How much does a video game developer make?

Let’s try asking the great Oracle: “How much does a video game developer make?”

“Sometimes enough,  sometimes a lot, sometimes nothing”.

Thank you Oracle your answers are always clear, complete and satisfying.

Hey! Are you still there? As I expected we will be by ourselves.

That Oracle never gives us a right answer, it’s not like I asked for the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Which is 42 if you are interested.

Anyway, don’t worry, with some research we will find what we need to answer the famous question:  “How much does a video game developer make?”

Parameters

Parameters

First of all we need to identify which parameters we need to set to look for the answer.

As you can imagine the money you would earn will depend on the experience for instance you have.

So let’s try to identify these parameters:

Years of Experience

It would be quite different if you are a beginner, in the job language the right term to describe someone who is a beginner in terms of experience for a job is called “junior”, in our case a “junior game developer”.

On the contrary if you are an expert you will be a “senior” so a “senior game developer”.

As we anticipated before the money you will earn will probably be different according to your experience!

Employed or self employed

Another important parameter to be considered is if you are looking for a salary earned as an employee or to be self employed.

While the employee will be employed in a video game company, someone self employed could have two ways of earning money:

  • Distributing his own games and getting revenues from the strategies offered by the distribution platforms ( there are many sub-parameters to consider for instance the number of downloads ).
  • Make games or part of the games on commission.

Country

We have to consider in which country we want to find a job obviously because the amount of money will depend on the taxes and the average of the market .

Strategy of the research

Strategy

Mixing the parameters before we would need to write down an encyclopedia.

Here we will cover the common interesting cases.

But don’t worry I will tell you how I did my research and you can go into more depth yourself if necessary.

Let me tell you what I did to find the numbers we are going to discuss later.

For the game industries I checked on two different big websites for searching jobs. They have a very big database of job advertisements and offers, so they are able to localise and make stats.

The websites are Glassdoor and Ziprecruiter, to access their services of research I needed to subscribe for free.

For Indie game developers I found stats on  Ziprecruiter as well as on youtube.

As I promised I told you immediately where my research comes from.

No secret between me and you like two great friends 😀.

Deep into the numbers

Numbers

Well now let me show you case by case what I discovered, I think it could be really helpful to let you have an idea about the earnings behind video game development. 

All the information I checked is from reports, discussions between  2019 and 2020. Quite recent right?

After each graph you will find the source of the information.

Salaries in the game industry

The game industry is the first world to explore, I was really curious about it. Companies like Rockstar Games famous for GTA for instance, how much do they pay their employers?

I tried to find answers related to United States in general, UK – London and Italy – Milan. Let me show you the results.

United States

UK – London

Italy – Milan

Before discussing what we just saw, I would like to show you more information, please keep going with salaries in job advertisements.

These numbers are a summary I made after my research on Glassdoor. You can go there and do your own research if you want.

Salaries in job advertisements

Let’s keep going, let me show you some salaries offered by job announcements.

Like before I looked for information related to United States, UK- London and Italy – Milan.

United States

UK – London

Italy – Milan

Well now we can try to discuss these numbers.

As you notice the announcements of the companies I found are often higher than the average of the salaries in general.

This probably means that the companies often look for experts and they probably need them immediately so the salary posted in a job advertisement is higher than the average.

Same as before, these numbers are a summary I made after my research on Glassdoor. You can go there and do your own research if you want.

Salaries in Indie game development world

I found also interesting numbers related to Indie game developers salaries, how much they earn when they make a video game as consultants for other companies.

Unfortunately I only found information related to the United States, but I discovered interesting averages related to different periods of time, so you can have an idea of how much it could be good to ask for.

These numbers are a summary I made after my research on Ziprecruiter. You can go there and do your own research if you want.

Revenues in the Indie game development world

One of the most interesting cases for me was to understand how much an indie game developer makes with his own game, obviously there are many parameters to keep in consideration, but I found some information just to give you an idea.

The source I used is youtube so you will find after each graph the link of the related video so you can go and check by yourself.

I got three samples from the videos and I summarised them hoping it will be interesting and helpful for you.

Indie game #1

Here is the first case of a game with not many downloads, some in-app purchases and the advertisements only in the starting menu. If you checked the video the author has also some ideas on how to increase his revenue.

Not so much you will think, but it was his first game and the revenues came only from cosmetic in-app purchases and a few ads shown. We have to consider also that if he didn’t spend money on marketing these 800 downloads are a good result!

If you are curious you can see the full video posted by the author.

Indie game #2

Now it’s the case of a more lucky game, in the video the author says that he has made a few games before but this was his real first challenge. He also explains his experience and what he did to become a video game developer.

What a coincidence! We have an article about How to become a video game developer?. I suggest you to have a look at it.

With more downloads and more people active on the game, the numbers start being a bit different. He invested some money, but the revenue he is getting will repay all the game in a few months. The only challenge for him will be to continue keeping these numbers stable. Good luck man!

If you are curious you can see the full video posted by the author.

Indie game #3

The last game is a game sold on Steam platform (we will talk about this later). The author was pretty quick showing immediately some numbers about his revenue. But he also says some things to keep in mind in the video.

Well not bad in 4 months. He had costs from it, but all his efforts were repaid. Good job!

If you are curious you can see the full video posted by the author.

Steam – Distribution Platform Revenue

Steam

As we saw before, most of the games make lots of revenue if well advertised in the very first period of the release.

Let’s talk about Steam for instance, a video game developer should already have heard about it, which is one of the best platforms for game distribution.

Now I found really interesting data provided by Steam about the new releases in 2019 and they compared the data with previous years.

Steam graph

They just analysed that more and more new releases are earning at least $ 5,000 in the first two weeks. in 2019 they were roughly 1500 games!

Here if you want to have a look at their benchmark.

Conclusion

It was like decoding the Da Vinci code, but we obtained some interesting information.

Keep in mind there are so many variables that it could be impossible to know exactly the truth about how much a video game developer makes.

But we defined an approach: looking at the experience shared by indie game developers and checking the data provided by big job search websites and it was a good one!

Let’s recap what we found:

  • As we guessed the salary panorama changes according to the country and the experience of a candidate in the game industry.
  • Yes, an indie game developer could make money as a consultant.
  • The revenue of a game is often directly proportional to the costs, the more you spend to make it, the more you earn.
  • The revenue of a new release is often higher in the very first period when a game is something new.

I suggest you keep these numbers in mind, they are not perfect, but they can give you a benchmark to evaluate a situation.

Now we can go to bed happy and ready to let these numbers increase as much as they can. But not the costs! 😜
Hope you enjoyed it.

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