Knowing how high (or low) a Video Game Designer’s Salary is or should be, is something I like researching every now and then.
There are lots of factors that play a role here: The Country of Work, the years of experience, level of expertise and many more, that we should be aware of, before looking at what Salary a Video Game Designer is going to make.
First of all, the term Video Game Designer is extremely broad.
There are so many different fields of expertise involved in creating a video game, that we can easily assign 20 individual Experts to designing a video game. Let’s see what some of the most well-known roles look like:
What Roles are there in designing a Video Game
A Video Game Designer, no matter what Salary he makes usually has a lot to do with using a Computer. This is usually a high-end 3D Modeling and Rendering Workstation, outfitted with very powerful Graphics Cards, that can crunch some serious numbers. Some well-known roles include:
Of course, you can start designing and developing your Video Game straight within your 3D Software of choice, be it Unity, Unreal, CryEngine, or many more.
If you want to settle on a consistent design though without having to iterate in your 3D Software (which is extremely time-consuming) it is advised to sketch your ideas, environments, characters, items and so on, since this can be changed and adapted much faster.
A Character Artist will usually design and sketch various poses of a Character and in different environments. He or She draws concepts on how a Character might look in different scenarios.
3D / 2D modeler
All of those Sketches have to be brought into the Computer, either for a 2D or a 3D Game. In a 3D Game, a modeler would shape all kinds of Items and Characters, Landscapes, Trees, Boxes, you name it. Everything that makes up the entire Game.
A Texturing Artist takes what a Modeling Artist has modeled and applies Materials, Shaders, Colors, and Pictures to the Surfaces, so a wooden Stick for example actually looks like Wood and not some greyish clay.
GUI Designer UI / UX
A GUI Designer is responsible for Designing the Graphical User Interface. All of the Buttons, Numbers, Inventory, Game Stats, all that wants to be pretty and pleasing to the Gamer.
User Experience is another very important part of designing a Video Game. UX Artists make sure you Game-Flow is designed well, and you have the buttons and mechanics where you would expect, and of course, make the loot boxes as addicting as possible, so you spend as much money as possible.
A Level Designer creates Levels, places Models, Monsters, set-dresses the Environment to make it look absolutely awesome and lived in.
2D / 3D Animator
A Video Game would be kind of boring if everything were static. This is why Animators take all kinds of Models like Trees, Water, Birds, NPCs, you name it, and animate them to make the Game more believable and fun to watch.
Nothing would be possible without Developers making all of the Game Mechanics, Controls, Interactions, Triggers and a lot more actually do something when you interact with the game. A Button that displays your health? A Developer coded that. Does the camera follow your Character? A Developer coded that.
Does anything happen in the Game? Developer coded that.
A Cinematic Designer comes close to a real-life Videographer. He or She places Cameras and Designs a Cut-Scene Flow as well as prepares Teasers and Trailers for public release before a Game is actually finished.
Sound Effects Artist
All those Modeled, Animated and Coded Game Contents do need some Sound Effects, Voice-Over, and Music to make the immersion skyrocket.
I like Games that don’t have bugs, don’t crash in the middle of a fight, and don’t delete my save. Although it might seem as though Game-Tester is a Dream-Job, imagine testing extremely unfinished products, that crash on you constantly.
Imagine playing the same Quest a hundred times. Where is the fun in that?
Now, these were some of the Roles you can take on as a Video Game Designer in larger Companies. Depending on your level of expertise you might even be looking for a place as a Lead Artist in some of those Roles, or even a Department Head.
Of course the higher up you are, the higher your Salary will usually be.
The higher up you go, the more managing, meetings and paper-work though is usually involved.
Video Game Designer Salary in different countries
Like anything that is created digitally, a larger Video Game also is something that will usually not be developed at one place only.
Depending on the country you are in the Salary of a Video Game designer might differ a lot from other countries. This depends a lot on the cost of living and overall wages in your country.
If you are developing an indie-game yourself though, and you are in a low-wage country, this could be to your benefit.
As you sell your Game through the Play Store, Steam or any other online-platform, you can still charge what others are charging. Or charge less, and get more sales, without having to worry as much about your Salary as someone in a high-cost-of-living country.
Video Game Designer Salary at Companies depends on the level of expertise
Larger Game Design Studio
Now, if you are in a large Studio and work very specialized, you will be able to climb up the ranks and increase your Salary as a Game Designer.
After a few years at the company, you can expect a certain percentage of a raise every few years. It is best to carefully discuss this with your colleague friends that have been there longer than you. They might have something to say about how the company usually goes about giving raises.
If your expertise and also leadership is so great, you might be asked to fill a “Lead” position.
You then usually are responsible to delegate work, see that everyone works hassle-free in your specialized area and take part in “Lead” meetings with Department Heads and Directors / Producers. You can then brief your Team on anything newsworthy.
You Salary as a Lead Game Designer can have a nice pay-bump, usually another 10 – 20 % compared to your former Salary.
The longer you are in the Game Design Industry, the higher a Salary you can usually expect and demand.
You have worked on many projects, know what to do when problems arise, can hold deadlines and know your software extremely well. Especially Real-Work Projects and Situations that you have managed well is what large companies and any employer for that matter, are looking for.
