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Study: Game Developers Increasingly Newcomers To Business
Study: Game Developers Increasingly Newcomers To Business Exclusive
May 21, 2010 | By Chris Remo

May 21, 2010 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

On average, game industry employees are getting newer to the business, with nearly three quarters claiming six or fewer years of employment, putting a heavier premium on experience.

In data exclusively collected by Gamasutra sister group Game Developer Research, as part of the recently-published 2010 Game Developer Salary Report, it was revealed that 71 percent of game developers have been in the industry for up to six years.

Based on survey responses, 34 percent of developers have been in the industry for up to two years, and 12 percent joined within the last year.

Only 13 percent of developers can claim more than a decade of experience, and only 4 percent have more than 15 years. A mere 1 percent have racked up more than a quarter-century of game development experience.

Those figures correspond to age data collected by Game Developer Research. In this year's study, which is based on data for the calendar year 2009, the percentage of game industry employees 34 years of age or younger increased from 62 percent to 70 percent.

And the 25- to 30-year-old age group was already the biggest cross-section of the industry, but that was even more true this past year, as it grew from 33 percent to 37 percent of developers.

There was another notable age-related trend that surfaced with this year's study, however: Older game industry employees continued to get more valuable.

In the past, salaries peaked with 41- to 50-year-old developers, then fell again with older employees. But this year, salaries correlated more strongly with age, and developers over 50 had the highest average salary: $105,948.

So, as employers likely looked to hire more younger employees, who take lower salaries and are burned out less easily, the older employees who did remain saw a particularly pronounced premium for their experience, relative to the industry as a whole.

These age trends may contribute to developers reporting that they remain happy with the industry despite the industry's recent troubles: Many of those more experienced employees who have more bones to pick may not be sticking around to express their dissatisfaction.

The sample for the data contained in this excerpt was a group of 2,623 game developers across all disciplines and demographics.

Game Developer Research, a sister company to Gamasutra, recently published top-level highlights from the salary study, including news of an overall 4 percent drop in mainstream game industry salaries to $75,573. Since then, it has publicly released earnings data on indie developers and contractors as well as developer opinions on the state of the industry.

The full Game Developer Salary Survey 2005-2010 is now available for purchase from the official Game Developer Research site.

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Mike Weldon
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I'm in the decade club. Go me!

E Zachary Knight
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Or it could be a sign that the industry is growing a lot faster than people realize. The pool of people employed in the games industry was a lot smaller 25+ years ago.

Rumena Najchevska
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"A mere 1 percent have racked up more than a quarter-century of game development experience."

I think that sentence is being overly dramatic. After all, the industry's been there for less than 40 years hasn't it? And personally I think this article needs comparing with other industries and their years of expertise. It would give a nice view of whether this is a trend just in the game industry.

Reid Kimball
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Where are all the 50 - 60 year old developers? I've worked on many different teams and can count the number of older, experienced devs on two hands.

The stats paint a grim picture. The industry needs to add attracting and keeping older devs as one of its recruiting initiatives. The loss of experience is harming the growth of production practices and the growth of younger developers.

E Zachary Knight
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I think there are two factors going into why we have so few long term developers.

1) Crunch. People get burned out after a while and want something a little more slow paced.

2) Lack of Creative Freedom. With MBA's and other business minded people making so many calls on the creative front, it is no wonder people choose to leave rather than stick around in such a climate. You can only take abject rejection of a creative idea for a more marketable idea so many times.

Reid Kimball
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Those are certainly true.

I wonder why we aren't seeing the older developers transition to indie game dev or contracting work? Why aren't they seeing those as options and instead are leaving the industry completely? Or did the survey not count indie devs and contractors because they aren't "employees" of a studio/publisher?

Mike Lopez
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You guys are missing the biggest trend: social gaming. There have been thousands of younger employees added in that sector the past year and most of those are 20-somethings (anyone who has ever been around Zynga or Playdom or any others can attest to that).

I think if the stats were broken out for social gaming and all other gaming, the all other category would look very similar to the past (or similar to changes in past recessions).

Zach Grant
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As a young person who worked in DS and social games, the people are young there because it requires less expertise and expirience to create a small 2d game, which garners you lower pay, and probably a younger workforce.

