game designer

Game Designer Salary: Complete Breakdown 2019

There are over 2.5 billion gamers globally with the video games market predicted to be valued at over $138 billion by 2021. This is from its previous $115 billion worth in 2018.

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Now, let’s cut to the chase.

A Game designer salary can be in the range of $50,000 annually for entry-level positions and exceed $100,000 for top-level designers, even though the job description of a game designer varies greatly depending on the studio.

Such data shows the potency of a career as a game designer and why a lot of career opportunities are opening up for game designers.

As a matter of fact, in 2016, the games market was responsible for the employment of 65,678 people in the United States alone.

The gaming industry is rapidly growing, and a lot of people are curious about what game designers earn. However, while that’s a great contemplation the answer is a bit complicated.

The salary range for game designers has a lot of variations all dependent on the numerous factors which can vary tremendously.

For example, what is the size of the organization?  Where is its location? What gaming platforms are the games developed for? And what is your role in the Company?  Is it individual, leadership or contributory?

These are questions you must consider.

However, before we get into the details of the salaries of the various levels let’s find out what exactly determines the salary of a game designer.

Determiners of a Game Designer Salary

Just like in most fields, game designers have salaries is dependent on years of experience and the level of the designer or job title.

This is because as a game designer as you grow in the field you garner more skills and make a lot fewer mistakes, hence, your work and that of your team won’t get rejected as it would if you had too many rookie mistakes.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that in the gaming industry there is a lot of collaboration and your work would end up being rated as a team rather than individually.  

So, if you have an idea that you’ll get paid higher due to a brilliant idea, that’s wrong. It’s all about the collective effort and delivery.

Now, besides these there are other major factors that you need to take into consideration when trying to determine what you’ll earn as a gamer designer:

a. Studio or Organization Size

This is where you can use the juvenile phrase “captain obvious”. Larger organizations have bigger projects to deliver and hence have a bigger budgetary allocation for the projects, which means game designers get paid higher.

Take, for example, Microsoft. A typical game designer working for Microsoft is paid within the salary that of $108,270 to $127,689 annually according to a Glassdoor.com statistical analysis.

This is with the average salary being $122,076 after the inclusion of bonuses which makes it 25% more than the average senior designer earns at other companies or studios.

This shows salary variations can be quite much depending on where you work.

b. Certificate or Degree

There are so many different ways game designers step into the industry, however, one thing that determines a great starting salary is the degree or certificate of the game designer.

This is because game designers who are coming for a game design college have a lot of samples in their portfolios that display their skills and creativeness. This would help an employer to have confidence in the skills of the designer from the get-go.

c. The Game Industry Sector Involved

The sector of the game industry you are involved in has a big say in the kind of salary you can expect as a game designer. There are other areas besides the “regular” game studios.

For example, Glassdoor.com revealed that organization’s that create gambling video games pay their game designers up the $170,000 and that’s a lot higher than the average game designer salary as we’ve seen above.

d. The Boom or Bust of the Industry

Regardless of what anyone may think, it’s a fact that the game industry is a roller coaster. It can rise and fall – meaning there are high years and low years in terms of demand.

Take for example, in 2015, franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, which have maintained their popularity for a while, suddenly experienced a surge in demand.

And this happened immediately the ability to download the games on various consoles opened up and the usage of mobile devices became widespread

This surge in demand fueled a huge rise in revenue for the gaming industry.

The chart below shows how the industry experienced a huge leap as a result of a 47% sales increase in mobile gaming and a 37% increase in PC and digital consult games purchases.

The data goes to show that demand in the industry can directly affect the kind of money flow it experiences and this directly relates to game designers. In a sector where there is higher demand, it’s obvious that the pay for a game designer would be more.

Hence it’s worth keeping an eye on the trends associated with the industry to know when there is a boom or bust, as this will help you know what type of salary to expect.

Now we’ve seen the factors determining what you can earn as a game designer, let’s have an in-depth look at the various salary scales for several levels in the industry:

1. Junior Game Designer Salary

Junior game designers are individuals who already know the ropes with regards to their skills and what they do. According to Glassdoor.com, a junior level game designer will receive anything from $5,300 USD monthly or $63,239 USD annually.

Regardless of whether it is on individual projects or test work, being at the junior level means that the employee is aware of what he/she is to do and doesn’t require excessive guidance.

