Game Audio Industry Survey 2023
Video Game Music and Sound Design Jobs, Salaries and Education
The GameSoundCon Game Audio Industry Survey is the largest survey of professional game composers and sound designers for the game audio industry. The 2023 survey ran from May 15 through August 15, 2023, and was promoted on various game audio social media, newsgroups and industry/professional websites. 645 people responded, 602 of whom were working professionals (not students, hobbyists or ‘aspiring’). This represents the a 7% increase in response rate over the 2021 survey. 555 stated that less than 50% of their income was from non-audio related sources (an unrelated ‘day job’).
New in this year's survey
Better salary breakdown between North America and the rest of the world
Game Audio majors and minors
Game Engine/Audio Engine combinations
We continue to break the industry into three main categories of games:
· Large Budget Games. Often referred to as “AAA” games, these represent well-funded console or PC titles from major game publishers and developers. They typically have team consisting of hundreds of people and budgets of tens of millions of USD per year.
· MidCore: these are smaller scale games with smaller budgets and shorter schedules than AAA games, but represent professionally produced and developed products. Game team sizes vary, but are typically from 15-50 people
· Indie. These are small scales, often self-financed via Kickstarter or other methods with team sizes of 20 or less. Note that we generally do not consider 'hobbyist" games to be 'indie' games.
Of all professional respondents:
49% said they worked on AAA games
29% said they worked on "Midcore" games
17% said they worked on Indie games
Of course the line between the different types of games is impossible to draw cleanly. However, it still provides a useful way of comparing similar game types, so that we are not comparing the composing rates of a AAA blockbuster with a 4 person indie team.
Topline Summary: Game Composer and Sound Designer Salaries
More than 6 in 10 people working in game audio are employees of companies, though some 'moonlighting' occurs.
North America: $128,511
Rest of World: $71,300
Less than 1 in 5 game composers received any PRO income in 2022, for any game they have ever composed for. Freelancers were more likely to have received PRO game income (21%) than employee composers (15%)
Freelancers have lower average annual income ($80,788) than salaried employees, but freelancers also had some of the highest annual incomes.
Slightly more than 8 in 10 game audio professionals have a bachelors degree or higher, mostly (83%) music/audio related
6% reported having both a music/audio and a technical degree
Almost 1 in 5 (18%) reported having a major or minor specifically in game music or game sound design
The industry is 86% male (slightly higher than the 84% reported in 2021)
75% of respondents were white/Caucasian, slightly less than the 2021 survey, with Hispanic/Latino (9.3%) and Asian (6.6%) being the next largest categories.
Video Game Music and Sound Design: Industry Makeup
We separate out salaried employees from freelancers, recognizing the fact that some salaried employees also do some freelancing on the side ("moonlighters").
Within salaried employees, we further break down people into employees of game companies and employees of audio companies; the latter would be an audio ‘outsourcing firm’ that provides audio services to game companies, but is more than just a single freelancing individual.
Finally, because of the large discrepancy between compensation in North America and the rest of the world, this year, we have reported on those two regions separately for areas involving money. For ease of comparison, all monetary values in this survey report have been converted to USD ($).
Except where noted, most of the salary information removes "Audio Programmers." This is a job that typically considered technical/engineering, which typically pays more than a composer or sound designer. Likewise, students, unpaid interns, or hobbyist/aspiring respondents were left out of income/salary results.
Among respondents, 64% reported they worked in game audio as a salaried employee, up slightly from 2021. 50% of those worked at a game company, with 11% working for an audio company. 30% said they were pure freelancers (down from 34% in 2021), while 12% said they worked as a full-time salaried employee, but also did some freelance work on the side.
Game Audio Salaries
How much do game composers and sound designers make?
We asked salaried employees working in game music and sound design what their total gross compensation was last year, including bonuses, but not including indirect compensation such as health insurance premiums. Salaried employees refer to employees of game companies or of audio companies that provide services to game companies. A salaried employee receives a regular paycheck, and is typically eligible for benefits such as paid sick days, vacation, health insurance, retirement plan, etc.