Jonathan Osment
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Social gaming as we see it is just a bubble, there is no guarantee it has any form of long term success, especially as the mediums which feature social gaming adapt. One policy change by Facebook for example cost Farmville 8 million players. What it also revealed was that Farmville was largely successful due to the way it "spams" large groups of people. This isnt good for the consumer or the designer. It lowers the quality of what we perceive as "games".

That said, yes, the game industry is growing, but at the same time it is having more interaction with the film industry as well. This can be seen as good or bad. I started off in the film industry, and to be honest, I dont have much respect for the way they handle business. The problem is, we have executives that are not exactly "fans" of the industry or the product. They just look at money. When dealing with art as a product, if they cannot be artist or art lovers, you cannot really deal well with the product in terms of decisions. Look at Bobby Kotick for example. Just his name alone would make people groan, scare children and make developers want to leave for better waters.

But thats just it isnt it? Better waters. In other words, how is the game industry making welcome for the workers, the developers, that allow it to exists. If I went back into film, I could have a dozen guilds who are "protecting" their members, granted, they have become a bit to mafia like, but in the game industry developers are left out in the cold. Does the average developer feel there is growth within the industry? Or is there that sense that they are stuck, slaves of certain business men who want to keep that divide between developer "exploitable and temporary servant" and publisher "conniving cold hearted master"?

Look at Valve (both developer, publisher/distributor), how they operate. They manage to exist in a world of their own and I think there is a certain element the industry needs to learn from them as a whole. If developers were fish, they need a better environment to thrive and flourish, they need room to grow and not be limited by the size of a tank within which they are held.

Just my 2 cents on the subject.

Joshua Sterns
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@ Ephriam

I fall under number 1: Crunch.

I would also add low pay (I was a tester), saturated employee pool, and little/no job security.

Hard to go back to a sixty hour work week when I'm making more money with less hours at my new job.

Bart Stewart
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I tried looking for average years of employment in other industries, but that turns out to be a strangely hard bit of information to find (at least through Google).

What I did find, however, was a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report on the median years of tenure *with one's current employer* by industry: .

That led me to a table showing average years of employment with one's current employer overall: .

Unfortunately, the year breakdowns of that survey don't match the categories from the Game Developers Salary Report, so it's not possible to do a perfect 1:1 comparison. That said, here are the interesting bits for the 129,276,000 workers 16 years and over:

12 months or less: 22.9%

12 to 23 months: 7.4%

2 years: 5.6%

3 to 4 years: 16.9%

5 to 9 years: 20.2%

10 to 14 years: 10.6%

15 to 19 years: 6.2%

20 years or more: 10.3%

So to compare people working in the game development industry versus people working for one employer, 13% working ten or more years in the game industry is about half of the 27.1% who work ten or more years *for the same employer* across all industries. Across all industries, the 16.5% who've been with one employer for 15 or more years is four times larger than the 4% who've stayed in the game development industry for that long. And the paltry 2% who've stuck with making games for 20 or more years is considerably less than the 10.3% of people who've worked at one company for 20 or more years across all industries.

And if you accept the assumption that people are likely to work for more than one employer within a particular industry over the span of their careers, the comparison would be even more lopsided.

Just thought I'd offer the numbers I found, which seem to validate the assumption that people get out of the game development industry faster than people exit other industries.

Andrew Dobbs
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Telling stats, Bart. I initially avoided the game industry due to QOL concerns, but then went for it after some really tedious jobs.

Despite having decent QOL where I worked, I decided to phase out of gaming after only a year because I didn't want to have to move around to find new work. I also was seeking more creative freedom and work that was challenging.

I'm still in the process of transitioning to teaching, but I couldn't be happier. Creating lessons and activities is pure game design. Instant feedback and daily testing with my customers (students) gives me valuable insight all the time. Plus, it's nice to be making a meaningful impact in a time when huge percentages of students struggle to read and write. I've found my experience with game development to be higly transferable.

Tim Tavernier
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@Jonathan Osment

I disagree with a lot of what you said. One you can far more easily say that triple AAA gaming has no long term future at all. It knows increasing costs and a stagnating to even decreasing base of customers. The mediums of neo-arcade gaming (I wont submit to some derogative term tossing) are manyfold and such, it can adapt easy with the adaptions. I mean, it's all base don Flash, and flash is all over the internet. Facebook just only made entrance to them easier, coupled with notebooks and cheap laptops and increase in wireless networks.