However, this does not mean that junior game designers are not supervised but the fact is that they are more than capable of producing quality results on their own.  But in terms of skills, junior game designers still have a lot of room for improvement.

It’s important to state though know if you fit into the role of a junior game designer is a bit complicated. This is because knowing when a game designer becomes a junior one or a senior is all dependent on the organization involved as there are no predefined rules.

Of course, there are certain skills that would take you to the next level; nevertheless, these “skills” are a little vague to generalize.  

Now, when it comes to the salary, as we’ve already seen, it is dependent on various factors. However certain sites like Glassdoor.com are able to provide accurate estimations.

2. Senior Game Designer Salary

The position of a senior game designer is one of the most admired and desired ones in the gaming industry. Senior game designers have a lot of experience and skills which gives the work they do more credibility as well as quality.

As a senior game designer, you can expect a great salary and according to Payscale.com, you can expect to get anything in the range of $88,045 annually or just over $7,400 monthly.

Most times, senior-level designers are assigned various tasks which are seen as the most difficult ones in their organization. Aside from this they are also tasked with supervising new intakes into the team and triple-A design.

These are extremely essential members of the organization and their salary showcases this.

3. Principal Game Designer Salary

Principal game designers are top-ranking designers and in most organizations they are the highest rank of a designer, normally higher than a senior game designer.

As a principal game designer, you can expect an average salary of $171,323 annually according to Paysa.com which ran data on over 23 principal game designers across various sectors.

Nevertheless, as you can see above salaries can get up to $219,274, all dependent on various determining factors.

So basically, principal designers are gurus in the industry at the top of their game but they do not manage other designers as a senior designer would.

However, currently, that is changing as senior designers are being given the rank of principal in order to recognize them as a top senior designer, while they maintain their roles.

4. Glassdoor Game Designer salary

As we’ve seen already Glassdoor.com is a website that deals with accurate average salary estimates based on statistical data gathered.

And based on its job postings, the average game designer’s average salary is $73,182 annually with a monthly earning of $6,765.

However, at the top-earning level, salaries can get up $102,000 yearly.

5. Lead Game Designer Salary

The Lead Game Designer is responsible for planning and supervising the work of game designers in his team. He establishes the standards for design documentation and also ensures that the objectives of production are achieved.

The monthly salary of the lead game designer in the United States is within the range of $4,250 to $9,667. Based on this salary range, as of 2018, as a lead game designer you’ll only pay a federal tax rate of 24% of your salary. This salary scale is certainly good enough in most states in the USA.

Lead game designers actively take part in the creation and development of the game.

He/she is tasked with the responsibility of understanding the needs of the target audience and ensuring that the games created, satisfy their needs.

Once the desires of the customers are understood, he/she proceeds to plan the work, allocate duties to members of the team, set priorities for the design of the game and also gives visibility to the development of the game.

The lead designer doesn’t just allocate duties to team members and then sit back and watch he also actively participates in the creation of the game and ensures that it is a success. Selecting quality team members is also the responsibility of the lead game designer.

The responsibilities and duties of a game designer in this role are so much, and that’s why they earn well in the industry.

Even though there is no set amount for the salary of this position, a reports show that the average annual salary of a lead game designer in the United States is $90,116.

This is according to a survey released by ZipRecruiter in May 2019, which also reveals that the top annual salary of a lead game Designer ranges around $116,000 to $145,000.

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This salary varies based on the years of experience of the designer and the location.

6. Freelance Game Designer Salary

A Freelance game designer is a game designer that is self-employed; and isn’t committed to working for a particular company for a long time; rather you work for one or more clients at a time usually from the comfort of your home.

For a freelance game designer to be able to get clients, he needs to build his portfolio by constantly publishing games. Asides publishing works, he will also need to build his network by going to meetings, events, and even co-work with other well-known freelancers in the field.

Being a freelancer in the industry requires efficiency and productivity. To be able to achieve this, time management is of the essence, the more you know how to manage your time, the more money you will be able to make.

As a freelance game designer you need to search for clients, especially at the beginning of your career. Clients can be found in events, through recruiters, and on websites. It is easier to get jobs when you upload your CV to websites.

As far as your CV contains the required skills and abilities, clients will definitely get in touch and award you contracts. Freelancers always have to be cautious with clients especially in terms of payment because some clients do not keep their part of the agreement.

