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Game Programmer = $64K!?!?!

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I was watching that new G4 video game channel (on Comcast Cable), and on their news show, they said that the AVERAGE Salary for a game programmer is $64,000. That''s a little bit higher than I envisioned. Would those who actually are Proffesional Game Programmers care to confirm or deny this? I know that the programmers were the backbone of a game, but I always envisioned them as the overworked, underpaid and underappriciated gurus, who wrote code because they loved thier work. Do you really get paid near that amount? As an aside, would any of you Professionals care to sound of on how you got into the business... from your first Hello World to working on X Box games. Did you learn C++ or assembly on your own, put together some games, and use them as your resume? Or did you spend four years in college taking Basic, Cobal, Physics, and Trig? And now that you are Pro''s, do you all pretty much move into some office building and spend 16 hours a day putting the game together, only returning home on the weekend? Is your working environment a laid-back one, where your programming one minute, and shooting suction darts at each other the next? (I remeber back when "id" released Quake, this is how they described their work environ) Or are you stuck in sterile cubicle, tapping away at the keyboard like mindless automatons... I myself no longer have a desire to be in the game business, but a gentleman that I work with is looking into programming as a hobby, and possibly as a career move. I know it takes tremendous amounts of time, dedication, and with so many wanting to make games, the possibility of getting into the business must be slim. I would like to hear from someone whose traveled that road though...

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In this months game developer magazine, they had a salary survey. I dont have it with me to quote numbers from, but as I recall, the average response was something around that number. However, I also recall it saying that 67% of programmers get no compensation other than salary. I would take that to mean no paid vacation time, no medial/dental/life insurance, no retirement plan or 401K, etc.

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That number would be the average for a LEAD programmer, according to the Game Developer Magazine salary survey. For a programmer it''s around 49-56K average (depending on experience). The numbers do increase exponentially though, once you reach the 6 years (of experience) mark. And no I don''t work in the industry, I''ve got one year of college left

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Eek, I''d have to take a modest pay cut to enter the game industry at 56K , not that I make a much more than that at my current job.

Working for a prime defense contractor, I have iron-clad job security, reasonable pay and reasonable benefits. But I still yearn to be a game programmer/designer. I am truly torn.

Value of good ideas: 10 cents per dozen.
Implementation of the good ideas: Priceless.

Proxima Rebellion - A 3D action sim with a hint of strategy

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Well, if there is no compensation beyond pay the wise thing to do for people just entering that industry is to take a paycut to try and bargain for those things.

The benefits would outweight the costs in the long run.

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I don''t have it in front of me, but it seems like the number in the GDMag survey said the average for *all* (i.e. irregardless of junior, senior, lead, etc.) programmers was around $64K. That''s probably pretty accurate, though the number is somewhat inflated, I think, due to the large number of game developers in California, where the salaries for programmers are typically around $10-20K higher simply because the cost of living is so much higher.
quote:
Original post by LordKronos
However, I also recall it saying that 67% of programmers get no compensation other than salary. I would take that to mean no paid vacation time, no medial/dental/life insurance, no retirement plan or 401K, etc.

That''s not what they were talking about. They meant that 67% percent don''t receive additional compensation in the form of royalties, bonuses, and the like. The benefits you mention are pretty standard - I''ve interviewed with about a dozen game studios, and every one of them offered good benefits packages.

quote:
Original post by Tronboy
As an aside, would any of you Professionals care to sound of on how you got into the business... from your first Hello World to working on X Box games. Did you learn C++ or assembly on your own, put together some games, and use them as your resume? Or did you spend four years in college taking Basic, Cobal, Physics, and Trig?

I started teaching myself to program when I was 10, but after about 6 years, moved away from it. When I turned 25, I decided to get back into it, so I returned to college. 2 years later, I got my first programming job (doing wireless stuff). When I was 29, I finished my CS degree. By then I''d put together a few nice games and graphics demos, so I applied with some of the local game studios and got a couple of offers. The company I went with said they hired me because I obviously had a passion for making games, and knew what I was doing.
quote:
Original post by Tronboy
And now that you are Pro''s, do you all pretty much move into some office building and spend 16 hours a day putting the game together, only returning home on the weekend?

Actually, no. I typically work 8 hour days, and I''ve never worked more than 10. I haven''t had to work on the weekend yet either. Don''t get me wrong, if I had to, I would, and there are people here who spend a lot more time at the office than I do. But I try to manage my time well to finish things early.
quote:
Original post by Tronboy
Is your working environment a laid-back one, where your programming one minute, and shooting suction darts at each other the next?

