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Game developers speak their minds as part of our 2014 Salary Survey
Game developers speak their minds as part of our 2014 Salary Survey Exclusive
July 25, 2014 | By Kris Graft




Working on video games can be extremely rewarding, but like any other profession or passion, it comes with its challenges.

As part of Gamasutra's 2014 Game Developer Salary Survey, we asked respondents an open question: "Do you have anything to say about the game industry in 2013?" Answers indicated that game developers are well-aware of the challenges that the industry poses: long work hours, job instability, shifting business models, the fact that good games are hard to make, and cultural issues such as sexism.

But underneath these worries, there is an undercurrent of enthusiasm that revolves not around salary, but around loving games, and creating games. That's why people stick with this profession.

This is just a small sample of the many responses we received. Make sure to check out the full Salary Survey results here [PDF], as well as the report's highlights on Gamasutra's dedicated Game Developer Salary Survey page.

SALARY

"[The industry] needs to consider actually paying employees a wage that competes with other industries, as well as overtime."

"I've left the games industry due to low pay and long hours."

"It's harder than ever to make a living, as clients expect to pay less for their games."

"Pay is still terrible, and based on the attitude of, 'There are plenty of people who want your job.'"

"Pay with larger companies seems to be going up again, finally!"

"We need unions. Employees remain under-represented and underpaid."

BALANCE

"Work-life balance has never been worse for production teams. It's especially bad for 3D and engine programmers (the actual people that ship the game at the end)."

"It's imperative that companies... [be] flexible if employees need to be there for our families."

"It's imperative that companies... [be] flexible if employees need to be there for our families."

"The future is bright. Worklife balance has improved dramatically; sales are in constant growth; digital distribution and a prolific indie scene democratize development even while triple-A budgets continue to grow."

"The games industry has still a lot of learning to do when it comes to treating employees as creative humans: crunch time destroys the work-life balance and in the end kills creativity."

DIVERSITY

"The industry needs more diversity...and a worldwide workforce from all backgrounds."

"Diversity of audiences is still largely not reflected in game content." "I've been very pleased with the issues of diversity in games finally being shouted from the mountaintops. #1ReasontoBe really empowered me this year."

"The games industry is a truly vibrant and diverse place. ... That said, there are some very close-minded people. The games industry, and gaming in general, doesn't need that."

"The industry is definitely becoming more accepting of women, which is awesome and speaks towards a bright future of diverse and interesting games I think."

"Still way too few women in the biz."

AAA

"The lowering of barriers... makes me super excited for what new cool things will come out of the industry. It also makes it a little scary for corporate gaming companies, for which I am currently employed."

"There are seemingly less opportunities in triple-A development right now but lowend, indie and mobile seem to be picking up the slack."

"We have to perform like rockstars but are definitely not getting paid for it."

"2013 seemed like one of the worst years for company closures of traditional, 'big box,' triple-A studios....We have to perform like rockstars but are definitely not getting paid for it."

"Triple-A can kill the passion of people. We have to take care of how we work big projects."

"Triple-A is not the future for us grunts. We are losing authorship as these games grow larger, and we suffer the most when they fail."

"Despite knowing how unlikely it is, I would love the focus to shift back to triple-A."

INDIES

"For me, it is hard to earn income as an indie."

"Being an indie developer has never been more challenging due to the sheer volume of indie developers trying to gain the attention of the same consumer audience."

"More indie development opportunities are available than ever before!"

"The game industry is a great yet scary place for indies right now. There have never been more opportunities to get involved, but there has also never been more competition."

"Large studios are not nimble enough for today's industry. That said, it's never been more difficult for an indie to get recognized. More competition, more requirements, more initial investment. This should be interesting."

"Indie is king. Down with AAA. lol jk jk."

SO HAPPY

"It is still an amazing thing to see a product that so many people are excited about come together over the products life time! With so many great games coming out these days, the game industry is a great place to be!"

"The expansion of the games industry into regions such as India, China and Brazil is exciting."

"I absolutely love the games industry."

"Beyond the traditional next-gen console shift, mobile platforms have changed everything, making the games business a whole new world of opportunity. Love it!"

"2013 brought about changes in our industry, in terms of business and cultural diversity. With these main changes, and subsequent subtle changes, the games industry was, and will continue to be a fantastic industry to work in."

"I absolutely love the games industry and cannot see myself working for any other industry."

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.


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Comments


Thomas Schenck
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Unions - NO

Jacob Crane
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Unions - NO (Agreed)

John Flush
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Unions are not the answer. I just wish as humans we could find a better way to have employers and employees treat each other like real people without having a big fat middle layer of bureaucracy that does little more than take from the pie... and at times even over inflate the problem to the point the industry has to collapse because there is no profit anymore.

