‘Game Developers Make Too Much Money’

Accourding to Alexander Hinkley the reason computer games and DLC cost so much to make is because game developers earn too much money and that most of us drive round £40k sports cars on top of amazing bonus payments and other big benefits… I wish!

Obviously I work in the UK game industry and pay might be slightly different over here (but from reading the comments on the article it doesn’t look to be vastly different) but I know many developers (excluding really high up managers and excluding London living costs for some studios) normally get paid between £18-30k up to around 10 or so years experience, with over-time generally not being paid as standard. Also the majority of us could only dream of having £40k sports cars and the reality is that many games get cancelled and people get made redundant/contracts not extended relatively frequently.

Also the reality of these ‘game sales percentage bonuses’, and other such things, is that the majority of the games do not sell enough to actually activate these bonuses and then even if they do the majority of the time they are such small percentages that there is minimal actual bonus coming your way! I don’t know anybody who has actually received a bonus from the sales that ends up being more than a couple of hundred pounds in the last 5-10 years, the only big bonuses like this I have heard of were many console generations ago when the games industry was still new!

It’s an entertaining read, but this guy really does not have his facts straight, enjoy:

The girlfriend of a fairly prominent game developer (who shall both remain nameless for the sake of privacy) recently tweeted that she was having a bad day because she ran over the curb while driving his $70,000 sports car around the city. The tweet has since been deleted but statements like this make one start to wonder if game developers and consequently publishers really should be making enough money to afford $70,000 sports cars to begin with.

Your first reaction might be something along the lines of “well if the game is really good, they deserve to be paid well for working on it,” and that is a valid line of thought until you consider that these costs are then unnecessarily passed onto the consumer. It has become commonplace to see publishers try to nickel-and-dime gamers through downloadable content that should have been included on the disc, micro-transactions, forcing us to pay extra for online passes just to access multiplayer, and even trying to abolish the entire used game market in the next generation because it is “hurting the industry.”

Former Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski (perhaps known best for working on Gears of War) even supported Microsoft’s previous Xbox One policy of restricting used games when he tweeted, “You cannot have game and marketing budgets this high while also having used and rental games existing.”

Perhaps not, but why are game budgets so high anyway? Publishers have routinely complained about the cost of creating blockbuster titles getting more and more expensive in recent years. In the past, a game selling just one million copies was considered to be a success but nowadays they are disappointed when games sell 3.4 million copies in just one month because the costs are so much higher now.

When you juxtapose the idea of publishers and developers complaining about the cost of making a game with the fact that they are driving around in $70,000 sports cars, it gets to be pretty absurd. Have publishers ever thought that perhaps games are getting too expensive to make is because they paying people such huge salaries? According to Game Developer magazine, the average salary for U.S. developers in 2011 was $81,192 a year. It’s probably gone up since then due to inflation. Compare that to the current average salary of a police officer which is $50,745 a year (www.salary.com) or a teacher which can be as low as $39,850 a year depending on the state (www.teacherportal.com). Being a game developer is apparently an even better paying job than working at the CIA which according to http://www.simplyhired.com comes with an average salary of $70,000 a year.

In addition to a high salary, the majority of game developers also receive a myriad of fringe benefits including stock options, annual bonuses, project bonuses, royalties for games they have worked on, medical benefits, dental coverage, and even pension plans. Those who received financial benefits made an average of $17,689 above and beyond their salary (source). In other words, the average yearly earnings of a video game developer is about six figures!

Why are developers making so much money? Their job isn’t life threatening like a police officer’s is and it’s not important to the future of the nation like a teacher’s job is. It might be tedious or even grueling at times and require long hours and lots of commitment, but working in the video game industry is generally fun. People should be working in the gaming industry because they want to create awesome games. Not because they want to become rich. When did the gaming industry become so corporate?

The developer whose girlfriend made the tweet mentioned at the top of this article is non-essential to his particular game’s success as well. He works on the player behavior team helping to discipline players on a free-to-play game which utilizes micro-transactions to earn revenue. Considering it is free-to-play, you might think that having an exorbitant salary doesn’t hurt gamers since the game is free after all, but that’s not exactly the case.

