Which video game job pays the most, and what education is required?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Mark O., who asks, “I’m wondering, in game development, which is the highest paying job, and how much experience would I need? And what would I have to study in college to get on my way to this job?”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Which video game jobs have the highest annual salaries
  • Which game jobs require a college education, and which ones are more flexible
  • Why one of the game jobs is the easiest way to start out

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, hello. Welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide podcast. This is Episode Number 15. I’m Jason W. Bay from GameIndustryCareerGuide.com. This is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games.

Today’s question is from Mark O. Mark wrote: “I’m wondering, in game development, which is the highest paying job, and how much experience would I need? What would I have to study in college to get on my way to this job?”

Passion doesn’t pay the bills

For starters, kudos to Mark for thinking about one of the more practical aspects of his future career, because it’s not always just about following your passion. It’s also a good idea to think about whether your future job would pay enough to support the lifestyle that you’re hoping for. The salary ranges can vary significantly between the different game jobs. Some start out higher than others, and some have much higher salary caps than others, later on in your career.

Just a quick note, I’ll go over the major career paths and salaries now, but you can find all the in-depth information, including the breakdowns of salaries between the job subcategories on the game developer salary series. Also, for the sake of this discussion, I’m going to give all of the salaries in US dollars.

Okay. There are a lot of different jobs in games. But today, I’ll go over the salaries and education requirements of the most common career paths, which are programming, design, art, and QA (or testing).

Code to cash

The programming path includes jobs like game play programmer, systems programmer, tools programmer, and so on. Programmers can also be called developers or, sometimes, engineers. As with all jobs, the entry level salary for programmers will vary depending on locations, studio and other specifics. In general, programming jobs start around $40,000 per year and can easily reach over $100,000 per year after you’ve had six or more years of experience, even if you don’t pursue a leadership role. That’s in contrast to most of the other game job types where it’s normally only possible to break $100,000 salary if you lead a team.

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For education, most programming jobs will ask for a bachelor’s degree in a field like computer science, or a related field that emphasizes computer programming. There are also specialized schools that offer degrees in game programming specifically, or in what’s called real-time interactive systems.

Design on a dime

Next, let’s look at the game design career path. It includes job titles like game designer, systems designer, and so on. Entry level salary for game designers starts at around $40,000 per year, and it tops out around $100,000 per year for very senior, or lead game design jobs.

The education requirement for game designers isn’t very standardized. Game designers can come from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from computer science, to art, to media or the humanities. But many designer job postings will mention that they want you to have a Bachelor’s degree in something, even though that’s not always a hard requirement.

The art of the paycheck

Okay. What about art careers? Game art careers can include jobs like animator, concept artist, environment artist, and others. When it comes to salaries, game art might have the widest variance in pay, depending on which area of art you’re working in. In general, an entry level artist is paid around $35,000 per year, but some, such as 2D artists, can start as high as $60,000 per year. Artists can make upwards of $80,000 per year with six or more years of experience, or even as much as $110,000 per year for art lead or art director roles.

Most art jobs will ask for a bachelor’s degree, especially in an art-related field of study. Many colleges and universities actually offer video game-related art degrees, which is great. Many others offer a video game or interactive media focus as part of their traditional art degrees. Most any of those would be a great way to start a career in game art.

Paycheck quality is assured

Lastly, let’s talk about game testing careers, also called quality assurance or just QA for short. This is probably the most popular career that interests young people, and it’s probably also the easiest type of job to get in the game industry. Unfortunately, that also means that it’s got the lowest average pay of all the game jobs. Entry level game testers can start as low as $38,000 per year, or sometimes even lower for hourly workers or contract workers. And the maximum average salaries can top out around $60,000 a year, and that’s even if you become a team leader, or you run a small QA group.

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If there’s a silver lining for QA careers, it’s this: Part of the reason the pay is lower than the other game jobs, is because the education requirements are also lower. So it’s way easier to get a testing job, even if you don’t have a formal college or university degree.

That should give you a nice overview of the major video game development jobs, and what type of education would be good to start down a game career path, along with how much you could make once you get a job, and how much you could make after several years of experience in that position.

Thanks to Mark O. for the question. And thank you for having me along with you today at the gym, on the bus, or wherever you happen to be listening right now.

If you liked my show, please leave me a review in iTunes. Your review will help others find this podcast, and it will let me know that you liked what you heard.

Would you like more information and inspiration on getting and growing your job making video games? Then visit me at GameIndustryCareerGuide.com. If you’d like to have your question answered here, just ask in the comments, or send me an email.

I’m Jason W. Bay. See you next time, right here, on the Game Industry Career Guide podcast.

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