[Game Developer magazine presents its 12th annual Salary Survey, tracking pay rates across multiple industry fields and comparing salaries across regions and educational backgrounds.]
"An industry in flux." That's the main takeaway from the 12th annual Game Developer magazine Salary Survey. On one hand, we saw the industry explode with creativity and new tech; on the other hand, seeing several highprofile studio closures left many worrying about the long-term outlook for their career. Overall, most game developers made more money and received better benefit coverage than last year (with roughly a 12-15% increase in medical, dental, and vision coverage across the board), but that didn't stop developers from expressing uncertainty about the industry's direction.
Every year, we ask thousands of Game Developer and Gamasutra readers to tell us what they made in the last year, asking a slew of related questions along the way. For some numbers, the industry is looking up. We found that the average salary across the U.S. game industry is $84,337, which is up approximately $3,100 over last year's average. Layoffs are at 12%, down 1% from last year. 64% of developers made more money than last year, 29% made the same, and only 7% made less. When asked if they thought the game industry was a great industry to work in, 24% of developers strongly agreed, 45% agreed, 21% felt neutral, and only 7% disagreed and 3% strongly disagreed. Only 9% of developers reported being dissatisfied with their potential career path (down 2% from last year), compared to 22% who felt extremely satisfied, 41% who felt satisfied, and 27% who felt somewhat satisfied.
However, the literal comments revealed a shared feeling that the industry was in flux; practically every comment we received spoke to the decline of triple-A and traditional console-development paths, the rise of mobile games as the new industry focus (and an associated unease with the prospects of getting noticed on overflowing app stores), distrust of a growing free-to-play bubble, and a mix of enthusiasm for indie developers' creativity, and worry about indie developers' earnings. When asked whether they thought there were more jobs in 2012 for game developers, whether the game industry was picking up, and whether there were more opportunities than ever before, devs were much more negative than last year.
In other words, even though most numbers are going up, they might not tell the whole story. It seems like everyone knows that mobile and multiplatform is where the industry is headed, but that knowledge isn't particularly reassuring. Between the console developers worried about finding a place in the new job market, indies still waiting for their passion projects to pay off, current mobile devs underwhelmed by how their games have fared in the hypercompetitive app stores, and the possibility of another bubble forming (and bursting) on the horizon, a few extra bucks here and there isn't going to do much to assuage those fears.
Average salary: $92,151
Programmers make the (game) world go 'round; once again, they're second only to the business and legal people in terms of overall compensation. This year's average programmer salary is down slightly ($811) from last year's average. Most of those cuts, interestingly enough, came on the more experienced side of the industry: Newer programmers reported salaries $8,000 higher than last year's, while programmers with 3-6 years of experience made $900 less, and those with over six years of experience made $2,500 less. Furthermore, most of those cuts came from more senior positions; technical directors' salaries are down $10,300 from last year, and lead programmers' salaries are down $3,500 for 3-6 years of experience and down $7,000 for over six years of experience. Contract programmers averaged $62,500 this year.
Canadian programmers averaged $70,712, which is down about $4,300 from last year, and European programmers averaged $43,914, which is down $2,900.
Average salary: $75,009
Artists and animators also saw a slight decline ($770) from last year's survey average. Again, most of the losses were from more-experienced devs: Artists or animators with over six years of experience averaged $16,500 less than last year, and art directors averaged $30,000 less than last year. Interestingly enough, lead/tech artists with over six years of experience actually made $10,000 more than last year, pushing their salary average above that of the more-senior art director title. Contract artists averaged $64,741 this year.
Canada-based artists and animators averaged $63,227 this year (down $3,400 from last year), and Europe-based artists and animators averaged $40,776, which is up $5,000 from last year and puts them right back where they were in 2010.
We received 3% more responses from female artists and animators this year, bumping the gender balance up to 84% male, 16% female, and their average salary bumped up $7,400 over last year's. Male artists' and animators' salaries fell $1,300, but they still make about $16,000 more than their female counterparts.
Average salary: $75,065
Unfortunately, our writer respondent pool was so small this year that we weren't able to break out their results separately like we have in previous salary surveys. Entry-level game designers saw a $6,300 increase over last year; game designers with 3-6 years of experience made $1,500 less, and game designers with over six years of experience made $5,000 more than last year, while creative directors and lead designers made $16,600 more at the 3-6 year level and $6,500 more at the over-sixyear level. Considering how important design is for mobile and free-to-play games, we're not terribly surprised to see this increase. Contract designers averaged $46,786. Canada-based game designers didn't fare quite so well, though; their $56,576 average is down $3,750 over last year's, while Europe-based designers' average of $43,600 is up $5,400 from last year's.
Gender balance remained the same (89% male) in the design field. Female designers' average salaries also stayed the same, while male designers averaged $2,400 more over last year's salary.
Average salary: $84,127
Producers averaged $1,500 less than last year, with cuts felt pretty much across the board; entry-level associate producers made $8,000 less, associate producers with 3-6 years of experience made $4,500 less, and project leads and executive producers with over six years made $6,000 less and $13,000 less, respectively. Also, producers/project leads with 3-6 years of experience made $12,000 more than last year. Contract producers averaged $65,833.