So, to avoid this, the freelancer will ask for at least 20% advance deposit before commencing the work and he will be balanced the remainder after the job is completed and delivered. If the job is a long term one, payment is usually made every two weeks.

The salary of a freelance game designer is usually based on how much work you are able to do on a daily basis and the level of experience or expertise you have in designing games.

The location of the freelancer will also determine how much he can charge and how much clients are willing to pay. Usually, freelance game designers consider a lot of factors before charging their clients and one major factor they consider is how many days they will spend doing the work.

Once they are able to estimate the number of days it will take to carry out the task, they will then charge the client based on the length of time it will take. Jobs that take one or two days to finish usually cost less than jobs that take about a week to be completed.

Having understood what a freelancer does and the factors he considers before charging a particular amount for a job, let’s look at the statistics of the salaries of freelance game designers.

Through careful consideration of freelance designer job listings online, ZipRecruiter pegs the hourly wage of a freelance game designer within the range of $23 to $44 within the United States.

The hourly wage doesn’t really vary so much from state to state in the United States.

The weekly wages of can be as low as $346 and can be as high as $2,990. And the average weekly wage of freelance game designer in America is $82. What’s more? Location also does not affect the weekly wages.

According to the same report  released in May 2019, the annual salary of freelance game designers in the United States is within the range of $48,000 to $91,000 and the average annual salary is about $43,000.

Another survey  showed that freelance video game designers earn an average of $60,500 per annum.

Below is a chart  showing the figures.

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As stated earlier, how much money a freelance game designer makes daily, weekly, monthly or annually is based on how much work he can get done within the week, year or month.

A freelancer determines how much he/she makes by how well he/she maximizes his/her time.

Freelance game designers are not employees that have a stipulated salary set by their company, for freelancers, how well they work determines how much they will be able to make.

Some make higher than others because they get more jobs done than others or they have more experience and expertise in game designing.

Depending on the location, freelance game designers also have to pay tax. In the United States, it is 20% of the earnings.

7. Video Game Character Designer Salary

A video game character designer is responsible for creating the look and the feel of the animated characters of the game.

Currently, the starting salary of game character designer at entry level is usually around $35,000 per annum.

Character designers with less than three years’ experience earn about $55,000 while those with three to six years’ experience earn about $65,000 dollars. And those with over six years of experience earn $80,000.

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In years when the salary for the entire gaming industry is low, character artists  go home with about $45,000 annually, while character animators go home with $40,000, in years when the earnings for the gaming industry is high.

The character designer also creates well-rounded and vivacious characters for the game.

A video game character designer is uses many things at a time; he/she is an illustrator, a game artist, a concept artist and an animator who sees to the designing, fleshing out the look and bringing to life every character of the video game.

Initially, video games used to have boring characters that looked like a colored square but with the help of character designers, the characters have evolved into three-dimensional well-colored characters that give life to the game.

Over the years there has been an increase in the demand for game artists due to the fast evolution of the gaming industry.

Below is a graph showing the demand for game artists in recent years.

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Game character designers first have to create a mental image of the character and then proceed to sketch out the draft of the character and at the same time the past and future of each character is being detailed out and fixed into the context of the game to bring them to life.

After this is done the designer proceeds to use 3D modeling and computer graphics to design and animate the character, by molding its movement, adding color and adding the sound of the voice of the character.

Next, the character designer then proceeds to add finishing touches to it to make sure that it blends well into the game.

Being a game character designer requires a lot of creative and imaginative mental capacity.

A Character designer needs to have in-depth knowledge of animation to be able to bring every character to life. He also needs to be proficient in all the technical knowledge required to animate the characters.

Despite the fact that game character designers carry out a huge chunk of the work in the creation of the game; their salary isn’t the highest in the industry.

Before we look at the salary, let’s examine some factors that determine the earnings of character designers.

The first determining factor of the take-home salary of game character designers is the years of experience. The character designer tends to earn more if he has more years of experience.

Another determining factor is the art style of the character designer. It is important to find a country that matches the skills and styles of the designer because it will increase how much he earns.

Take for example,  a designer that specializes in anime art style working for a company that makes use of gritty sepia-tinted first-person shooter art; it will be hard for the designer to be paid well because his style does not match the demands of the company.

Working in a company that matches the style of the character designer can boost earnings as well.

