Game Developer Salary: Maximum, Minimum, and Career Downsides

Lots of people pursue a career in video-game development because they love playing video games. But such a career isn’t all fun and games (so to speak): the gaming industry is notorious for long hours, job insecurity, and massive programming challenges. At smaller firms, the typical game developer salary may also be quite low by tech-industry standards.

Despite all that, many game developers find their career a rewarding one. Whether you develop indie games or massive blockbusters, you have the opportunity to bring entertainment to thousands—perhaps millions—of people. You just have to make sure that the industry doesn’t crush your joy of actually playing games.

There’s also the aforementioned question of game developer salary. We crunched some numbers through the Dice Salary Calculator and came up with the top average salaries for game developers, segmented by city and career stage. Take a look:

These game developer salary numbers aren’t the whole story. At the bigger game studios, there’s the prospect of bonuses and revenue-sharing if a game does particularly well, especially if you’re a senior developer or manager. If you work for a smaller gaming company, you might also end up with a share of company equity, which could likewise pay off.

That money sometimes comes at a cost, though. “Crunch time” is endemic in the gaming industry, with developers sometimes forced to work punishing seven-day weeks for months in order to ship a game on time. A few years ago, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) attempted to monitor companies’ use of crunch time, but that hasn’t totally stopped the practice.

As with any software company, gaming firms can also fall victim to sudden, seemingly arbitrary changes in strategy. A few weeks ago, gaming site Kotaku offered an extensive breakdown of how Hangar 13, the development outfit responsible for the Mafia game series, essentially imploded in the wake of Mafia III’s release. As employees began work on a follow-up game, they reportedly found themselves working for months on various features, only for management to suddenly tell them to shift direction; as momentum ground to a halt, the layoffs began. The studio’s future is a big question mark.

All of which leads to another potential downside: job insecurity. Smaller firms implode; larger firms change strategic direction, affecting staffing needs. If a game fails, everyone might be out of a job; if a game succeeds, management might still decide to outsource everybody’s job to a cheaper development firm overseas. (That’s not to say this kind of behavior is limited to game development—but it’s certainly led many a veteran game developer to transition into a different kind of software-building.)

Yes, those are a lot of issues. But for many tech pros, those downsides are worth risking in order to pursue a craft they love. To build games and get paid for it? Your inner 15-year-old would be thrilled by the prospect. Plus, game development is now at the forefront of some emerging technologies that could well change the world in coming years, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

And there’s always the chance you (with a big team) could build something really cool like this:

If you’re new to programming—or the game industry—check out the most common development platforms, including Unity and Unreal. You’ll also want to keep an eye on platforms like the Switch, which attract development from firms big and small. And keep in mind: even if a game developer salary at a particular firm seems low, the job sometimes comes with other perks and benefits that could prove equally valuable.

Related