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Game Audio Industry Survey

by Brian Schmidt on 09/09/14 04:47:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

When the Annual Gamasutra Salary Survey came out in July, we in the audio field were rather  surprised.  The survey listed the average salary of “Audio Professionals” higher than every other discipline except Business and Management; higher than even game programmers.  We all braced ourselves for an onslaught of programmers giving up C++ and learning ProTools to become game music composers and sound designers..

We contacted Gamasutra, which was the first to admit that the low number of audio respondents (33 "audio professionals" completed the survey) was too small for the results to hold a lot of statistical validity and that virtually all respondents also reported 6 or more years’ experience in the industry, which also biases the results high.  Another reason for this unexpected result is that audio, more than most other game disciplines, has a high percentage of non-salaried, project-based freelancers, which weren’t considered in the survey.  

So with that in mind, we created a targeted survey that attempts to capture the issues of contracts, terms and compensation in game audio.  Our plan was to: 

  • Create a simple survey to cover both salaried employees and per-project freelancers
  • Promote the survey to increase response rate
  • Factor in the wide range of games developed: indy to AAA
  • Cover additional business and production issues unique to video game music and sound design

We ran our 13-question survey from July 29 to Aug 13, 2014 and promoted the survey heavily via social media and other game and music industry web sites and received 518 responses.  Because of the stratified nature of the game industry itself, we broke out the data across large budget games, professionally produced casual/small scale games, and indy games.

Of course it is impossible to draw a sharp line between the three categories outlined above.  Nevertheless, we believe it serves as a useful distinction so that we’re not comparing the compensation from Activision or Microsoft with that of a 3-person dev company making an iPhone game in their basement.

The Survey covered 5 main topics

1/ Compensation

2/ Work and Environment

3/ Additional Compensation (Royalties, Bonuses)

4/ Production: use of Live Musicians and Audio Middleware

5/ Contract Terms & Rights Assignments

We received 518 responses and compiled and analyzed the results.  Note that “project fees” or “Salaries” are excluding any optional payments such as bonuses, royalties, profit sharing, etc or any other benefits such as 401(k) matching, health care, etc.

Some of the numbers:

  • $70,532:                  Average salaried employee annual salary
  • 60%                        Percentage of responders saying the worked ‘freelance’
  • 10.9                        Average # of years in the industry for freelancers on ‘large budget’ games
  • $28,091                   Average project fee for freelancers (all game types)
  • $76,822                   Average project fee for “large budget” (available at retail) games
  • 4%                          Percentage of women in game audio
  • 22%                        Percentage of composers who also did integration or other technical work
  •  44%                       Percentage of “large budget” not recorded with “live orchestra”
  • 47%                        Percentage of "large budget" games using 3rd party middleware

One thing that caught our attention: Compensation had two definite peaks, one at around $55,000 and one around $110,000.  We believe this reflects the premium that some of the top composers and sound designers with the right skills and knowledge can demand, even in a very competitive market.  There is also a correlation between higher salaries and management or creative direction, i.e. “Audio Director.”  This also explains the Gamasutra numbers, since the senior-level audio directors and top-shelf composers are more likely to have attended gdc, and therefor participated in the Gamasutra survey.

The other thing that caught our attention was the  underrepresentation of women in game audio, a trait sadly in line with the rest of our industry.

video game composer salary

Conclusions:

It is difficult to draw generalization from such a broad and diverse industry.  It’s clear, however, that top video game composers and sound designers with the right skills and experience can command top dollar for both large-scale projects(Xbox, Playstation, large PC titles, etc.) and smaller-scale games, despite the highly competitive nature of the industry.  Experience in games and knowledge of how they work is highly valued regardless of whether it’s a huge AAA blockbuster or a small mobile game.

Read the Full Report

The complete GameSoundCon Audio Industry Survey 2014, complete with charts and graphs can be downloaded here: http://www.gamesoundcon.com/#!survey/c1hp9

Brian Schmidt is a 27-year game audio veteran and an independent Game Audio Consultant, Composer and Sound Designer at Brian Schmidt Studios, LLC and is founder of the audio game company,Eargames.  He is also the founder and Executive Director of GameSoundCon (held this year on October 7-8 2014 in Los Angeles, CA).  Brian sits on the GDC Advisory Board and is President of the Game Audio Network Guild


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