Canada-based producers fared better, averaging $76,875 ($5,400 higher than last year's average), while Europe-based producers averaged $54,167, which is $2,200 less than last year's average.
Historically, we've seen more women in production than we have in other development disciplines, and this year continues that trend with a 7% increase in responses from female producers, bringing the count to 77% male, 23% female. Overall, male producers saw a $1,500 average salary decrease from last year, while female producers made an extra $650.
Average salary: $81,543
Salaried audio professionals' average salary saw a slight decrease of about $1,600 from last year. Note that our response rate for salaried audio workers is always fairly low compared to other disciplines; there simply aren't that many audio jobs out there, and most of the available audio gigs are contract rather than full-time permanent positions. However, we did get about 15% more respondents from salaried audio devs this year over last year, and last year we saw 30% more audio respondents than the year before, so it looks like the industry is gradually adding more full-time audio jobs. Audio contractors averaged $110,500.
Most of this year's decrease came from devs with over six years of experience; sound/audio designers and engineers saw a $16,000 cut, and sound/audio directors a $3,000 cut. Sound/audio designers or engineers with 3-6 years of experience actually saw a gain of $1,600 over last year's salary. Unfortunately, we didn't receive enough responses from entrylevel audio professionals to break their salaries out.
Average salary: $48,611
QA testers and leads continue to be the lowest-paid profession in game development. Overall, salaried QA testers saw a slight bump of $700 this year, which puts them at almost twice the average QA contractor's income ($27,237). Testers with less than three years' experience saw a $2,200 increase over last year, testers with 3-6 years of experience saw a $5,400 increase, and QA leads with over six years in the industry saw a $6,400 increase. Also, while the percentage of QA devs that received additional income (besides salary) fell 2%, the devs that did receive additional income were 10% more likely to receive an annual bonus and 9% more likely to participate in a profit-sharing plan over last year. Contractors, meanwhile, only saw an average increase of $200 over last year.
Canada-based testers averaged $41,731, which is $1,500 less than last year's average salary. European QA salaries also fell by $1,200, bringing their average salary to $31,346.
Average salary: $103,934
The "business and legal people" category includes chief executives and executive managers, community managers, marketing, legal staff, human resources, IT, content acquisition and licensing, and general administration staff.
This aggregated group typically receives the highest average salary in the industry, and 2012 was no exception; its average is actually up about $1,800 over last year. This group also receives the most non-salary income in the industry, though this year they saw a $4,400 decrease from last year's non-salary income.
Entry-level businesspeople saw a decrease of $4,500 from last year's average, while businesspeople with 3-6 years of experience made $6,800 more than last year, and those with over six years of experience made $5,000 more than last year.
The gender ratio in the business field remained at a steady 82% male, 18% female. Men's average salaries stayed about the same from last year, while women's average salaries increased by $9,000. That said, the average businessman's salary is roughly $26,000 higher than the average businesswoman's.
Layoff rates continue to trend slightly downward; 12% of respondents were laid off at some time in 2012, which is 1% lower than 2011's rate and 2% lower than 2010's rate. Overall, we've seen a 7% decrease in layoffs over the last three years.
Of the devs who were laid off, 59% found new employment at a studio or publisher (up 1% from last year); 16% went into contracting or consulting (down 3%); 7% founded or co-founded a new company (down 3%); 14% went into indie game development (down 1%); 12% haven't found new work since (down 1%), and 11% simply reported "Other." (Note that for this survey question, multiple responses were allowed.) Once again, it appears that the industry is ever-so-slightly stabilizing year over year.
When it came to finding new jobs, the three most popular methods were by referral (32%), searching job postings (18%), and simply sending in a resume or CV (10%).
This is the fourth year we've collected data for our indie report, where we survey individual independent developers, independent teams, and contractors for their perspective on the industry. Individual indie developers' average income of $23,130 is $420 lower than last year's average, while members of indie teams reported an average of only $19,487, which is down $20,000 from last year's average. (Note that last year's average was up $26,780 from the year before that, so some rather drastic fluctuation in this number appears to be rather common.)
When it comes to indie game sales revenue, the results are still rather spread out. Half of indie developers made less than $500 from the sale of their games (which includes in-app purchases and DLC); 13% made between $500 and $3,000, 15% made between $5,000 and $30,000, and 5% made over $200,000. Alternate sources of income (advertising, awards/grants, sponsorship opportunities) remain hard to obtain; 79% of indie devs didn't make any money from these methods at all. Of the devs that did, 25% made less than $100, 28% made between $100 and $2,000, 22% made between $2,000 and $10,000, 5% made between $10,000 and $20,000, and 20% made over $20,000.
