All things equal (experience, job title, location and company), the average video game designer salary is about $84,000 per year.
Not bad right? This is about 32% higher than all national salaries for the United States. It’s worth mentioning that this is relatively close to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimate for multimedia artists and animators, which is $61,370 per year.
This data comes from Indeed.com, which was updated on July 5, 2013. It’s the most recent data I could find. Take it with a grain of salt though. Indeed does not have as rigorous of a methodology as the BLS or Salary.com (I just couldn’t find any good, specific data from these sources).
Even more importantly, salaries in this field have been steadily rising for the last couple of years. Check it out:
Beware: the IGDA video game designer salary data is OLD!
If you are researching this stuff on your own, you’re going to run into information from the International Gaming Developers Association (IGDA). In fact, I believe almost all of the top 10 results in Google use this information. So I just wanted to tell you. It’s a couple of years old, and the salary estimates seem too far apart (up to $200,000) to be credible. They also don’t list any sources.
However, they are an established industry resource, so they deserve a mention; like before, take it with a grain of salt. This is their salary data:
- Entry-level game designer: $50,000
- Mid-career game designer: $57,500
- Experienced game designer: $80,000
- Un-named designer (presumably someone with game design superpowers working for one of the biggest development companies): $200,000
Top-paying industries for game designers
The following data comes from the BLS. Please note that this is for multimedia artists and animators. The BLS doesn’t record data for game designers, but they say this is the closest career they track. So the general information should give you a good feel for the employment and salary trends in this field.
According the BLS, if you don’t want to work for a video game development company, the following industries rank the highest for for multimedia artists, so you should expect similar results if for a video game designer salary: motion pictures and film, sporting goods stores (I’d be curious to see how that works), data processing, independent artists and information services.
The industries with the highest level of employment were: motion picture and film, computer systems design, software publishers, advertising and specialized design services. It’s worth noting that the motion picture industry tops both of these lists, so it may be a good place to start looking for a job when you officially put yourself on the market.
Top states for game designers
There seems to be quite a bit of disparity between states in this field, according to the BLS. In fact, some states barley register for video game design salary. This is probably because many of the video games on the market come from a few major competitors (e.g. Blizzard, EA, Riot Games), which is why we see high employment and high salaries in California.
Anyway, the top-paying sates are California, New York, District of Columbia, Washington and New Mexico. Here’s a map.
The states with the highest level of employment are California, New York, Washington, Texas and Illinois. So, if you’re looking for a job, heading to California or New York may not be a bad idea!
A few related jobs
As you probably would have guessed, video game design is a highly competitive field. Not only do you need some good experience to get a job, you probably also need a solid portfolio of work. It creates a kind of catch-22: you need to have a portfolio of work to get a job, but you can’t get a job without a portfolio of work. So, unless you have been working on your own projects, the best strategy may be to rack up a few years of experience in a related field and transition to game design when you have some work to show.
Above, we talked about some of the other industries you could look into. Here are a few related jobs you could pursue as well.
These aren’t all entry-level positions or anything. In fact, many of them are senior positions. But they represent a few other options. For example, a UX (user interface) designer might work for a GPS company designing the interfaces on car navigation systems (or whatever!). The point is that there are plenty of options. This data comes from Indeed.com, and it was updated in July of 2013.
A short note about my research…
I usually get most of my salary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), since they have the most up-to-date information. However, the BLS doesn’t have salary data for video game designers. They only have data for animators, digital artists and application developers (I still use some of these numbers below to get a feel for which states pay the most and employ the most people, though).
It’s also tough because video game designer salaries vary greatly based on a wide range of factors, like years of experience, the strength of your portfolio and which developers you’ve worked for. And by a lot, I mean a lot. In my research, I saw salaries as low as $35,000 and as high as $200,000 per year.
There are also many different kinds of designers. There are general game designers, who help with the overall design process. There are lead designers, who manage the whole project. And there are specialized designers, who just focus on a few aspect of a game (e.g. level designers). All of these jobs have different salary ranges.
The point is: this is a good starting point, but you’ll probably have to do a bit of your own research as well; especially if you are applying for jobs. Make sure you look at company salaries on places like Glassdoor, where you can see the video game designer salary listed for real jobs.