Video Game Designer Salary and the Skills You Need to Maximize It

Video games are a big business, with the most popular titles earning billions of dollars. Given all that money in play (so to speak), how much do video game designers earn? Is game design more lucrative than other technology jobs?

For an answer, we can turn to Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country. According to the platform’s calculations, video game designers make a median annual salary of $85,943 per year, and those with more than nine years of experience can easily earn six-figure salaries. Meanwhile, Glassdoor plugs game designer salaries at $117,191 per year.

(For comparison’s sake, the latest Dice Tech Salary Report placed the average technologist salary at $104,566, up 6.9 percent between 2020 and 2021.)

Pay within the video game industry can vary wildly, of course. Indie game designers who craft a hit can earn many millions of dollars—potentially even billions, in one notable case. But game designers also complain about relatively low pay, long hours, and the dreaded “crunch time.”

Are Game Designers in Demand?

According to Lightcast, employers posted some 3,361 openings for game designers over the past 12 months. Although gaming is wildly lucrative and popular as an industry, it’s relatively niche when it comes to employment opportunities for game design. That being said, the industry also employs lots of other kinds of technologists, from data scientists to product managers, expanding the potential pool of open roles.

Is Game Design a Dying Career?

Lightcast also predicts that, as a profession, game design will grow 14.6 percent over the next 10 years. That seems like a logical assumption based on the enduring popularity of games.

What are the Most Valuable Skills for a Game Designer?

Here are some of the tech skills that pop up most frequently in game designer job postings:

  • Game development (of course)
  • C++
  • level design
  • Epic Unreal Engine
  • photoshop
  • Maya
  • Art Direction
  • microsoft-c#
  • Zbrush
  • 3D Modeling/Design
  • prototyping
  • python
  • animated
  • software engineering
  • Gaming Industry Knowledge
  • QA
  • Unity

Keep in mind that, if you want to access the most opportunities in gaming, you’ll need to learn tools and platforms such as the Unreal Engine and Unity. You’ll also need to understand abstract principles such as level design and software engineering. If you’re just beginning your technology career, working on personal projects involving these tools and skills (such as your own game) can help you learn everything you need to apply to entry-level jobs in the field.

Is Being a Game Designer Stressful?

That’s a great question. If you’ve paid attention to the game industry over the past several years, you know the controversies over “crunch time” and a lack of work-life balance. Last summer, for example, reports accused Activision Blizzard of overworking and underpaying its QA staff. Earlier this year, an article in polygonal suggested that technologists at TT Games were subjected to a “crunch culture” that led to burnout.

However, other gaming companies have been experimenting with initiatives such as a four-day workweek. With companies desperate for tech talent right now, technologists have become more vocal about the need for work-life balance—and many managers are trying to deliver as best they can. Gaming will likely remain an intense industry… but hopefully a more humane one.