- Brian Schmidt, GameSoundCon
GameSoundCon Game Audio Industry Survey 2017
The annual GameSoundCon Industry Survey(tm), now in its 4th year, tracks compensation, working conditions, contact terms and production information for the video game music and sound industry. Originally designed to provide a more detailed look into the industry than Gamasutra’s annual salary survey, the GameSoundCon Industry Survey has grown into the most comprehensive analysis of game audio business and production issues and provide overall guidance on how much game composers and sound designers earn. The goals of the survey are to collect information which:
Reflects the freelancer and salaried employee aspects of our industry
Covers the range of games produced, from AAA to Independently developed.
Is relevant to the industry
New for 2017 are questions covering
Education Breakdown by degree
Entry-level Job/Salary analysis
A Difficult to Define Industry:
Because the game industry (and therefor game audio) is such a wide and diverse business, we broke things down into three main categories:
Large Budget Games. These are your typical console or well-funded PC titles. These games are available at retail, and also may be downloadable. Think "Destiny," "Gears of War," and games you see advertised or on the shelves of WalMart. These games are made by large teams (100-400) and often take years to produce with budgets in the $30,000,000 - $150,000,00+ range.
Professionally produced casual games. These games are sometimes known as "mid-core" or "casual core" games. They are smaller scale, smaller budget games than the “AAA” large budget games, but nonetheless are professionally developed, produced and marketed. Think "Plants vs Zombies," or "Candy Crush." Generally team size is in the 5-25 person range, with budgets from $500,000 - $5,000,000 or so.
Indie games. These are smaller scale games, which are often self-financed or financed through non-traditional means such as kickstarter.
Of course it is impossible to draw a sharp line between the three categories outlined above. Nevertheless, we believe it serves as a useful distinction so that we’re not comparing the compensation from a blockbuster like Call of Duty with that of a part-time, 2-person dev company making an iPhone game in their basement.
Format of Survey Reporting
2/ Work and Environment
3/ Contract Terms
4/ Use of Live Musicians & Middleware
5a/Entry Level Jobs & Education
Game Audio is a highly diverse field, and as a result has a lot of variation in compensation. Although it is convenient to talk about “average” game audio compensation (and we will report that as the “mean”), the median value and compensation distribution may be more meaningful, which we present in graphic histogram form. Note that all compensation numbers are guaranteed compensation, do not include any kind of bonuses, royalties, stock awards, etc, which are reported on separately.
In order to maximize participation in other areas of the survey, the question on compensation, which some are hesitant to report in a survey, was optional. 89.2% of the 464 respondents provided answers on compensation.
To calculate compensation, we broke respondents into three categories:
Salaried Employees companies
Salaried employees who do freelance work on the side
We further broke freelancer Work for Hire projects into:
Casual Core (Professionally produced, small scale games)
Respondents who listed compensation numbers of 0 were filtered out of all compensation charts, as were entries we determined to be obviously anomalous. For compensation questions, those who reported they were “hobbyists or aspirational” were also filtered out.
For salaried employees, we report the annual salary, not including bonuses or other compensation (health plan, retirement, stock purchase/options, etc.)
For freelance/contractors, in addition to total annual income from games, we asked respondents to give us what their compensation is on a per-project basis, not including any potential or realized bonuses/royalties, etc.
All compensation information was requested in the participant's local currency and has been translated to U.S. Dollars. Note that not all numbers add to 100% due to rounding and because some apparently anomalous respondent data was filtered out.
 “Mean” is the average: the sum of all numbers divided by the number of entries. “Median” is the ‘middle number’. There are as many salaries higher than the median as there are lower. The mean can be skewed by a small number of very high or very low values.
Annual Income: Salaried Employees (non-freelancer):
Average (Mean) Yearly Salary: $74,732 ($71,838 in 2016)
Median Yearly Salary: $64,000 ($64,434 in 2016)
Average (Mean) Years in Industry: 8.5 (8.6 in 2016)
Median Years in Industry: 10 (10 in 2016)
Salaried jobs in game audio again in 2017 have two main peaks, one at around 60,000, and one around 150,000. Higher salaries tended to be correlated with descriptions such as “management” or “Audio Director.”
Annual Income vs Experience for Salaried Employees
As expected, those working in the industry longer generally receive a higher total income, with the highest salaries (> $150,000) going to those with at least 8-12 years experience in the industry.
Salaried Employees with Freelance Income on the side
About 15% of Salaried employees reported earning additional freelance income on the side
Average “On the side” income: $15,604
Median “On the side” income: $4,000
Note that “On the side” income is NOT included in the graphs above or in the average/mean salary numbers
Annual Income: Freelancers:
Average Yearly Salary: $69,848 (85,687> 50% income from audio)
Median Yearly Salary: $25,000 (43,520 > 50% income from audio)
Average Years in Industry: 7.25
Median Years in Industry: 5
Full-time freelancer game composers and sound designers in general had greater annual incomes than salaried employees. The very highest salaries were obtained by freelancers.
