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I'm in a private game programming school where there also are 3D art classes; sadly, there seems to be a lot more students in those latter classes, something like 50% or 100% more.

So I was wondering: in the real video game industry, which of the artist/modeler or the programmer is more likely to be wanted in a company, so who will be paid more ?

I'm sure there are artists which are obviously paid better than other programmers and I'm sure there are other sorts of jobs in the game industry (sound, management, testers), but I wanted to know if there is a general tendency for one or the other. And sometime I wonder even if an artist can happen to write scripts...

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The title of the question is quite confusing, given what you're actually asking I would suggest: "In general, are programmers or artists paid more?" – MrCranky Dec 27 '10 at 9:57
I've -1d unsourced answers. Anecdotes may be acceptable some places, but there's a huge amount of professional, published answers to this question, and not citing something is doing the asker and other readers a major disservice. – user744 Dec 27 '10 at 11:16
Incidentally, don't choose a career path based on pay. Both visual artists and programmers tend to make MORE money outside the game industry than as game programmers/artists, anyway, and precious few people have the skills and training and designer to do both art and programming. As for whether an artist can write scripts: YES, this person is called a "technical artist" and the good ones are worth their weight in gold. – Ian Schreiber Dec 27 '10 at 20:05
+1 to Schreiber. You can make a good living on either the art/SE side of game development, but the long hours in the game industry make it something you really want to enter based on a love of development, and not financial reward. If making money is the goal choose a different occupation. If you really want to make games, then base the decision on your skills and interests not finances. – wkerslake Dec 27 '10 at 21:14
If that's what you wanted to know, that's what you should've asked, because it's neither artists nor programmers. The industry needs good producers, people who can manage budgets and schedules and steer projects, more than any other. – user744 Dec 29 '10 at 0:12
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Every year, Game Developer Magazine puts together a report of average salaries and other metrics concerning game development budgets, remuneration, and hiring.

You can buy the full 2005-2010 report, although it is quite expensive, since it's targeted at research institutions. A cheaper option would be to buy the summary in the April 2010 magazine for $4, or the summarized summary on Gamasutra's website, for $0. (However, to compare entry-level versus mean, you'll need to get at least the $4 version.)

  • Programming: Programmers are among the highest paid talent in the mainstream game industry, with an average annual salary of $80,320. Experience pays in this technical role, particularly when jobs are more rare--programmers with more than six years of experience earned an incredible 36% more than the average annual salary in 2009.

  • Art & Animation: Unlike those in most disciplines, artists saw a slight average salary increase this year to $71,071, up a modest 2% as more artists reported pay increases than those in any other creative field.

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It's worth noting that these salaries are averaged across all regions and places like California with their super high cost of living tend to skew the results. Your average artist at a game development company in, say, Texas isn't making 70k. – Tetrad Dec 27 '10 at 17:16
Good point. The full report does break down "Salary by Region", but I don't know if that means individual states or not. – user744 Dec 27 '10 at 23:31
There's a list of various salaries on Ericson's blog by Title & Company. This information is actually available from flcDataCenter, if you look about. – bobobobo Jul 15 '13 at 19:30

It's true, programmers tend to be better paid. (I'm a game artist that worked for 4 game companies) .But I highly disagree with above poster. We're talking about a professional programmer and so, also about a professional artist. Ok, then just drawing well requires a ton of years. I mean, just draw correctly with good anatomy and proportions, solid perspective, good control of lighting, composition, etc. This requires a career, usually(and many extra years on your own, and even so, many don't reach the level). Be it Fine Arts, or what is being done in USA and Canada, special institutes to prepare ppl to do concept art and have the needed base for modeling characters of the high realism you see in any high end game. (millions of polygons for detail is not all, there's needed a lot of knowledge and techniques behind, that all is hyper realistic, does not come free, and only a few artists get it right)

Let alone the fact that the "modelling software" training is huge in years. Master Uv Mapping, high end modeling, texturing, shaders, GUI work, pixel art, etc,etc. (I'm proficient in all this) Animation in its own is a very hard career, and I can tell how few good animators are out there, that can animate really well, at the needed quality.

But it always keeps floating this wrong concept saying that salaries are ok so because programing (extremely hard, too) is harder. I have known of the years and preparation needed of way too many staff mates, and man, compared with my close to 30 years of real preparation, is at least, on pair...

IMHO is just a market reason, a matter of how many are out there, and certain historical reasons.

Edit: And btw, you mention musicians, they are even paid worse than artists. And again, is not a matter of they had less preparation. Again, is market reasons, number of ppl into it, etc. And to your question: "And sometime I wonder even if an artist can happen to write scripts..." I am a game artist, today a corporate designer, and yep, I have coded scripts, VB, html/css, some action script, some python... A practical advice would be: become a programmer, as the market needs more them, as there might be fewer programmers into games (and yes, an incredible amount of knowledge is required).

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You know what, you're partly right, so I removed my poorly justified reasons from my answer. That said, I was talking about the barriers to being an entry-level artist or programmer. Of course you need a lot of experience and training to be a good artist or programmer. You need a lot of experience to be a good anything. – MrCranky Dec 27 '10 at 10:54
No problems, man. Sorry if I sounded a bit hurt/dramatic, is as have suffered from this many times when the salary negotiation used to come... ;) – S.gfx Dec 27 '10 at 10:57

Game career guide has a free publication stating average salaries in different divisions of game dev companies. It confirms what's been said: programmers are paid more in general.

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+1 - Salary charts start at A better free summary of the same survey I linked. – user744 Dec 30 '10 at 12:57

I agree with most of the above posters, that programmers are paid higher(generally, the quality of work would make a huge difference) But I also find artist have an easier time picking up small jobs outside of work.

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Generally a lot more people wants to be graphics artists, so there's a whole lot more competition and the wages (around here) are way below programmer wages, likely for that reason.

Not that any of the two would be more demanding or would take longer to master than the other though, it's just a matter of high/low demand and many graphics artists are so dedicated to their calling that they will enter the industry at very low wages. Programmers (again here) get to cherry pick employers because there aren't enough (regardless of their skill level).

If you're a content creator or animator, scripting will be a natural part of your toolset. Just about any work done with computers require scripting at some level, salary men use VBA in Excel and so on ;)

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Id love to meet your excel users who do vba. I've never seen a non-programmer do vba. – Nate Dec 27 '10 at 15:27
I don't get why people would want to be an artist rather than being a programmer. I mean a programmer OWNs everything that is done by the machine, of course the content is a big part of game, but nowadays with shiny graphics and stuff, the work of an artist can make a difference, but for me, a game is playable even if it's ugly, the gameplay is more important to me. Seriously I would prefer artists who are better at texturing and sketches and 2D sprites rather than good modelers. – jokoon Dec 27 '10 at 15:35
jokoon, because people are... different? Thank goodness there are people that want to be artists or we'd have really crappy looking games. – webbiedave Dec 27 '10 at 16:10
Well for a game to be fun to play, you need a designer - not a programmer nor an artist ^^ And if programmers own the machine then they better be darn good designers too or we have a serious problem imo... – Oskar Duveborn Dec 27 '10 at 22:56
@Nate Bross A lot of finance firm guys write VBA scripts, or even C# applications for plotting and tracking whatever sort of finance data it is they work with. One of the managers in an engineering firm I interned at wrote a program in VBA that was used to request project time from employees working on other projects. – michael.bartnett Dec 30 '10 at 7:45

In general, programming is the higher paid of the two disciplines - starting wages for artists are almost always below those of coders.

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