The truth of the matter is, neo-arcade gaming has seen a increase of games that sold/used by over ten million people while triple AAA-gaming has seen a sharp decrease since last gen. Triple AAA gamings contribution to gaming has been negative so far. Neo-arcade gaming has been the driving force starting from 2004.

And I have no sympathy for the artist vs. business standpoint. Art is a business, Art is a business that depends on other businesses to have evolved to a certain point before anyone finds it worthwhile to do art. Art needs business. What artists need to do is shut up and put up. Learn the bussiness side for yourself.

Nintendo's board of directors consists 7 out of 10 of guys with game developing backgrounds. Valve is the same thing. Blizzard managed to do the same. If you let bussiness pleople in without examining your own situation first and just let them run you, then your "limiting" fishtank is your own construct, not theirs. You just gave them carte blanche for their not so blanch cheque.

Jonathan Osment
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@Tim, No offense but it doesn't seem as though you read through the entirety of my post. On that note, it's fine to disagree but I do take issue with your attitude of "What artists need to do is shut up and put up." The industry started from those who had "artistic" intentions, not those based purely on business. In fact, the few times the game industry nearly died, is all due to business doing just about everything wrong without the power of art. The current state of the industry keeps art down in order to keep businessmen with the leash. The last thing they want is for the developers, the creators and visionaries to be self reliant. I also mentioned Valve, and it seems you do understand exactly what it means for developers to play the role of businessmen as well. What I find issue with is when former film executives or ex-lawyers see money to be made and weasel their way into positions which end up threatening the industry and the quality of what interactive gaming has previously and still can achieve, when the conditions are right. Good "art" is in high demand, not cheap art for the sake of mass production. That's why the korean gaming market is so bad, if you were looking for an extreme example.

Tim Tavernier
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I did read your post carefully but I don't like the strange historic distortion bends people take to fit it in the values they hold dear now. You seem to do that on an unconscious level at least. The industry didn't start on "artistic intentions", the industry started because some young engineer-guys wanted to combine their love for the new upcoming technology, fit it into fun games and make a nice buck afterwards. This is the right mentality, it's the one Disney used, it's the one Miyamoto stands for, it's what Pixar does: make stuff that enchant and speaks to people's inner child.

Yes, Nolan Bushnell made the terrible mistake to sell Atari to Warner, he should have made the company go public or find alternative financial sources. But that still keeps the point straight, the "artist" made the mistake first. It makes sense that people that buy your company and invest in it will strangle control from you, they own the company now, that's business. It is the artist fault of not learning that side and using it to it's own advantage. And they even have the nerve to start whining when the lid hits them square in the face...psht.

Also, try to understand, you have bussinesspeople and you have the "industry-suits". The first ones know that creativity is vital and will market these things as best as possible, but also knows " you're just being bat-crazy, I don't care if you think it's genius, it won't sell". This is what Valve, Blizzard and Nintendo have managed to build up. They do risky stuff, but on an intuitive level know, there's people out there that would like it, even if they never picked up a game before.

Then you have the industry-suits. The ones who use "market analysis" and "segment research" to create the illusion that their decisions don't hold risks. These are the ones responsible for all the franchises, sequelitis, trilogies and so forth. Sometimes even stood by side-by-side by "great visionairy artists" (Too Human anyone? Also Infinity Ward was guilty of this). Nolan Bushnell refused to become the first so he sold his company to the second. Satoru Iwata became the first, so he doesn't need to keep account with the second types. Actually, he pretty much says "F yourselves up your asses, I don't need any of your analysis" to them at pretty much every time Nintendo shows sales numbers.

Yes, Good art is always in high demand, but it has to have Good content, not mass-produced wieners and not "look at my genius artistic vision, be in awe simpletons!!!" artistic bullocks. Shakespeare did it best that his works held up a mirror to human nature, magnified it, and such, made an interesting satire of it filled with metaphores.

Erik Yuzwa
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only 100k by 50? That's absolutely terrifying.