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Game programmer's income?

25 posts in this topic

I always want to be a game programmer. Actually, I don''t really care how much I will earn for being a game programmer as long as it''s enough for my living. I am just curious, how much can a Game Programmer make for each game or an year? if you have some idea, please tell me. I really want to know. Thanks!
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It would probably depend on a lot of factors (area of the country, size of company, experience, etc) but you can probably expect anywhere from 30K-50K and up.

Breakaway Games
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Yep - roughly 30k - 50k, with workweeks much longer than 40 hours.

Basically, half the pay for twice the work. But hey, it''s *game* programming.


Mason McCuskey
Spin Studios - home of Quaternion, 2000 GDC Indie Games Fest Finalist!
www.spin-studios.com
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Its rather ironic, isn''t it? Perhaps some of the most skilled developers in the IT industry and they get paid less than most business developers. It doesn''t seem fair....
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A lot of it depends on where you live. I''m making quite a bit more on the coast than I would in the middle of the country, but with the cost of living being so high, I''m not living any better (Probably a little worse).

The range 30k to 50k is rather standard for the newer programmers. If you have more experience and you are going in to a larger company, it''s not too uncommon to see people making 70k.
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I-Shaolin,

As a Sr. Software Engineer programming business apps in the Central New York region - with over five years of experience, I''m making around $60k. I''ve been thinking of switching over to game programming for quite a while now...

Just yesterday I did a cost of living comparison for around the S.F.Bay area (where EA Sports and Blizzard North is located, for example). And I would need to be making $150k a year!!! This was on two different web based comparison calculators! Are these calculators right about the cost of living on the coast?

I was going to post today about this very topic because I couldn''t imagine that a game programmer would make this, even near the Bay area - could they? I would love to get into the industry, but if I took such a dramatic decrease in comparable salary, I think my wife and kids would have my bags on the front stoop :-D.

What is everyone''s feelings on this? Are game programmers that much underpaid? Or is the 30k-50k just the salary for programmers with no experience? Is this the starting salary on the coast? What do the salaries tend to get up to? What is the advancement possibilities for game programmers (while still being dedicated to programming)? I guess I''ve had a bunch of these types of questions rolling around in my head for awhile. And while I''m dying to get into game programming (more than I am on the side), I don''t know about these issues...

Thanks!
CNY
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Being a professional developer on the business side I see some the pay issues firsthand. For me personally, I consider myself a good developer, with plenty of drive and ability to learn, but I don''t pretend to have the skill set that many, if not most, game developers possess. Yet I make more than most of them and also live in an area of the country that has one of the lower costs of living! Also I can tell you our top guys are making WAY more than 70K.

I''d love to go into gaming development professionally but I''d have to take a really serious paycut (plus the current dev job I have is pretty cool actually), not too mention unstable job security, less benefits and all that. As much as I wish it were different its not.
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I can see why your message icon is crying there. That really stinks - unstable job security, less benefits, little pay...

I guess I''ll just have to continue game programming on the side instead of professionally. :-( It doesn''t seem really worth it - which is unfortunate.

What do others think - what is their experience with this? What about the future - does anybody see/think that this may shift for it to be worth it for programmers wanting to go into game programming?

CNY
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CNY,

Well, I am making 55K in the Bay Area with pretty decent benifits, but the cost of living here tears through it quickly. Rent is outragous. Now, I am rather lucky. This is my first job in the industry, and from what I have gathered from other people, this salary is higher than average.

For me, it''s worth it. I only graduated college here recently, and getting into the industry is the hardest part. Besides, I love the job and the working conditions are just perfect. After this, I couldn''t imagine doing anything else.

Since you have a good job already, you aren''t forced to move to the Bay Area. There are game companies all over the country, with less cost of living rates (try Texas). I needed the job, so I didn''t have the option to wait.
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Thanks for the responses! I appreciate it. Like I said these questions have been rolling around in my head for a while.

I''ve been wanting to start game programming for quite some time - and finally I said "the heck with it" and I started teaching myself and scouring the internet for as much information as possible. Finally, I started to think of whether I wanted to do this for a living. I mean, I''ve been spending so much time on the side doing it - why not have my full time job be something that I enjoy even more!

