On the surface, game development seems like a great career option since you get to create video games for a living. But how well does it pay compared to similar job profiles like software development?
Game developers earn less than software developers. In the US, game developers get around $71k/year, whereas $97k/year is the average salary in software development. Software developers make more because they’re more versatile and the industry is less competitive and risk-prone.
In this article, I’ll give you a detailed breakdown of the salary differences between game developers and software developers. Following this, I’ve also highlighted why software developers make more.
Differences Between Game Development & Software Development
Game developers generally earn less than software developers, but the salary isn’t everything. If you’re looking for a better career option between these two, you’ll need to consider factors like required qualifications, working hours & overtime, office environment, and job security.
I’ve put together a table highlighting all these factors to help you compare game devs to software devs.
|Factors of Comparison||Game Developer||Software Developer|
|Required Qualifications||A CS degree|
Knowledge of C#, C++, etc.
Experience with digital artistry and character animations
|A CS degree|
Experience working with databases and computer networking
|Working Hours & Overtime||Typically 45+ hours work weeks|
Often work overtime, especially around game launch dates
|Typically 40-45 hours work weeks|
Overtime is rare
|Office Environment||Fun, chill, and relaxed||Casual yet professional|
|Job Security||More likely to get laid off after game launches||If you update your skills, you’re likely not to get fired|
To help you get a better idea, I’ve expanded on each of these points:
According to Glassdoor, the average salary of a game developer in the US is $71k/year. Entry-level game development jobs start at around $41k/year, whereas more experienced developers can expect $124k/year or higher.
That said, most game developers who reported their salaries were getting around $41k-50k/year.
In contrast, the average salary of a software developer is $97k/year, with a low of $68k/year and a high of $140k/year. Also, most software developers who reported their salaries were getting around $90k-100k/year.
Overall, the data points towards software development as a better-paying job than game development.
Here’s a rough look at the most common skills & qualifications required to land an entry-level job as a game developer:
- A bachelor’s degree or higher in Computer Science
- Knowledge in C# or C++ (most popular languages in game development)
- Some knowledge about digital artistry & character animation
- Experience or knowledge using game engines like Unity, Unreal Engine, etc
- Experience or knowledge with iOS & Android development (specifically for mobile game development)
In contrast, an entry-level software developer is ideally required to demonstrate the following skills and qualifications:
- A bachelor’s degree or higher in Computer Science
- Knowledge of and experience using software development frameworks
- Understanding of relational databases with working-level proficiency in SQL (or similar technology)
- Knowledge of computer networking
Now, it’s worth noting that the specific skills & qualifications will vary between companies and what they’re looking for. I encourage you to browse job portals like Indeed to get an idea of the current in-demand skills for job profiles you’re interested in.
Working Hours & Overtime
The game development industry has a bad rap for pushing employees through long sustained periods of overtime hours, infamously known as the “crunch.”
In 2021, as per GDC’s State of the Game Industry survey, only 56% of game devs reported enjoying a standard 40 hour week. Around 21% had to work for about 41-45 hours a week, whereas the remaining 23% reported an average of 53.5 hours work weeks.
Also, right before big launches or patch releases, which can happen multiple times a year, developers must work overtime. According to the same report, close to 30% of game devs faced at least 1 week when they had to clock in for more than 60 hours.
On the flip side, software developers enjoy smoother and more stable working hours. According to a 2020 global survey by StackOverflow, more than 75% of developers work for less than 45 hours a week.
Keep in mind, this is a global survey, so you can expect longer or shorter workweeks, depending on where you’re working and the particular project.
Also, similar to game devs, software devs also work overtime during big product launches or if the team is behind preset client deadlines. That being said, most reputed software companies utilize an efficient system to get work done on time and avoid unnecessarily overworking their employees.
Specifics on the office environment will depend on which company you’re working for, but typically game developers get to enjoy a fun, chill, and relaxed workspace. There’s rarely any dress code, you’ll likely have a gaming console to help unwind yourself, as well as research games, and the cafeteria should have all the chocolate bars and coffee you need.
Overall, you’ll find the office space optimized to promote creative thinking, as that’s a crucial aspect of developing good games.
The office environment is relatively more professional and somewhat mundane for software developers.
Here, too, will likely lack a dress code, especially if it’s a product-based software company and not an IT consultancy. That said, you’ll have to get through most of your work from your cubicle. You’ll likely get a private cabin if you’re a senior-level developer. Most offices will have a snack-filled cafeteria, but you probably won’t have any gaming consoles.
You might also be interested in: Can a software engineer become a game developer?
Job security is rare in the IT industry, but game developers have it worse.
Most game developers are laid off when the game/project they’ve been working on is published. After that, it’s time again to start job hunting. However, there’s a possibility your previous work skills might not be appropriately valued because the type of game you worked on has already gone “out of trend.”
Software development is a relatively more secure career option. If you update your tech skills and stay on top of current technologies, then you’ll most likely get to keep your job and might even find yourself in line for a promotion or raise.
Reasons Why Software Developers Make More Than Game Developers
By now, it should be clear that software developers enjoy a better paycheck than game developers. But why is that?
Well, there are three main factors at play (pun maybe intended):
- Skill Versatility
Let’s go over each of these points in more detail:
Software development, albeit competitive, isn’t nearly as crowded as game development.
A lot of people in IT want a job working with games, either in development or as a tester, resulting in higher competition. Companies take advantage of this and offer less pay knowing that someone is available to work for that amount. This is also why game publishing houses are so quick to lay off employees, as they can easily hire more developers if and when necessary.
In contrast, not many people flock towards software development, making it a skill in high demand but with less supply. As such, companies are willing to pay more to hire the necessary talent.
Software development is far less risky compared to game development.
A game is a consumer product, and whether or not a game is profitable depends on how many users have bought it or are actively playing it. A game publishing company must first invest in developing a title, and if it’s a flop, they make little to no return.
As a result, game developers are paid less to mitigate the risk as much as possible.
In contrast, software developers can create consumer products or develop custom solutions for clients and businesses where the pay is huge, and often a portion is paid upfront.
This makes software development far less risky, allowing for better pay for the developers.
Software developers are much more versatile than game developers, providing them with better job security and higher pay.
A software developer has the necessary skill set to adapt to different project types. They can start working on a simple web application but then branch out to create mobile apps or more complex customized projects for high-paying clients and businesses. Their skillset also allows them to work on specific aspects of game development.
On the flip side, a person solely trained in game development will require training in additional technologies before they can work on different projects. This makes them less flexible, which leads to a lesser paycheck.
The average salary in game development is around $71k/year, while it’s close to $97k/year in software development. Game developers are also more likely to get laid off, and they have longer work weeks than software developers. However, the work environment is comparatively more fun, chill, and relaxed in game development.
Overall, if you’re passionate about game development and don’t mind spending extra hours working on character models and 3D animations, then it’s a good career option. But if higher pay and stability is your main concern, then software development is the better choice.