), remained relatively hard to obtain-79% didn't receive any additional income whatsoever (down 2% from 2010). The developers that did cash in through non-game revenue streams generally didn't make a whole lot, either; 44% made under $1,000, compared to 35% from 2010. In general, it appears that the developers who are good at designing games to take advantage of non-game revenue streams are able to pull in a decent amount; in both 2010 and 2011, 40% of developers with these sources of income were able to make over $5,000.

    Job Functions

    While we survey both indie game developers and contractors for their job function in the game industry, we structure the survey differently to adjust for the difference between the two sectors. Developing a game in a small independent team means most developers don't have completely specialized roles -- usually people are wearing multiple hats, so asking an independent games developer to only report one discipline wouldn't be completely accurate. On the other hand, that's not the case for most contract game developers. As such, the indie chart should be read as "what percentage of independent developers do at least this job function," rather than "how many independent developers do this job exclusively."

    More and more indie developers are finding themselves in roles involving design (59%, up 7%), programming (53%, up 13%), QA (43%, up 12%), and production (47%, up 10%), while art and audio have declined slightly (40% and 17%, each down 1% from 2010). Considering our number of independent developer responses overall were roughly equal, this means independent developers are wearing more hats than ever before-a good indie team member is someone who can code, test, design, produce art, and manage a production schedule.


    Now in its eleventh year, the Game Developer Salary Survey was conducted in February 2012 for the fiscal year January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011 with the assistance of Audience Insights. Email invitations were sent to Game Developer subscribers, Game Developers Conference attendees, and members asking them to participate in the survey.

    We gathered 4,132 responses from developers worldwide but not all who participated in the survey provided enough compensation information to be included in the final report. We also excluded salaries of less than $10,000 and the salaries of students and educators. The small number of reported salaries greater than $202,500 were excluded to prevent their high numbers from unnaturally skewing the averages. We also excluded records that were missing key demographic and classification numbers.

    The survey primarily includes U.S. compensation but consolidated figures from Canada and Europe were included separately. The usable sample reflected among salaried employees in the U.S. was 1,742, for Canada 403, and for Europe 339; and 524 for indies and independent contractors who provided compensation information worldwide. The sample represented in our salary survey can be projected to the U.S. game developer community with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4% at a 95% confidence level. The margin of error for salaried employees in Canada is plus or minus 5%, and is 5.4% for Europe.


    In order to hear what developers are saying about the industry right now, we allowed space at the end of our survey for direct comments. Here are some of the more notable responses.

    The Bad

    "The attitude toward work life balance is absolutely terrible. It is not an honor to work in games. Engineers are treated like garbage, especially when compared to the treatment they can easily get outside of games."

    "The desire for games to be fun, creative, and unique is slowly being diminished by the never-ending need for money, money which is best acquired by making derivative boring titles often seen in the social games market. The game industry is going the way of the movie industry with constant remakes and prequels and no new innovation besides independents who often give themselves too much credit."

    "The longer I work in the industry, the less I can relate to gamers. The vocal minority is more annoying than ever."

    "This is an industry I've at times wanted to leave. I've often come very close to it. Because, plain and simple, it's not easy being a woman in this industry. Thankfully I've recently joined a company where my gender isn't used against me as an argument to dismiss me, and it's been a really empowering experience. Also, a lot of companies are closing, many are hiring. There's always a job open somewhere. But we need to stop the firing of employees once a game has shipped as a viable 'saving the company money' measure, and we need to find ways to welcome students within our ranks better, as opposed to always ask for only experienced personnel, thus not giving newcomers a chance to learn."

    "I'm still surprised by how much sexism/racism the industry exhibits, and by how difficult it is to change perspectives on it. While the industry as a whole is slowly improving, I frequently find myself trying to explain to coworkers why certain content -- however hilarious they find it -- might offend certain groups of people. There still seems to be a "boys' club" atmosphere in the office sometimes and many women are put in the unenviable and unfair position of political correctness enforcer."

    "It's been a terrible year in the U.K. There have been hardly any new design positions, and so many studios have closed."

    "Audio designers in the game industry are often treated as a disposable resource, and the opportunities for us, both inside and outside the game industry, are incredibly scarce, as sound is very much misunderstood and undervalued as a craft. There are bright glimmers, but we have to really band together, speak up, and make a lot of noise about examples of great sound design to help continue to validate our work. Great games where audio plays a prominent role like Bastion and Portal 2 really help us to move forward."

    "The outsourcing of art jobs has made this a less than desirable position for starting artists. Why spend thousands of dollars on an art degree, and countless hours perfecting your skills, only to come into a studio and do lackey clean up on work received from the outsourcers? A lot of talented artists don't even really create art anymore, just mundane clean-up tasks."

    The Good

    "I think the advent of crowd-funding and self publishing is going to see a huge shift in the coming years in terms of what games get made and who makes them. Indie game studios once again possess the tools and funding necessary to retake the game development industry much like they did in the '80s and early 1990's."

    "We're at a big turning point. The digital distribution model, along with the explosion of mobile gaming, is ushering in a new age of smaller studios and quicker development cycles. The age of triple A, 2-3 year games is coming to an end."

    We're in a time of great change, not only in business models and distribution platforms, but also in ethics. I'm optimistic for the future -- more people than ever are playing games and when this recession is over, we're going to see some incredible revenue across all aspects of the industry."

    "It seems that the industry is on the precipice of a creative revolution as SDKs and self-publishing options are getting more accessible, creative direction will come less from the publisher, who relies more on proven methods, and more from wild-eyed developers who would rather experiment than replicate."

    "Developers that have been able to adapt to the rise of social and mobile gaming have done well despite an overall economic decline in the world. Mobile and social gaming is exciting because it allows a developer to focus on simple, tight, and polished gameplay. In that regard I feel the recent trend is somewhat of a return to the 'golden age of games'."

    Don't Fear Social Games

    "There is a lot to learn about game design and how to appeal to a wide audience. Think about the average time until someone who has never played a game before starts having fun in your game-social games do this better than most traditional games. This is an incredible and exciting thing. If some of the early companies in social games were unscrupulous, don't let this keep you from learning exciting lessons from social gaming and let this improve your own designs."


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