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Gender Gap and the Game Developer Salary Survey

Game Developer magazine editor Patrick Miller comments on the latest Game Developer Salary Survey and the gender gap in the games industry.

So the April issue of Game Developer is out, which means -- you guessed it -- it's time for the yearly Game Developer Salary Survey. And unsurprisingly, coming off of plenty of gender-centered happenings at GDC last week (which were, in turn, preceded by gender-centered happenings elsewhere in tech the week before), a few folks cracked open the Salary Survey to discover that women in the game industry are generally paid significantly less than their male counterparts in any given development discipline.

First off: As the editor of the magazine, I'm really happy to see that people are paying attention to gender-related issues in the game industry, and I'm doubly happy to see that our work on the magazine is helping draw attention to it. (No one writes letters to the editor any more!) It's worth noting that these issues aren't particularly new, either; from what I can recall of previous salary surveys, the gender pay gap has stuck around in the games industry for quite some time. So: Props to those who saw these numbers and got "irate" (in the words of one Twitter user) -- you're not the only ones.

Second: It's worth pointing out that the notable exception is programming, where female devs are paid a few thousand more -- but given the fact that women programmers represented only 4% of surveyed programmers overall, and 2011's survey had women programmers making $10,000 less than men, I'm inclined to think that this year's result is an outlier rather than indicative of an industrywide trend; the raw data indicates that those numbers came from a pool of 494 male programmers and 22 female programmers. Which leads me to my next point...

Third: Upon seeing the rather shocking pay disparity between men and women in the games industry, many people asked to see how the male/female breakdown related to years of experience in the industry to see whether the male wage advantage was due to having more male devs with more years of experience than female devs -- the idea being, presumably, that we want to know whether the game industry is paying men more than an equally-experienced woman, or whether the game industry is paying men more because there are more men with 6+ years of experience in the industry than women.

In other words: Is the gender gap due to sexist biases that devalue women devs, or is it due to the relatively scarce number of experienced women devs in the industry?

The real answer, of course, is probably "both" -- but I digress. We compared experience levels to gender and discipline (using only data for U.S.-based salaried devs, mind you -- the salary survey itself uses worldwide data unless otherwise specified), and here's what we found. 

Across all disciplines, the men we surveyed are more likely to have more experience. 623 male devs have over six years of industry experience, 426 devs have 3-6 years, and 284 have less than three years. Women were mostly in the 3-6 year range (77), then >6 years (50), then less than three years (46). So, yes, a higher proportion of highly-experienced male devs means we'd expect higher salaries for men than women overall. To me, this seems to reflect what we as an industry already know; it's not a particularly hospitable industry for women (as indicated by the meager gender ratio), meaning they're less likely to stick around than men are.

Production seems to be the most viable long-term career discipline for women. Production had over twice as many women respondents with over six years of experience than any other discipline (19). Interestingly enough, women with three years of experience or less are more often found in art and animation (17). Women devs in the 3-6 year range, meanwhile, fell all across the spectrum; 22 producers, 17 artist/animators, 15 designers, 11 programmers, 10 in biz/legal, 2 in Q/A, and 0 audio (audio and QA comprise our two smallest respondent pools, so no surprise there).

The sample size is small. The respondent pool we're using for this post (U.S.-based salaried devs) has the same gender ratio as the overall salary pool -- roughly 11% women. When we survey a relatively small population (game developers) and then slice that data further and further (only women, salaried, in the US, segregated by discipline and level of experience) the numbers are only going to get smaller and smaller, meaning it's harder to draw very specific trends.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Now, back to work on the May issue! And stay tuned -- we're planning to tackle this topic in more depth in the future.

Patrick Miller
Editor, Game Developer 

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