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Video Game Tester 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.
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Table of Contents

  1. Search for Game Tester jobs
  2. Game Tester salary: Overview
  3. Game Tester salary: Factors
  4. Game Tester salary: Details
  5. Other factors that affect Tester salary
  6. Demand for Game Testers
  7. 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.

What Where
Jobs by Jobs2Careers job search

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.

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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. read it

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.

Video Game Tester salary by pay type (hourly vs. salary)

Pay Type Low High
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.

Video Game Tester Salary by experience level

< 3 Years 3 to 6 Years 6+ Years
Tester
$38,000 $41,000 [No data]
QA Lead (Lead Tester)
[N/A] $50,000 $58,000

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.
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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.

Video Game Tester job trends

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.

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

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156 comments on “Video Game Tester Salary for 2016
  1. vivek says:

    hi Mr. Jason… i have several question.
    – I don’t have any work experience, can i get job as game tester/QA?
    – If i get a temporary job will they kick me after completion of job?
    – What should i do to get a permanent job other then temporary job?
    – How much i get paid as fresher?

  2. Brittany says:

    I’m 23 yes old. I’m mentally not able to work a normal job due to my ADHD, but I know I’d love this job. I never get bored of video games an I’m pretty good on focusing on things I’m “interested” in. Plus I have depression issues but video games relax me. I almost got a diploma but was a half credit short, I’ve nvr had work experience, but I desperately want a job I’d enjoy. I’m always at home doing nothing but playing video games anyway. Do u think I’d be accepted if I applied? It’s either this, or try to be a caregiver 4 my bff. I want 2 help with expense so badly. We just lost my grandfather so we have alot less money now. I HAVE to get a job now. My grandma is stressing and needs me 2 get some sort of job.

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Brittany, financial stability is usually the most important thing – it’s hard to think about anything else when finances are a struggle. It’s “nice” to get a job you really enjoy like game testing, but that could take some time unless you live in a city with a lot of testing jobs. In the meantime, one good path might be to get any job you can, and then finish that diploma!

  3. David says:

    Hey Jason. I’m trying to be a game designer but it’s hard being able to do it when I can’t go back to school because of my student loans /: you have any advice?

  4. SARANSH MAHESHWARI says:

    SIR I WANT TO ASK YOU THAT WHAT SHOULD I DO TO BECOME A GAME TESTER .WHAT COURSE SHOULD I GO IN AFTER 12? WHAT SALARY SHOULD I GET ? IS IT A PERFECT JOB

  5. Alex says:

    Hello Jason,

    I am still in high school but currently am searching for what would interest me later on, I love video games but tend to play more on pc than console which leads me to my question : What do you test on? Does it depend with who your testing? Do you specialize in one gaming platform?

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Good question, Alex. If you get a job as a tester, they will provide all of the hardware you need (PC, development kit, consoles or whatever) – you wouldn’t use your own. It’s possible to specialize, especially if you have a job as a compliance tester, but most testers can work on many different platforms as needed by their current project.

      • Alex says:

        are there any studies I should aim for? Anything that would make the chances of me getting taken as a tester higher?

  6. jai says:

    great article ….
    i dont play games for fun as most of friends does ,its a passion for me..
    i live in india and I find that its not very developed in producing and releaseing big games.. what should I do,, which degree or course should I do to start a carrier in gaming…read many of your previous comments you said ,”good to have a degree “ok but of what course in which subject….

  7. kuraireum says:

    what skill do you need to become a beta tester

  8. Brandon says:

    Jason,

    This was a great article with a ton of helpful information. I would appreciate your opinion on some questions that I have about the industry.

    Video games are a passion for me and I would love an opportunity to work anywhere within the industry. I am 25 years old and I have a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and I live in the Seattle area.

    I wanted to know if there are any other jobs that you know of within the industry that might be a better fit based on these qualifications, or if testing would be the better option.

    I didn’t go to school for anything related to computer programming or game design and I wanted to know if that would cause any problems with entering the video game industry.

    Thank you,

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Brandon, since you have an Economics degree then you might want to investigate jobs like “Business Intelligence (BI) Analyst,” “Customer Insights Analyst,” or Product Manager at game studios that have persistent multiplayer games on any platform (including mobile). Those jobs require knowledge of statistics, economics and other areas that you likely have skill with from your degree.

  9. Zeik says:

    Jason,
    I have multiple questions on QA testing because that’s something that I’ve wanted to pursue as a job ever since I played the Sega Genesis. So, I was wondering if you could email me so I could ask you these questions and get some extra help with becoming a QA tester or possibly something greater or if I could email you to ask these questions.
    Thank You,
    Zeik

  10. Tony says:

    How often do companies hire testers?

  11. thisguy! says:

    Yay! I’m the first to post in 2016! That’s all…. Nice article, though!

  12. Alex K says:

    Hello my name is Alexandra and my boyfriend is currently looking for information on QA jobs so he can pay for his Ged and so he can help with my college classes and we had a few questions.

    1) What education level do you need to be a QA? (James has high experience with video games and programming and modding, but just never completed his diploma)
    2) Do you know any testing jobs near Portland Oregon?
    3) what is the likelihood of being able to test at home?
    4) what is the chances of actually getting a job in the field of game testing?
    5) how long do you need to play the game a day/ what is the max amount you can play a day
    6) do you get off days?
    7) is it semi-steady work (Can you keep getting QA jobs for a year or two steadily)
    8) where would you apply to become a game tester?
    9) is the average pay enough to pay for classes with?

  13. Guilherme V. says:

    Hello Jason,

    My name is William, I am 14 years old and I live in Brazil, I wonder if I can work as a QA and Character Animation in a single game developer, for example, work as Character Animation and as a QA in Bethesda… I Don’t know wich one of these two i want to work with and i have some knowledge in Character animation.

    Sorry about my bad english

    Thank you.

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi William, the skills needed to be a Character Animator are quite different from the skills needed to be a QA Tester. You should choose whichever career path suits you best, but you should consider that character animators are generally paid more than QA testers and have more growth potential in their careers. These articles might be helpful for you: Character Animator | Video Game Artist Salary

  14. Lucas says:

    Jason, Nice to meet you!

    I would like to know if it´s too late for a person 30 years old to begin in this industry as a tester or QA. I suppose that the most companies look for young persons. On the other hand, I´m from South America, and we don´t have many companies that produce video games. So, I want to know if there are oportunities to be hired from American or European companies anyway.

    Regards,

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Lucas, there is no age limit for being a software tester. I agree that companies tend to expect younger people for entry-level game tester jobs, but that’s only because entry-level game tester salary may not be enough to support you if you have a family. But if the salary is okay for you then there are plenty of opportunities, you just need to start applying for jobs and interviewing. I wish you luck!

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