Unless you want to log literally hundreds upon hundreds of hours to unlock new characters and in-game items, you do still have to pay for them. Using micro-transactions can be a very profitable model. Valve recently announced they have sold over $10 million worth of hats on Team Fortress 2. The game this guy works on is much, much larger than TF2 (it sees a daily player base 71 times larger than Team Fortress 2 does) and also earns money from many more things than purely cosmetic enhancements – but stuff that actually gives people an edge in the game. One can only imagine how many sales they make daily. Revenues must surely eclipse numbers in the hundreds of millions each year!

And yet, the publisher has been raising the prices on their in-game items lately. Why? So people working there can afford more $70,000 sports cars?

When gamers buy something, they expect that money to go into maintaining the game or making it better. They don’t expect their money to be put towards people living in luxury. Surely the prices of the in-game items could be a lot lower than they are now if the salaries of employees working there weren’t so hefty.

If developers weren’t making as much, perhaps games wouldn’t need to sell as many copies to be successful either. Keep in mind that many game studios employ literally thousands of people. If the average salary is $81,000, then a studio with 2,000 employees is paying out roughly $162 million in salaries alone. And that’s not even including any of the bonuses of benefits which if the average is $17,000 yearly would be another $34 million. No wonder games are so expensive to make! What if these numbers were cut in half? This would only benefit gamers. Maybe games could go back to being $50 each. Maybe DLC and in-game items would be free to download. Are we to believe there isn’t an equally qualified person out there willing to do this guy’s job for less pay?

It’s no wonder games like Call of Duty (which is not the franchise the dev highlighted in this article works on) can sell tens of millions of copies earning billions of dollars each year and yet the game still does not use dedicate servers and runs horribly online. Where does all this money go?! If Activision is anything like Riot Games, then according to the tweets of at least one very happy girlfriend, it goes towards buying sports cars, fine dining, and expensive jewelry.

Check out the original article for the comments section here.

Here is a very entertaining response from ‘Cannibalcandy: Art Of Izzy’ on Facebook:

This article is an asinine poorly thought out tantrum.

Stick around for subsequent smack down.

Firstly; you presume that you can tell a person what they are allowed to do with their income. You think yourself priest enough, that you can insist what their earnings can or cannot be spent on. I’m not even getting into the amounts they are paid yet, I just need you to be aware that you are essentially saying that you can be upset that a person spends their money on what they want to. You did this in print for all to see, and stand with arms akimbo like you are a proud revolutionary. Zero irony.

Secondly; you carry on in this fit about how game developers make too much. Here is a simple truth. Games are a luxury item. You do not need your games. Yes, police, firemen, and teachers are vital and should be paid their worth. I absolutely believe that, and have voted, and paid to make it so. However you, and the public have put forth your vote on what is most important with your taxing decisions and your dollar. The American society values luxury more than necessity. Need an example? Did you stop to look up how much the designer of aforementioned sports car made? How about the engineer? The CEO of that company? What about the movies that CEO likes to watch? How much do the director, or actors make? A lot more than game devs, and an embarrassingly larger sum than the symbolic Teacher, the Fireman, or the Police Officer. The people of this country value luxury, and thus those that deliver it get paid more. Simple economics.

Thirdly; your math argument is boldly idiotic. “Keep in mind that many game studios employ literally thousands of people.” -False. Most studios, even triple A studios employ literally a few hundred. LITERALLY. Few push into near quadruple digits. Riot, Blizzard, and maybe a few Activision satellites. And I can promise you those dev’s salaries are wildly varied depending on necessity or perceived necessity. (See crushing point number 2).

Your average salary number contains the disparate incomes of Studio Heads, Game Directors, Art Directors, HEAD PROGRAMMERS, and QA teams, likely even janitorial staff, and security. So it’s a very soft average. Did I mention Programmers? They make barrels of cash because their jobs are hard, and supremely vital. Dennis Nedry taught us a valuable lesson of why we don’t fuck with programmers. PEOPLE DIE, MAN!

