Should I move to a big city to start my career in video games?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Julie, who wants to know whether she should relocate to a different city to look for higher-paying game jobs?

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why some cities seem to pay much more than others, but why it may be an illusion.
  • How to evaluate the cost of living differences between two cities
  • The best cities in the world to find video game jobs

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

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Hello and welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide podcast, episode number 5. I’m Jason W. Bay from gameindustrycareerguide.com and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games. Today I’m answering a question from Julie who asks about whether she should relocate to a different city to look for higher paying game jobs. Julie asks, “I’m really considering going the game designer route. But my only doubt is, if I stay in Texas where most of my family is, should I be concerned? I’ve heard the lowest salary averages are in the South so should I just consider leaving my comfort zone and consider moving to California after college?” This is a good question Julie because you’re right. Different cities do pay more salary than others. Sometimes a lot more. However, it’s not quite that straight forward. There is a reason that some cities pay more and that reason is that those cities have a higher cost of living.

What is cost of living exactly? It’s the idea that it just costs a lot more to live in certain cities than it costs to live in others. For example, the cost of renting an apartment in San Francisco, California is more than double the cost of an apartment in Houston, Texas. That’s why San Francisco companies pay more. It’s because it costs a lot more to live in San Francisco. So if they want to attract workers to live in a city like San Francisco that costs a lot, they need to pay a lot to make up for it. What does that mean for you? It means that even though a game company in San Francisco might pay a bigger salary than in Texas, it might actually be worth less once you pay for San Francisco’s expensive rent, food and transportation, and everything else that you need to spend money on just to live.

So the important thing to keep in my mind is that when you are comparing job salaries between cities be sure to factor in the difference in the cost of living. A great resource for comparing salaries and cost of living is payscale.com. That website lets you type in the salary that’s offered by two jobs in two cities and then it will show you the difference in cost of living between those two cities. So it’s a great way to find out whether a higher salary really is a higher salary once you factor in the cost of living.

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Now, even though moving to a bigger city may not pay as much more as you initially thought due to the higher cost of living kind of eating away at your pay check faster, there actually is one really good reason that you might want to move away from home and travel to certain other cities to look for game jobs, and that reason is that some cities are game development hotbeds. A game dev hotbed city contains more game dev studios and therefore more game dev jobs than any other cities. Why would you want to move to a game dev hotbed? There are three very good reasons.

First, cities that have a lot of game dev studios are good for your long-term career security. By that I just mean that even if your game studio has a layoff or even goes out of business, it’s so much easier to get a new job faster when there are a bunch of other game dev studios in your city. People who lose their job in a game dev hotbed often can find a new job just in a matter of days. And that’s because even though one studio might be laying people off there are always other studios that are hiring. That’s just the benefit of living in a town that has a whole bunch of different game dev studios.

Secondly, game dev hotbed cities tend to attract the top talent in the industry. Why is that good for you? It means that as somebody just starting your career, chances are good that you’ll be working with some of the best artists, designers, and programmers in the entire world. Working with top talent is probably the best possible way to learn and advance your career. So, working in a studio in a game dev hotbed can put you on the fast-track to advancing your career.

Third is the idea that size fuels growth and the size of the video game development community in a game dev hotbed city is just much bigger and it fuels growth that much faster. Why is this? It’s because when a group of professional game developers or maybe investors start thinking about where to open a new game studio, one of their top considerations is the ability to easily find experienced and talented people to hire. You want to open up a new studio in a city where it’s easy to hire people into your new game studio. These game dev hotbed cities, they have more developers than anywhere else. So it’s common for new development studios to be started in those game dev hotbed cities. That means more job opportunities for you because there are more game dev studios available for you to choose from now and in the future.

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Which cities are game dev hotbeds? Well, the top five game dev hotbed cities in the USA are in order: San Francisco, which has the most game development studios in the US, next is Austin and then Los Angeles, then Seattle and then Chicago. If you’re not inside of the US, the top hotbed cities in the world are in order: Tokyo with the most, then London, then San Francisco, Austin and then Montreal, Canada. Those are just the top five. If you want to see a comprehensive list of all the game dev hotbed cities in the US and the world ranked by number of game dev studios, you can read the article called “Top Cities for Game Development Jobs” on the website. I’ll put a link to the article on the show notes or you can just Google for “top cities for game development jobs” and you’ll find the article that way.

So, Julie when you are thinking about where to look for your first job making games be sure to consider those two things: the cost of living in each city and whether you should think about moving to a game dev hotbed city to start your career.

Well, that’s it for today’s episode. Thank you Julie for the question and thank you for listening. If you like what you heard, please consider helping me out by telling your friends about this podcast or by liking the track on Soundcloud or by leaving a review on iTunes. I would really appreciate it. It would help me a lot. For more information and inspiration on getting and growing your job making games, visit gameindustrycareerguide.com. Thanks again and I will see you next time right here on the game industry career guide podcast.

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