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Entry Level Game Industry Salaries 82

An anonymous reader writes "Game Tycoon has posted some informal information about entry-level salaries for students entering the video game industry." From the article: "Students who applied for engineering jobs seem to be getting offers in the 70s -- in some cases, the high 70s. The same students got offers approximately 10K higher from companies in other industries; i.e. Oracle, Microsoft, etc. So the gap between game company offers and non-game company offers appears to be narrowing for engineers. In general, I was amazed at how high the offers were!"
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Entry Level Game Industry Salaries

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  • by deletedaccount ( 835797 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @12:15PM (#14842937)
    Half the reason I chose not to go into games was the crappy salaries, half was the crappy hours and the other half was my lack of mathematical ability.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This article only talks about several MIT students that the author has experience with - they may be exceptionally bright, motivated students, and they tend to get higher offers. I live in LA and my boyfriend's first gaming job only paid 55K - not 70.
  • "I've been chatting with a few undergraduate MIT students who already have full-time offers from video game companies."

    If you're from MIT, you'd better start at 70K. You'll never pay back your loans at 30K. Hell, MIT English majors probably start at 30K.

  • by JourneyExpertApe ( 906162 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @12:25PM (#14843010)
    The article mentions engineers and producers, with the latter getting offers about half as much as the former. Can someone explain the difference between these two jobs?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Engineers produce code; Producers are a one-word oxymoron. They do talk a lot though.
    • Engineers write code. Producers manage development, facilitating communications between different development disciplines, (art, code, design) and non-development disciplines (marketing, PR, sales, HR, admin, etc.). Producer is a pretty generic title and the roll can change drastically depending on company and rank (assistant producer, associate producer, line producer, producer, senior producer, exec producer), and whether the producer is on the development side or the publisher side. In Japan, producers t
      • And frankly, especially if they've only got a degree from MIT, which seems to be heavy on theory, and light on the practical, low-levl, extremely efficient coding experience required for games.

        I am going to assume we are talking about an EECS degree from MIT. Are you kidding? MIT, stanford , caltech degrees do carry a lot of weight and simply having a degree from a more prominent university WILL give you a higher salary. While my degree is not from MIT (its from another big school in boston), can tell you
        • Degrees are impressive, but not nearly as impressive (to me) as shipped games. Look, I understand MIT is a very difficult school, and that people come out of it knowing a lot, but in _my_ experince (your results may vary), I have interviewed a good number of candidates from MIT who can tell me lots about their experience with tons of high level systems that they have played with at MIT (usually that were already built), but very little about anything that's applicable to game programming. In one example, I
    • A producer is a process management role. Make sure that all of the content gets done on schedule. Get the voice actors time scheduled at the recording studio, etc. It requires knowledge of using outlook basically, plus the ability to talk to people in english. An engineer typically writes code for the game. It requires a huge math and CS background. So the engineer gets paid more, because the job is a much more highly skilled job.

    • The article mentions engineers and producers, with the latter getting offers about half as much as the former. Can someone explain the difference between these two jobs?

      Watch this movie [] some time. Anne Heche and Dennis Leary are engineers. Dustin Hoffman and Robert DiNero are producers. The script is very pro-producer, so bear that in mind. But it's the best explanation I've seen of what a producer really does.

    • In the rest of the world, "Producer" is called a "Project Manager." The term Producer comes from the game industry's sad, misguided desire to be the movie industry. Project Managers are people with the responsibility to get a project completed on-time, but with no techinical skills or authority to do anything about it.

      That isn't to say they can't be valuable...

  • by fistfullast33l ( 819270 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @12:26PM (#14843015) Homepage Journal
    The opening line of the article was "I was speaking to some MIT students."

