The Game Developer Salary Survey is the only major publicly-released analysis of salaries in the worldwide video game industry, and provides an exhaustive breakdown of salaries and benefits at major game studios by discipline, job function, experience level, region and gender. For the last two years, the survey has also charted the growing worldwide independent game industry.
By the numbers, the traditional American mainstream video game industry - including salaried participants in the AAA console and emerging social/online game areas - saw a seven percent salary increase in 2010 over 2009, reaching $80,817 (the survey does not track total numbers of employed game creators). Elsewhere, independent contractors earned an average of $55,493, while self-identified 'independent game' team members trailed with a $26,780 average, an increase of over $6,000 from the previous year's survey - showing swift indie growth.
Highlights of specific findings per category for the salaries game developer survey are as follows:
Programming: Programmers continue to be some of the highest paid talent in both the console and online game industry, after production and those in the business and legal sectors, with an average annual salary of $85,733. Salaries for programmers increased some $5,000 over 2009 numbers, except in entry-level positions, which saw a $1,000 decrease in salary.
Art & Animation: Similar to last year's figure of $71,071, artist and animator salaries hold steady at $71,354, with the slight bump in compensation coming from pay raises for art directors.
Game Design: The design discipline also saw a slight boost from 2009 numbers, with the average salary being reported at $70,223. Designers saw little movement in 2010, as the discipline has been one of the most stable where compensation is concerned.
Production: After seeing an overall salary dip in 2009, producers rebounded with an increase of over $13,000, for a total average salary of $88,544. This could be attributed to the depth of experience that survey respondents reported (over half had more than six years of experience), or the shift toward social games, which pay producers closer to Web 2.0 project management salaries. Female employees continue to be best-represented in this field, with 17 percent of the respondents being women.
Audio: Sound designers and composers earned an average of $68,088, with 15 percent of respondents reporting that they earned less than in 2009. The category typically has a low response rate, due to the fact that there are few full-time audio professionals employed in games, but individuals in the field are those most likely to receive royalties for their work.
Quality Assurance: Home to many entry-level game industry positions, quality assurance remains the lowest paid discipline, with an average salary of $49,009 being reported. Similar to industry employees working in production, the 2010 salary bump over 2009's $37,905 figure could be a result of those individuals working in web game-centric industries and with more complex testing skills.
Business: Business and legal employees remain the highest paid in the industry across all levels of experience, with the average salary being reported at $106,452. Along with having the second-highest numbers for female representation, those working in business and legal are also more likely to receive additional compensation, with 85 percent of respondents reporting that they had.
In the "self-reportage" area of the survey, where developers can voice their thoughts about working in games, we saw that in spite of the vastly greater average income, salaried game developers had a sometimes bleaker outlook on the industry. Anecdotally, these respondents stated that working in the traditional structure is "frustrating," lamenting that larger studios are "trimming talent" and crunching harder.
Meanwhile, independent developers, though they made far less money, felt the industry was more fertile and innovative than ever, praising the arrival of new platforms and revenue streams, even going so far as to call 2010 "the year of the indie."