Josh Neff
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Quite often, the problem lies with the executive administration, rather than a "middle layer". Which is not to say parts of a company, middle layer or otherwise, cannot become bloated... there are always those who're trying to satisfy their greed at the expense of others.

John Flush
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When you say executive administration do you mean of the gaming company, the union, or both?

I was referring to the fact the Union is the middle layer that just takes part of the pie and rarely provides real change.

They worked back when people were dying in coal mines or assembly lines, but today they provide little but bloat and over size paychecks to the "leaders" of the union. You would now have two greedy bosses...

And while work hours are horrible and such in the industry, no one dies from it. Unions are overkill.

Michael Joseph
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rarely provides real change? LOL.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9foi342LXQE

David Lejeune
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So being LITERALLY worked to death is the only point at which you feel a union is necessary? Seriously?

What about the people in the game industry who struggle with depression? The ones who have attempted or even successfully committed suicide? The ones who aren't provided and can't afford decent health coverage?

And for an industry that regularly prides itself on how much more money it brings in annually than Hollywood, the people who work in it certainly aren't getting the same rewards as their Hollywood counterparts. Shouldn't the writers, artists and engineers who actually make the games be getting residuals on top of their paychecks? Shouldn't QA be getting a living wage and have restrictions on how many hours they can be forced to work? Shouldn't everybody be getting paid sick leave, holiday pay, and vacation days?

I realize that corruption of union leadership is a potential risk (though it's hardly as endemic in existing unions as the Koch's have somehow managed to convince a large swath of the American populace it is), but it's a risk that can be minimized by, oh I dunno, making leadership positions unpaid? Requiring that the leadership be actively employed in the industry to assure that they're in the same boat as everybody that they're trying to negotiate on behalf of? Keeping the books public so that everybody can see where every cent of their dues are going? Just some ideas.

Jonathan Murphy
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Until we have a union, or something resembling that we'll see minimal job security. I'm astonished how many of you here are anti union; when you've been thrown around the planet, after getting laid off for the 11th time at said company. If you managed to avoid that fate after 10 years, you are a minority. The amount of talent I've seen bled out is nauseating. Kickstarter is not the answer either. We need unity, we need hiring(not back door priority) standards, we need stability, and that means there is no easy answer. We should be trying to find one, instead of blanket saying, "Unions derp bad!" Ok fine, what's your solution?

Alan Barton
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@Jonathan Murphy

I totally agree. Unfortunately these days unions have been so badly demonized in society that most people no longer think of standing together that way. (Which is exactly how the bad bosses like it, for everyone to think like that). However there is a new way to stand together. We creative people can take our experience and together form our own companies, thereby excluding these bad bosses, who are frankly bad because they are greedy narcissistic people, who treat people so badly as they seek to rule over us and exploit and lie and manipulate and generally treat people with contempt for their own gain.

Frankly the bad bosses need us, because they don't have the ability to create these products on their own. So either we create unions to renegotiate some fairness in our industry or we create our own companies which will be better, friendlier, fairer companies, which is the way it should be.

The problem is staff have little money and free time to escape this cycle of frankly employee abuse and even if they try to use what little spare time they have, their spare time belongs to the boss, because every thought the staff have in their spare time is said to belong to their boss lord and master. The irony is no one can get a job in our industry without already being able to walk through the door, on day one, with years of knowledge & experience, yet the bad bosses then wish to tie us up with rules that state our every thought!, based on our knowledge!, in our own time!, belongs to them!!!. So yes, some fairness is needed in our industry.

Unfortunately good fair companies are a minority in our industry, which is why I've said before, its worth staying in the good companies, if you are lucky enough to find one, but unfortunately they are hard to find. For everyone else, we have no choice, this industry will only change if we stand up and find ways to change it, because the greedy self-interested frankly narcissistic tyranny of the bad bosses will not end. We have to end it ourselves.

Its sadly ironic we are having this conversation now, what with Gamasutra highlighting the decade since the EA_Spouse story and yet look how far we as an industry still have to change our industry, to make it better for people to simply come to work, to try to do their best for a company. We shouldn't have to live like this!
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/221041/Video_The_enduring_lega
cy_of_EASpouse.php

Jonathan Murphy
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I'm annoyed by, "Well that's the way the world is." Did Columbus let the church stop him? Hell no. He took action. It was a small action at the time, with immense risk. But it had massive results.

We have come far since the EA spouse incident. Look at all those indies. They are the next generation. Think they will wait? Think they'll become the next Activision? You can keep on thinking. Those people will take action. Actions change the world, opinions do little more than entertain ego.

