Video Game Audio Engineer Salary for 2016

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This article is part of the Video Game Developer Salary series. Read about the annual salary ranges of all video game jobs, and get advice on maximizing your paycheck throughout your career.
Game sound designer works a mixing board

When it comes to game audio, the toughest part might be landing the gig.

Table of Contents

  1. Game Audio salary: Overview
  2. Game Audio salary: Factors
  3. Search for Game Audio jobs
  4. Game Audio salary: Details
  5. Other factors that affect Audio salary
  6. Demand for Game Audio
  7. Should I become a Game Audio Engineer?

Of all the jobs in the video game industry, the audio engineer might be the most rare – there are significantly fewer audio jobs, compared to most any other role. Why? Partly because it’s common to have a single audio engineer to handle all the game projects for a studio. In fact, many studios don’t employ full-time audio staff at all – they contract their audio work to external freelancers.

But even freelance audio engineers can be paid very well compared to other game jobs. How much do video game audio engineers make? And how much could you make as an audio engineer?

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Game Audio Engineer Salary: Overview

In the game industry, audio jobs go by many names: sound designer, audio designer, audio engineer, and so on. But the job description is similar wherever you go – they make the sound effects, ambient effects, and often the music for the game. Many audio jobs also require the engineer to implement the sounds into the game engine, which can be very technical and engine-specific work, and could even require basic programming skills.

READ  Do video game programmers get to contribute to the game design?

Most game audio engineers are not paid salaries, but are contractors paid on a per-project basis. But for the sake of comparison with other roles in the game industry, we’ll examine their pay in the tables below as annual incomes. Game audio engineer salaries can start as low as $20,000 annually for entry-level audio positions. But they can grow to well over $100,000 per year for very senior audio engineers in lead positions. So, how is game audio engineering pay determined?

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Game Audio Engineer Salary: Factors

Like most jobs, game audio engineer salaries are based on years of audio experience, areas of expertise, and whether there’s a “manager” or “director” in the job title. The more experience you have, the more you’re likely to get paid.

However, there’s also a difference in pay depending on what type of game project is being worked on. Audio engineers working for bigger studios and creating large, AAA-quality games can make significantly more than audio engineers working on smaller 1- or 2-person mobile teams, for example.

Search for Game Audio Engineer Jobs

There are many audio engineering jobs available, but they have different names depending on the state, country and game company. Try searching for job titles like “video game audio engineer,” “game sound designer,” or “game music composer.”

Tip: type any job title, keywords, company, or location

Game Audio Engineer Salary: Details

These figures are generally from three sources: GlassDoor.com, Game Developer Magazine’s annual salary survey, and the annual game audio industry surveys from GameSoundCon.

One way to break down the numbers is to look at experience. Here are the average salaries for game audio designers with various years of experience.

Low Range High Range
Salaried Employee
$30,000 per year $150,000 per year
Freelance (Larger/AAA Games)
$10,000 per project $150,000 per project
Freelance (Smaller/Casual Games)
$1,000 per project $20,000 per project

Other Factors That Affect Game Audio Engineer Salary

The numbers above are averages from hundreds of individual audio engineers, so they’re very general. In reality, there are other factors that can affect how much an audio designer/engineer is paid.

  • Project size/scope. Larger game projects generally have bigger project budgets, which allows them to pay their audio engineers higher salaries or contract fees. For example, GamesSoundCon.com indicates that some audio engineers working on AAA games are being paid over $250,000 per project. That’s nearly 4x the average project fees for audio engineers in their salary survey.
  • Audio engineer skill set. Some audio engineers also use commercial or proprietary tools to integrate their sound effects into the game code. For example, they may create the sound of a creature’s footsteps, and then also use the game engine’s editing tools to specify how and when the footstep sounds are played during runtime.
  • Whether or not asset ownership is retained. When audio engineers work under a “work for hire” contract, it causes the ownership of any audio assets they create to be automatically transferred to the game studio they’re working for. That means they aren’t free to use those assets for projects with a different company. But in exchange, they are generally paid more for their work.

Demand for Game Audio Engineers

As mentioned above, game audio engineering jobs may be the most scarce of any front-line position in the video game industry. I’ve spoken with many aspiring audio engineers that just can’t get a break into the industry because job openings come available so infrequently. Many audio engineers enter games indirectly after holding jobs at more traditional audio studio engineering jobs or internships.

Should I Become A Game Audio Engineer?

If you’re passionate about audio and are comfortable working as a freelancer instead of as a full-time employee, then doing engineering and sound design for games could be a very fulfilling career for you. Just understand that game audio jobs probably number in the hundreds – not thousands – so you may need to work in non-game jobs while you keep your eyes peeled for a game job when it comes available

If you’re interested in checking out some of the top audio engineering schools in your area, just enter your zip below. The info is free, so it’s a great place to start.

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Image: stockimages / freedigitalphotos.net

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