Pandemonium

February 9, 2009

Mean salary

Filed under: Games Industry — bittermanandy @ 2:06 pm

Just a quickie… interesting follow up to my recent article, which was followed by some comments about salaries in the games industry.

Develop have got their annual survey salary out, and list the following:

Average Yearly Salaries:
Lead Programmer – £41,250
Programmer – £25,810
Junior Programmer – £18,928

A few thoughts spring to mind:

1. Wow. Now I remember why I left the games industry.

2. £26K for a programmer is less than £29K for an artist or £27 for a junior audio engineer! That disagrees very strongly with my anecdotal experience. I don’t know of any artists or audio guys paid more than their programmer colleagues, and didn’t think that was the normal state of affairs at any games company anywhere. (Design is a tricky one. Junior designers get shafted, but lead designers / directors can make a fortune). Surprising.

3. £19K average for a junior programmer (implying many get less)? That’s appalling! I was paid £20K as a junior seven years ago! Also, the last company I was involved with hiring at, offered around £23K as standard for new junior hires.

I’m not going to say the Develop survey is wrong, because they’ve had a wide range of respondents whereas I’ve only got my own personal limited anecdotal experience to draw from. What I will say is, if those Develop figures are right, there’s a lot of people out there getting completely stitched up. They’d be earning a lot more in another industry. Is that worth giving up, in order to fulfil their childhood dream of making games for a living? That’s a question only they can answer. For a while, my answer was “yes”. Now, though, I stand my updated decision of making software for a living, and making games for fun.

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18 Comments »

  1. Indeed, I’ve known a few developers leave the games industry partially because of the pay thing. Just recently I heard from a student soon to graduate who was worried about the unpaid overtime and weak career structure. As you say it’s all about the dream – the develop survey just proves that people should not get in to games if they want to get rich.

    Comment by paulecoyote — February 9, 2009 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

  2. I was hired as a junior programmer in a big name UK developer two years ago at 21K. I left a development job at a bank to take this up and took a 7K basic pay cut (although I had about 3 years experience, very little was relevant to game development). It was my choice, but two years later I’m still not making what I was in basic pay. Some of the juniors straight out of uni were on salaries of 16k-20k.

    I don’t really mind, but it occasionally grates that the sheer amount of knowledge and expertise that is required to develop next-gen games apparently only rates distinctly sub-par salaries. As programmers, however, we have options – our artist and designer colleagues are often less easily able to move out of the industry.

    Comment by Nick — February 9, 2009 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

  3. £26?! For how many years of experience?

    I personally dislike coders who work for little money just for the opportunity to work on games – in my (limited) experience they also have low standards in other areas and do a very bad job, mostly because they don’t really care…

    Comment by yellow — February 9, 2009 @ 6:03 pm | Reply

  4. Christer Ericson posted Gamasutra’s results back in July. Quite a bit different results and more in-line with what an average programmer makes (at least from other studies I’ve seen).

    http://realtimecollisiondetection.net/blog/?p=70

    Comment by Kyle — February 9, 2009 @ 7:20 pm | Reply

  5. Well, to comment on Kyle. It appears if there is a difference between Europe and US. I know from companies i’ve visited here in the Netherlands, that the payment isn’t that great overall.

    Comment by Jerry — February 10, 2009 @ 7:55 pm | Reply

  6. I got my first programming position at a mobile games company about 2 1/2 years ago, on a mighty salary of £16.5k… imagine my joy when they bumped it all the way up to £17k! :-\

    Man, I’m glad I’m out of that job (I’m still in mobile games though) treated like a valued employee now as well as being closer to the £25,810 mark. Even though I have to spend a fortune on train fares now, I’m still much more comfortably off.

    Andy, looking forward to your next article… Keep ‘em coming!

    Comment by Chris Vaughan — February 11, 2009 @ 1:45 pm | Reply

  7. Depends on the company, I guess. Latest Lionhead adverts promise up to 50k for programmers, which sounds reasonable.

    Comment by Maciej — February 13, 2009 @ 1:34 pm | Reply

    • It’s true, I did see those Lionhead adverts and was pleasantly surprised by the numbers involved. I wouldn’t focus too much on the top end though – can’t speak for Lionhead specifically, but I have seen a number of companies say something like “20K-40K DOE” but nobody actually gets offered more than 30K regardless of experience – but, y’know, the pay band makes it possible for someone to get 40K, theoretically.

      As a general rule of thumb, expect the average offer to be one third of the way into the range – which might sound cynical, but hey, if it turns out to be wrong, you’ll get a pleasant surprise. And in those Lionhead ads, even the low end of the scale was offering considerably-better-than-a-pittance, so even an offer quite a way short of the top would be OK. I guess the downside is you have to work with Molyneux.

      Comment by bittermanandy — February 13, 2009 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  8. Thats what makes it so hard for existing developers to get into the industry, I would have to go for Lead Dev roles and have no chance due to lack of games industry experience.

    I guess a good games developer is different to a good (other industry) developer. In my line of work, re usable, generic code is good, in games dev, that’s not so good as it would not be optimum to the job at hand. Not saying that games dev’s can’t write generic reusable code, just that (and I don’t know I am just guessing) optimization is the primary driver.

