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Forecasters expect the video game industry to continue its growth surge. In 2020, market analysts valued the global video game market at $167.5 billion. By 2027, they believe the value will reach nearly $291.2 billion.
Video game designers make both creative and technical contributions to video game development. However, their duties, job options, and salaries vary depending on location, education, and experience.
This guide covers a video game designer's typical tasks and job outlook, plus different video game design careers.
What Does a Video Game Designer Do?
Video game designers combine creativity with technical skill. Their duties include:
Developing game ideas and mechanics Creating characters and storylines Creating gameplay scenarios Building and testing game prototypes
Video game designers play a key part in larger creative and technical teams. Game designers often work alongside game developers, quality assurance testers, programmers, artists and animators, and writers.
Newcomers might confuse game design with game development. These career paths overlap, but have different objectives. Designers focus more on the creative side. They come up with and develop the ideas that define the game. Developers apply advanced technical skills to bring designers' ideas to life.
Core skills for a successful video game designer career include:
Storytelling and worldbuilding Coding Advanced user-experience insights
Designers who can "think like a player" may fare especially well in this career.
How Much Can You Earn as a Video Game Designer?
Video game design careers tend to pay higher-than-average salaries that reward hard work and experience with pay raises. For example, Payscale reports that video game designers earned an average annual salary of $66,894 that increases by 15% with 5-9 years of experience.
According to a February 2022 report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), U.S. tech salaries are rising. SHRM attributes the increases to strong labor market demand for skilled tech professionals.
Average Annual Salary of Video Game Designers, Feb. 2022
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Video Game Designer Salary by Experience
How much does a video game designer make? As the table below illustrates, it depends on experience.
The average salary of a video game designer begins around $57,000. This is slightly higher than the U.S. median for full-time workers. Salaries tend to rise significantly over time: Experienced professionals enjoy average earnings close to the six-figure mark.
Video Game Designer Salary by Education
Many educational paths can lead to video game designer careers. Some students pursue schooling specifically in game design. Others go for more general fields like software development, then apply their knowledge to the gaming industry. In both cases, degree levels appear to have a direct impact on earnings.
Associate degrees can lead to entry-level roles. Advancement potential – and higher salaries – often begin with bachelor's degrees and peak with graduate degrees. These trends reflect the knowledge and skills that graduates of higher-level programs may develop.
Bootcamps offer an alternative educational pathway. These programs develop targeted skills on compact timelines. However, degree-holders may experience higher advancement potential and salaries than non-degree holders.
Discover which education path is right for you:
- Degrees in software engineering
- Bachelor's degrees in software engineering
- Master's degrees in software engineering
- Game design and development bootcamps
- Coding bootcamps
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Video Game Designer Salary by Location
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track salary information specifically for video game designers. The BLS salary data below covers all software developers, including those working in the video game industry.
Some technology companies have begun adjusting salaries based on location and local costs of living, also known as location-based pay. It reflects changes resulting from the dramatic increase in remote work that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cities, states, and locations with more technology companies tend to offer higher pay rates. This reflects competition among employers to secure the best available talent.
|Metropolitan Area||Number of Software Developers Employed||Annual Mean Salary|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||77,900||$157,480|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||64,310||$144,740|
|State||Number of Software Developers Employed||Annual Mean Salary|
Career Outlook for Video Game Designers
BLS projects an increase in demand for software developers from 2020-2030. The video game industry might reflect similar trends. Market researchers project the global video game industry to grow by 73.8% from 2020-2027.
Job opportunities may increase in locations with more game studios. The subsections below break down location-specific career outlooks in terms of total job numbers and projected growth rates.
Projected Employment Outlook for Software Developers, 2020-2030
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Best Locations for Video Game Designers
Many factors impact earning potential for video game designers. These primarily include cost of living and competition among employers for job candidates.
Video game designer salary averages tend to be highest in areas with:
Relatively high living costs Well-developed technology industries Numerous video game studios
For example, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Austin each have many game studios. As such, it is not surprising to see each of these states represented in the table below.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a strong impact on employment trends in the tech industry. Rising remote work opportunities may influence location-specific employment data.
|State||Number of Software Developers Employed||Annual Mean Salary|
|State||Percent Projected Change, 2018-28||Average Annual Openings|
Source: Projections Central
Career Opportunities for Video Game Designers
Like other professionals, video game designers operate at various seniority levels. The career path of a video game designer often begins with junior roles. At this entry-level stage, professionals work under the supervision of more experienced designers and creatives.
Video game design job postings sometimes use the phrase "shipped titles" to determine an applicant's experience. A "shipped title" is a game that has actually reached the market.
Employers value shipped-title experience because it indicates firsthand knowledge of the entire game development lifecycle. Professionals with shipped titles in their backgrounds may be more in demand among employers and qualify for higher-level roles.
Video Game Designer Salary Questions
Are video game designers in high demand?
The global video game industry is experiencing an extended boom period. Observers believe the sector's strong and positive growth trends will last for the foreseeable future. Experts project that qualified professionals will enjoy high and rising demand during the 2020s.
What is the average video game designer salary?
In February 2022, Payscale reported $66,420 as the average video game designer salary. Many factors influence individual earnings, including degree level, skill sets, and professional experience.
What degree is best for video game design?
Accredited degree-granting institutions offer video game design programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Many industry experts and professionals recommend these specialized degrees. General degrees in fields like computer science and software development can also lead to gaming industry roles.
Where are most video game designer jobs located?
A 2021 Forbes article cited California as the top U.S. state for video game designers. Other major U.S. destinations include Austin, Seattle, Chicago, and New York. Internationally, cities including London, Vancouver, Montreal, and Stockholm rank highly for video game designers.
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