“If the average salary is $81,000, then a studio with 2,000 employees is paying out roughly $162 million in salaries alone.” -False. We already discussed that salaries vary, and your numbers of employees are yanked directly from your rectum. But let’s get into the budget of a game a little bit. Triple A game budgets are prepared with full knowledge and expectation of what they are trying to make back. It is a business after all. The goal is to make more money than you put in. Logical, right? Investors and publishers DO NOT throw a massive pile of money into a pit and HOPE that they’ll get their return. Budgets to deliver the class of game that YOU and the public have come to demand are large, but not beyond the bare minimum of what they need to be to get that game shipped. Publishers invested the money and they want to make it back plus enough to have made it worth while. Devs are only a tool in that process doing what they love and getting paid to make publishers happy. Devs need to be paid less? Have you ever thought that gamers need to not expect a bowel loosening-paradigm shifting gaming experience from every disc they acquire? Of course not. No gamer does. I love my games as they are. Budgets are up because standards are also up.

“And that’s not even including any of the bonuses of benefits which if the average is $17,000 yearly would be another $34 million.” -False. Your source is for programmers, yet again, the highest paid on the floor devs in the industry. Fluffed numbers aside, most studios do not offer royalties. Bonuses are lean, and usually paid out to make up for profound amounts of overtime. You think seventeen or eighteen hour days are a thing of the past? Crunch is dead? Oh, my friend, you could not be more wrong. I did the math with my own salary and a few others. If you account for actual time at work in an hourly wage, you would find your absurd estimations are down right laughable. Game dev studios perform these crunches to keep from going OVER budget. They spend more time at work than with their families for a thing they are passionate about, to deliver a product that they; in their deepest wettest dreams, hope you will enjoy. I’m not complaining, or whining for them. We love what we do, that’s why we do it. But an interview or two before you churn out drek would really help you not look the fool.

“No wonder games are so expensive to make! What if these numbers were cut in half? This would only benefit gamers.” -True… and False. Yes, the games are expensive. What if the numbers were cut in half? Oh yes! Gamers would benefit, surely, the games would be cheaper. Game devs would not benefit directly, and your games would not be made, or be made sub-par. Enjoy the benefits of your utopian game developing fantasy. Indie games are out there, and they are on the rise. I see you partake yourself. Good on you. But don’t presume to insult or insist that anyone else HAS to take your route of development.

The most damning part of this article is your terrible misrepresentation of Cliffy B’s quote. I hope you purposefully messed that up, because the thought that you actually think that’s a justification or defense for your argument will be an affirmation that I have indeed been wasting my time shedding some light.

He is talking about equalizing the cost to return ratio by removing what the publishers have implied is a seeping monetary wound in the industry and a justified reason for price hikes. He is not saying lower salaries. He is not suggesting that developers ‘make too much’. He is saying lower the cost of production that is being woven into budgets to cover heavy losses in the rental/return market. This is obvious, and I truly hope you just had ill will and malicious intent in including it in the article. No one enjoys dunking on someone that is incapable of jumping. It loses all the fun.

My favorite remark in your article is this: “Why are developers making so much money? It might be tedious or even grueling at times and require long hours and lots of commitment, but working in the video game industry is generally fun. People should be working in the gaming industry because they want to create awesome games. Not because they want to become rich. When did the gaming industry become so corporate?”

This logic could be applied to ANY job. Teachers, police men, corporate officers, architects, scribes of terribly researched and thought out articles, artists, musicians, politicians.

I want you to read it again. Slowly. Try to be objective. That’s generally the job of a journalist. Especially one that gets paid for it. Read it one more time.

If you aren’t cackling with laughter at that statement, you haven’t the forebrain to deal with the world around you, and I hope you are institutionalized for your own safety. The world is just going to tear you apart.

Please take more care when you write. Get more rounded sources, the internet doesn’t have all the answers. Try also to not let your own feelings of misguided injustice lead your fingers into saying things that are so non-purposefully funny.

I hope the Examiner reconsiders it’s gaming journalists with more care and caution in the future. Actually, Examiner? If you are taking applications…

I partially apologize. This is my first response to a ridiculous article like this. So like a baby rattle snake, I am probably spurting more venom than necessary to drop the simple woodland critter I caught unawares.


2 responses to “‘Game Developers Make Too Much Money’

  1. Looks to me like the original article completely destroys that so called reply. At least Alex cited sources in his. The ‘counter’ has none.

    • He doesn’t cite sources but he works in the industry, along with many other people who commented on the original article. Surely first hand experience in the industry is as good/better than random quotes found on the internet?

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