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Industry in flux: What we learned from Game Developer's 2012 Salary Survey Exclusive GDMag Exclusive
Industry in flux: What we learned from Game Developer's 2012 Salary Survey
April 4, 2013 | By Patrick Miller

The April 2013 issue of Game Developer magazine is out, and with it comes another installment of the annual Game Developer Salary Survey! Every year, Game Developer surveys thousands of developers to find out how well (or poorly) the industry compensated them in the prior year.

Here are some of the key takeaways; if you want to find the full survey article, you can grab the April issue at the GD Mag website.

Overall salary for U.S. devs has increased. This year's average for U.S.-based game developers is $84,337, which is up approximately $3,100 over last year's average. 64% of developers made more money in 2012 than 2011, 29% made the same, and only 7% made less. Overall salaries for Canada-based devs also decreased slightly, while salaries for Europe-based devs hovered around the same level.

Layoffs 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.

The gender gap is alive and well. Men are paid more than women in every development discipline except programming (where only 4% of surveyed devs were women).

Medical, dental, vision coverage are on the rise. We saw an increase of roughly 15% across the board in medical, dental, and vision coverage.

Indies still struggling. Despite the fact that indie devs are receiving more attention than ever before, the average indie still isn't very well-compensated; individual indie developers averaged $23,130 (down $420 from 2011), and members of indie teams averaged $19,487.

Devs are concerned about industry changes. At the end of the survey, developers had the opportunity to tell us how they really felt in an open comment box -- and boy, did they tell us. Here are a few of those comments:

The Bad

"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."

The Good

"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 highest paying option, but the games 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."

On free-to-play

"F2P rules."

"Free-2-play. Do you speak it!?"

"A bit sad that it's now focusing on monetization than ever."

"Monetization sucks."

"This current influx of quick-cash-grab F2P and social games is strongly reminiscent of the early 80s pre-crash boom."

"It's been a downward spiral. Soon, you will have to pay people to play your games. In fact, it's already happening!"

On Consoles

"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."

On Mobile

"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."

On Indies

"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."
Don't forget to check out the money-themed April issue of GD Mag for the full survey!

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Eric McVinney
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Hmmm... "QA is undervalued and not compensated fairly."

Let's correct that to: "QA is STILL undervalued and STILL not compensated fairly."

Dimitri Del Castillo
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Nicole Hazen
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I had a BA say to me "If you need help with QA'ing *insert product here* let me know. It seems easy and I think anyone can do it."


It's funny how the people who are the gatekeepers for making sure a decent product is released are treated like it's just some "all the clicking works" job.

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Working in QA for telecom/networking, the difference is like a 50% cut in pay to even look into video game QA. But heck, the industry seems to be doing quite well without highly paid, highly skilled QA, so why bother?

Eric McVinney
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@JZ - Let me put it this way; Without QA, your product would be utter crap. Show me a "highly" paid QA in either a dev or pub, and by "highly" I mean earning as much as a Producer.

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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Unfortunatly, how much a job pays has nothing to do with how essential or valuable the work is. QA pays what it does because there is enough people willing and able to do it for that amount.

Eric McVinney
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Ain't that the sad truth.

Addison Martinez
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Is the gender gap due to women being slow to join the job market or is there actual discrimination?

I also wonder if the rate of pay will equal out as the general attitude of women gamers changes. My girl friend went to E3 last year and was checking out Assassin's Creed (a series she enjoyes more than me) and some dude told her "The Hello Kitty games are that way." While this may have been a fan boy I can't help but feel the attitude is carried onto the business side.

Gil Salvado
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Well, there are women working in the industry for quiet a while or women that join into it from others industries and already have a certain amount of experience - and both aren't compensated equally. So it is discrimination.

And I don't get why. Pregnancy shouldn't be the only reason, although discrimination for reproduction is already idiotic. There is no logic for this.

Equal salary for equal work.

Nicole Hazen
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I wish I could say this surprises me, but I can't. It's a social attitude thing that needs to change (in many areas). But I think in other venues, guys are treated poorly as well. I can't stand the commercials that pretty much show that men are stupid and the woman has to make all the decisions. And companies who's main demographic is male, are doing this. It's insulting.

We're humans. What does me being female have to do with me liking Gears of War? In a conversation about gaming I shared a story of a match and I was asked "oh was this the first time you were playing a video game?" I didn't say anything mean or go off because by now, it's just disappointing and I just internally sigh. The other guy with me told him 'he' was actually the person who'd never played before. I was helping him. (I'm a manager and this guy made this comment in an interview.)

Hopefully your girlfriend has had more positive than negative experiences. But I can relate.

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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Carl Chavez
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I've had close to a 40/60 hiring rate between men and women when considering candidates by competence, even though 90+ percent of the applicants are male. I think there is definitely discrimination against women all along the whole chain: education before looking for work, motivation for wanting to join the game industry, consideration of their applications, and difficulty fitting into predominantly male culture at game companies. Few of the competent women get past all of those barriers, but the ones that do seem to know their stuff.

And then there's the salary factor: the female programmers I know make fairer salaries in non-gaming businesses than in gaming businesses, so there's even less motivation for them to be in the gaming industry. (Of course, that statement is only anecdotal evidence. Does anybody have survey results for other industries regarding pay equality for female programmers?)

Rob Graeber
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I'm not sure if it's in the magazine, but what's the median salary? Averages are more misleading.

Patrick Miller
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Don't have 'em broken out in the mag, but most median salaries were very close to mean salaries (within ~$2k, for the most part).

Jason Glenn
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The US Department of Labor as well as many salary websites (Glassdoor, Indeed, etc) place the mean far lower at around 50,000 to 60,000. The average is not far off from the mean but for the most part but the game developer survey is inaccurate and tremendously misleading. Game Developer Magazine has always placed the salaries at 20,000 to 40,000 higher than the national average of the United States. It could be that their survey base is better off than the average developer or maybe they are cooking their books. Whatever the cause, I would not take this survey seriously especially if you are looking for a job and basing your salary expectations on this survey because you will be asking for far more money than you are actually worth.

Kaitlyn Kincaid
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Does that $84k only include salary? or does that include things like the cash value of dental, vision etc...?

Patrick Miller
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Only salary.