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Monty Python

Game Programmer Wages

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Monty Python    122
How is it that companies like id Software pay employees vast sums of money (I read in an interview that Robert Duffy (the guy who makes the id level editors like q3 radiant) gets paid approximately £500,000 a year) but I was looking at the EA website the other day and they pay their C++ programmers around £30,000? Is there a lot of "fat cats" in the game industry that take away most of the money?

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Xanthen    115
There are some programmers who make a lot more than the vast majority of programmers. According to gamasutra survey, avg. salary after 2 years is around $60k for programmers. Those who make a lot more are worth the extra money. At some point 1 single really good programmer is better than an any number of avg programmers. As you start tacking on programmers, they''re work with each other starts conflicting and they can''t get as much done. The more you have working on the same thing, the less productive each one gets. Additionally, 1 really good programmer can improve things that a multitude of avg programmers won''t or can''t.

The salary doesn''t necessarily translate to how much they produce.

For example:
if it takes 6 programmers to make a game each making 50k.
It is very unlikly that 2 of the really good programmers who make 300k could make the same game in the same amount of time.

It is important to strike a balance. However the really good programmers are hard to come by, so they have increased salaries.

This is my theory on the whole thing though.

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vovansim    336
It''s not only game programming, where the salaries vary, but programming in general. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense: programmer is a very vague term. While one programmer might work on advanced algorithms and fancy tricky stuff (a senior software engineer, for instance), another might be working on the high-scores table, or something (like an intern ). It is only fair that there is a big variation in the salaries of those two.

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MauMan    344
Well it''s not really a fair comparison either. You''re comparing a large corp with large management depth to a small privately held company that brings in about $3 million/year/employee (est). The pay scales are going to be different.

The people making money at EA are up the management and sales chains...

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S1CA    1418
£30k is about right (some higher, some lower, +/- £10k) for the UK for someone with experience and a few commercially published games under their belt, higher for someone in a lead or management position. Subtract about £10k for junior/graduate roles. Go up to about £60-70k for truly invaluable leads with say 10-25 years experience and tons of published titles on the majority of the major platforms in that time (I know guys with 50-100 titles on their CVs, admittedly back in the 8bit days dev time was much less tho).

I seriously doubt £500k is his annual *salary*. There are a small few *directors* of very large games companies on that as basic. Of the UK directors salaries that I do know (plc''s - you can see their accounts :o) - £100 to £200 for the really successful companies is what you''d find. And for tax reasons, often not all of that is in cash.

The basic games industry salary is "reasonable", but was less than the corporate IT world (until they started outsourcing development to cheaper countries). It''s still (on average) less than some other industries that require similar amounts of technical knowledge.

Paid overtime is VERY rare in the games industry - so if the company you choose to work for signs contracts to develop titles in a super short time you might find yourself doing a lot of unpaid overtime that can bump your effective salary down.

Most companies have bonus schemes. Some related to the company profit, some related the sales figures of the product you worked on, some related to your seniority on that project, some related to royalty after break even, some fixed, some capped by amount, some capped by time etc...

...for a game that does reasonably well (and your company isn''t about to go bust), you can expect to get some amount of bonus...

If you work on a game that does exceptionally well, then you can also get a lot of money off that - depending on the deal you''re on.

If you''re at a small company, were one of the founder members or are totally invaluable to the company, then you can usually get uncapped, direct royalty related bonuses. If you work on a game that sells as many as the Quake series has, you can make a hell of a lot in royalty based bonuses. It can take a few years for a game to break even though so you have to faithful to the company (assuming the bonus is royalty based and not capped).

I suspect much of that £500k is not salary.


Another thing that happens is contract/freelance work and one off payments for externally developed products. For example say I wasn''t * working at a company and wrote an amazing editor/tool for an existing game, that company might offer to buy that tool off me for a one off payment... that could also be part of Robert Duffy''s deal.

Share options are also common as golden handshakes and bonuses to particularly good new staff. Though of course "options" are only really worth something on paper (and often have restricted periods of use) - though part of your overall "wealth" at that point in time, you can''t go out and buy a Ferrari with the share options...

* If you are working at the company and make a tool for their product you can be on shaky ground depending on your contract.

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Fingers_    410
Id software is very much an exception. They''re still a relatively small company, yet they make boatloads of money. When I worked in Dallas a few years ago the numbers I heard were ~$28M a year in profit and ~15 employees. That makes almost $2M per employee. No matter how much they spend in hardware, posh offices and other things you need in game development, there''s no doubt that everybody there is swimming in cash. (Even assuming they now have more employees)

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