U.S. game industry salary average is $79k, up 7 percent

I always say that games is where it’s at. Game Developer’s most recent survey of game industry workers seems to say the same. While it’s not clear what impact the recession has had on the games industry, we do know that the average salary is up 7 percent from last year, now at $79,000. And mom said you’d never get anywhere with these games.

As always, programmers make the most, aside from those dicks in business and marketing, who earn an average just hitting six digits. The average for programmers was over $85k, but those with more than six years experience earned 26% more than that. The folks in QA get paid the lowest average salary: $39,571. That’s still respectable, and definitely not bad compared to not having a job right now.

The audio side is always the most interesting to me. I thought I wanted to do that once. These guys earned a nice average of about $78k this year. The reason why I’m not in that field? The Game Developer report clearly states: 48% of those in the game audio industry have been working there for 6 years or more. In other words, the job is so good that they’re not leaving.

I’m glad that making games is respectable work that earns respectable pay. These guys seem to be doing fine. Any of their salaries is not bad for simply having to tighten up the graphics a little bit.

You’ll find a deeper breakdown of salaries for game makers after the jump.

Programming:  programmers are the highest paid talent next to high-end businesspeople, with an average annual salary of $85,024.  Experience pays in this role, as those with greater than six years of experience earned 26% more than the average annual salary.


Art & Animation:  artists – averaging a $69,532 salary, nonetheless, 28% of art directors reported lower salaries than the previous year. But these more experienced, higher status artists also tend to earn at least 35% more than those with less experience and lower title.


Game Design:  Averaging $67,379, design positions sprouted an average $3,730 over last year. As with many roles, region makes a difference, given that West Coast designers make on average $8,283 or 12% more than the rest of the game designers in the country.


Production: of all the game development disciplines, production – with a salary average overall of $82,905 – is the most welcoming to women, with 21% of the workforce made up of females – more than twice the industry average. The discipline as a whole saw a strong $4,189 bump from last year.


Quality Assurance:  testers with less than three years experience make up the largest percentage of this segment – 46%.  Quality assurance is the lowest paid of the game development disciplines, averaging $39,571 – almost flat to 2007 – and the majority of Q/A people – 87% – are lesser experienced. The number of female Q/A testers jumped from 6% in 2007 to 14% in 2008.


Audio:  sound designers as a group earned 6% more than they did in 2007, up $4,758 on average over last year to $78,167. 74% of audio developers reported that their salaries increased over 2007. Interestingly, 48% of those in the game audio industry have been working there for 6 years or more – more than the 40% for game design, and equal to the 48% for production.


Business & Marketing:  the business field as a whole remains the highest compensated group in game development – with an average salary of $102,143 – and also receives the highest amount of additional compensation.  However, salaries vary significantly between individual job titles in this section, with experienced VPs and executive managers making the most of any individual section in the entire survey – at $131,085 on average and reporting at least 6 years experience.


An extended version of the “Game Developer Salary Survey” includes much more detailed U.S. regional and growth data for year-over-year results from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, plus international information from Canada and Europe. It will be of particular interest to business and HR professionals in the game industry, and is now available for purchase through Game Developer Research – more information is available at https://www.gamedevresearch.com

Dale North