Small Game Design Shop
In smaller Game Design Studios, as there are fewer people, you will usually work more generalistic. This means you will need to know more than just one discipline.
You might be Sketching, Modeling and Texturing. Or Coding and Animating. Small Studios only have a couple of people on a Game Team, and those people have to be able to fill all Roles it takes to Design and Develop a Game.
The Video Game Designer Salary in a smaller Game Design Studio will be higher in my experience, than a specialist in a larger Studio.
The fact, that you need broader knowledge, and have no downtime thanks to the fact that you can switch between various needed Roles, makes you usually more valuable to the Studio.
Being able to do lots of different areas sometimes also means you can’t be as great at every one of those areas as a specialist is, but then again a smaller studio usually doesn’t need to show the same level of quality as a AAA Game Studio.
They focus on smaller Games that have great ideas and good Design and not necessarily on Photorealistic Ego Shooters. A few Game Designer Generalists are usually more than able to pull this off.
Self-Publish / Indie Video Game Designer Salary
A Video Game Designer that wants to design and develop a Video Game alone, usually finds this very difficult.
As I mentioned above, there are so many different possible disciplines involved in creating a compelling Video Game nowadays. Gamers expect a certain level of Quality that a one-man show usually can’t reach.
This shouldn’t hold you back though. You can always ask friends and colleagues to work on a project together and in a way, you then are your own small Game Studio, without all the bureaucratic involved. It has never been easier to self-publish Video Games without a huge Publisher. (Making money from it though is a whole other field.)
Publishers then again have their purpose. They advertise for your game, make sure it is played, but of course, also rake in lots of the cash you would otherwise be making.
.. Be making only if your game would be bought, downloaded and played.
The Salary of a Self-Publish Game Designer is an easy one: You sell your Game, the Platform (Google Play, Steam, Apple Store) takes a piece of the pie, but the rest is yours. That’s your salary right there!
Haven’t we all dreamed of hitting it big? Developing a game ourselves, without any bosses looming above us. Publish it and raking in the money?
The Problem is, the stories we hear of solo- Video Game Designers releasing a Game that becomes viral are extremely rare. It is usually the big companies that do really well.
But fear not, there is another way of earning a Video Game Designer’s Salary. This is probably not for everyone, but I find it to be the best combination of having a fairly steady income stream and still being able to be fulfilled by creating your own Games:
Freelance Video Game Designer Salary
The nice thing about being a Freelancer is, that your time is much more valuable. As an on-staff Game Artist, your hourly rate might have been around 25$ / hour or 200$ / day. As a freelancer, you can double that, easily.
Because the Studio only pays you when they need you. If you have ever worked at a Studio, be it an Agency, a AAA Game Studio, a Motion Design Studio, you name it, there is a good chance you had a lot of time between projects, where there just wasn’t anything you could really work on.
This downtime is extremely expensive for the Studio, as they only make money when you work on projects that make money.
Well, as a freelancer, the Studio wouldn’t have to pay you if there weren’t any work for you to do.
Good for the Studio, good for you, as you can charge much more than when being employed.
The downside of course is, you probably guessed it already: You have to find work.
Freelancing only works when you either know a lot of studios, are in an area that has lots of studios that might need you or are in a field that lets you easily work remotely (home-Office). Working remotely then, of course, lets you work for any Studio, no matter if they are in the area or not.
The Salary of a Freelance Video Game Designer? Easily double that of an on-staff employee… IF you are booked constantly.
Now Imagine this:
You are booked a lot. Everyone loves your work. Your Salary theoretically has just doubled or tripled compared to an employee.
Do you now work non-stop? Never taking a break?
Now that you earn much more than you used to on-staff, you can just take half the time off for yourself and work on your own projects!
This way you probably still earn a bit more than if you are employed, work much less, and even get to work on your own projects on your own time.
That is what Freelancing is all about.
Ok… but what is a Video Game Designer’s Salary?
I agree this article might have gone into the underlying Theory a bit more than is absolutely necessary. But, hey, that is what it is all about. That is probably why you were looking for a Video Game Designers Salary:
You either are planning on breaking into the Game Industry and see if it is worth it. If your Salary will be what you would like it to be.
Or you already earn a Video Game Designer’s Salary and are somewhat unsatisfied and would like to compare it to other’s Salary.
If you are somewhat unsatisfied with what you are earning, then some other possibilities, such as freelancing or developing your own project on the side might be the way to go.
But I don’t want to let any of those hanging who want some straight facts. So let me give you some numbers:
Video Game Designer Salary in different Countries and years of Experience
Entry level starts at 50K / year and goes up to 80K after 10 years of industry experience.
Entry level starts at 28K / year and goes up to 80K after 10 years of industry experience.
Now, I would like to bypass all of those “Salary-Websites” that estimate what you would be earning and would like to present the actual Salaries of people I know.
Of course, I don’t know Game Designers in every country, so it would be a great help if you would comment down below and help extend the list as much as possible.
Help fill in the Video Game Designer’s Salaries in your countries and level of expertise.
Comment with your Country | Job Title | Years of Industry experience | Salary.