It''s tough to make the switch though. I''m living in one of the lowest cost of living areas of the nation (besides the taxes), and my salary is pretty nice. To take a salary decrease AND a huge cost of living increase would take a LOT of thought :-D

I think if we WERE going to move though, it would definitely be on the west coast. My wife and I like it out there a lot (except for the cost of living).

CNY

- Man, I should finally register on this board. I''ve been listening in for so long - but never participated until now...
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Does anybody have any work experience in programming custom applications for companies, if so whats your income like. A friend that programs professionally for my local nuclear power plant building custom apps gets a 6 digit income! Is there more money in programming business related apps, then entertainment. Hehehe crap i may drop game programming and pursue COM and MFC if the incomes are below the 50,000 mark.

ECKILLER
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Hmmm... I think I''d like the guy programming apps at the local nuclear power plant to be very happy with his salary and job

Given the target market for games vs the target market for business apps, it is pretty evident why business developers have a higher median income than game devs. I doubt this will change. (Unless the target market for games suddenly switches from the young gamer crowd to the fortune 500 crowd)

Also, I think it is probably fairly easy to recruit young and energetic talent into the game programming at less than market rates.

To respond to a previous thread in the conversation: Don''t sell business devs short. Its not all gui''s and forms out there. There are some extremely talented people in this field tackling problems which are probably more intractable than those faced by even the trickiest parts of a 3d engine internals (for example)... I highly suspect that the skill and knowledge of developers is pretty much in equivelant, per capita, in both lines of work.



Notwen
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I agree with your last point completely Notwen. As amazing as it may sound, not all programmers or computer scientist even like games. For me, this is almost unimaginable since I really was drawn into computers by games. Still, one of the smartest individuals I have ever met is actually working for some think tank in Texas. Odd...
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I work developing custom apps for a Point of Sale sompany in Australia and I earn just under 30k Australian. I have only been here for 10 months and I came here straight from University. It seems rather Low but I live in Adelaide which is one of the cheapest places to live in AUS. If I worked on the East-Coast (Sydney or Melbourne) I would earn close to 50k Australian with my little experience.
The small company I work for is great with great co-workers and work atmosphere, so I am happy to stay even though the salary seems a bit lower then some other places.

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Yeah, that''s pretty much how it goes. What some people tend to forget is that it''s really how far the money you make goes, not just how much you make.

Hell, I make more than my parents, yet they live in a two story house with a pool, and I live in an apartment. Go figure. I don''t think I would have taken a job in the Bay if I could have avoided it, but the job itself was just too good to pass up. (There''s more than money, you know...)
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Let''s see....Salaries -

Starting in the Bay Area, the lowest I''ve heard of was 32K a year. This was entry level, no degree, no gaming or professional programming experience in the background. Rumour has it that Senior Programmers at EA start at 80K/yr, and if you''re arrogant, or they need someone with your skillset really badly, you can probably convince a company to bump that up some as well. Cost of living plays some in the amount, but by and large, you''d make more money working for a non-game company.

Bay Area Housing -

Housing here is expensive, hard to find, and a royal pain. There are ways around just being stranded. It is possible to make ends meet, even on junior programmer salary, but roommates are almost definitely required.

Size of companies -

A big sized company doesn''t alway mean good salary. I''ve worked for a small startup and made more money than a 300+ person well known company. Depending on the company, you can get stuck working somewhere w/ a mentality of "we have these great franchises which our the assets here, not our employees". If that''s the case, run away screaming fast. You''ll be over worked and underpaid, even for a game programmer.

Is it worth it? -

To some, yes. I know one guy that''s been a game programmer at a well established company for the past 15 years. He''s been offered to go do a start up at least twice (both of which became multi-million dollar companies) but continues where he''s at because he''s happy.

Some other alternatives:

If one particular portion of games interests you such as developing the 3D tools for level design or a graphics engine or whatever, you might be able to make better money and still be involved with games. Why not work for a company that makes a 3D modeler, or become one of those 2-man companies that sell DirectX wrappers and pre-made AI classes or whatever? Just another option to consider that might pay a bit better than the actual game company.

My 2 cents,
Nolan
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Great information!

Here''s another twist to the same questions:

Do game companies ever hire remotely? For example, as a business app developer, I''ve done work for companies all over the country. This wasn''t my full-time job (it was on top of it), but some of these projects have been long term (relatively speaking). Because of the speed of the internet and the modern tools that we have, it''s very easy to work remotely now. Do game companies ever consider this?