It''s laid back, but people are also very dedicated. Typically, people stay very focused on their assignments all day, and then when 5 pm rolls around, the game ports on the network are opened, and the games of Ghost Recon, RtCW, Age of Empires, etc., begin - and almost everyone, including the CEO and CFO, participates.

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$64k was a salary I dreamed about making when in high school.
(actually I thought $50k would have been great)

$64k sure doesn''t go far these days. I don''t know how people get by on anything less than $50k.

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Keep in mind the cost of living in the area you''d work in. California''s (where most game companies are) costs of living are substantially higher than here in Michigan. Making 56K here gives you a comfortable life style. The same amount in California, in some areas, would barely get you by.

At least, that''s what I''ve heard.

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quote:
Original post by FenixDown
That number would be the average for a LEAD programmer

OK this time I have the issue in front of me. Avg salary for <2/2-5/6+ years of experience is $49k/$56k/$81k for programmers, $64k/$63k/$78k for lead prorammers. Average for ALL programmers was $66K for male, $54 for female

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quote:
Original post by Myopic Rhino
That''s not what they were talking about. They meant that 67% percent don''t receive additional compensation in the form of royalties, bonuses, and the like. The benefits you mention are pretty standard - I''ve interviewed with about a dozen game studios, and every one of them offered good benefits packages.



You are correct Myopic... this is what they meant.

I too have interviewed with several game companies, and I''ve been offered salaries ranging from $50K to a bit more than $80K in the Raleigh, NC area. (That $80K is rare .) And I am sort of at the lead/senior developer/architect level.

quote:
Original post by Myopic Rhino Actually, no. I typically work 8 hour days, and I''ve never worked more than 10. I haven''t had to work on the weekend yet either. Don''t get me wrong, if I had to, I would, and there are people here who spend a lot more time at the office than I do. But I try to manage my time well to finish things early.


I''m typically about the same as this, although my main focus is not game development (game development is a new venture here that we are taking slow----doing lots of preproduction stuff and technology development to begin with). My longest week, though, was about 70-80 hours...done while sick with the flu (no kidding). I think they key in game development is to do as much preproduction as possible before going to implementation.

Graham Rhodes
Senior Scientist
Applied Research Associates, Inc.

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quote:
Original post by Myopic Rhino
They meant that 67% percent don''t receive additional compensation in the form of royalties, bonuses, and the like.


While I didnt see that explicitly stated in the article, I think you might be right. That would make a lot more sense, especially since they put a dollar figure on it (because it can be nearly impossible to figure a dollar value for benefits). Avg additional compensation was $17k. I wonder if that is the average of all programmers (ie: it''s heavily weighted down by 67% zeros) or if thats the average of those who actually received compensation.

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I work in the UK and dont get anywhere near the amount mentioned. The pay in the game biz is pretty damn poor. I dont see why people should want to work 16 hours a day at ANYTHING!
Anyway, like I say at least in my experience, the pay is pretty crummy.
having said that, I just opened a check for $200 for my shareware stuff, so life aint all bad. woohoo!

http://www.positech.co.uk





[edited by - cliffski on June 26, 2002 3:29:37 PM]

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Thank you for all your insight. I really thought that at age 26, I was to over the hill to get into programming as a career. At least now I know it''s not COMPLETELY impossible. Kudos to those who have made, and will make thier dreams come true.

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i felt the same way as Tronboy -- i''m between my third and fourth years in college, barely 21, and based on what i heard from others, i thought i was way past the curve when it came to programming experience and stuff. i''d heard of all these people writing their own software and being able to write these incredible achievements on their resumes, and here i was with two false-starts on a game that was probably way over my head to begin with.

at the moment i''m trying for the third time to get that game off the ground, hoping that by the time i''m dumped out of college and into the market i can _somehow_ get my foot in the door using a complete (or at least mostly-complete) game.

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If you can put together a good game, then go the extra mile with it and sell it yourself. you dont have to be a wage slave to work in games, you CAN do it yourself. If your in the UK, read this months DEVELOP article about the game Uplink, a classic bedroom game hit, thats earned over £100,000 for its creators.

Dont assume you will get $64k as a games coder. If games coders all earned $64k I''d still be working for ******, and I''m not, so nuff said!

http://www.positech.co.uk

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quote:
Original post by Tronboy
I was watching that new G4 video game channel (on Comcast Cable), and on their news show, they said that the AVERAGE Salary for a game programmer is $64,000. That''s a little bit higher than I envisioned.