Average annual income from a game audio freelancer was $69,848; $85,687 when excluding people who made more than half their income from non-audio activities (more than half income from a non-audio “day job”).
As with salaried employees, freelancers working in the industry longer generally receive a higher total income. However the range of income varies much more than for salaried employees. The highest annual incomes were reported by freelancers.
Because a few high-income freelancers make it difficult to see more typical incomes, we have included the graph above, but zoomed in to exclude incomes > $200,000. Note that the graph below SHOULD NOT be used when reporting on this survey, since it is only partially representative. It is provided simply to show greater detail in the sub-200,000 composer/sound designer income range.
Salaried Employees by Gender
The average and median salaries reported overall different by gender significantly. It should also be noted that women represented approximately 12.7% of those reporting; the smaller sample size may cause less accurate results. Numbers in parenthesis represent the 2016 numbers
Salaries (Employees of Companies) for Game Audio by Gender
Compensation: Freelance “Per Project” fee
Per project fees charged for game music and sound design varied tremendously, from a low of zero, to a high of over 300,000. Large budget games of course dominate at the higher end, with Indie games clustered toward the low end. However, there are significant number of Indie games (self-funded, kickstarter, etc.) with per project fees rivaling those of Professionally Produced small scale/casual games ("casual core").
Compensation: “Per Minute” rates for Composers:
62% of respondents who provided income information also provided their “most typical” per-minute rate for music. Many of the respondents said they did not charge or calculate on a ‘per minute’ basis, or declined to provide their rate.
As seen below, “per minute” music composition rates by freelancers varied with the scope of the game developed:
2/ Work and Environment
Game Audio professionals are evenly split between freelancers and employees
41% replied that they were pure freelancers. However, 15% of those who worked as employees (either at a game company or an audio production house) reported earning additional freelance income on the side. These numbers are very similar to previous years.
Almost 3/4 of game composers also do sound design
The chart below shows what percentage of people who compose music for games also provide other services for games.
Integration & Programming by Composers
54% (47% in 2016) of composers also did either integration work or some programming or both.
17% (15% in 2016) of composers also provided scripting or programming work
26% (30% in 2016) of composers also filled the role of “Audio Director”
At least some “Integration” is done by 1 in 2 composers
54% (47% in 2016) of composers also reported using game audio Middleware; 40% reported doing Game Engine integration (Unity, UE4, etc.)
Game Audio professionals are predominantly male
12.7% of all respondents were female (up from 10.4% in 2016)
36% of game audio professionals are currently working on a Virtual Reality Title
Platforms include, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR, Gear VR, Hololens and others
2a/ Work: Getting Gigs
Like many other music/sound jobs, networking and referrals is one the largest ways game composers and sound designers found either their job with their employer or their last freelance gig. 19% obtained their job or most recent freelance gig through a job posting. 50.8 % were recruited or referred.
Referrals and previous contacts remain significant ways to find new work. Important for freelancers, networking (via conferences, local events, and on social media) were frequently listed as the way they got their last contract or position. Other responses included: "Joined Q/A team," "random Craigslist Ad," "Agent," and "Just found them and asked if needed help."
3/ Contract Terms
“Per unit royalties” are uncommon for the big titles
2.5% of composers of large-budget games reported receiving payment based on unit sales. For professionally produced casual, it increases to 6.2%, for Indie games it increases to 26%
Soundtrack clauses are becoming more common, though still relatively low
Only 6.7% of large-budget composers reported being eligible to receive some share of game soundtrack sales (from 5% in 2015). For indie games, this number is 37% (27% in 2016). Professionally produced casual games report only 8.7% of composers eligible for revenue from soundtrack sales.
Sales Milestone Bonuses
Sales milestone bonuses are fixed payments paid when game sales exceed a certain amount; the may be tiered.
16.5% of large budget games have bonuses for sales milestones
11% of professionally produced small games have sales milestone bonuses
13% of indie composers receive sales milestones bonuses
“Work for Hire” for Freelancers**
AAA Games Require “Work for Hire”
95% of music for large-budget, freelance games is created under Work for Hire. Only 5% worked as a freelancer and licensed their music to large-budget games.
Professional Casual “Work for Hire”
81% of freelance composers reported music for professionally produced non-AAA games was composed under Work for Hire.
Indie “Work for Hire”
Freelance composers for “Indie” games reported 45% of music was done under a Work for Hire agreement, while 49% reported licensing their music to the Indie developer.
**(Note that salaried employees who compose music or otherwise create content are, by definition, working under "Work for Hire", so their numbers are NOT included above)
Large budget games more likely to register music with a PRO than smaller games
For large budget games, 49% (35% in 2016)of music was registered with a PRO.
