Gaming has become ubiquitous. It’s all around us — on consoles, computers, mobile devices, and even streaming services like Netflix. The industry is flourishing, and will likely continue to do so as experts project the gaming market to be worth almost $200 million by the end of the year.
In other words, it’s a great time to become a Game Developer. Game Developers have exciting careers filled with collaboration and innovation as they build fantastic worlds filled with action and adventure. Plus, they’re often paid well for their hard work. Ahead, we’ll take a look at how much Game Developers earn and the various factors that influence their salaries. Then we’ll show you how to break into the field.
How much does a Game Developer make?
Salary expectations for Game Developers in the U.S. generally sit around the six-figure mark. Zippia provides an average of $91,009 a year, Built In reports $115,298, and Glassdoor estimates $117,584.
But while these averages serve as a solid baseline, there are several factors that’ll influence how much you make as a Game Developer. These include the company you work for, your location, and your level of experience. Let’s take a deeper look at how these factors can influence your salary.
Type of company
Larger companies with more resources typically offer more competitive salaries — which is why you’ll see tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, and Sony ranking highly in Zippia’s list of companies that pay Game Developers the most. But while these companies might pay more, you may not have as much creative freedom.
That’s why you shouldn’t overlook smaller companies. Working with an indie studio can give you a chance to make a more significant impact with your personal contributions. And you might even earn more at a smaller company. According to Built In, the average salaries for Game Developers by company size are:
- 1 – 10 employees: $150,000
- 11 – 50 employees: $110,000
- 51 – 200 employees: $120,000
- 201 – 500 employees: $125,000
- 501 – 1000 employees: $120,000
There are also freelance Game Developers who pick and choose the projects they undertake or work with companies on a contract basis. As with all freelancers, their salaries vary depending on their workload, but ZipRecruiter estimates their earnings to fall between $66,500 and $124,500.
Salaries vary significantly by location in any field, and game development is no exception. Zippia reports that Game Developers earn the highest salaries (on average) in:
- San Francisco, CA: $124,996
- Las Vegas, NV: $108,803
- Kirkland, WA: $106,462
- Hillsboro, OR: $101,242
- Boston, MA: $98,320
But don’t feel dismayed if your city’s not on that list. Salaries are often adjusted to align with an area’s cost of living, so a lower salary in one city might go further than a higher salary in another. And with the rise of remote work, according to State of the Game Industry 2020: Work from Home Edition, you may be able to earn a higher salary regardless of your location.
As with any career, you’ll earn more as you gain experience and take on larger roles. Glassdoor reports that Game Developers with up to three years of experience average $124,820. Those with between seven and nine years of experience earn $128,515, and Game Developers with at least a decade of experience earn an average of $133,474.
Skills needed for game development
If you want to be a Game Developer, you’ll need a mix of both technical and soft skills. Below, we’ll explore some of the skills you’ll use daily in this field.
Some technical skills to master include:
- Game frameworks and engines: Game frameworks are a collection of tools and libraries that help you build customized games. Game engines are more developed and have many of the tools in place ready to create games. You’ll need to know a popular engine or framework to get started in game development. Popular game engines include Unity, Unreal Engine, and Amazon Lumberyard. A popular framework for browser games is Phaser.
- 2D and 3D modeling: You’ll also need to model assets using tools like Blender.
- Prototyping and testing: If you’ve ever alpha- or beta-tested a game, you know they have bugs. As a Game Developer, you’ll need to develop prototypes and testing plans to ensure that your games work as smoothly as possible.
Soft skills are those you use to collaborate with others and work effectively as part of a team. If you have excellent technical skills as a Game Developer, but you don’t work well with others or have trouble communicating your ideas, you’ll have a difficult time advancing and improving your salary.
Here are some of the soft skills you’ll need as a Game Developer:
- Collaboration: Games are typically developed in teams. You’ll need to know how to work with others, how to give and receive feedback, and be willing to help out teammates who need assistance.
- Problem-solving: You’ll spend a lot of time solving problems, and many won’t have obvious solutions. You’ll need to be able to evaluate problems and decide what steps to take to get things working again.
- Leadership: You’ll need to be willing to take responsibility and see projects through to the end. Even if you don’t have a management or senior position, you can show leadership in your daily responsibilities and help keep up morale in tough times.
Get started on your path to a career as a Game Developer
Want to become a Game Developer? First, you’ll need to understand how games are made: the development process, the tools used in the industry, and the different roles involved — which you can learn in our free course Introduction to Game Development.