''Average''? Mean? Mode? Median? Trimean? ''Average'' is a useless term and you can guarantee that people will use whichever ''measure of central tendency'' suits them. Pay scales are very top-heavy so that 1 or 2 people''s stupidly high wages will skew the ''average'' such that it is way above what the ''average'' worker receives.

I don''t expect to earn more than $30K if/when I start, but I''m in the UK.

[ MSVC Fixes | STL | SDL | Game AI | Sockets | C++ Faq Lite | Boost | Asking Questions | Organising code files ]

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The 67K is inflated by probably 10-20K by people overstating what the earn. Think about it: if the West coast is inflating the numbers, you would have some non-west coast/Texas programmers earning around 40-50K. If you believe this poll, a lot of programmers need to earn 80-90K to offset this to 67K average. Yeah right...

I remember when I worked for a very large game company two years ago that when there was an outside salary ''poll'', most people added 15K average to their salary. Hell, they even pretended to earn 5-10K more when they talked to their fellow programmers/graphic artists. On top of that, most lied when they said they received 5K-15K in bonuses when I know most only got a <thousand for a XMas bonus.

If you believe this poll, for a 67K average (plus some bonus), a lot of people are earning close to 100K as a programmer, regardless of status. That''s bull. The real average is somewhere around 40-45K, max. And 20K bonus is also not average. How can it be? Most games do not make a profit for the developer. Why would they pay programmers a 20K bonus on top of a 60-80K salary?

UK workers: you''re just being a bit more honest with your wages, that''s why you''re thinking your pay is low. It isn''t by much; London is actually much more expensive to live than the West coast. if you earn around 30-40K GBP, you''re doing fine.


Mark

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From Someone Yet to make it in the Game Biz:
If you look at history, The best in the Biz do it on their own. Atleast thats my understanding. I would think that if you can make great games, people will buy them. If people buy them, you make money. Only thing missing from that equation is marketing. I''m learning the hard way you can''t just expect people to magically find your software. You can find crap games that sold thousands and awsome games that sold hundreds. That part of the biz I dont understand.

MP3 Trivia
http://MP3Trivia.serveftp.net

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Well, even though the games industry is the highest grossing entertainment industry, it is doubtful you will see any programmer or such make as much money as one actor in the movie business. To me, there are few things in the world that take as much creativity, dedication, and skill as game programming. Luckily, as more kids get drawn into video games, and more of the older "games are for kids" types die off, you will start to see a change in this trend. In about 20 to 30 years the games industry will replace the movie industry as the most "glitzed and glamorous" industry at a social standpoint. To me, this would be a good thing. This way, kids will look up to people who program games, and want to be like them. This may actually make them want to go further into mathmatics, digital arts, or writing. Hopefully, it will give kids a better outlook than just, "I want a pretty face".

Right now is probably the best time to be learning how to program video games. The basis and standards for most of what you will see into the future has already been set.

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Just to put my personal experience into this conversation. I''m not a game developer or a programmer, but I do love games. I am although a finance consultant and several of my client are game programmers. I won''t disclose the companies they work for but their big players in industry. (Vancouver, Canada) Without biased I can say 3/5 of them wage over 100K plus one close to 120k. Those being mostly female at that. Even though the Canadian dollar is lower it''s not enough to compensate 100k.

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The level of compensation for game developers is still lower than for many other areas of software development. I''ve done game programming as a contractor and made decent money, but the few times I''ve interviewed the figures I was handed for salary were typically around $20K-$30K _less_ than I make as a senior embedded software engineer!! I don''t have a family but I have to make enough to take care of my fish and my computer habits - lol!

Some of the folks around here (Silicon Valley) make decent money for the area - one guy I know at EA makes around $100K, but he''s a killer developers/designer and engineers like him are rare, especially those with deep 3D engine experience. He works hours similar to mine - 40 a week during normal times, no limit during pre-ship crunch mode (yeah, I do consumer electronics and we have pre-ship crunches too) - sometimes weekends, especially before a big show (CES and CeBIT for us).

Have it both ways - get a lucrative Windows/database job and then use your cash to self-fund your own development efforts!

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quote:
Original post by WoolyLoach


Have it both ways - get a lucrative Windows/database job and then use your cash to self-fund your own development efforts!



That''s exactly what I''m planning to do actually.

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