The American mainstream videogame industry--including salaried participants in the AAA console and emerging social/online game areas--saw a 7 percent salary increase in 2010 over 2009, according to Game Developer magazine's annual salary survey.
Annual full-time salaries reached an average of $80,817, while independent contractors earned an average of $55,493, and self-identified "independent game" team members trailed with a $26,780 average, up $6,000 from the previous year, the survey found.
Programmers continue to be some of the highest paid talent in both the console and online game industry, after production and those in the business and legal sectors, with an average annual salary of $85,733. Salaries for programmers increased some $5,000 over 2009 numbers, except in entry-level positions, which saw a $1,000 decrease in salary.
Artist and animator salaries hold steady at $71,354, with the slight bump in compensation coming from pay raises for art directors. Game designers earned slightly more, with average salaries of $70,223. And after seeing an overall salary dip in 2009, producers rebounded with a more than $13,000 increase, for a total average salary of $88,544, the Game Developer magazine survey indicated.
Sound designers and composers earned an average of $68,088, with 15 percent of respondents reporting that they earned less than in 2009. The category typically has a low response rate, due to the fact that there are few full-time audio professionals employed in games, but individuals in the field are those most likely to receive royalties for their work.
Home to many entry-level game industry positions, quality assurance remains the lowest paid discipline, with an average salary of $49,009 being reported. Business and legal employees remain the highest paid in the industry across all levels of experience, with the average salary being reported at $106,452. Along with having the second-highest numbers for female representation, those working in business and legal are also more likely to receive additional compensation, with 85 percent of respondents reporting that they had.
Salaried respondents stated that working in the traditional structure is "frustrating," lamenting that larger studios are "trimming talent" and crunching harder. Meanwhile, independent developers, though they made far less money, felt the industry was more fertile and innovative than ever, praising the arrival of new platforms and revenue streams, even going so far as to call 2010 "the year of the indie."