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Game Developer Salary Survey Reveals 4% Drop in Average Salary

by Rainier on April 13, 2010 @ 6:26 p.m. PDT

Game Developer Research has released the results of its ninth annual Game Developer Salary Survey, calculating an average American mainstream videogame industry salary in 2009 of $75,573, a decline of more than 4% from 2008’s figure of $79,000.

The Game Developer Salary Survey is the only major publicly-released analysis of salaries in the worldwide videogame industry, providing an exhaustive breakdown of salaries and benefits at major game studios by discipline, job function, experience level, region and gender.

After a record game industry average salary in 2008, this past year saw the first case on record of a significant average salary decrease, as consumer confidence suffered in the midst of a recession and employers looked to cut costs wherever possible. Despite that, this year did not dip below 2007's figure, and 2009 still boasts the second-highest average salary ever.

With the changing face of the game development community, which includes a growing independent segment and a proliferation of new business models, for the first time, this year's survey includes new special sections dedicated to accurately portraying today's game developers. "The Indie Report" consists of average reported income and development specializations of those who develop games alone, work with small independent teams, or work as individual contractors. More information on this part of the report will be released in the near future. In addition, "Developer Histories and Outlooks" provides a snapshot of how game developers see their industry's past, present, and future.

Highlights of specific findings per category for the survey, which are available in further detail in the newly published April 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine, are as follows:

  • Programming: Programmers are the highest paid talent in the mainstream game industry next to high-end businesspeople, with an average annual salary of $80,320. Experience pays in this particularly technical role, particularly when jobs are more rare--programmers with more than six years of experience earned an incredible 36% more than the average annual salary in 2009.
  • Art & Animation: Unlike those in most disciplines, artists saw a slight average salary increase this year to $71,071, up a modest 2% as more artists reported pay increases than those in any other creative field.
  • Game Design: Like artists, game designers saw a modest salary bump on average, up 3% to $69,266. The design discipline also includes writers, who make an average of $61,786, a figure right in line with the average design salary of $61,859, once design leads and creative directors are not taken into account.
  • Production: Of all the non-business game development disciplines, production – with a salary average overall of $75,082 – is the most welcoming to women, with 18% of the workforce made up of females, down slightly from last year but still nearly twice the industry average. Producers also tend to be the most experienced game developers, with 49% having accrued six or more years in the industry--higher than any other field.
  • Quality Assurance: By contrast, testers tend to have the fewest years of experience, with nearly half having been in the industry less than three years. They are also the lowest-paid professionals, averaging $37,905--although for QA employees who do stick around for more than six years, that average salary more than doubles.
  • Audio: Sound designers and composers, who earned an average of $82,085, are generally some of the most experienced professionals in the industry. But it seems audio may be opening up for new blood: this year, the number of audio developers with fewer than three years of experience rose to a high of 38%, and those with more than six years dropped significantly to 33%.
  • Business & Marketing: The business field as a whole remains the highest compensated group in game development with an average salary of $96,408, even after a nearly 6% decline,  and businesspeople are the most likely to receive additional compensation. Still, there is great variance within the field: marketing and PR employees average $83,804, while executives average $129,167.
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