What Game Makers Really Earn

Brit

New member
Apr 1, 2010
1
0
0
Wow. $90K / year? I'm shocked. I've bounced back and forth between business/government programming and game programming for years. While I've mostly worked with small game projects, I've never come anywhere near $90K/year. I'd actually be pretty surprised if these numbers were accurate. Maybe their survey was done in New York and San Francisco (two the the highest cost of living cities in the US), but even there, I'm even skeptical that programmers there are earning that much on average. In general, game programmers get paid less than programmers in other fields. It's just simple economics: lots of programmers want to be game programmers, so companies can over-work and under-pay them. Working as a game-programmer is a "perk" that gets offset with lower pay. I've seem lots of people get burned out on the game industry and leave to get better programming jobs in business. Heck, in once case (a small company), I've seen programmers work for months without pay (although, that was an unusual "save the company" situation).

http://www.empiresofsteel.com
 

Fenixius

New member
Feb 5, 2007
449
0
0
CrystalShadow said:
Lol. Do you have any idea of the skill disparity between a programmer and a game designer? Code monkeys? Honestly, it sickens me how insulting someone can be about such a complex and difficult task...

It takes years upon years to become a good programmer, and games programmers are of nessesity among the highest skilled of any kind of programmer, on average; while a game designer is essentially anyone that can come up with a half-decent idea...

Wages are based on supply and demand, and I can tell you from personal experience; People with the skills to program games are outnumbered at least 3 to 1 by people that think they can design games, and worse yet, a typical project needs more programmers than it does designers.
Aside from which, if you don't pay them enough, a programmer is more than capable of getting a job in a non-gaming capacity, while a game designer often has few skills that are in particularly high demand anywhere else.

A good idea is worthless if you can't get it implemented, after all.

End result? The demand for programmers far outstrips that for game designers, and it probably always will.
On that basis, the relative wages should be no surprise whatsoever.
I do understand, very very well, how difficult it is to be a good programmer, and I do understand how much more difficult than almost any other kind of programming the art of coding games is. There's a wide range of skill and expertise within "programming". It's a very broad term. It surprises me that the AVERAGE, not the top, but the AVERAGE pay would be almost $100k USD.

The people who engineer the program are the ones who should be paid the most, within the programming area. It depends on the execution of the job, and how much freedom the coder gets, but in the worst case, they're handed pseudocode and told to make it real. That's not worth $90,000/pa, it's worth maybe half of that. Of course, flipside, you tell them to code, say, a new weapon, or something, and if they do it well with only design specs, then they deserve their salaries as above without question.

What I was trying to point out is that game designers have much greater an effect on the direction of the games, the mechanics included, etc, whereas a programmer will likely have an effect on the technical problems, not the mechanical ones. I find that if a game exhibits technical problems with excellent mechanics, I'll bear with it, but if it's technically excellent with poor gameplay, I'll drop it and leave. Or I'll refuse to buy after playing the demo. Gaming is by no means the result of one person, at least anymore, but I find that I care a lot more about the results of the designer's work than the programmer's.

With regards to numbers, I bet you that while programmers are indeed outnumbered by people who think they can design games by a large margin, the same is true for people who can design good, cohesive games and people who think they can code.

That one requires less training and expertise to be a game designer is known to me. To do it well requires a lot of work, testing, knowledge, and so on, but probably not a degree in computer science. To be a programmer also requires a lot of time, experience, testing, and hard work, for sure. But to have less than half the salary with a much greater responsibility for final product quality, in my opinion, is disproportionate.
 

CrystalShadow

don't upset the insane catgirl
Apr 11, 2009
3,829
0
0
Fenixius said:
CrystalShadow said:
Lol. Do you have any idea of the skill disparity between a programmer and a game designer? Code monkeys? Honestly, it sickens me how insulting someone can be about such a complex and difficult task...

It takes years upon years to become a good programmer, and games programmers are of nessesity among the highest skilled of any kind of programmer, on average; while a game designer is essentially anyone that can come up with a half-decent idea...

Wages are based on supply and demand, and I can tell you from personal experience; People with the skills to program games are outnumbered at least 3 to 1 by people that think they can design games, and worse yet, a typical project needs more programmers than it does designers.
Aside from which, if you don't pay them enough, a programmer is more than capable of getting a job in a non-gaming capacity, while a game designer often has few skills that are in particularly high demand anywhere else.

