Most people that express a desire to enter the video game industry profess to not care how much money they can make doing something they love. Those people can probably skip the annual Game Developer Salary Survey results. The rest of you can read on to see who's making the most money in the business.
2010 was a good year in the industry, with game developer salaries on average have risen seven percent since 2009, with the average industry employee making $85,733 before taxes in 2010. Of course there are many different jobs involved in creating a video game, so don't expect to join the industry and immediately begin making $85K.
Odd are much better that you'd start out at the bottom of the totem pole, working as a tester in quality assurance. Things are looking up for those entry-level employees this year, earning $49,009 over last year's $37,905. Why such a big bump? Game Developer suggests it's due to the rise of web-based games requiring QA folks with more specialized skills.
It's still a drop in the bucket compared to the industry's highest-paid employees. Folks working on the business and legal side of game development made an average of $106,452, with 85 percent reporting additional compensation by way of bonuses and other incentives. In other words, the highest paid people in game development often have nothing at all to do with the actual game development. Makes sense.
As for the rest of the industry, the breakdown is as follows:
Audio Professionals: $68,088
Art and Animation: $71,354
Actual Programming: $85,733
But what if you want to go indie? Developers that identified themselves as independent made an average of $26,780 last year, which seems like a low number but it still $6,000 more than in 2009.
Despite the low income, Game Developer reports that indie developers "felt the industry was more fertile and innovative than ever", while many salaried employees at traditional development studios admitted to being frustrated with the regular work structure and upset with the tendency to have to crunch harder to get a game finished in time.
And that's 2010 in video game industry salaries. Still want to be a game developer? Would you rather be a happy, underpaid indie developer, or an overworked professional with money to burn?