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 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.
***Editor’s NOTE: Alex’s views are his own and may or may not represent those of RealGamerNewz and the rest of their staff. This article will not be taken down for any reason(s) citing the 1st Amendment of the United States of America. Thanks, -RGN Staff