    So basically, these salaries are probably inflated because they're from MIT and can fetch top dollar. I just graduated with an MS in CS (not from MIT) and I was getting offers in the high 60's,low 70's from Microsoft, IBM and the like. I didn't talk to any game companies so I can't say anything about that, but don't expect to go into CS and come out from any school other than an MIT or CMU and fetch high 70s. If you're going for a BS, I wouldn't get my hopes past 60, MS past 75. There is a ton of hiring going on right now though, so you might get lucky. Everyone and their brother is hiring.
    • I just graduated with an MS in CS (not from MIT)

      Don't feel bad. I'm not a MIT graduate either but I do play one on Slashdot.
    • I feel like a real schmuck then, because I'm pulling $45k with my BS in CS and MS in Math.

      Then again, it is government work, and I got it during the dot-bomb period (meaning, jobs were really scarce)

    • "... but don't expect to go into CS and come out from any school other than an MIT or CMU and fetch high 70s."

      Apparently you've never met anyone who came out of Caltech.
    • If you are good, it doesn't matter which school you come from. I recently graduated from Georgia Tech, and myself and a few friends had offers in the high 70s and low 80s in areas like Seattle (where the cost of living isn't crazy). There are a lot of CS jobs out there right now, and its not so much about the school as it is proving yourself.

      I was a sucker though and took a gaming job elsewhere for a tad bit lower salary =p. The tradeoff in my opinion was worth it, but thats just because I its what I
  • Pointless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Threni ( 635302 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @12:27PM (#14843017)
    The linked-to story is just some guy babbling on a blog about how he chatted to `a few` people. Perhaps if some sort of representative survey had been carried out, and the terms he is using were slightly more well defined this article would have some merit.
  • When particular fields are tied to a few specific regions, it is no surprise to see a salary difference get explained for the wrong reasons.

    At one time over 90% of US actuaries lived within 100 miles of Hartford, CT. Pay level statistics reflected the high cost of living there.

    • This is partially true, but I just went through an interview binge and I got the same salary offer for a position in Poughkeepsie, NY as I did for working in downtown Manhattan as I did for working in Seattle. Same position, same responsibilities, different companies. Salaries usually only differ by a few thousand to offset cost of living, and at that point it's not worth bickering over 2 or 3 grand which will get gobbled up in taxes anyways.
      • Saying it's only a couple thousand dollars is mostly incorrect. Unix SysAdmin salaries in Minnesota are far below Unix SysAdmin salaries in the Silicone Valley area. In many cases $25-30K less for the same level of position at similar sized companies. From the most recent SAGE Salary Survey, average Unix Admin salaries by market: Washington, DC 91,098 Silicon Valley, CA 90,513 Chicago, IL 77,295 Houston, TX 58,968
      • The cost of living differences can be HUGE between metro areas, especially when it comes to housing. For example, the same house here in a semi-nice NW suburb of Atlanta is 20-30% less expensive here than it would have been in an equivalent suburb in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, and cost of living in the Twin Cities wasn't all that high to begin with. You can find 2500 square foot houses here with basements and nice yards in a convenant community (usually with community tennis courts and pool) for $200,
  • I guess this explains how some of the companies can make such a great deal of profit and still continue to put out low quality, buggy games.

    Look at Sony Online Entertainment for example. I'm sure every one of their developers are paid pretty good - especially after reading this article. However, the quality of code coming out of companies like this is atrocious. A lot has to do with the aggressive timelines I'm sure and the long hours - but in the end some of the things decided upon are just stupid! I'd
  • Gamasutra regularly runs surveys on game industry salaries, the problem is I can't find the data.
  • But note (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LightningTH ( 151451 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @12:51PM (#14843185)
    High $70k salaries in the western side of the US where cost of living is high. Over on the south/east side, it is around $50k average. However the burn-out rate for the game industry seems to be around 5 years due to the large number of hours. But why get paid $70k a year when you work 60 hour weeks (or more)? You actually make less per hour than someone working $50k salary at 40 hours a week.
    • Exactly, and I lasted 4 years in the game industry. I did writing and playtesting mainly, there is so much bullshit though on top of all the other stresses that your average 7-11 worker ends up making about the same amount.

