Industry in flux: What we learned from Game Developer's 2012 Salary Survey

The 2012 Game Developer Salary Survey is available in the April issue of Game Developer magazine! U.S. average salaries rose, layoffs continue to trend downwards, and devs are worried about change.
The April 2013 issue of Game Developer magazine is out, and with it comes another installment of the annual Game Developer Salary Survey! Every year, Game Developer surveys thousands of developers to find out how well (or poorly) the industry compensated them in the prior year. Here are some of the key takeaways; if you want to find the full survey article, you can grab the April issue at the GD Mag website. Overall salary for U.S. devs has increased. This year's average for U.S.-based game developers is $84,337, which is up approximately $3,100 over last year's average. 64% of developers made more money in 2012 than 2011, 29% made the same, and only 7% made less. Overall salaries for Canada-based devs also decreased slightly, while salaries for Europe-based devs hovered around the same level. Layoffs continue to trend slightly downward. 12% of respondents were laid off at some time in 2012, which is 1% lower than 2011's rate and 2% lower than 2010's rate. Overall, we've seen a 7% decrease in layoffs over the last three years. The gender gap is alive and well. Men are paid more than women in every development discipline except programming (where only 4% of surveyed devs were women). Medical, dental, vision coverage are on the rise. We saw an increase of roughly 15% across the board in medical, dental, and vision coverage. Indies still struggling. Despite the fact that indie devs are receiving more attention than ever before, the average indie still isn't very well-compensated; individual indie developers averaged $23,130 (down $420 from 2011), and members of indie teams averaged $19,487. Devs are concerned about industry changes. At the end of the survey, developers had the opportunity to tell us how they really felt in an open comment box -- and boy, did they tell us. Here are a few of those comments:

The Bad

"It was more enjoyable when it was less mature." "QA is undervalued and not compensated fairly." "I'm seeing the failures (some spectacular) of more and more studios lately. New ones are sprouting up as well, but it doesn't feel like there are as many new ones as there are failing old ones. I worry about long term sustainability for my career as I continue to get older (I'm 41 now)." "When I got my first industry job in 2005, it felt like there were all these Sure Bet Career jobs out there. Now, less than 10 years later, I can't think of a single job that will be safely guaranteed to be around for 5 years." "I hear dentistry is in demand." "We're a bit stuck in the mud. I don't see a whole lot of pure innovation (but I'm not sure that's really what people want anyway). I'd like to see some honest excitement in games again because I think we're getting a bit predictable." "It's difficult to get in to my line of work. All the jobs that exist are filled. Companies that don't have writers or editors can't be convinced that they need them. It's really a pain."

The Good

"It was refreshing to see smaller, more unique games get recognition this year." "Lots of turnover, but lots of new opportunities for smaller companies." "I absolutely love the industry I work in. I can't imagine any other career track. Quality of Life is picking up, crunchmongering developers are dying off, and new business models are supporting innovation like never before." "The variety of opportunity (given the huge rise in casual and independent games) is greater than ever." "Not always the highest paying option, but the games industry is the most rewarding career path I could imagine." "There's no better way to earn a living. While it has its ups and downs and unique challenges, I'm very happy to be working within it, and hope to do so for a very long time."

On free-to-play

"F2P rules." "Free-2-play. Do you speak it!?" "A bit sad that it's now focusing on monetization than ever." "Monetization sucks." "This current influx of quick-cash-grab F2P and social games is strongly reminiscent of the early 80s pre-crash boom." "It's been a downward spiral. Soon, you will have to pay people to play your games. In fact, it's already happening!"

On Consoles

"2012 was the first year I noticed our company strongly recognize the importance of personal devices and how they can enhance a console experience. I've worked for a major first party developer for over 15 years and they've never acknowledged the existence of anything besides their own platform. Now they're realizing that strong titles may need to include multiple devices, some of which may not be made by themselves." "I would feel like an outdated dinosaur developing for consoles... even unreleased hardware. Mobile is clearly king and developers must react or continue to shut their doors." "The bloodletting in console dev is scary, especially since mobile/indie doesn't seem to have the $$ to pick up the talent."

On Mobile

"The mobile and casual space is quite the exciting area to be in." "Mobile games suck." "The mobile space is very competitive, and not very profitable." "The obsession with mobile platforms taking over is just another trend. Of course mobile is and looks to remain a very viable platform for monetization; however, developers should stay more focused on pleasing customers than trying to figure out the next big profit wave to ride. That'll be the key to a respectful future." "Mobile/casual games are a scary potential direction. The games the casual market wants to play are not the games I got into the industry to make. I would, ideally, never want to work on creating a low-budget, monetizing treadmill."

On Indies

"There are more opportunities for indie developers, but less for everything else." "There are more ways than ever now for indie game developers to do well and publish their games." "In 2012 I felt like a drop in the app store ocean, and that as an indie, I had neither the development resources, nor the marketing budget to compete. That has since changed in 2013 as I'm now developing for the OUYA, and it feels great to be part of a small but growing community with prospects, and be involved at something from the ground floor." "It's a great time to be an employee in mobile/web, but it seems like financing is drying up for people who want to start their own companies. "Going indie" isn't really viable in expensive places like Silicon Valley, so the "day job" can feel like a prison at times." "There is an obvious and exciting increase in the number of opportunities for game developers on an individual and independent level. Anyone who wasn't working on a personal project in 2012 is falling behind." Don't forget to check out the money-themed April issue of GD Mag for the full survey!

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