Game Developer Salaries: A Comprehensive Guide

by Michael Sacco Published January 12, 2024
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Introduction

In this article, I will provide a comprehensive guide to game developer salaries. You need to know the average game developer salaries and how to negotiate your salary. This fact remains true whether you are already a professional game developer, or you are looking to move into the field.

For new, entry-level game developers, this article will empower you. By the end of this article, you will have the right level of information to determine if game development will meet your financial needs. In addition, you will be able to enter salary negotiations from a position of power, with facts and figures to back your rates.

For existing game developers, this article will give you perspective. You can benchmark your salary against the average salary for your region to understand how you stack up. And, you can use this information to go into raise negotiations with research. Alternatively, you can use this data to look for work that provides better pay or better total compensation.

Overview of Game Developer Salaries

According to Glassdoor, Game Developer salaries start at $75k for entry-level, junior positions with no experience. This rate climbs to as much as $208k per year for highly experienced, senior game developers with deep expertise.

In contrast, an anonymous survey conducted on Reddit found slightly different results. The average salary of a mid-level role was $72,790. This rate climbed to $113,236 for senior positions, and could be as high as $255,000 for specific individuals.

The large variance between entry-level roles and senior roles reflects the high degree of specialization and value delivered by experienced hires. The large variance between companies reflects the large amount of variance in outcomes and budgets for game studios.

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Factors Influencing Game Developer Salaries

Experience and specialization significantly impact salaries in the gaming industry. A junior game developer might earn around $94k per year in total compensation. On the other hand, a senior game developer can expect to earn about $174k in total compensation.

Compensation bands:

  • Junior: $94k
  • Mid-level: $101k
  • Senior: $163k

Specialized roles, such as AI or VR developers, often receive higher compensation due to the niche skills required. Additionally, the scale of the company you work at will also contribute to salary differentials. Larger companies typically pay more and offer better benefits.

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Average Game Developer Salary by Region

Your salary will depend heavily on your region’s cost-of-living and average salary ranges. In hubs like Silicon Valley, salaries are much higher than throughout the rest of the United States. Similarly, the United States typically offers salaries that are much higher than Europe. In large part, salaries in the United States are much higher because employees in the United States have a higher cost of living and fewer benefits than counterparts in Europe.

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Tips for Negotiating a Game Developer Salary

You need to level up your negotiating skills. If you are a poor negotiator, you will leave money on the table. The salary that you negotiate now will anchor your salary for the rest of your career. And, negotiating your salary is the easiest, and fastest, way to increase your income.

Before you negotiate, arm yourself with market research. Platforms like Glassdoor and Payscale provide industry-specific salary data. Showcase your skills and contributions, emphasizing how they align with industry benchmarks and the company’s specific goals and your hiring manager’s specific KPIs. Understand that your all-in cost to the company is not only reflected in your salary, but is a much larger number — typically 2x your actual cash compensation.

You also need to practice. Ask your friends, colleagues, or family members to practice the negotiating phase with you. Become comfortable saying “no” and pushing back on low-ball offers.

Finally, remember that a company wants to hire the best candidate just as much as you want to find the best candidate. During the interview phase, put your best foot forward: confidently showcase your accomplishments. And, always position your value to the company from the company’s perspective.

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Build a Network

You should build a network and speak with your peers and seniors about their salaries, too. The job market changes constantly as companies go through the business cycle. Macro- and micro-economic factors contribute to large shifts in the market’s willingness to pay for new hires. Salary and demand levels will directly affect your ability to get work. Timing the market is difficult. But, you should aim to secure a role during an up market. During an up market, companies are more willing to pay and will be more flexible with negotiations. These factors can help you lock in a higher total compensation.

You can build this network in-person or online. In-person networking will provide you with higher quality, longer lasting interactions. Online networking gives you the opportunity to speak with a wider range of individuals across a broader set of geographies. Online networking can include formal online conferences, webinar and recruiting events, or even social media forums like LinkedIn or Reddit. Both in-person and online networking will benefit you. So, you should spend time investing in both channels.

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Conclusion

It is crucial that you stay informed and keep your skills up-to-date in the competitive job market for game development. Game development attracts passionate, excited developers.

Developers in this industry are often willing to accept lower salaries or worse benefits in exchange for the opportunity to work on exciting projects. To stand out as an applicant and to win a higher salary in your negotiations, you need to use data to inform your salary level and position your benefits to driving results for the company.

This guide, enriched with industry-specific data and personal narratives, equips you with the knowledge to navigate the complexities of game development compensation.

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