As noted above, approximately 12% of salaried employees also do some freelance 'moonlighting' in game audio on the side.
North America game audio salaries
Game audio salaries in North America average $128,511 with an average employee having 10.1 years of experience. This represents a 12% salary increase over the 2021 survey, significantly higher than overall wage growth (8.3%) in the US over the same time. Men out-earn women/nonbinary respondents, although men also have more experience on average (10.6 years to 7.8 years), which may account for the difference. Previous surveys have shown a correlation between years of experience and higher salaries.
Salaried Employees: Excluding North America
Game Audio Salaries in the US are significantly higher than those in the rest of the world. Note that salaries reported do not include fringe benefits such as healthcare, vacation or other benefits, so it can be difficult to compare total compensation between the US and the rest of the world. (Note: Salaries were reported in local currency and converted to USD based on the exchange rate as of Aug 15, 2023).
It should be noted that in the tech industry as a whole, pay for US employees is generally much higher than outside the us .
Game Audio Salaries excluding North America
The average game audio salary in Europe and the rest of world is $71,300, with an average experience of 9 years. It should be noted that both the average and median ($60,095) salary outside of North America is significantly higher (21% higher) than the 2021 survey
Game Audio Salaries: Excluding North America
Annual Income vs Experience for Salaried Employees in North America
Not surprisingly, the more experience employees have working in game music and sound design, the higher their salaries. This was true in both North America and the rest of the world. Note that we excluded "audio programmers" in the charts below because these tend to be considered "technical/engineering" disciplines rather than "music" or "sound design" jobs.
Do game composers get royalties from their PRO?
Royalty income from PRO’s is uncommon in games (see a detailed article on PRO’s and game music). Although marginally higher than 2021 (16%), among both freelancers and employees, 18% of game composers reported receiving PRO income from any game score they had ever written.
We specifically asked the question:
“Did you receive any payments in 2022 from a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) for any game scores you have written, no matter when they were written?”
Additional Income Opportunities
In addition to salaries or contracting fees, game audio employees or freelancers report being eligible for additional compensation, as described below.
“Per unit royalty” is a specific payment for each copy sold.
“Bonus based on Sales” is a bonus paid when certain sales milestones are reached, such as “$10,000 bonus if the game sells 5,000,000 units.”
Among employees of companies, cash bonuses, bonus based on sales and company stock were the most common additional compensation types.
Among freelancers, additional compensation is rarer, with the exception of game soundtrack sales, or per-unity royalties, particularly from indie developers
Note: the charts below show the percentage of people eligible for the additional payments, not the amount of payments
Video Game Music and Sound Design Freelancer Income
Unsurprisingly, freelancers had the greatest range of income, however their average and median income is significantly less than that of a salaried employee. (Note: Average and Median income calculations removed freelancers with more than 50% of their income from non-audio sources; i.e. a 'day job.')
This year we broke down freelance income into North America and "Rest of World." As with salaried employees, Freelancers in North America earn more than Freelancers in the rest of the world. However the discrepancy in salaries (80%) is somewhat more than that for freelancer income (67%).
Game Audio Freelancer Annual Income: North America
Average Income: $80,788
Median Income: $48,100
Annual freelance income for game audio vs years of experience
Game Audio Freelancer Annual Income: Excluding North America
Average Income: $48,182
Median Income: $33,000
Video Game Composer: Freelancer Game Music Contract Terms
The majority of music composition for games is done as "Work for Hire," where the copyright of the music is owned by the game developer or publisher. In indie or midcore games, it is more likely that a composer retains copyright ownership of the music they create for the game, generally to compensate for a lower up-front fee.
These percentages are virtually unchanged from the 2021 survey. An overwhelming majority of game composers of AAA and Midcore games compose under a Work for Hire agreement. For freelance composers of indie games, licensing is more common (56%).
How much do freelance game composers charge?
58% of freelance game music composers said they typically charged on a 'per finished minute' of music rate. The rate is dependent on the game size, with AAA's unsurprisingly being the highest.
