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A reprint from the March 2013 issue of Gamaustra's sister publication Game Developer magazine, this article finds out how satisfied game developers are with their working conditions.
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"Game Developers: How are you doing?"
That's the question we asked approximately 1,000 of you at the end of 2012. We know that between the long hours, frequent layoffs, and crunch phases, the game industry can be a notorious grind. While we perform a yearly Salary Survey every April to check the pulse of developers' financial health, we thought we'd supplement that with a quality-of-life survey to see how you're doing in ways not measured by dollars and cents.
Are you satisfied with your pay? Are you confident in your current project? Do you want to be in this industry five years from now? Read on to find out how your colleagues responded.
In total, we collected 1,051 web survey respondents, referred via a Gamasutra news post, Twitter, and word of mouth, over a period of approximately one month (starting early December 2012 and ending early January 2013). The survey consisted of 40 multiple-choice questions, and participants were free to answer only the questions they deemed relevant to their development background. The demographics of the respondents broke down as follows:
Age: 4% of respondents are 21 years or younger, 69% are 22-34 years old, 23% are 35-44 years, and 4% are 45-54.
Experience: 9% of respondents have less than one year of game development experience, 16% have 1-2 years, 32% have 3-6 years, 18% have 7-10 years, 14% have 11-15 years, and 7% have 16-20 years.
Management: 46% of respondents are in a managerial role, and 54% are not.
Location: More than half of all respondents are located in North America (approximately 50% in the United States and 13% in Canada), followed by roughly 16% in Europe, with the remainder roughly equally distributed across Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, and Central and South America.
Discipline: 45% of respondents say their primary dev role is programming, followed by 21% design, 13% production, 12% art, 5% QA, and 2% audio. The remainder of the write-in responses mostly consists of indie developers responsible for several roles. Interestingly, dev discipline isn't strongly correlated to any of the survey's notable findings; we're all in this together.
Studio size and type: 7% of respondents are individual independent devs, 19% are teams of 2-5 people, 14% on 6-10, 18% on 11-30 , 9% on 31-50, 7% on 51-80, 5% on 81-100, 8% on 101-150, 4.5% on 151-200, 5.5% on 201-300, and 3% on teams of 300+. 36% of respondents characterize their studios as "small indie," 25% as "established indie," 25% as "publisher-owned," and 14% as "first-party."
Game platforms: 46% of respondents work on boxed home console/PC games, 36% on downloadable games, 20% on social games, 17% on browser games, 35% on mobile (smartphone/tablet), and 10% on handheld console games. (Respondents were encouraged to check all categories that applied.)
During a typical week, 17% of respondents work less than 40 hours, 58% work between 40-50 hours, 16% work 51-60 hours, 5% work 61-70 hours, 1.5% work 71-80 hours, and 0.75% work over 80 hours. Canadian devs are more likely to work 50 hours or less during regular development (87%), compared to 79% in the U.K. and 72% for the U.S. and Australia.
83% of developers have a flexible schedule, while 17% do not. Job dissatisfaction rates are much higher among devs without a flexible schedule; 36% of those devs report feeling somewhat or very unsatisfied with their jobs, compared to 14.5% of those with flexible hours.
57.8% of developers have the option to work from home, and that correlates with higher job satisfaction: 75% of people who can work from home reported feeling satisfied with their jobs, compared to 61% of people who cannot. Of those satisfied respondents, those who can work from home were twice as likely to report feeling "very satisfied" with their jobs compared to those who cannot.
Working on weekends and/or holidays appears to be rather common practice; 22% do this regularly, 31% do this only sometimes, 36% only do this rarely, and 11% report never working weekends or holidays. Interestingly enough, working weekends and holidays does not significantly affect job satisfaction levels.
Overall, devs' typical schedules seem to have a mildly negative effect on one's social life and family life; 3% report a very positive impact, 21% a somewhat positive impact, 32% report no impact, 37% a somewhat negative impact, and 7% report a very negative impact.
Compensation and benefits
When it comes to compensation, 13% of developers feel they are very well compensated, 35% feel fairly well paid, 25% feel neutral, 19% feel fairly underpaid, and 8% feel very underpaid. Unsurprisingly, feeling adequately compensated strongly correlates to job satisfaction.
42% of devs receive royalties or sales-based bonuses. Devs who don't receive bonuses or royalties are 20% less likely to report feeling any degree of satisfaction; 61% of devs without royalties or bonuses report feeling somewhat or very satisfied, compared to 81% of those with royalties/bonuses.
Benefit coverage skews positive: 27% of respondents feel very satisfied with their coverage and 29% feel somewhat satisfied, compared to 24% neutral, 10% somewhat unsatisfied, and 10% very unsatisfied. Satisfaction with benefits is directly related to overall job satisfaction, too: 85% of people who are very satisfied with their benefits also report positive job satisfaction, compared to 74% for "somewhat satisfied" on benefits, 64% for "neutral," 47% for "somewhat unsatisfied," and 41% for "very unsatisfied."
Motivation and perceived impact
The vast majority of devs are very confident about their ability to have a meaningful impact on a project: 40% rate their ability for impact as very high, 35% as somewhat high, 15% as neutral, 6% as somewhat low, and 4% as very low. Interestingly enough, devs with three to six years of experience are represented in the "somewhat low" and "very low" category at more than double the rate of any other group, which hints at problems of burnout.
When it comes to evaluating one's prospects for advancement within the company, devs skew somewhat optimistic; 16% rate their prospects as very high, 26% as high, 33% as neutral, 15% as low, and 11% as very low. However, respondents’ ratings on their prospects decrease significantly after age 34; 47% of the "very high" and "high" respondents are between 22-34 years old, compared to 29% for ages 35-44, and 24% for 45-54, which could possibly reflect a need for devs to keep current on their skill sets and/or devs generally hitting an overall career ceiling around their mid-30s.
Devs are fairly enthusiastic on their current project overall; 30% report their level of motivation as very high, 34% as somewhat high, 19% as neutral, 12% as somewhat low, and 6% very low. Motivation correlates strongly with job satisfaction, too; 65% of people who are very satisfied with their jobs also feel very motivated, and 60% who are very unsatisfied are also very unmotivated.
We're inclined to think that the correlation is a two-way relationship; higher job satisfaction means more motivation, and more enthusiasm for the project itself leads to higher job satisfaction. Also, 70% of devs report that they enjoy the types of games they'd compare to their current project, and of that group, 75% report positive job satisfaction ratings (compared to 55% of devs who report positive job satisfaction ratings despite not enjoying the comparable types of games); in other words, it's important to find devs who are already interested in the kind of games your studio is trying to make.
Employer and career satisfaction
23% of developers expect layoffs after shipping their current project. Layoff expectations connect fairly strongly with job satisfaction rates, too; people who don't expect layoffs are more than twice as likely to be very satisfied with their job. But the fear of layoffs appears to be more prominent than actual layoff rates; for the sake of context, our 2011 Salary Survey respondents reported an actual layoff rate of 13%.
Devs are largely split over their future at their current company; only 55% say they want to be working at their current company in five years. Of the devs who want to stay, 90% of them also report positive job satisfaction, while only 3% of the devs that want to stay report negative satisfaction, which indicates that devs will leave if they're not satisfied.
When it comes to devs' future in the industry, however, they are a little adamant; 89% report that they want to remain in the game industry in five years. However, the majority of these devs are on the younger end of the spectrum; 92% of devs under 35 want to stay there, compared to 83% of devs 35 or older. Also, devs are split on whether to advise a friend or family member to join the industry; 62% say yes.