Gaming is a global, multibillion dollar a year industry that attracts more than 155 million Americans alone. Most of these players are adults. In fact, according to the most recent data by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the average game player is 35 years old. A whopping 27% are 50 and over. These players are extremely loyal too, which is why they are willing to shell out big bucks for their favorite games. Thanks to these dedicated followers, along with the growth of newer delivery formats such as digital games and downloadable content (average growth rate is 33% year over year, $2.2 billion+ in sales), subscriptions (12.9%, $1.05 billion+), mobile apps/games (10.4%, $2.11 billion+), digital add-on content, and social networking gaming ($544 million), business is booming. This means that demand is high for talented designers, programmers, managers, and other professionals in this field.
While there are literally dozens of career paths in the game industry, some are more popular than others are. This doesn’t mean that other roles in the industry aren’t equally as important though. It’s just that certain game jobs seem to attract more attention than others do. Fortunately, most jobs in the industry pay well, averaging around $54,833 on the “low” end up to $100,000 or more on the high end.
Keep in mind that salaries vary greatly based on factors such as experience, title, company or studio size, and even location. For example, according to GameJobHunter, around 20 U.S. cities have the most game studios and jobs. They include San Francisco (114 studios), Los Angeles (91), Seattle (70), Austin (63), Boston (36), New York City (30), Chicago (29), Dallas (23), San Diego (17), Raleigh (15), Washington, DC (12), Salt Lake City (10), Atlanta (10), Baltimore (10), Orlando (8), New Orleans (7), Las Vegas (6), Miami (4), Eugene (4), and Gainesville (3). Please note that this list excludes overseas locations.
Let’s move on to some of the most popular careers in the game industry and how much they pay. Here you go.
Business and Management
Doesn’t it seem like the folks behind the scenes always earn more? Well, the world of gaming is no exception. Business and Management professionals in this industry average $101,572, according to Gamasutra’s 2014 Game Developer Salary Survey. These individuals manage projects and teams to ensure that the project is completed on time and on budget, or they run the businesses behind the games, ensuring that the products are produced and sold. Professionals in this field typically hold a business, computer science, game development or other related degree.
Audio Engineers create the soundtrack for games, including character voices, music, ambient effects and sound effects that support the game action, and spoken instructions. Audio Engineers typically hold a degree in sound or audio engineering. This professional group is the second highest paid on our list and they average $95,682 per year.
Game programming is one of the oldest professions in the games industry. Like developers, programmers write code, but they are also responsible for making sure that games run smoothly without crashing. Simply put, these software programmers make the game work properly. Game Programmers typically hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science, programming, game development, or other related degree and they often work in well-established studios. Average salary? $93,251 per year, with the possibility of earning more than $100,000 annually, with experience.
Quality Assurance (Game Testers)
Quality Assurance professionals (Game Testers) test video games before the final version is released to the public. Without Game Testers, games that may be filled with bugs and glitches would reach the public. These issues may make the game unplayable or playable only to a certain extent, which would result in massive returns to retailers and possible irreparable damage to the game company’s reputation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Quality Assurance Testers averaged $85,240 in 2015, and salaries can go as high as $121,230 per year for top end testers. Please note that Gamasutra reported that Game Testers averaged $54,833 in 2014. The Bureau included all Quality Assurance workers in its most recent report.
Game Developers “convert the ideas and objectives of the design team into the actual game.” Simply put, the job of a game developer is to “turn a vision into a reality.” They accomplish this by converting layouts, sketches, and storylines into a playable product. Game Developers may write “tens or even hundreds of thousands of lines worth of computer code, which accurately represents what the game designer had in mind.” These individuals may hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science, game development, software programming, or other related degree. The average salary for Game Developers is $83,060 per year.
Game Designers are responsible for the overall design of a game. According to game designing.org, these artists “create the initial framework that will become the final product.” While the game designer’s role is different from the game developers, some designers may write code, using a variety of programming languages. Game Designers, typically hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in game design, game development or game design and development, computer science with a concentration in game design, art with a concentration in game design, or other related degree. According to Gamasutra, Game Designers average $73,864 per year.
Games Artists create “the visual elements of a game, such as characters, scenery, objects, vehicles, surface textures, clothing, etc., according to Creative Skillset (CS). They create concept art and storyboards, which help communicate the proposed visual elements during pre-production. Game Artists typically hold a degree in game art, game art & design, game art & animation, animation, art with a concentration in game art or other related degree. Game Artists average $74,349 per year.
Animators create special effects, animation, or other visual images using film, video, computers, or other electronic tools and media for use in products or creations such as computer games, movies, music videos, and commercials. In the world of games, Animators are responsible “for the portrayal of movement and behavior within the game, making best use of the game engine’s technology, within the platform’s limitations,” says CS. Animators typically hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in animation, game art & animation, or other related degree. The average salary for Animators is $63,970 per year.
Creative Director (Games)
According to CS, Creative Directors are responsible “for the overall look and feel of a computer game.” They oversee “any high-level decisions that affect how the game plays, looks or sounds,” and “ensure the quality and style of the gameplay, artwork, music and audio assets.” Creative Directors typically hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in art, design, game design, game art or other related area. They averaged $89,760 in 2015.
Narrative Copywriters, also called “Narrative Designers,” design the narrative structure of a game. They write dialogue, story, and incidental copy such as item descriptions and tutorials. According to CS, it is “important for the Narrative Copywriter to understand the tone and world of the game, as they’ll be writing a lot of the small touches than could make or break the experience.” Most studios prefer to hire Narrative Copywriter’s that hold a bachelor’s degree or higher with a focus in creative writing, interactive storytelling, copywriting, digital arts & sciences, or other related area. The average salary for writers was $60,250 in 2015. Keep in mind that Narrative Copywriters earn more in some states than they do in others. Head to California where the average salary is $97,000 per year, or DC where the average salary is $84,150 annually.
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