A good idea is worthless if you can't get it implemented, after all.

End result? The demand for programmers far outstrips that for game designers, and it probably always will.
On that basis, the relative wages should be no surprise whatsoever.
I do understand, very very well, how difficult it is to be a good programmer, and I do understand how much more difficult than almost any other kind of programming the art of coding games is. There's a wide range of skill and expertise within "programming". It's a very broad term. It surprises me that the AVERAGE, not the top, but the AVERAGE pay would be almost $100k USD.

The people who engineer the program are the ones who should be paid the most, within the programming area. It depends on the execution of the job, and how much freedom the coder gets, but in the worst case, they're handed pseudocode and told to make it real. That's not worth $90,000/pa, it's worth maybe half of that. Of course, flipside, you tell them to code, say, a new weapon, or something, and if they do it well with only design specs, then they deserve their salaries as above without question.

What I was trying to point out is that game designers have much greater an effect on the direction of the games, the mechanics included, etc, whereas a programmer will likely have an effect on the technical problems, not the mechanical ones. I find that if a game exhibits technical problems with excellent mechanics, I'll bear with it, but if it's technically excellent with poor gameplay, I'll drop it and leave. Or I'll refuse to buy after playing the demo. Gaming is by no means the result of one person, at least anymore, but I find that I care a lot more about the results of the designer's work than the programmer's.

With regards to numbers, I bet you that while programmers are indeed outnumbered by people who think they can design games by a large margin, the same is true for people who can design good, cohesive games and people who think they can code.

That one requires less training and expertise to be a game designer is known to me. To do it well requires a lot of work, testing, knowledge, and so on, but probably not a degree in computer science. To be a programmer also requires a lot of time, experience, testing, and hard work, for sure. But to have less than half the salary with a much greater responsibility for final product quality, in my opinion, is disproportionate.
As I pointed out earlier, those figures are in dispute anyway.
I think they're using a very dodgy definition of 'average', to be honest.
I live in the UK:

Here's the quoted figures from a different article about the UK (as opposed to US) situation:

CODING
Average Yearly Salaries:
Lead Programmer ? £41,250
Programmer ? £25,810
Junior Programmer ? £18,928

ART
Average Yearly Salaries:
Lead Artist ? £35,833
Artist ? £29,285

DESIGN
Average Yearly Salaries:
Lead Designer ? £33,330
Designer ? £22,352
Junior Designer ? £20,000


Take note of the above:
The lead programmer is getting more than the lead designer by a large margin, and programmers in general get more than designers.

But... A junior designer gets more than a junior programmer...

Also, how does the article linked to in the OP get an average of $90,000 exactly?

The exchange rate is about 1.5 to 1, meaning the UK figures are about $60,000 for a lead programmer...

If a lead programmer isn't even getting that much, how can the average be that high?
Either UK devs are seriously underpaid, or that average is very messed up.

As for coding...
I highly doubt anyone would get pseudocode handed to them in a professional environment.
The lead programmer wouldn't have the time, because honestly, writing pseudocode that meaningfully describes a problem is only marginally less time consuming than writing the code itself.

What's more likely, is the lead programmer will try to design the high-level architecture and systems, and then the other programmers will be handed a set of requirements to implement a certain sub-system, like say, the sound system, or the camera system, battle system, etc... and then they'd have to create said system, then try and integrate it with the rest of the code.

You can't get away with having to hand another programmer pseudocode... If they need that to solve a problem, they're not good enough to have a job.
 

Yokai

New member
Oct 31, 2008
1,982
0
0
So, it looks like concept artist is a reasonable career path. Now I just have to finish higher education...
 

Orcus The Ultimate

New member
Nov 22, 2009
3,216
0
0
well EA has a very interesting way of sueing minor companies and then eat those minor companies so that they pay them less and under the fear of getting fired... that's a cold strategy though...