Alan Barton
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@Jonathan Murphy: I don't see who you are replying to when you say about "Well that's the way the world is." That certainly isn't my point.

As for saying "We have come far since the EA spouse incident. Look at all those indies." ... That's a great example of selection bias. I can tell you for fact some companies have still got a long way to go. Just because some are ok doesn't make all ok, which was my point.

Also I am talking about action just like you, not just thinking about it. So don't get angry with me when you're already "preaching to the converted" as they say.

But we do face an endless appathy from people who can't see any problem and so see no reason for change, and have been endlessly made to believe unions are evil, and so they don't look to unions to help cause change, then is it any wonder change is so painfully slow. We do need more change even if you want to believe everything is fine and in which case why were you even talking about unions if you think its all "come far since the EA spouse incident". You're contradicting yourself. Try to be at least consistent.

Some people have been in the same company for a decade or more will look at my words in my previous post and not have a clue about how bad some companies can be and so won't understand my words at all. They won't know the awfulness of how some human beings can be to other human beings. They won't have experienced a Stomach Ulcer as a result of work and they won't have suffered Posttraumatic Stress at even the memories of how bad some people can be to others in the workplace. And I say that as someone with 30 years of experience at being at work. I've seen good companies and I've seen bad companies. I've tried to stay in the good companies but unfortunately companies do go out of business and so you're thrown back into trying to find another good company whilst trying to avoid the bad companies, but its hard to see a company is bad until you've been there months.

Mathieu Brassard
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So what is the solution? @Jacob/Thomas

Jonathan Murphy
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Mathieu, I think the indies will replace the 3rd party big devs in time. There's only 3 left anyway. I think indies are more savy to learn from their mistakes. Don't worry too much. Actions change the world, opinions do little.

Josh Neff
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I agree with Mathieu... simply saying no to a possible solution is not sufficient while lacking an alternative

John Flush
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The only solutions there really are can be pretty drastic though. You can become the Employer and not treat your employees that way, you can find an employer that isn't like that (probably really hard), or you can switch to a different industry.

However creating a union will do little more than bloat the whole system, which I don't think is even stable enough as it is to hold up the weight it already has.

James Margaris
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These "solutions" are on the same level as "try to win the lottery."

Employees banding together in some sort of union / guild / collective is a real systemic approach. Collective problems require collective action.

Mathieu Brassard
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That's exactly what unions are, collectives that get together to put pressure on the employers. It sure have many downsides, but the pay was good. That's how it was for me when I worked on construction projects at least.

When big studios cant produce video games because all their employers are on strike, they will give them what they want as long as it is reasonable.

Its hard, it requires sacrifice, but totally worth it for a better tomorrow.

Employees are growing and becoming older, families are formed, the way it is right now, its unacceptable.

G Irish
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If you don't go the union route, one has to hope that indies get big enough and profitable enough to make a dent in the pay and practices of the incumbents. And one has to hope that indies don't turn around and repeat the same crappy practices that make people so unhappy now.

Richard Martija
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Unfortunately, indies are more likely to repeat the bad practices because they typically can't afford to pay better or work at a slower place.

David Lejeune
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While indies likely won't be able to afford to offer 401(k)s or really comprehensive benefits structures they're more likely to go the way of profit sharing and equity stakes in the company, or banding together to create co-op dev spaces like Glitch City which can help mitigate some of the risks associated with trying to make a living making games.

Jonathan Murphy
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I think indies are more likely to learn. They don't have any retail giants reserving 50% of them shelf space for them. They don't have advertising firms, big money support. To be successful as an indie comes down to your ability to reach customers. They are the next generation and they will do things very different.

Red Ferguson
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I'm curious if the person who admitted to having left the game industry had their survey discarded to avoid poisoning the results.

Michael DeSantiago
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Merely attempting to unionize will force the companies to try and make better incentives not to. Unionizing might not be the answer but the squeaky wheel gets the oil. You just might get what you want indirectly.

Philip Wilson
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The industry overall needs to have greater respect for QA as a whole and provide better pay, opportunities & foster a real sense of connection to the dev team. For the most part, most large studios continue to treat QA as just disposable individuals & make efforts to segregate them or give the illusion of hope that there are opportunities for growth & stability. Investing in QA personnel who show drive, promise those who are real team players (as opposed to those who kiss ass just to get ahead) will go a long way in building a studio's reputation.

The studios I've worked (or individuals I know that work at such studios) that do the above create a great atmosphere & drive for the overall project. Those that have not...either make working on the project(s) pure dread (especially on the publisher side) or do a VERY poor job of giving a heads up of when to expect to be laid off.


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