The amount a game designer makes depends largely on where they are in the corporate totem pole, and the amount of experience they have in the field.
There is no simple answer to the question, “how much does a video game designer make?” This is in part because ‘video game designer’ is a rather broad term, and does not really specify the exact job an individual is doing. Within the term lies a number of types of designers at various levels on the development food chain. Generally speaking, however, salaries tend to reflect the amount of experience an individual has and how long they have been working at a particular company. The most recent surveys on game designer’s salaries better reflect a general feel of how much an individual would make in a design position, rather than being taken as a hard and fast rule. Salaries range greatly, positions held in major developers like Electronic Arts obviously being more lucrative than working as an independent designer or for a smaller company.
Fox News reported that game design jobs averaged in the $60,000s yearly income, with that figure being influenced by how much experience an individual has. The levels of experience can be broken down thusly; level designers tend to be at the bottom of the food chain, although the title is misleading, as they do not necessarily get to design the levels. Their job tends to be an entry level position wherein they build the levels designed by other team members. Above that is a higher rank of level designer that has more creative freedom, and may be a collaborator on the actual design of the level. Next up is the assistant designer who largely keeps track of everyone and documents the project’s development. The lead designer is usually the proverbial ’man with the plan’, the person who came up with the game concept and is most likely leading the whole team. There may or may not be a managerial design director working with and guiding the lead designer.
As far as hard numbers go there is a general consensus that game design in a well paying job, with little variation from source to source on the average income for a game designer. The IGDA placed beginning designers income at anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000. Learn Direct, a career advice site, put the number closer to $37,000, noting that bonuses were typically awarded for project work.
However, the final word on the subject is probably to be found in the Game Developers Salary Report of 2004 to 2008. According to Gamasutra its surveys found that the average was in the $50,000 a year range. The number for American designers versus their European counter parts however, indicated that the American designers made more. To obtain exact numbers the Salary Report is the best, most up to date source of information.
A more accurate answer will require an examination of the specific design positions and the type of organizations they are found in; remember, big organizations tend to have many people working on one project, and thus will have individuals working and in very specific positions. Smaller operations will have one person handling more responsibilities, and independent game developers might have only a few people taking care of every type of design.