      Now I do Net Admin work and make twice as much, still stressful, but more "normal." Salaries vary greatly with location, in PA a solid out of college salary is in the mid-high 30's to low 40's. $70k would be like a millionaire in PA.
      • Ok, glad to see I'm not woefully underpaid. I've got a couple years experience and not anywhere near that 70K mark. I'm healthily above the high 30s though. The odd thing is that I left the rust belt for colorado and kept the same job/pay. In theory, cost of living is higher here, but I work from home, so my time spent driving dropped by an hour or two a day and gas / car wear and tear dropped like a rock too. So I guess it pans out.

        Frankly, I think that in your first five years of work, it is much, much, m
    • And what about job security, the dozens of game companies that run out of money each year and can't pay their employees?
  • My experience... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MaestroSartori ( 146297 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @12:52PM (#14843188) Homepage the UK:

    on graduating, most games companies would not take on recent graduates, and required a minimum of 12 months experience and a published title. How to gain 12 months experience and publish a title when nobody will hire you is left as an exercise for the reader.

    I eventually landed a job in one of the most expensive parts of the UK to live in (Surrey), earning £20,000 - at the time approximately $30,000 - which I'm told was a decent wage for a graduate programmer at the time. This was less than the average national wage which was £24,000 or thereabouts if I recall correctly. Other graduates from my university class going to work for investment banks or web companies were getting offers of up to £35,000 or thereabouts, and the ones who've become sysadmins rather than programmers all earn more than me even now.

    The games industry isn't one where you go for high wages. You do it for the love of games, and then because even if you wanted to change career paths it's tricky when you don't have "serious" coding experience...
    • I graduated with a first class honours degree and I never recieved anything like a 35k offer. I hear this a lot and I still don't quite believe it.
      • Depends where you graduated from, who's making the offer, and how you came over at interview. I made 30k on graduation 7 years ago with a 2:1 from Imperial. Now I'm hiring (at the same company) and it's interesting to understand the criteria that are applied. Your grade is really pretty unimportant (provided you got 2:2 or above).
  • Did anyone else read that as 70 silver? or have i spent wayyyy too much time playing WoW? :)
    • Did anyone else read that as 70 silver? or have i spent wayyyy too much time playing WoW?

      No, you clearly haven't. You should be reading that as gold.
  • I'll go with development of other software and systems before games. The thing is, from what I've heard, even if a company like EA isn't breathing down your back forcing long hours on you, game development takes a lot of dedication, more so then the development of a lot of other types of software. And this will no doubt increase even more with the complexities being brought on by new systems that must sap every single CPU cycle possible from multi-core systems. I can produce decent code at a decent rate
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I work at EA, specifically at the studio that the "spouse" blog was about, and while it contained a fair amount of fact (but was not entirely factual) at the time it was posted, if you read that blog today and thought it was still true, you'd be mistaken. The work conditions are far better than they used to be.

      In fact, compared to other big name independent studios in the area (I won't name names, but they're well known "independent" studios owned by the other big publishers), and places I have worked in t
      • Wow, that's great to hear the situation actually changed quite a bit. Although it's very admirable to be dedicated to your job and enjoy what your doing, if you have a family or something like that, you just _can't_ be that dedicated and have a healthy relationship with the rest of your family.
    • Sure.

      I've been working in this industry for a little more than a year now, and it has been a pleasant experience so far. I did overtime quite a lot at the begining (I arrive at the end of a project), but after that it wasn't too bad. A little bit here and there, but nothing serious. I have the choice to be paid or to take more paid vacations for the extra work, witch is very nice. Coding wise, it's not like I do really complexe stuff since I'm still relatively new. I did learn *alot* thought

      Of course
  • thats BS none of the game companies pay over (most not even close to) 50K in my area (houston texas)

    thats the whole reason i got out of the games industry was the pay was so lame, and the hours at most game companies are terrible

  • by stonewolf ( 234392 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @01:49PM (#14843658) Homepage
    The fellow who wrote the original blog entry has a serious lack of contact with reality. Let me try to inject some:

    I am speaking as someone with over 30 years experience on top of a MSCS degree who has worked in many industries including the game industry as a programmer and technical director.

