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Video Game Designer Salary for 2017

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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.
Man wondering How much do game designers make?

You can make games. But can you make money?

Table of Contents

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

When people find out that I work at a game studio, there’s always one or two in the group that excitedly explain how badly they want to become a video game designer. They love to play games, talk about games, and read news about games. Boy oh boy, they’re passionate about games!

I always encourage them to follow that passion. But I also temper it by describing what a brutally hard job it can be at times. Once their enthusiasm simmers down a bit, the next question is usually a little more practical: How much do video game designers make?

Game Designer Salary: Overview

It’s a good question, but it’s complicated. Salary ranges for game designers can vary dramatically depending on several factors. Where is the studio located? How big is the company? What platforms are you developing for? Are you in an individual contributor role, or a leadership role? To muddy the waters further, the game designer job description varies a lot from studio to studio.

If you just want a quick-and-dirty answer, here it is: Game designer salaries start around $50,000 annually for entry-level design positions. But they can grow to well over $100,000 per year for very senior designers or designers who are leading teams. And some companies pay their game designers even more – a lot more. With a salary range that wide, how is designer pay determined?

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Game Designer Salary: Factors

Like most jobs, game designer salaries increase based on years of experience and by job title. This makes sense. As a designer becomes more experienced and learns additional skills, they can work faster and create higher-quality results. They also make fewer mistakes that could cause their work (or the work of their team) to be thrown out or redone from scratch.

It’s worth noting that designers are not paid based on their great ideas. This is a really common misconception. Do you have an awesome original game idea? Do you suspect it will make you rich, if only you could get hired as a designer? Think again. That’s not how it works.

Video game development is a team sport, and great ideas are a dime a dozen. Everybody on your team will have great ideas. Many of them will be better than yours. A designer’s salary is based on how well they can build a fun game as part of a team, not as a “creative genius who calls all the shots” while others do the heavy lifting.

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

Search for Game Design Jobs

There are many design jobs available, but they have different names depending on the state, country and game company. Try searching for job titles like “game designer,” “level designer,” or “content designer.”

What Where
Jobs by Jobs2Careers job search

Game Designer Salary: Details

Okay, let’s take a look at the numbers in detail. These figures are generally from three sources: GlassDoor.com, Game Developer Magazine’s annual salary survey, and my observations based on designers I’ve worked with plus my own experience as a game designer.

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

The various game designer salary levels, based on years of experience.

Under 3 Years 3-6 Years 6+ Years
Game Designer
$55,000 $67,000 $80,000
Lead Game Designer
N/A $72,000 $105,000

Note that there isn’t data for Lead Game Designers with under 3 years of experience. As you may have guessed, this is because designers are rarely promoted into leadership positions in their first few years.

Another way to break down the numbers is to look at each game design salary based on job title. I think this is more useful because it gives a salary range. It also decouples job title from years of experience, which more closely reflects how game design careers actually flow. You don’t get promoted just because you’ve been doing the job for a certain amount of time. You get promoted based on the quality of your work and the amount of project responsibility you can handle.

The annual salary of a game designer based on job title

Job Title Low High
Associate Game Designer1 $50,000 $65,000
Game Designer2 $50,000 $85,000
Senior Game Designer or Lead Game Designer3 $55,000 $105,000

1 The “associate” job description is generally applied to designers just starting their careers.
2 The standard “game designer” moniker applies to established designers for most of their careers. There are many sub-titles such as “level designer,” “combat designer” or “systems designer” that fall under this catch-all umbrella.
3 Many companies have 2 career paths that a designer can take. They can continue as an individual contributor, or they can lead a design team or a portion of a design team. The salary ranges are similar.

Other Factors That Affect Game Designer Salary

The numbers above are averages from many hundreds of designer salaries, so they’re very general. In reality, there are other factors that can help designers beat the averages by quite a lot.

  • Company/studio size. Larger companies generally have bigger project budgets, which allows them to pay their game designers higher salaries. For example, GlassDoor.com indicates that some senior designers at Microsoft are being paid as much as $125,000/year. That’s 25% more than a typical senior designer at other studios.
  • Education background. New game designers come into the industry through many different paths. But one path that seems to garner a higher starting salary is getting a degree or certificate in game design from a college or university. Designers who come through game design schools tend to already have a portfolio of games that they’ve made as school projects. It gives employers confidence in their abilities right from the start.
  • Sector of the game industry. In addition to “traditional” game studios, there are other sectors within the game industry. And some of them seem to pay their game designers a lot more money. For instance, GlassDoor.com shows game designers are paid as high as $170,000 at companies that make gambling video games.
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Demand for Game Designers

Like it or not, the game industry is a cyclical business. It can be boom and bust – there are good years and there are bad years. The chart below illustrates the general demand for game designers, based on the number of monthly job postings that include the term “game designer” in their description at Indeed.com (a job-posting aggregator).

Note that this approach can give a lot of false positives. For example, a given job posting might actually be for a Server Engineer but it would show up in the data if it mentioned “must work well with game designers.” But that’s okay for our purposes because we’re interested in the trends, not the absolute numbers.

Video Game Designer job trends

This chart makes it clear that demand for video game designers is highly cyclical. Why is that important? Because of the laws of supply and demand. In years when demand is high, designer salaries will be high. And when demand is lower, salaries will be lower. It’s worth keeping an eye on the trends when negotiating salary at a new job or when asking for a raise or promotion.

Should I Become A Game Designer?

If you’re passionate about making games and think that becoming a game designer is your dream career, then I hope these numbers are encouraging. Designing video games for a living is not only an extremely fun job, but it’s also a great way to make a living. How many jobs can you think of that will pay you $100,000/year salary for spending all day doing something you love? If you ask me, I’d say that becoming a video game designer is about as good as it gets.

An easy way to get started is to watch these videos to learn the basics  of Unity 3D, an insanely popular tool for making cutting-edge 3D games:

If you’re thinking about a career in game design, it’s never too soon to start gathering information. Enter your zip below to check out the top design schools near you. The info is free, so it’s a great place to start.

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Image: ponsulak / freedigitalphotos.net
Sources: Glassdoor.com | Gamasutra.com | Indeed.com

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300 comments on “Video Game Designer Salary for 2017
  1. Shereef says:

    how high in demand is the career video game designing

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