For Professionally Produced casual games, 18% (23% in 2016) of music was registered with a PRO.
For Indie games, 28% (unchanged from 2016) of music was registered with a PRO.
Note that any game music may registered with the PRO, if the publisher (typically the game developer or publisher) so desires.
4/ Music Recording & Use of Live Musicians & Audio Middleware
Most game music is performed by the composer alone, although slightly more than half large budget games are predominantly recorded by live musicians.
Among all respondents who delivered music, the overwhelming majority of the music was created by the composer alone. 63% of music was delivered either as completely virtual or as virtual with any real instruments played by the composer personally.
Among professionally developed large titles (AAA), 38% music is fully live or hybrid score. 41% of the music was created by the composer alone, 21% being created by the composer “virtually” with 4 or fewer live musicians to sweeten the score.
Use of 3rd party Middleware
FMOD and Wwise remain the most popular audio middleware, although other solutions such as Fabric, Elias and CRI are growing in popularity.
Although Middleware usage was common in large budget AAA games, many AAA games use their own customized audio engine, rather than commercial game audio middleware. Indie games are as likely to use no audio engine at all as they are to use middleware. Note that "no audio engine" may either refer to the built-in audio engines in larger game engines such as Unity or Unreal, or may refer to to low-level systems where the programmer directly plays wav files.
Almost ¾ of respondents reported having a bachelor’s degree or higher, just under ¼ reported having had some college or an associate’s degree; 19% reported one or more graduate degrees. (note: The chart below does not count those who reported <25% income from audio).
Among salaried employees working in game audio, 54% have a degree in music or audio-related field; 14% have a computer or technical degree, while 13% received a degree in an area other than music or computer/technical.
Education effect on Income
It is difficult to draw conclusions on formal education’s impact on income. We report in two ways: first a simple average/median analysis, and then graphically. In each case, we also report numbers with the highest earner removed, since one or two unusually high earners can affect average numbers significantly.
It should also be noted that when looking at the above numbers, the relatively small sample sizes for HighSchool/GED and “Associates Degree” make it easy for a small number of outlier points to have an outsized impact on the average and median results.
To give a better picture of income as a function of education, we have charted income against education and years in the industry. The very highest incomes are generally achieved by those with Bachelor’s degrees or higher (Green and Purple), but not exclusively so. In addition, all “High income” (>$150,000) individuals had at least some college.
It should be noted that when looking at the above numbers, the relatively small sample sizes for HighSchool/GED and “Associates Degree” make it easy for a small number of outlier points to have an outsize impact on the average and median results.
Of note is that those reporting “Bachelor’s Degree or higher” tend to have the highest total income, although there is a significant clumping of lower-income Bachelor’s degree holders as well; this may be due to the large percentage (72%) with Bachelors+.
5a/ Entry Level Game Audio Jobs
For those employees new to the industry, which we define as having reported 1 year of experience:
Mean Year One Salary: $36,852
Median Year One Salary: $33,276
A high percentage (86%) of first year, salaried employees hold a Bachelors or Masters degree. In addition, almost 4 in 5 first year, salaried employees of game companies hold a degree in music or audio.
6/ Part-time game audio workers
We also asked respondents what percentage of their annual income they make directly from working in the game industry vs traditional media or music production. Of the respondents, 66% reported games as 95% or more of their income, with another 15% reporting it is at least half. 39% of respondents also reported additional income from audio for traditional media.
31% of people reported earning between 25% and 75% of their income from game audio; 11 % reported earning 75% or more of their income from non audio sources (a “day job”) whom we (arbitrarily) designate as “people who do game audio part time.”
The 2017 survey ran from June 15 to July 30, 2017 and was promoted via social media and other game or music industry web sites. We received 464 usable responses. In addition to compensation numbers, we wanted to see what some of the business terms and creative issues were current in game music and sound design. This year, we provided greater breakdown for professional status, with 3% reporting they were “hobbyist or aspirational.” These results have been excluded from the compensation calculations, except where as noted.
A bit on statistical validity
The 2017 Game Audio Survey, like any survey, has inherent limits and biases. These include, but are not limited to:
The survey was publicized via social media and email networks and known audio groups and via some major music industry web sites. This may bias results towards the ‘more connected’ composers and sound designers in the industry.
As noted, compensation questions were optional. for both men and women, just over 81% of respondents provided compensation data.
A small number of very anomalous looking responses were all or in part discarded. This may result in pre-conception bias.
A very small number of responses were not self-consistent. These were analyzed manually to determine intent. This may result in pre-conception bias.
In order to increase participation, survey questions directly related to compensation were optional; as noted, approximately 90% of survey participants reported compensation data
Some number of participants may have misrepresented their data or mis-interpreted survey questions.
Thank you to the Game Audio Network Guild
For assisting in the survey.
Executive Director, GameSoundCon
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