If you like to play computer games or enjoy watching people have fun with something you’ve created, then consider becoming a game designer. While many colleges now offer degrees in the field, many employers don’t require that education, asserts Game Developer magazine. Instead, you must spend many hours playing and developing games, which you can learn by self-study. The salaries you earn will make the effort worthwhile.
Because computer games have become so complex, with mind-blowing production values approaching those of Hollywood movies, no one person can design them. This type of entertainment comes from the combined efforts of game development teams, with salaries based on specific duties. For example, the game designers who create the overall concepts for the game earned an average $50,375 per year, according to Game Developer magazine's fall 2012 salary survey. Producers who coordinated the schedules, budgets, staff and materials needed to create games made a mean $55,893. Artists and animators who developed the backgrounds, characters and props that inhabited game worlds averaged an annual $49,481. And the programmers who turned great concepts into software code made a mean $66,116 yearly.
Game design is a business, so digital entertainment companies cannot survive without the administration provided by nontechnical business workers. These jobs include chief executives, marketing specialists, human resources managers, legal professionals and administrative staff. They received the highest salaries for the industry, at a mean $71,818 per year. About 82 percent of the workers got additional income in the form of bonuses, profit sharing, royalties and stock options. These perks amounted to an average $24,974 per year.
As with any occupation, location can determine the game designer’s pay. Topping the list of compensation by state was California, home of Silicon Valley and many game development companies. Pay here averaged $93,696 per year. Washington state, home of Microsoft, ranked second, with a mean of $89,674 per year. The West offered the best regional salaries. For example, average yearly pay here was $101,387 for programmers, $82,204 for game designers, $90,395 for producers, $81,229 for artists and animators, and $108,056 for business staff.
Comparisons with other salaries show that while game designers earned good livings, their wages were still lower than average for all digital professionals. As of May 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all computer and math professionals averaged $80,180 per year. Specific jobs had the following annual salaries. Software developers, which included programmers and application developers, earned $90,470. Database and systems administrators and network architects received $80,910. And computer and information systems managers earned the highest wages of all, at $129,130.
Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.