Man, would that solve the cost of living problems! But thinking about it, I''m sure it''s not a popular thing to do. From the sounds of it, why would they need to - they have a lot of people competing for the same jobs, they can pay less with less benefits, etc. Plus, with the complexity of developing games, I''m sure they would want you on-site, but it''s interesting to hear what people thing about this. Does anyone think that this may someday come about?

Also, what about all these (and previous posted) questions in the 2-4 year range? Since I just bought a house a couple years ago :-), it seems foolish to up ''n move before I''ve built some equity. What does everyone think about the game programming situation then? Will it be more/less beneficial for programmers to seek this out (not counting the happiness issue, because I definitely know I would be a lot happier programming games - since that''s what I''ve wanted to do from middle school on).

Thanks for everyone''s replies!
CNY
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Im over in the UK doing a masters degree in computer graphics and virtual environments. Anyone know what kinds of salaries I might expect for respectable companies
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Here''s my $.02:

Remote hiring: There''s been a couple of instances where companies have had people working on a game that weren''t at the company. Look at Unreal. They were all over the place.

Payrates: Based on my limited experience, game programmers make less than business app programmers at the entry to mid level range and I don''t think that''s going to change. If I had stayed in business programming I would probably be making about 10-15K more than I am now. I would be hating life though. Between the politics that always went on and the lack of a challenge I would have killed myself or someone else! As it stands I make enough to support my family and have a little left over and I''m doing what I love so I can''t complain.

Anon: The 30-35K seems like a starting position salary here on the east coast. Senior level is probably around 60-80K, maybe a little more depending on company size.


Breakaway Games
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I guess here''s another question - I think I''m asking WAY too many :-D...

Where are most game programming jobs? East Coast, West Coast? Maybe I''m wrong, but on the West Coast a lot of them seem to be between LA and San Fransisco. But like I said, I may be wrong on that. Since I''m on the East Coast, where do the game programming jobs seem to be here? Or are they pretty spread out evenly?

Thanks again!
CNY
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You really should register.

That beign said, most of the game programming jobs are on the West coast. Not all of them, but most of them. If you really are interested, you might try getting in touch with a recruiter out there. With so many game companies there, you can find some who specialize only in game placement. This is what I did, and it worked out well.
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From what I''ve seen, game development companies seem to be spread out all over. Sure, a lot of the bigger, more well known ones seem to be centered in California and Texas, and the concentration in those places is higher, but I''d be surprised if there isn''t one relatively close to you. I was shocked to find out there were 10 here in Salt Lake (a couple of them quite large).
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quote:
Original post by I-Shaolin
If you really are interested, you might try getting in touch with a recruiter out there.



If you do this, I VERY HIGHLY recommend Barbara Walter. I''ve dealt with quite a few recruiters in the past, and she is the best I''ve encountered, by far. She recruits solely for the game industry. You can get contact information for here here.
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OK, I finally registered. I''m "the poster formerly known as CNY" ;-) heh heh...

Now I have no excuse but to start participating more! (instead of just lurking on the edges)

Anyway, thanks for the link to the web site. I''ll have to bookmark it. Even though I''ve been involved in some pretty intense business apps, I''m still learning a lot right now about game programming. I should probably wait until I have a few more small projects under my belt. I''m doing the standard Tetris, Breakout, PacMan, side-scroller game progression thing that I''ve heard people talking about on this and other sites... I''m also adding in Multiplayer and (very small) 3D games to the list so I can get more experience with different facets of game programming. I figure I''ll be able to contribute to a game company a lot more if I have some tangible experience. And maybe it will increase the salary a small bit considering I''ll be a newbie in the field.

As far as jobs being near by - I remember the makers of Wizardry were a couple hours away. But when I last looked up on SirTech''s web site, it looked like they moved over the border into Canada... I''ve also seen some being advertised near NYC and Boston (both around 6 hours away). I think there may be been a company developing color game-boy games near by too, but I don''t know if I''m as interested in something like that. It''s definitely something that I have to research more if/when I''m ready to take the plunge. If I were going to move though (outside of Syracuse), I would say either south towards N Carolina (I''m sick of the constant snow here!) or the west coast...

Anyway, thanks again!
Deep

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