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6 key points from the 2014 Indie Salary Report
6 key points from the 2014 Indie Salary Report Exclusive
July 23, 2014 | By Kris Graft

This is the fifth year for the indie developer salary report (full 2014 salary report here [PDF]), in which we survey non-salaried game developers. 2013 was a mixed bag overall, with some salaries up, some down year-on-year.

The drop in solo salaries is particularly alarming, while the rise in indie team salaries seems promising -- but be careful in making assumptions about this data. We’ve found that average indie salaries are prone to big fluctuations over the years. Practice the fundamentals of good game development, and adjust for a market that is noisier than it has ever been. Here are the highlights from the indie survey*:

1. Solo indie salaries were down

Solo indie developers earned an average income of $11,812 in 2013, down 49 percent from 2012’s $23,130 average. This drop may be attributed to the fact that most anyone can make and release a game if they want to, from experienced full-time game developers to part-time hobbyists with less experience with the market.

2. Members of an indie team earned more income

Individual members of an indie team fared better than solos, earning an average of $50,833, up 161 percent from 2012’s $19,487. Of course, more overhead for a team doesn’t automatically equate to making more money, but there is something to be said for having more hands (and brains) on a project.

3. Game sales made up most indies’ game dev income

Most indie game developers -- 57 percent -- said they did not have any additional game dev income outside of game sales. Meanwhile, 27 percent said they made additional income through contract work.

Other sources of income came from promotions (including non-game DLC and other content), sponsorship opportunities, awards or grants, crowdfunding, or other methods. Less than 6 percent of respondents said they made income in any of these other categories.

4. Only a few braved the crowdfunding route

Crowdfunding is a hot topic, but only 5 percent of indie respondents had collected any income from crowdfunding. Of the very small sample who said they made crowdfunding money (only 17 responses), one collected over $200,000.

5. Less than one in 10 indies made sales on paid alphas

A small percentage of respondents -- 8 percent -- said they made money from paid alpha sales. Nearly half of the developers who made money from paid alpha sales said those sales comprised 96-100 percent of their total game sales in 2013.

6. Most indie game devs made…not so much

Fifty-seven percent of indie game developers (including both solo indies and members of indie teams across all pay ranges) made under $500 in game sales. On the other end of the spectrum, 2 percent made over $200,000 in game sales.

Check out the full report!

Conducted in May 2014 for the period between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013, Gamasutra gathered well over 4,000 unique responses worldwide, with help from market research company Audience Insights.

You can download the full PDF here, and check out Salary Survey highlights all this week at our special Salary Survey page on Gamasutra.

*Results only include developers who made more than $10,000 in 2013, and were capped at $200,000, except for point 6.

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Alan Barton
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@"Results only include developers who made more than $10,000 in 2013"

That will introduce a selection bias, meaning the real indie average income figures could be much less?

Lukasz Zawada
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That is true. I think the intent was to cut off ones who wouldn't have been able to make a living off of their earnings. With a roommate or two, you can spend $500 a month for rent and $200 on food and stuff. Not great living but at least it's doable.

Like Aaron San Filippo said below, many of the respondents are likely students.

Mikhail Mukin
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> and $200 on food and stuff

What country/area? Last time this was enough was in Russia back in 1994... but I think it got about 5 times more expensive since then (?).

I still have this idea once in a while - after 20 year in the industry, take a year or so off - go to some "cheap to live" country - preferably somewhere on the warm ocean coast, with reasonably healthy food, no wars/big crime (if possible), people who can understand English - and maybe work on own project or something, relax a bit. But not sure if such places exist and if financially it makes any significant sense.

oh well, build is done, back to reality... yet another game to help to make, million+ people might be waiting for new version :)

Michael Wenk
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I don't think it really matters much. If you check out the methodology section of the PDF in this doc, you'll see that this was a voluntary survey. That automatically biases the entire thing. Of course considering that "Indie" is pretty much non specific, its not as much of an issue as it could be. Still, I'd not use these numbers for much if anything other than entertainment.

Benjamin Quintero
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You can toss out most of this. The only line that really sums it up is this:

"Fifty-seven percent of indie game developers (including both solo indies and members of indie teams) made under $500 in game sales".

We can also assume that an even higher percentage made less than $10k, invalidating most of these numbers. I'd like to see a weighted chart of ALL submissions. That's the real story.

Luis Enrique Vargas Azcona
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Right now in Mexico the food is very cheap in comparisson with other countries like USA, CA or many ones of Western Europe (maybe 4 times cheaper); 200 per month it's possible, but it's not easy, it requieres a good administration skills and a good knowledge of how to find cheap food.

Aaron San Filippo
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Put these stats together:
- avg yearly income of around $10k for indies
- 57% of indies don't have other sources of income.

This tells me that most of the respondents were probably students, or kids living at home.

Really hope next year the survey differentiates between those doing full-time professional development, vs. hobbyists and students.

Tanya X Short
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I agree that they should segment out non-professionals. However, it wouldn't surprise me if the professional incomes were under $20k on average though, with a $15k median, at least for 2013/2014. Hopefully both of those will rise slowly over time as indie companies stabilise.

Kitfox Games is subsisting on $2k/month each while we try to become profitable/sustainable with our first few games, and most of us don't have other income sources. I'm not saying these rates are long-term viable, or ideal for an inclusive industry segment, but it IS common for startup-types. With the recent expansion of the indie scene, adding in fierce competition, I would bet a huge majority are still new/startup-style, and therefore working for far less than they hope to in the next few years.

Michael Wenk
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That's not sustainable even on the short term, and hell, in the US it could be illegal.

The Federal Poverty line is at 11,670. Minimum wage is 8.50 an hour. IF you're paying that low, you can't afford the payroll taxes for more part timers, and if you have people underreporting hours that is a FLSA violation right there. And if you're in CA, you're pretty much forced to pay OT for most of your people.

Yama Habib
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I don't think that an explicit distinction between "professional development" vs. "hobbyists and students" is really relevant, but I do agree that a "How many hours a week do you spend doing game development related work" question would be useful in distinguishing full-time vs part-time game developers.

Also, I wouldn't underestimate the "struggle". It's not uncommon for full-time indie devs to subsist off of prior savings and extremely low costs of living. Ramen is 10 cents a bag, after all.

Benjamin Quintero
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That's not really living Yama, that's slowly dieing. :(

Kevin Fishburne
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LOL. We're all slowly dying anyway, so why not make some games along the way. That's what I tell myself at least. (stomach grumbles)

David Paris
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Financially, making games seems to very often fall under the category of slowly dying.

Luis Enrique Vargas Azcona
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I'm form Mexico and I'm would be able to live very easy with 10k per year, that's because here the food is much cheaper and also the rent, so 10k per year can be sustainable in some countries.
In Mexico the poverty line it's 10 dollars per day, that means 3652 per year.
About the 57% that makes less than $500, I think that's not sustainable in any place in the Earth, but also many devs puts their own money to start their projects (solo or with a team) and they result unsuccess.

Bernie M
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It's not that easy. Game developing is a complex thing. With that wage you don't have access to many things that you would need to develop a marketable game.
Reality kicks in below a certain fund level.

Alexandre Lautie
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You need to compare it with previous year.
Probably not much more student answer the surver between 2012 and 2013. So if the proportion don't change, the average income of everybody dropped by half (pro and student).

Joel Nystrom
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I never feel like we're a very successful company (at least not financially), but according to point 6, we're squarely in the top 2%.. I guess that's something!