In AAA games the most common rates were between $1,000 and $2,000 per minute, although much higher (> $3,500) are also common. These numbers are somewhat higher than 2021. The mid-core rate has crept up a bit as well, though with most around $1,000 or lower. For indies, although $100/minute is a common rate, many more composers reported charging more than $100 than $100, with some as high as $2,000/minute.
Average annual income for freelancers is lower than that of salaried employees. However some of the highest annual incomes were from freelancers
Freelancers: Other Compensation
Compared with salaried employees, freelancers generally have fewer types of additional compensation. However, in indie and midcore games, additional compensation from game soundtracks is not uncommon. Additionally, freelancers are more likely to be eligible for a per-unit sales royalty particularly for indie or midcore games. These are often negotiated to compensate for a lower up-front fee.
The job of Audio Programmer generally is not associated with the creation of music or sound effects. Rather it is primarily considered to be a computer programming job, writing game engine code, doing detailed audio implementation or creating and maintaining audio tools. This is confirmed by noticing that every respondent except one who listed their job as 'audio programmer' stated they had a Computer or other technical degree. As noted, most of the salary data in this report has excluded the role of "Audio Programmer" because, as a 'programming' job, it tends to have a higher salary than that of composer or sound designer. Although we are reporting the average and median salary of the audio programmers who responded to the survey, the relatively small number (less than 20), should be considered when reviewing the salaries listed below.
Game Audio Programmer Salary:
Average Salary $148,166
Median Salary $105,000
Game Audio Tools
What are the most popular game audio tools?
Game Audio middleware remains extremely popular. However in AAA game development, custom developed solutions are also very common. The most popular audio engine depends on the game type, with Audiokinetic's Wwise engine being very popular with AAA game studios, while FMOD Studio is very popular with Indies and mid-sized games.
Compared with the 2021 survey there are a few changes.
A larger percentage of indie and mid-core games using FMOD Studio
A larger percentage of games overall using Unreal’s built-in audio engine
Note: each audio engine listed in the chart represents at least two responses. Other responses included: Fabric, Elias, Minecraft, QLabs
Important note: For both of the following graphs, the numbers (bar height) represent the number of users of a particular tool or engine, not the number of games using the tools. So, an AAA game that has several sound designers will report higher numbers in the graphs below than an indie game that has only one or two, even though each may represent a single game in development.
New this year, we also looked at Game Engine/Audio Engine combinations. That is, what are the most common pairing of game engines with game audio engines?
For games using Unity, FMOD Studio is the most popular audio engine, slightly more popular than Unity+Wwise. Both are significantly more popular than Unity's built-in audio engine.
For games using Unreal, Wwise is the most commonly used audio engine, with Unreal's built-in audio engine the second most common.
For games that use their own custom engine (common in AAA games), Wwise was the most popular audio engine, with a "custom built audio engine" the second most common.
Game Audio Job Roles
The tasks required by game sound designers and composers sometimes go beyond just creating music or sound design. In addition to the actual creation of music or sound effects, we also looked at:
1) Using Middleware. This typically means taking wave files and incorporating them into a game audio tool such as Wwise, FMOD, Fabric, etc.
2) Game Integration. This is the act of hooking up interactive music or sound design to the game itself. It is often, though not always, done using visual or text-based programming languages such as Blueprints or C#
The graphs below show what job roles people who work as composers or sound designers do in addition to their music or sound design work. As expected, the jobs performed by a person can vary based the game size (AAA, Midcore, indie).
The charts show the tasks in addition to the primary role people did, by percentage. For example, the chart below shows that less than 15% of AAA sound designers also did music composition, but more than 60% of indie sound designers also composed music.
The majority of sound designers on all game types did both sound design, middleware implementation and game integration. As might be expected, in AAA games, sound designers are unlikely to also be composers, but in indie and midcore games, that is much more common.
For game composers, in AAA game development, almost 4 in 10 composers do nothing except compose. However, a similar percentage use audio middleware. Among midcore games, a significant number of composers also do sound design and use audio middleware and/or implement sounds into the game engine.
Education in Game Audio
What Levels of Education do Game Composers and Sound Designers have?
