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Game Development Salary Survey 2001
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Game Development Salary Survey 2001

July 15, 2001 Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

How much money should you expect to make as a game developer? How does $61,403 sound? That was the average of all 1,801 people who responded to salary information in a survey conducted of Game Developer magazine subscribers, members, and Game Developers Conference attendees.

With the help of research firm Market Perspectives, we sent e-mail to Game Developer magazine subscribers in July 2000 inviting them to participate in our survey and received 919 responses. Last November, we e-mailed invitations to all members to take the survey online and received 1,953 responses. Then, in March 2001, 1,797 GDC attendees took the survey on-site at computer terminals. Not all developers who participated in the survey answered the salary-related questions, which is why the total sample reflected in the data presented in the following pages, 1,801, is smaller than the total number of respondents. Besides cases where salary data was omitted from surveys, we also excluded cases where the salary was given at less than $10,000 or greater than $300,000 or where there was text entered in the salary box that did not represent a salary figure.

The sample represented in our salary survey can be projected to the game developer community with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.29 percent at the 95 percent confidence interval. That means that with the number of respondents in our sample, we can say with 95 percent certainty that the statistics would stay consistent across the entire population.

Another thing we can't measure with these numbers is developers' job satisfaction. If you make $60,000 per year and work 40-hour weeks, your average hourly rate for the year is $28.85. However, if you work 40-hour weeks for eight months of the year and 80-hour weeks for four months of the year, your average hourly wage for the course of the year ends up being $21.63, which is equivalent to $45,000 per annum for someone who works straight 40-hour weeks at that rate for the whole year. If there's anything driving game developers to endure yet another crunch mode and bear the burden of time spent away from home and loved ones, it's the satisfaction they get from contributing technical sparkle, artistic flourish, or innovative gameplay while bringing a unique form of entertainment to a wider audience. To say nothing of the sheer joy many developers take in actually getting paid to do something they'd gladly stay up all night in their spare room doing on their own time.


Who is a programmer? Our survey considered a "programmer" to be a person who described themselves as an engine programmer, AI programmer, tools programmer, hardware engineer, network programmer, or simply a programmer. It also includes people who have been around long enough to have the title of senior programmer as applicable to any of these job titles. A lead programmer is understood to be someone who is responsible for managing a team of other programmers and scheduling. A technical director or director of development is someone responsible for the overall management of a company's technology decisions and might manage a single team of programmers at a small company, or a group of leads on various projects at a larger company.

Programming salaries per years of experience and position

"Programmers have it the best, salarywise. Good games programmers are extremely rare, and even mediocre ones are pretty rare. But a really good programmer, with a history in the industry, can command a huge salary." -- programmer, California

Years experience in the industry

Clearly, experience pays. It's also much harder to hire for. If you're looking for a programmer with at least three years' game programming experience, you've already eliminated more than half of the game programmers out there, 54.3 percent, who have only one to two years' experience in the industry. You can also expect to pay dearly for a seasoned lead programmer or technical director with six or more years' experience.

All Progammers

Sidebar: What Employers Want
Programmers are gold. If you're a programmer who has published some titles, or can show that you have made and completed a game, it proves that you can finish what you start. A lot of developers have problems putting the finishing touches on things. Proving that you can finish what you start is very important to a potential employer. Many people can't get a job because they have not completed a game, leading to the common catch-22 of first-time job-seekers. Lacking a published title, you should at least show a prospective employer that you can work to create something others have fun playing. Many companies ask developers for code samples. Your best bet is to have your résumé and a disk with code samples available, preferably code samples from a working game. -- Jill Zinner


Who is an artist? We received salary information from artists who defined themselves as animators, 3D artists/modelers, and 2D artists/texturers. We grouped lead artists and lead animators under the heading of "lead artists," people who manage a team of artists and who construct schedules and help establish the artistic direction and feel of a game. Art directors might fill this same function at a smaller company, while at a larger company art directors might oversee a range of different products or manage the aesthetic of a product line with other leads under them.

Art salaries per years of experience and position

Unlike in other game development disciplines we looked at in this survey, artists' salaries seemed relatively scattered across years of experience and level of responsibility. This may suggest that salaries offered to artists are more subjective than salaries offered to technical people, whose skills are more quantifiable in conventional terms. Another surprise is that while artists are widely assumed to earn less overall than their counterparts on the programming side of the fence, artists in some categories are actually commanding higher salaries, most notably at the entry level.

Years experience in the industry

"Salaries are subject to the laws of supply and demand, and most people seem to be mature enough to understand this and don't let it become an interpersonal issue." -- animator, Washington

Staying competitive. Just as programmers must work to remain on the competitive edge of technology, so must artists continue to adapt and evolve with changing technology in game development. For the same reason that programmers stopped doing art when we exited the 8-bit era, the creative demands on professional artists will continue to mount as polygon counts, fill rates, and available texture passes increase steadily with every generation of hardware that hits the street. Demand will no doubt accelerate for artists who keep up with the latest software and technologies. For an art director awash in demo reels, artists who can demonstrably manipulate subdivision surface patches, massage intricate facial-cap data, write time- and labor-saving scripts for a 3D art package, help construct an effective art path, and communicate productively with their programming, production, and design teams will no doubt be rewarded for their expertise.

All artists

There is also growing demand for art techs. Currently, this position often falls to whichever programmer on a team has the strongest grasp of art software, or whichever artist has an unusual proclivity for understanding and applying technology. It is a unique and increasingly critical combination of skills, one for which experienced art techs can expect to be compensated well in the years to come, whether they come from the programming or art side.


Design salaries per years of experience and position

For the purposes of this survey, we considered a "designer" to be a game designer, a level designer, or a writer. In smaller companies, one person might fulfill such a role, whereas larger projects or companies might have different people assigned to these specialized tasks. A lead designer or creative director is someone in charge of coming up with overall gameplay concepts and overseeing the design process, writing and maintaining design documents, and managing a design team to implement their creative vision. For designers, experience is an important factor in commanding higher salaries, especially for designers with six or more years' experience.

All design

" I was definitely surprised at how little money I was offered as a starting salary. Luckily I stuck it out, and my salary grew at a substantial rate." -- lead designer, Wisconsin

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