XD
 

ThreeKneeNick

New member
Aug 4, 2009
741
0
0
That's a goofy chart... And its april 1st... Even if it is posted on march 31, can never be too careful ><
 

Scrythe

Premium Gasoline
Jun 23, 2009
2,368
0
0
I saw a chart like this on a game designer magazine (who's name escapes me, at the moment) that listed all the main positions, their salary, and a rough set of prerequisites.

That, combined with what I discovered in school, made me realize that I'd much rather be a programmer than a writer or character/map designer. Still, it helps to know your way around, even if it's just a stint or two in the modding community.
 

MazzaTheFirst

New member
Jul 1, 2009
270
0
0
Megacherv said:
WOAH!

$90,000, that's about £60,000

Glad I want to be a games programmer
w00t, High five on that! *high-five*

Edit: Also, I love the term 'Quality Assurance'. Reminds of a comic I read on DeviantArt about Game Testers: http://sleepdepjoel.deviantart.com/art/Game-Tester-I-90512581
 

Gingerman

New member
Aug 20, 2009
188
0
0
Animators get paid on average that much? awesome I've picked the right University course then.

*smug mode*
 

Angron

New member
Jul 15, 2008
386
0
0
u say they dont say much, but studying game def as i am there are quite a few places which do, there was a development magazine which released details recently, i think it was develop magazine...

always worth a look if your interested, theres some great games dev things out there to read

edit: Im pretty sure i read the average was around 32k for the entire workforce, and i heard u shoud get around 18k when u first start out in the industry, which would be testing

also, testing isnt playing games, its mor elike running 1 block into another 1 billion times to see if it messes up, nowhere near as fun as it sounds

also im going to shut up now before i bore people to death who dont care

edit 2: i wont shut up, just gonna say i was thinking £ not $ *facepalm*
 

SaintWaldo

Interzone Vagabond
Jun 10, 2008
923
0
0
90k for programming isn't actually top end for the field. That's average after establishing the career path (5-10 yrs). This is why it takes a special kind of programmer to do games.

It's much more lucrative to fulfill some regional PHB's dreams of an n-tier n-way configurable sales and marketing solution that synergizes collaborative potentials, and a contact manager. It just sucks out your soul, if you happen to find yourself in possession of one of those.
 

Therumancer

Citation Needed
Nov 28, 2007
9,909
0
0
Dude, $90k really isn't unreasonable at all for someone who's presumably a college graduate and skilled enough to make it into a very, very competitive industry. That's actually a pretty fair wage, depending on where you live. Hell, if you live in an expensive area (like, say, LA or San Fransisco), that might not be that much at all. Nor is that all that much compared to most successful industries. (And of course most of any budget is going to paying HR, that's the same in almost every company)

It's really a horrible thing for people to want to make a decent salary and make their games, huh. That's so awful. How can any company want to pay its employees a good wage for good work? I can't believe them, they should cut all their salaries in half.

Hold on to your change if you want. Don't buy games if it offends your sensibilities that companies are trying to pay their employees what their talent is worth on the marketplace. The rest of us will feel good about supporting an industry we're enthusiastic about and those in it.[/quote]


Actually I notice how quickly things are shifting from "they don't make that much money" to "well it's not unreasonable". I hate to point this out but a college degree isn't worth much today, all it does is give you a slight advantage over someone who doesn't have one. There is also a glut in certain industries like computers and programming, and have been since I was going to college a long time ago. What's more people with equal amounts of skill and training are not making $90k a year. I had a job where I risked getting shot at or beaten up and I didn't make that amount of money.

Now generally I wouldn't care, and agree with you about "supporting an industry that makes products I love", if it wasn't for the fact that we as consumers are being abused. All those complaints about DLC and how it's handled, and the industry nickel and diming us, never mind the coordinated price hike from $50 to $60 and people jonesing for a hike from $60 to $70, not to mention the whole issue of digital downloads which according to 1C is motivated by a massive increase in profits (none of which cooresponds to lower prices for us consumers).

All of this is justified by "well games are so much more expensive to develop nowadays", what is making them expensive is Game Developers driving Ferraris (as per the article title, though I doubt it's literal). I do tend to think that at one time the rate of pay quoted by you and other articles WAS accurate, and the industry likes to present itself that way so it doesn't seem like we're being gouged and all of these money grab schemes can be presented as nessecity rather than greed (it's typical of a lot of industries to do similar things).