    Comment by Charles Humphrey — March 25, 2009 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

    • I’m not at all sure that that’s true, though it’s certainly a preconception that exists both within and without the industry. Games code isn’t very different to any other code in a lot of ways – 90% of the code takes 10% of the time, 10% of the code takes 90% of the time.

      Granted, if the critical 10% is slow in a game, you get bad frame rates, bad responsiveness and bad reviews – whereas in, say, a word processor, no-one cares. I guess this is why graphics and physics programmers are in high demand at the moment as those are usually the critical 10% areas. But that doesn’t change the fact that 90% of the code in the game has very little impact on frame rate unless you completely screw it up. So in most cases, optimisation isn’t any bigger a deal for games programmers than non-games programmers – and I knew a lot of games programmers who struggled to write efficient code. (A lot of the time they’d get away with it because they didn’t need to… just like anyone else).

      Comment by bittermanandy — March 25, 2009 @ 2:09 pm | Reply

  9. Cool, makes me feel a little more employable lol, but still the odds would not be good at getting a Lead Developer role if I am new to the industry would it?

    Comment by Charles Humphrey — March 26, 2009 @ 1:26 pm | Reply

  10. In all honesty… probably not good odds, no. But that’s more because of preconceptions from within the industry about whether people from outside the industry “know how to make games” (in fact, they know how to *finish projects*, which games teams often don’t seem to!) than any *real* assessment of what’s involved.

    That said, I could be wrong. Traditionally there’s supposed to have been a prejudice from outside the industry that games programmers are only “playing with toys” and aren’t “real” programmers at all. But I didn’t have any trouble getting a job in non-games when the time came. So perhaps it’s worth a try if it’s what you want… just go in with your eyes open.

    Comment by bittermanandy — March 26, 2009 @ 2:44 pm | Reply

  11. Thanks Andy, to be honest, from what I have seen from the games dev guys I have encountered in my industry, they tend to have reasonable skills and just lack some industry knowledge.

    One guy I knew told me he left the industry so he could be in a “professional” industry. I guess his experience was there was not much around design and documentation etc.. I guess most games jobs don’t come with medial insurance, pensions, share save etc..

    That being said, I would love to get into the industry, can’t imagine who wouldn’t (unless they have been there and done it.) that can code and enjoys games. Now I have had a taste of XNA and have been playing with C++ and DirectX 9, I have to be honest, my day job just bores the crap out of me. I used to love to code, I enjoyed writing anything, but now, if it’s not using DirectX/HLSL….. lol

    Oh well, I guess once I feel my skills are up to it, I might apply for a games development job…

    Keep the insights coming, I am loving the blog :)

    Comment by Charles Humphrey — April 6, 2009 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

  12. Charles, I joined a bank after leaving uni, and made it into the games industry a few years later via hobbyist programming in XNA and DirectX. It’s very, very possible to make it into the industry.

    In my opinion mainstream software developers have a lot to offer game development – adherence to standards and best practice, bringing new ideas into the industry (unit testing, ORM, DI frameworks etc). These all originated in mainstream software development, and it seems to me that game development is becoming more and more like mainstream development each year – particularly if you’re developing something like an MMO that is a very service/server-oriented project.

    ‘Traditional’ games development is strong in areas like performance, optimisation, rendering tech (obviously), and understanding of underlying hardware. But your typical hardcore graphics guru knows less about writing scalable server software, efficient DB schemas and writing maintainable, testable code. This is where outsiders are often valuable.

    Comment by Nick — April 8, 2009 @ 10:43 am | Reply

  13. Oh, I absolutely agree with every word of that. Especially “mainstream software developers have a lot to offer game development” and “game development is becoming more and more like mainstream development each year” – both completely true statements.

    I just think the preconception *within* games often doesn’t recognise it yet. This will, of course, vary by company, and itself is probably disappearing over the years.

    Comment by bittermanandy — April 8, 2009 @ 11:19 am | Reply

  14. Yet another interesting addendum to this as well, in that Game Developer magazine (www.gdmag.com) have just published their own salary survey, which concentrates mainly on the USA and is somewhat larger than the Develop one.

    There, they conclude the average salary for a game programmer is $85,024. (There’s a lot more detail in the magazine, covering job title, years experience, gender, etc). Obviously, I’m on the other side of the pond, but it’s quite frightening that a year ago, I looked at the $ amounts and converted to £ and was doing quite well having moved out of games. Now, I look at $ vs £ and I could conclude I’m doing very, very, VERY badly. Of course, I’m in a different country, the economy is shafted, there’s cost of living and taxes and stuff to take into consideration… this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. I find it interesting, though, to note that no matter what you do and how many promotions you get and what career choices you make, all it takes is a few bankers playing silly *ankers and dumping us into a recession and you might as well not have bothered. A life lesson there, perhaps. :-)

    Anyway… I’ve got a new article (not even remotely related to pay, or the industry as a whole, actually XNA-related!) on the way but am in the middle of moving house at the moment and things are a bit hectic…

    Comment by bittermanandy — April 8, 2009 @ 12:27 pm | Reply

  15. Glad to hear you’ve got a new article on the way Andy, looking forward to it…

    Comment by Chris Vaughan — April 8, 2009 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  16. Nick, cool, I guess I wont give up on the possibility, you never know, I might get in to one day :)

    Reading the new article now Andy, thanks :D

    Comment by Charles Humphrey — April 14, 2009 @ 8:28 pm | Reply


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