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Table of Contents
- Search for Game Tester jobs
- Game Tester salary: Overview
- Game Tester salary: Factors
- Game Tester salary: Details
- Other factors that affect Tester salary
- Demand for Game Testers
- Should I become a Game Tester?
When I was a kid, everybody dreamed of growing up to be an astronaut or a firefighter, a ballerina or a doctor. Things have really changed! Ask a modern kid what they want to become. Even the old standbys of “teacher” and “pro athlete” have been bumped off the wish list, replaced by something that once seemed out of reach: a job as a video game tester.
By now, most grown-ups know that getting a job as a video game tester doesn’t mean you sit around and play games. But it is a great way to break into the game industry. In fact, I’m the poster boy for starting as a tester: I began my career in QA, went on to become a designer and an engineer, and then eventually a director in charge of multiple departments. (I did go to school to learn programming, but only after I’d started my QA job.)
After you’ve done your research on what a video game tester actually does, you may wonder about a more practical matter: What is an average video game tester salary?
Search for Game Tester Jobs
There are many testing jobs available, but they have different names depending on the state, country and game company. Try searching for job titles like “game qa tester,” “game tester,” or “game quality assurance.” Another common approach is to start as a tester in any software company, and then move to games once you have experience on your resume.
Video Game Tester Salary: Overview
Not all testing jobs are created equal. Unfortunately, many studios treat their QA department as second-class citizens – and pay them accordingly. At others, the testing and QA groups are treated as key partners in developing video games that are stable, bug free and fun.
What I’ve observed is this: The studios that treat testers as an integrated part of the development teams tend to pay them more. The studios that treat the testing group as a sectioned-off “service” group tend to pay less. They also use more contract and temporary testers and the turnover in their QA departments is higher as a result.
If you just want the high-level overview, here it is: Video game tester salaries start around $18,000 and top out around $55,000 annually for experienced lead testers. But it’s important to keep in mind that testing jobs at many companies are temporary positions. That means the company might not pay for the tester’s health insurance, applicable employment taxes and other benefits that are offered to permanent workers.
Game Tester Salary: Factors
Like most jobs, a video game tester’s salary will increase based on years of experience because they get faster at finding and reporting bugs at a higher accuracy. They also develop strong instincts about particular game systems, engines and platforms, so they can zero in on issues more effectively than testers that are just starting out.
One thing that’s important to keep in mind: Many studios consider the game tester job description to be a “non-exempt” position. That means they’re not on a salary like the other members of the game development team. Instead, they’re paid hourly and must be paid overtime when applicable. This sounds great at first because you could make a lot of extra overtime money during crunches. But all overtime must be pre-approved by a manager. And since projects are usually on a tight budget, overtime is often denied – instead, you work extra hard in your normal 40 hours. Not fun!
Another important factor is whether the position is full-time employment (“FTE”) or full-time temporary employment (“FTT”). FTT workers generally aren’t given as many benefits as FTE positions, and may not be allowed to participate in team bonus plans and other valuable perks. When you’re comparing testing jobs at different companies, be sure you’re comparing apples to apples by finding out whether each is FTT or FTE. Ask the studio’s recruiter or human resources person for a “total compensation statement” if you’re not sure.
To learn exactly how to test games and get a job as a Game Tester, read my book Land a Job as a Video Game Tester. It will teach you the basics of game testing, and walk you through the process of applying/interviewing/accepting game tester jobs. It has everything you need to know to get a job testing games.
Game Tester Salary: Details
Okay, let’s take a look at the numbers. These figures are generally from three sources: GlassDoor.com, Game Developer Magazine’s annual salary survey, and my observations based on testers I’ve worked with over the years plus my own experience as a tester.
Since many testing jobs are paid hourly, let’s compare the wage vs. salary data.
|Hourly||$8.00 per hour||$14.00 per hour|
|Salary||$16,000 per year||$35,000 per year|
Note that salaried positions seem to pay more per year than hourly jobs. Another way to look at the numbers is by average salary per job role. These numbers from GDMag’s annual survey appear to be much higher than the wages posted on GlassDoor.
|< 3 Years||3 to 6 Years||6+ Years|
|QA Lead (Lead Tester)|
Note that testers generally don’t make Lead until they have a few years of experience. GDMag did not list an average salary for Testers with 6+ years’ experience.
Other Factors That Affect Video Game Tester Salary
The numbers above are averages from many hundreds of video game tester salaries, so they’re very generalized. In reality, there are other factors that can help testers beat the averages.
- Company/studio size. Larger companies generally have bigger project budgets, which allows them to pay their testers more. For example, GlassDoor.com shows that Big Fish Games may pay their hourly testers up to $16 per hour, which appears to be much higher than the industry average.
- Benefits. Some studios pay health, dental, vision and other benefits to their testers. Others don’t. These perks can add up to thousands of extra dollars each year. A “total compensation statement” will itemize the dollar value of any perks above and beyond base salary.
- Bonus structures. For studios that choose to include their testers in the company’s team or project bonus plans, a commercially-successful product could bonus as high as 40-50% extra income to a tester’s base pay.
Demand for Video Game Testers
Like it or not, the game industry is a cyclical business. Unfortunately, studio testing departments are generally hit the hardest during downward trends. The chart below illustrates the general demand for video game testers, based on the number of job postings that include the term “video game” plus either “QA” or “tester” in their description.
Note that this approach can give a lot of false positives. For example, a given job posting might actually be for a Gameplay Programmer but it would show up on this graph if it mentioned “work with video game testers to resolve bugs.” But that’s okay for our purposes. We’re interested in the trends, not the absolute numbers.
This chart shows that demand for video game testers is dramatically cyclical. Even within the normal boom-and-bust cycles of the game industry, QA testing can be an unstable job. Console release cycles, big industry events like GDC, and holiday release schedules can all cause teams to load up with testers – only to let them go again after the big milestone has shipped.
Luckily, there’s always another game being developed just around the corner. Many QA testers regularly move between studios, and there always seems to be enough work at any time of year. Even when there aren’t many testing jobs in the game industry, many QA skills transfer well to other software companies.
Should I Become A Video Game Tester?
Tester salaries are certainly lower than most other jobs in the game industry. Testers usually don’t have a professional degree like the artists, designers and programmers (although you can learn some of those skills on your own). But don’t let that put you off, because testing is a fun and rewarding job. And it’s full of awesome people!
And guess what? The “foot in the door” stories are true. I have many friends that started in QA and went on to become amazing designers, producers, programmers and artists. And I started my own career as a video game tester – it’s a great way to get started in games. (Check out my book on game testing to get started for yourself.)
Besides, how many jobs will pay you to spend all day working with unreleased games while you get industry experience or finish a degree? If you want to turn your love of games into a job, then being a QA tester is an incredibly worthwhile place to start building your career.
If you want to level-up your salary, a professional degree might be just the thing. And it’s never too soon to start collecting information. Enter your zip below for free info on top game design, art and programming schools near you.