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How Much Do Game Developers Make?

Just how much do game developers make? Can they make more as a freelancer or a salaried worker?

Michael Smith, Blogger

July 3, 2017

4 Min Read

I get asked this question a lot, mainly from people who want to become a developer themselves. I’m more than happy to help people get involved with this industry if I can, even if I feel like my own success is more down to luck and good timing than anything else. However, I’m not always happy to tell them how much I earn.

My earnings in the beginning were a lot less than now, and my earnings today might be more or less than next month or even tomorrow. I have royalties coming in, but I make money through freelance projects mainly. My own projects are like any other business. There is profit and loss, risk and reward. I know how much I make, but I also know that that figure isn’t the whole story. 

So, instead, I prefer to focus on the hourly rates, the freelance projects and everything else. I’ll tell them that they can make more money by creating their own games, investing time and money and taking risks. But I’ll also insist that they should start either by freelancing or by working for a major company. Where those two things are concerned, this is what they can expect to earn.

Freelance Game Developers

Developers should always start on sites like Upwork, because even though the focus is writing and SEO, there is still room for developers and other artists. That’s how they can cut their teeth in this industry. If they have the skills and qualifications, but not the experience, they can expect to earn around $30 an hour. They will be able to find sporadic work for the first few months and will enjoy as much work as they want after that.

Within a year or 18 months, they will have enough experience to start quoting more. They can jump to $50 at this point, before going to $100 after 2 to 3 years. At this time they won’t enjoy complete freedom, but they will eventually find full-time work and should be able to earn $30,000 a year part-time and up to $100,000 full-time.

This is more or less the ceiling limit. Clients don’t pay more on Upwork and it’s not easy to find projects elsewhere. By this time, however, freelancers should be able to work fast, almost 3 or 4 times faster than they used to. They will also know how to effectively outsource and supervise, as opposed to doing everything themselves.

When this happens, then it is possible to hit a quarter of a million dollars if you use several platforms (Upwork included) and work full-time. It will take at least 5 years to get to this stage though. I know someone who made it within a year, but only because they were lucky to find a single high-paying client and because they had all the experience they needed beforehand. I also know someone who started out with no experience and has just started to make that amount of money after 6 years (when Upwork used to be known by other names).

Jus bear in mind that “full-time” in the world of freelancing literally means full time. You will often have to work in excess of 100 hours a week and it’s rare to work less than 80. 

Contracted Game Developers

If you take work in a company and work a basic full-time job, then you can expect to earn around $50,00 a year without much issue. However, the bigger companies will pay up to $100,000 for more experienced developers who have proved their worth in their company or another.

According to official statistics, the average wage for an experienced game developer is just a fraction under $70,000.

So, while there is a more stable wage in this industry, and while the entry level wage is stronger, there is a smaller upper limit and less potential to be rewarded for putting all of that extra work and that extra effort in.

Not the Best

Okay, so those figures are not the best to begin with. And because this is becoming a more competitive market, you might reject the notion of direction your child towards a career in game development. But there is more consistency here and that’s key.

I have friends who are successful writers, artists and web developers, and they don’t make that sort of money for years. It’s true that game development is becoming more competitive, but that doesn’t mean that it will be harder to find work, because the need will increase with the amount of developers.

It’s the same with lawyers. It might seem like a saturated industry. There are certainly a lot of lawyers out there, including a great number of personal injury lawyers, but they all still make a lot of money and they will continue to do so. If you make it as a lawyer then you’re set. No struggles. No competition. You will make a lot money from start to finish and that’s it.

I think the same will apply to game developers in years to come. So, don’t fret and start leading your kids towards this career today.

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