The point is, does it REALLY need to take these massive budgets to make these games, or is it developers demanding increasingl extravagant lifestyles and then passing the cost onto us "gullible" consumers?

As I said before, I'm all for capitolism, but I also believe it's balanced by consumers going "hold on, wait a second, you expect me to pay for WHAT?!?!?".

It's not an issue of me individually boycotting games, but rather a belief that gamers should ourselves start putting massive pressure on the industry, spawn our own consumer watchdog groups, and otherwise represent our own interests to keep games affordable. Price gouging in other industries has been successfully "checked" by similar behavior before.

What's more I believe that if the game industry is going to coordinate (which I have issues with on another level entirely, but it's another discussion) they could also do things like agree on a general "Cap" for what people in specific positions are going to be allowed to make. Heck, many industries have one (the casinos I worked for did). That way one company won't risk simply having all their employees go elsewhere since nobody will be paying
massive wages for minimal work.

Generally speaking, slice what these guys are making in half accross the board, which will slice game development budgets in half, and then also if we watch things carefully will cause games to also have prices sliced in half.

Now I understand you (John Funk) have your own perspective and motivations on these things, but I don't think I'm being any more unreasonable than consumers who have complained about any other industry doing similar things through the years.

I mean think carefully about this: Modern Warfare 2 might be a great looking game and all, but do you REALLY think that result should have cost half a billion dollars? That's more money than many developing nations probably make in a year. You could probably train and equip enough soldiers to conquer one of those developing nations for that price as well.

Ahh well, opinions vary. The bottom line is that when people try and justify some of this DLC and unlocking things already on a disk for extra money as "nessicary due to rising game development costs" it makes me cast a careful eye on why those development costs are so ginormous. In general it seems to be misdirection with them basically saying "we're not greedy, it's just we're greedy", defended largely by the fact that these guys aren't releasing their books to the public and most people probably don't think about how much of these budgets go into the pockets of the human resources.
 

Mr. Mike

New member
Mar 24, 2010
532
0
0
HG131 said:
So that's how Gabe affords all that food! Sorry, I couldn't resist a Gabe Newel is fat joke when a common question is how does he afford all that food.
I don't think Gabe actually takes those fat jokes to heart, he just eats them :p
 

bobisimo

New member
Nov 25, 2009
17
0
0
Angron said:
... and i heard u shoud get around 18k when u first start out in the industry, which would be testing
I started at 24K with no experience, and that was ten years ago. Also, that salary doubled really quickly. But I am not really sure what is the norm. I'm just tossing out my experience. :)

Angron said:
also, testing isnt playing games, its mor elike running 1 block into another 1 billion times to see if it messes up, nowhere near as fun as it sounds
Heh. :)

Software testing gets an unfair rap both ways. People who think it's a great job refer to it as "playing games all day!" and people who think it's a rough job say that it's "doing the same thing over-and-over, a billion times."

Really, it's neither; or rather, it should be neither, but not all companies view QA in the same way.

Good companies (that is: companies who accurately view QA as an asset that can save them millions of dollars) will integrate QA into the development process from pre-production and let Analaysts really shape the process; they are not (as bad companies would have you believe) exclusively tacked on at the end to find a few bugs before a game ships, viewed as expendable, generally ignored, and paid in peanuts.

I would say that a good QA is to a game developer as a good editor is to a writer. The writer has an idea of what he hopes to accomplish and a talent for writing, but an editor really understands the process as well, knows what the community wants, and knows how to get the most out of the writer for whom he is working. When they work together, and lean on each other throughout the process as complements, the end results can be really special for the fans.

QA as a career is filled with challenges and rewards, and the best QA have or develop skills in programming, writing, art, animation, sound, production, and so on. If you can find a good company with which to practice your craft and develop, then it is a very satisfying career field that leaves you with a sense of ownership and pride for every released title. Yes, there are moments filled with redundancy and frustration, but what career isn't?
 

Outamyhead

New member
Feb 25, 2009
381
0
0
Game testing certainly is too high, take 10k off the annual salary, and that's more realistic, and it's normally not a long term job, they will only need you for 3 months on average, unless you can get a fixed position at the agency that hired you.