Pay for Play: 2016 GameSoundCon Game Audio Salary Survey
Originally Posted in emusician | BY MARKKUS ROVITO | August 18, 2016
Cash. Ducats. Skrilla. Cheese. Everybody wants to know who’s getting paid what, but still very few people like to talk openly about it. So it’s no surprise that when you pair one of the most intriguing topics with one of the most sought-after career segments in audio — game music and sound design — the results are always highly anticipated.
Before the popular Game Music and Sound Design Conference, which takes place this year at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel Sept. 27-28 in Los Angeles, GameSoundCon puts out its annual Game Audio Industry Survey to the delight of game audio pros, freelancers, students, wannabes and looky-loos everywhere.
This year almost 600 people responded to questions concerning compensation, contract terms, use of live musicians, experience and education. New questions dealt with freelancer compensation and income breakdown by gender, while new topics for the September conference will include Audio for Virtual Reality and why game audio pros are uniquely positioned to break into that field. Already, 34% of survey respondents are currently working on a virtual reality title.
Must Be the Money
It seems the big question over total compensation is still sensitive enough that 18% of respondents left their answer blank. GameSoundCon also filtered out those answers from the 4% of respondents who listed their experience at the “hobbyist or aspirational” level.
The graph below shows that salaried employees in the game audio industry for 2016 cluster in the $50,000-70,000 range, and that there is another peak at the $150,000 level. Higher salaries tend to go along with job descriptions such as “management” and “Audio Director.”
Here are some more of the significant takeaways from the full 2016 Game Audio Industry Survey.
Mo’ Experience, Mo’ Money
Survey results showed a correlation between longer experience within the industry and higher salaries. The $150,000 mark wasn’t hit by anyone with less than eight years experience, and most earning that much or more had years of experience beyond that.
There was also a potential gender gap shown in the salary results. However, at least part of the salary differential shown between males and females could be chalked up to the males in the survey having an average of 2-3 more years of industry experience than the females (see table). A forthcoming article from GameSoundCon will more closely examine the details of this potential gender pay gap.
Composin’ Ain’t Easy
Not only is it incredibly competitive to land gigs as a game composer, but it’s also unlikely that composing for games will be your only job description. 76% of game composers surveyed also provided sound design services, for example. Hey, no problem, right? Designing sounds rules. But upwards of 40% of game composers also worked on game engine integration and/or audio middleware integration, so clearly having technical skills to complement your composition can give you a leg up. Also, 30% of composers surveyed also worked as Audio Director, which as you’ll recall, usually means a good bump in pay.
It’s Not What You Know
Don’t rely merely on your composition and sound design talent to get work in game audio. Only 17% of the respondents secured their last job/contract from a job posting. Well more than half of them got their most recent job/contract from a referral, recruiter or because they’d worked for the same employer before.
Also, of the respondents who reported receiving 25% or more of their income from audio, 72% of them had a bachelor’s degree or higher. While it’s difficult to say that having less education means you’ll have a harder time finding game audio work, most of the workers in the field have a 4-year degree or more.
Big Money vs. Backend
The survey broke down the games people worked on into three categories: Large Budget Games (Halo, Call of Duty, Uncharted, etc.), Professionally Produced Casual Games (Plants vs. Zombies, Angry Birds, etc.) and Indie Games (boot-strapped and/or crowdfunded games).
As you may expect, the big-budget games generally pay audio professionals the most, while indie games generally pay the least. However, with indie games, you’re more likely to get favorable contract terms such as “per unit royalties,” soundtrack clauses (for earning money off soundtrack sales) and sales milestone bonuses.
See the full report for a lot more overall details and results on the use of live musicians in game soundtracks, audio middleware usage and the impact of education.