    Someone with a degree in computer science or a closely related discipline has about a 50% chance of ever being able to write production level code in a commercial environment. My experience is that math majors have nearly as good a chance to become production programmers. English major (especially poets) and archeologists have about a 30% chance of reaching the same level of skill.

    (People with degrees from expensive private schools usually figure out that they are never going to earn enough as a programmer to pay for their kids to go to the same expensive private schools and bail into higher paying areas after only a few years. They rarely stay around long enough to become really good programmers. There are, of course, many exceptions to that observation.)

    OTOH, someone with a degree in any technical field has less than a 1% chance of becoming a successful entrepreneur. And only about a 10% chance of becoming a successful manager in any environment. A producer is an entrepreneur and a manager. The skills needed to be a producer are very different from the skills needed to be a programmer.

    So, if I hire a fresh computer grad to be a programmer there is an even chance that that person will produce revenue for my company. If I hire the same person to be an associate producer there is very little chance that they will ever be good for anything but fetching lattes to meetings.

    No wonder the pay for entry level producer is so low. In fact, I was surprised it was so high.

  • /didnt' RTFA

    I remember seeing a job posting for LucasArts for Quality Assurance. It was rather small(40K?) and I believe it was in California. Needless to say I wasn't chomping at the bit to work THERE.

    So what's the average salary of QA people in video games? Do they make more than the janitors? :)
    • I graduated from college with a BS in Electrical Engineering, but chose to enter the game industry. I ended up having to go into Quality Assurance, where I worked for a big company and got paid $10/hr. As opposed to the $70k salary I could have gotten from being an engineer.

      But it was worth it! I'm very happy with my career.
    • That, sir, is an insult to janitors everywhere. A janitorial position requires skill. And a QA position, well...
  • Sorry to be a bit off topic here, but what are people that are new grads and Computer Engineers/Firmware Developers making in Canada?

    I gradded in 2004 with a B.Sc in Software Engineering and another which was a combination of Telecomm and Computer Engineering.

    Right now I'm making about $33K. I started off as a web developer, but now I do network layer programming for servers and microcontrollers. My company is pretty new and a startup.
    • That seems low. I started out in software at $28K in 1988 in Ottawa area. My guess is starting salaries in Ontario are 50-60K. Hardware used to pay less but shortages due to everyone moving to software caused their salaries to go up. In some cases, if you have analog skills you command a large premium.
  • do it because you love it, or start writing inventory control programs. Being a game programmer is a lot like being a porn star. From the outside it looks all glamorous and exciting, but once your in the industry you realize pretty quickly that its almost more work than its worth.
    • Only, as a programmer, rather than be paid to have sex, you'll be cooped up programming enough so as to prevent it. That and your hygiene, but let's take this one issue at a time.
  • While most of the posts here are understandably discussing salaries for a non-coder, who is an advertising/marketing professional, can anybody here comment on starting salaries at game companies in the Marketing Department? What about other departments? What sorts of positions are open to entry level people aside from coding?

    And if you could please spare me any of your flames about marketing, etc. Its a necessary evil, and just because some companies are evil when it comes to marketing, that

  • by saarbruck ( 314638 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @10:09PM (#14847777) Homepage
    The Independent Game Developer's Association (IGDA []) and Gamasutra [] take an annual salary survey for the game industry, including developers, artists, designers and producers. I think you have to be registered to see them, but here are links to the results from

    2003 []

    2002 []

    2001 []

    And yes, I said annual, and the most recent result I could find was 2003. I think the 2005 results are still being tallied? And 2004? Must have been a bad year...

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