Although most game audio jobs don't require specific credentials, across both freelancers and salaried professionals, 86% reported having at least a 2-year's Associates degree, with the majority having a Bachelors degree or higher. The numbers were similar for both salaried employees of game companies and freelancers. 86% is slightly higher than was reported in the 2021 survey.
What Degrees do game composers and sound designers have?
Unsurprisingly, the most common degree among employees of companies is a music or audio-related degree at 77%. This is a 10% increase over the 2021 survey, where 70% said they had a music or audio degree. In addition, 6% of audio employees reported having degrees in both music and a technical field, typically computer science in addition to music. Other degree types varied greatly ranging from Philosophy to Journalism.
New this year, we asked specifically if they respondent had a "major or minor in Game Music and/or Sound." 18% reported that this was their degree type (See our listing of colleges and universities offering video game music and sound design degrees. )
Game Music and Sound Design Education: Recent Hires
For those considering a career in game audio, it can be useful to look at the education levels and degrees of recent hires. We define “recent hire” as a salaried employee with two or fewer years of experience in the industry.
Among recent hires, 92% have completed a Bachelors degree or higher. This is significantly higher than 2021 (78%).
Best degrees for Game Audio: Recent Hires
Among recent hires of companies (non-freelancers), one in four (25%) reported that they had a major or minor in game music and/or sound. Another 67% said they had a music, sound or related degree, with the remaining listing a technical degree (typically Computer science). Less than one percent said their degree was not a music related or technical degree; these included Business/marketing, plumbing (!) and theater.
The average salaries of recent hires is significantly higher than we reported in 2021. However we did not break that down across geographic regions in 2021. We will update this report once we re-analyze the 2021 data.
North America 2023 Game Audio Salaries for Recent Hires
Average Salary of Recent Hires: $79,012
Median Salary of Recent Hires: $66,560
"Rest of World" 2023 Game Audio Salaries for Recent Hires
Average Salary of Recent Hires: $38,285
Median Salary of Recent Hires: $33,020
Gender and Diversity
Game audio overall is a male-dominated profession, though with a small increase in the percentage of non-male respondents.
Game Music and Sound Design Salaries of Employees by Gender
The salaries of game audio employees for women are generally less than that of their male counterparts. In our 2021 survey the difference in salary was determined most likely to be attributed to the difference years of experience-- men had higher average and median experience-- and not to any particular systemic bias based on gender.
This is a different outcome from a previous look into the salary discrepancy between men and women in game audio in 2016, which did find such a bias. We have not yet performed the statistical analysis to see if this continues to be the case in 2023.
North America: Game Audio Salaries and experience for employees (not freelancers)
Game Music and Sound Design Gender Makeup
The game audio industry continues to be predominantly male, particularly for freelancers. For all respondents, 15% of game audio professionals are not male. Considering only non-freelancers, in the US/Canada, almost one in six employees are Female or nonbinary. In the rest of the world, approximately nine in ten are male. The overall numbers are not significantly changed from the 2021 results. However, among freelancers, the number of male respondents increased, from 81% to 87%.; Female/nonbinary freelancers decreased from 19% to 12% (note: numbers may not add to exactly 100 due to rounding).
Race/Ethnicity in Game Music and Sound
In 2021 we started asking respondents their race or ethnicity. White/Caucasian represents 74.7% of respondents, down slightly from 2021 (77.6%) with Hispanic/Latino (9.3%) and Asian (6.6%) being the next largest categories.
Other responses included Jewish/Sematic, Caribbean, Italian American, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Māori, Indian and "Prefer not to respond"
A note on statistical validity
While this survey attempts to gather and analyze data from the industry in as neutral a fashion as possible, it is not a rigorous MIT-PhD-thesis level report! The 2021 Game Audio Survey, like any survey, has inherent limits and biases. These may 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, which likely biases salary and/or education numbers a bit high
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 or discarded. This may result in pre-conception bias.
In order to increase participation, survey questions directly related to compensation were optional.
Some number of participants may have misrepresented their data.
Executive Director, GameSoundCon