May 10, 2021 - Technology

Game developers break silence around salaries

Illustration of pixelated game coins arranged in order of ascending size

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Developers are sharing their salaries on Twitter under the hashtag #GameDevPaidMe to encourage pay transparency in their industry.

The big picture: The hashtag started circulating last year, but has returned periodically as developers fight for better working conditions. Salary sharing is a way to equalize the field. By removing the secrecy, as well as the stigma, around discussing pay, workers have more power to advocate for themselves when negotiating salaries and raises.

  • In 2020, Blizzard employees shared their salaries anonymously via a spreadsheet to compare compensation.
  • The pay gap between people at the top, and workers on the ground is measurable in hundreds of thousands of dollars — even when those CEOs take pay cuts.

What they're saying:

"I started getting paid fairly once I started asking questions. I only started asking questions once I better understood what I was worth. Understanding what your worth can be a difficult question, but this helps."
A lead designer on "Hearthstone" working for Blizzard Entertainment
"Every single person who plays games should take a good look at #GameDevPaidMe and get a sense for what the people who make your art actually make."
A lead designer at Blackbird Interactive
"Don't wait for your employer to give you the raise you deserve, be open to talking to other companies even if you feel you are at a 'great' spot."
A senior game designer at Reflector Entertainment
Screenshot of a tweet from Jeremy Ernst listing his salaries through the years, with him ending at "Current pay>$150k"

Developers don't have many tools in their box to affect change, but unionization efforts are on the rise.

  • Grassroots organization Game Workers Unite is working to help developers unionize; one of the group’s main organizers helped stage a walkout at Riot in 2019.
  • One of the largest U.S. unions, CWA, launched a campaign in 2020 to help unionize workers in the video game industry.
  • Paradox Interactive's Swedish employees signed a collective bargaining agreement in 2020.

The bottom line: Pay standards fluctuate wildly depending on factors like location, studio size, and employee bonuses.

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