As we’ve already seen above the size of the company or studio can also affect how much a character designer can earn.

Big companies tend to have projects with bigger budgets more than small companies and this enables them to pay their character designers a high salary.

Furthermore, the ability of a game character designer to generalize or specialize in different art styles can determine how much the designer earns.

Some companies prefer to hire designers that are able to work on any kind of style while large companies’ value artists that have specialized skills in one area because they tend to deliver high-quality work hence their pay will be high.

Having examined the factors that can influence the salary of game character designers, let’s look at what the take-home pay of game character designers looks like.

A salary survey  carried out by Game Developer Magazine in 2011 revealed that the average annual salary for game artists and animators was $71,354; this is low compared to what other industry professionals such as executives of production and programming earned.

Executives earned an average of $106, 452; producers earned $88,544 while programmers earned $85,733.

The gender of the game artist also influenced the take-home pay, while the male artists or designers earned an annual average salary  of $72,924; the female artists earned an average yearly salary of $59,224.

Most workplaces give their workers benefits and game character designers are not left out of it, about 74% of game artists had an additional income averaging $12,711 annually.

This extra income came from employer contribution to retirement plans, annual bonuses, stock options, royalties or profit sharing and 99% of them are entitled to medical insurance.

The annual take-home pay for character artist is $100,000 while that of character animators is $105,000.

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The average  annual salary of a video game artist or designer is $53,488, however, as they gather more experience and develop their skills, the annual salary increases.

4. Game Design and Development Salary

Video game developers or video game designers are responsible for developing software and are also responsible for creating video games, they are also actively involved in the different aspects of the creation of the game ranging from the concept of the game to the story writing, coding, and programming of the game.

They are also involved in the visual arts, audio, and design production of the game.

The game designer is the one that dreams up the entire design of the game, the entire initial framework for the game is created by them and they ensure that the design is followed in order to get a favorable end result.

A video game developer, on the other hand, is responsible for the conversion of the idea of the game designer into the actual game. The vision of the game designer is brought to reality by the game developer.

The work of the game developer is to turn the layouts, storyline, and sketches of the designer into a playable product. This is done by the writing of numerous codes that will represent the thought of the designer.

Video game designers and developers earn quite well when compared to their contemporaries in the industry. But the salary is dependent on certain factors like the level of the designer or developer, the location of the designer or developer and the company that the developer works for.

Take, for example the International Game Developers Association  which pays entry-level video game designers between $50,000 and $80,000 yearly with the average being $57,500, with the highest recorded salary in IGDA being $200,000.

Animationarena.com  on the other hand pays 3D animators between $50,000 and $60,000 annually while 3D programmers earn up to $55,000.

Lead game developers, on the other hand, are paid around $150,000 to $250,000.

Learndirect  pays experienced designers and lead programmers about $850,000.

As you can see the pay varies based on the company. However the general average salary for video game developers is $83,739. The salary ranges from $52,000 to $127,000 in the United States.

See the graph below

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The salary of junior game developers is $71,724.

Job Description of Game Designers

We’ve seen the average and top salaries of the various game designer levels and that’s great but what exactly would you do as a game designer on a daily basis to earn your salary?

Well, the job description of a game designer is quite broad. Yes, it’s quite the common thought you believe that all one would need to do is design and draw specific aspects of a game. However, there are numerous other activities; employees in this industry must carry out.

For instance, game designers job description involves various parts of the game far beyond the character or landscape design. Things like icons, navigation buttons, menu boxes, etc. are all within the responsibilities of the designer.

Furthermore, in most cases, game designers work on more than one task at a time. This is largely due to the rise of online-based games.

As a matter of fact, online-based games are predicted to yield $12.7 million in 2019, with a 2.5% annual growth which will result in annual revenue of $14 million in revenue by 2023.

These games which are usually multiplayer games are constantly evolving and hence, game designers have to keep up with the trends.

Conclusion

The game industry is one that is ever evolving and has numerous deciding factors. This is why it’s important to keep yourself abreast with the latest trends in the field to know exactly you should expect as a salary for your position.

What’s more? Always keep in mind that the determinant of what position you fit in is highly dependent on your organization as each one has a unique requirement for what they consider a junior or senior game designer.

However, in most cases, you can be assured of getting the perfect salary for your skill set. Just take the information given here and arm yourself in expectation of what you salary scale you’d fall into.