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Game Development Salary Survey 2002
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Game Development Salary Survey 2002

July 15, 2002 Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

The past year has brought a lot of changes to the game industry, the job market, and the economy as a whole. The success of new and existing hardware last year helped pump an unprecedented $9.4 billion in total game-related sales into a sagging U.S. economy and has generated a lot of mainstream interest in game development careers.

While some outsiders have yet come to grips with the fact that there’s more to making games than playing them all day, and some battle-worn industry veterans have absconded to higher-paying tech sectors (or any job with what resembles regular work hours), this survey represents the tens of thousands of U.S. professionals who make their living developing games.

This year’s survey was conducted by research firm Audience Insights. In March 2002, 1,178 Game Developers Conference attendees took our comprehensive annual survey, of which the salary survey is one module, using on-site tablet computers. Then, in April, we e-mailed invitations to all Game Developer magazine subscribers and members asking them to participate in the survey and received 5,256 responses.

The survey data presented here is based on a total of 2,524 responses that remained after we eliminated responses that provided no numerical compensation data and those whose compensation figures were less than $10,000 or greater than $300,000 per year. We also eliminated responses that lacked certain demographic and classification information.

The sample represented in the salary survey data can be projected to the game development industry as a whole with a margin of error of 1.93 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. That means we can say with 95 percent certainty that the aggregate statistics reported in this survey would stay consistent within the margin of error across the entire population.

While the industry job market has remained healthy overall, it hasn’t been immune to layoffs and other corporate casualties of an increasingly competitive marketplace. The past year’s unprecedented success was wrought in no small part by the dogged work and incalculable overtime on the part of thousands of game developers. Game developers are known to thrive on challenge, though, and they got it in spades in the form of new hardware, changing market demographics, and relentless jockeying for position from publishers and hardware vendors.

What’s the payoff for facing all these challenges? The overly simple answer appears on the following pages. But when a developer stands in a store and sees a game buyer longingly caress his or her creation, all that matters is the love of the game.


Programming salaries per years of experience and position

Programmers always seem to be in demand, and accordingly many find their jobs very demanding. The hours are long, the crunch modes interminable, the bug lists endless. Among the rank and file of programmers and senior programmers at most game companies you will likely find developers with a mastery of at least several of the industry’s most in-demand skills: AI, networking, tools development, 3D math, physics, and preferably the ability to invert matrices in one’s sleep.

With the growing focus on console game development, gameplay programming skills are rising in demand. Coding that may have been a virtual afterthought on a PC title now requires far more man-hours for fine-tuning the responsive kinds of gameplay favored by console game players. You can program in all the fluid dynamics simulations and volumetric fog you want in a scene pushing hundreds of thousands of polygons, but if someone holding the joypad isn’t having fun with the controls, your sales (and perhaps your royalties) will suffer.

Experience and reliability are other sought-after qualities, ones which pay off in higher salaries for seasoned programmers. For those who have stuck it out for several years and have a proven track record, compensation increases accordingly to reflect both the employee’s experience and the reduced investment risk on the part of the employer.

Programmers generally report to a lead programmer responsible for planning and scheduling programming tasks for a project. At companies with multiple projects, several leads may report into a technical director, who oversees programming productivity for the whole company and perhaps spearheads tools and technology development to be shared across teams. At single- project companies, these responsibilities often fall with those of a lead programmer upon a single individual.

Years experience in the industry


All programmers


Art salaries per years of experience and position

Artists make up an increasingly significant chunk of game development talent, as every generation of technology brings with it more polygons to be modeled, more characters to be animated, and more faces to be plastered with detailed textures. For the purposes of our survey, we considered as artists those who described themselves as artists, modelers, animators, texture artists, concept artists, and graphic or interface designers. We grouped lead artists and lead animators under the single classification of lead artist, those who manage and schedule teams of artists. At multiple-project companies, several leads might report into an art director, who might be responsible for making technology decisions and perhaps coordinating a certain look and feel across a range of products.

As with the other disciplines featured in this survey, experience pays. Hiring rookie artists unfamiliar with the rigid technical boundaries of game production environments can be risky when output demands are high and headcount is not. Clearly, though, there are rewards to sticking it out for a few projects, as compensation increases to where the most experienced artists can command much higher salaries.

The pay disparity between programmers and artists in the game industry is not a well-kept secret, but supply and demand is ever at play in any market, including the job market. Turnover and layoffs can be more tumultuous for artists as well, with the ebb and flow of art needs between major projects. However, one bright spot in our survey shows that roughly the same percentage of artists as programmers are being offered compensation plans above their base salary, and artists are taking home slightly more above-base compensation on average than programmers, which can help offset their generally lower base salaries.

Years experience in the industry


All artists


Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

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