April 29, 2010 / 11:06 AM / 7 years ago

A job in video games might not be a virtual dream

<p>Four men work video game controllers during the Sony E3 2009 press briefing in Los Angeles, June 2, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) - If your dream job is to work in the video game industry then the future is looking brighter with industry players seeing a pick-up in the number of jobs becoming available although salaries remain flat.

“Hiring is up from last year, but the market is rough,” said Marc Mencher, president of Gamerecruiters.com.

“Unfortunately, we have roughly 12,000 unemployed in the North American game segment. But with strong growth in the casual MMO (massively multiplayer online) and social games segment, we do see a pick-up in hiring.”

Salaries, however, are yet to follow upwards as the industry starts to recover after video game sales fell 8 percent in the United States last year amid the global financial crisis.

Game Developer Research’s ninth annual Game Developer Salary Survey found the average American mainstream videogame industry salary in 2009 was $75,573, which was a decline of more than 4 percent from 2008’s figure of $79,000.

“Overall, game salaries have risen 24 percent from an average of $60,833 in 2001, the first year we began studying developers’ salaries,” said Chris Remo, the co-director of Game Developer Research and Editor-at-Large at Gamasutra.com.

“For the most part since then, salaries have either risen or remained flat on a year-on-year basis, with the only exceptions being this past year, and a 1 percent decline from 2005 to 2006.”

After a record game industry average salary in 2008, this past year saw the first case on record of a significant average salary decrease as consumer confidence suffered in the midst of a recession and employers looked to cut costs where possible.

Despite the recent dip, 2009 still boasts the second-highest average salary ever.

It’s not unusual for videogame developers to be making $80,000 to $150,000 a year,” said Dr. Peter Raad, executive director of The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University, a leading graduate level game design program.

“That money typically comes from three different buckets, including base salary, profit sharing and bonuses tied to a specific game.”

HIGHEST PAID?

According to the recent survey which focused solely on average salaries, programmers are the highest paid creative talent in the game industry with an average annual salary of $80,320. Those who work their way up to technical directors with six or more years of experience took in an average of $121,750.

Programmers turn millions of lines of code into colorful characters like Mario and photorealistic battlefields.

Artists and animators actually saw a slight 2 percent increase in salaries in 2009 with an average salary of $71,071.

The art department is responsible for bringing game characters, objects and worlds to life from early sketches to the finishing touches on in-game 3D models.

Like artists, game designers saw a modest salary bump on average, up 3 percent to $69,266. The design discipline also includes writers, who make an average of $61,786, a figure right in line with the average design salary of $61,859.

These creative forces are charged with taking a game idea and turning it into a fun and engaging video game.

Video game producers earned an average salary of $75,082 last year. Much like Hollywood producers, video game producers are charged with bringing games in on time and on budget by overseeing the various departments of the development team.

One of the best avenues into the videogame industry remains Quality Assurance (QA) testers, who are the team members who play the game over and over to fine-tune the gameplay experience and fix any glitches.

QA testers made an average salary of $37,905 in 2009, but many testers move on to other jobs within a game studio and those who stay on more than six years can see their salary double.

Outside of the creative development teams, the highest paid jobs in the video game industry are in the business and marketing department. Despite a 6 percent decline from 2008, the average salary was $96,408.

Remo expects game industry salaries to rebound.

“Although the economy has been responsible for some layoffs at various studios, I am personally aware of many who are still hiring,” said Cliff Bleszinski, design director at Epic Games, which is developing new games “Gears of War 3” and “Bulletstorm.”

Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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