When it comes to indie job functions, we decided to change the survey this year to reflect each developer's primary contribution. We know that being an indie dev requires wearing multiple hats, but we wanted to find out which disciplines indies specialized in. 40% of indie devs reported their primary role was programming, followed by 19% in design, 12% in art, 11% in QA, 8% in production, 8% as "other," and 2% in audio. Programming, design, and art are, understandably, the most popular primary disciplines (and perhaps the most crucial to the nuts and bolts of indie game creation); production, meanwhile, appears to be a role that indie teams simply can't afford to bring on specialists to handle quite yet, and audio development continues to be a rather niche role (most likely one that is contracted out with indies, just as it is with mainstream game development).
For contractors, the most popular discipline is QA (24%), followed by art (19%), programming (17%), audio and design (10% each), other assorted roles (8%), production, (7%), and writing (4%). There hasn't been much significant fluctuation in the respective proportions of contracted dev roles between this year's survey and last year's survey, so it seems as though dev studios aren't changing the way they handle which roles need salaried employees and which roles to contract out. survey, so it seems as though dev studios aren't changing the way they handle which roles need salaried employees and which roles to contract out.
Now in its 12th year, the Game Developer Salary Survey was conducted in February 2013 for the fiscal year January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012 with the assistance of Audience Insights. Email invitations were sent to Game Developer subscribers, Game Developers Conference attendees, and Gamasutra. com members asking them to participate in the survey.
We gathered 4,042 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 1,520, for Canada 367, and for Europe 527; and 422 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 2.6% at a 95% confidence level. The margin of error for salaried employees in Canada is plus or minus 5%, and is 4.2% for Europe.
"It was more enjoyable when it was less mature."
"QA is undervalued and not compensated fairly."
"I'm seeing the failures (some spectacular) of more and more studios lately. New ones are sprouting up as well, but it doesn't feel like there are as many new ones as there are failing old ones. I worry about long-term sustainability for my career as I continue to get older (I'm 41 now)."
"When I got my first industry job in 2005, it felt like there were all these Sure Bet Career jobs out there. Now, less than 10 years later, I can't think of a single job that will be safely guaranteed to be around for 5 years."
"I hear dentistry is in demand."
"We're a bit stuck in the mud. I don't see a whole lot of pure innovation (but I'm not sure that's really what people want anyway). I'd like to see some honest excitement in games again because I think we're getting a bit predictable."
"It's difficult to get in to my line of work. All the jobs that exist are filled. Companies that don't have writers or editors can't be convinced that they need them. It's really a pain."
"It was refreshing to see smaller, more unique games get recognition this year."
"Lots of turnover, but lots of new opportunities for smaller companies."
"I absolutely love the industry I work in. I can't imagine any other career track. Quality of Life is picking up, crunchmongering developers are dying off, and new business models are supporting innovation like never before."
"The variety of opportunity (given the huge rise in casual and independent games) is greater than ever."
"Not always the highestpaying option, but the game industry is the most rewarding career path I could imagine."
"There's no better way to earn a living. While it has its ups and downs and unique challenges, I'm very happy to be working within it, and hope to do so for a very long time."
"Free-2-play. Do you speak it!?"
"This current influx of quick-cash-grab F2P and social games is strongly reminiscent of the early '80s pre-crash boom."
"A bit sad that it's now focusing on monetization [more] than ever."
"It's been a downward spiral. Soon, you will have to pay people to play your games. In fact, it's already happening!"
"2012 was the first year I noticed our company strongly recognize the importance of personal devices and how they can enhance a console experience."
"I've worked for a major first-party developer for over 15 years and they've never acknowledged the existence of anything besides their own platform. Now they're realizing that strong titles may need to include multiple devices, some of which may not be made by themselves."
"I would feel like an outdated dinosaur developing for consoles... even unreleased hardware. Mobile is clearly king, and developers must react or continue to shut their doors."
"The bloodletting in console dev is scary, especially since mobile/indie doesn't seem to have the $$ to pick up the talent."
"The mobile and casual space is quite the exciting area to be in."
"Mobile games suck."
"The mobile space is very competitive, and not very profitable."
"The obsession with mobile platforms taking over is just another trend. Of course mobile is and looks to remain a very viable platform for monetization; however, developers should stay more focused on pleasing customers than trying to figure out the next big profit wave to ride. That'll be the key to a respectful future."
"Mobile/casual games are a scary potential direction. The games the casual market wants to play are not the games I got into the industry to make. I would, ideally, never want to work on creating a low-budget, monetizing treadmill."
"There are more opportunities for indie developers, but less for everything else."
"There are more ways than ever now for indie game developers to do well and publish their games."
"In 2012 I felt like a drop in the app-store ocean, and that as an indie, I had neither the development resources nor the marketing budget to compete. That has since changed in 2013 as I'm now developing for the OUYA, and it feels great to be part of a small but growing community with prospects, and be involved at something from the ground floor."
"It's a great time to be an employee in mobile/web, but it seems like financing is drying up for people who want to start their own companies. "Going indie" isn't really viable in expensive places like Silicon Valley, so the "day job" can feel like a prison at times."
"There is an obvious and exciting increase in the number of opportunities for game developers on an individual and independent level. Anyone who wasn't working on a personal project in 2012 is falling behind."