Before we learn about the money, let’s get this question out of the way: what is game development?
What Is Game Development?
Let’s answer the question that may be obvious to you first: what is game development in the first place?
I tried to come up with an efficient 1-paragraph answer that improves on multiple online sources such as this.
Game Development is the art of creating games that involves multiple development stages such as game concept generation, game design, game development, game testing, game building, game deployment, and game release.
What Does a Game Developer Do?
Game developers and video game developers create code for games in a variety of formats such as desktop-based games (Windows, macOS, Linux), consoles (PS2), web browsers (Chrome, Safari), crypto (Ethereum, Polygon/Optimism, Solana), and mobile phone (iOS, Android).
This video may be a nice watch for you — it shows the day in the life of a game developer. Just know that it may look completely different in your desired niche:
In fact, I don’t recommend this lifestyle of chips and ribs and watching on the screen for the whole day. There are way more productive and healthy ways to be an efficient developer!
What Skills Does a Game Developer Need?
A multitude of skills go into game development. A game developer doesn’t need to have all of them if you work with other people. If you work alone, you do need most of the skills.
So, here are the most relevant skills of game developers:
- Vision and Ideation: You must first figure out a great new idea of the game that is engaging to some — not necessarily all — users out there. It’s a great plus in this phase if you have lots of experience playing many different games. However, there are hundreds of millions of gamers out there and ideas are cheap, so it is unlikely that there’s huge value unlock for you personally in this phase.
- Game Concept Creation: This skill set is completely different from the vision and ideation skillset because here, you need to design incentive structures and balance out the game. Skills in psychology and economics incentives, as well as social networks and (viral) marketing, are useful in this phase. For example, the game Axie Infinity nicely combines economic incentives in the crypto industry with social networking and virality. All of these skills are needed to create a robust and promising concept for computer games.
- Game Design: A successful game should be designed in a suitable way to bring across the look and feel. Minesweeper and Minecraft are examples of successful games that don’t have the fanciest 3D engine. It can still work! However, you increase your odds of success when the design is clear and consistent with the game idea and vision. Game designers are skilled in technologies such as Adobe Photoshop and CSS — just to name two random ones.
These are some of the most important skills. Of course, I didn’t mention the obvious ones like creativity, passion for games, knowledge of gaming trends, analytical mind, ability to work in a team, and so on.
I think these are important but you shouldn’t think you need to learn them first before starting out—you’ll learn and improve as you work in the game industry and not beforehand.
Annual Income of Game Developers
The average annual income of a Game Developer in the United States is between $64,053 and $115,846 with an average of $89,889 and a median of $92,061 per year.
This data is based on our meta-study of nine (9) salary aggregators sources such as Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter, and PayScale.
Table: Average Income of a Game Developer in the US by Source.
Let’s have a look at the hourly rate of Game Developers next!
Game Developers can also choose to offer their services on freelancing platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr.
- Related Article: What’s the best freelancing platform?
If you decide to go the route as a freelance Game Developer, you can expect to make between $20 and $60 per hour on Upwork (source). Assuming an annual workload of 2000 hours, you can expect to make between $40,000 and $120,000 per year.
⚡ Note: Do you want to create your own thriving coding business online? Feel free to check out our freelance developer course — the world’s #1 best-selling freelance developer course that specifically shows you how to succeed on Upwork and Fiverr!
But is there enough demand? Let’s have a look at Google trends to find out how interest evolves over time (source):
The interest in game development is not really growing. There is stable bottom interest but over a 20-year period, the interest has declined by half!
I conclude that fewer people actually want to go through the hassle of learning the skills. But this just means that the opportunity is even bigger for those who are willing to learn game development.
I can back this up with some data—have a look at this chart indicating a steady increase in interest for the phrase “hire game developer”:
More people need game developers but fewer game developers exist, so the attractiveness for a single game developer like you is on the rise!
Learning Path and Education Requirements
Do you want to become a Game Developer? Here’s a step-by-step learning path I’d propose to get started with Game development:
- Step 1: Introduction to Computer Science (~40 hours)
- Step 2: Read 10 Books in this Learning Path (~120 hours)
- Step 3: Introduction to the Unity Game Engine (~40 hours)
You can find many additional computer science courses on the Finxter Computer Science Academy (flatrate model).
But don’t wait too long to acquire practical experience!
Even if you have few skills, it’s best to get started as a freelance developer and learn as you work on real projects for clients — earning income as you learn and gaining motivation through real-world feedback.
🚀 Tip: An excellent start to turbo-charge your freelancing career (earning more in less time) is our Finxter Freelancer Course. The goal of the course is to pay for itself!
You can find more job descriptions for coders, programmers, and computer scientists in our detailed overview guide:
Related Income of Professional Developers
The following statistic shows the self-reported income from 9,649 US-based professional developers (source).
💡 The average annual income of professional developers in the US is between $70,000 and $177,500 for various programming languages.
Question: What is your current total compensation (salary, bonuses, and perks, before taxes and deductions)? Please enter a whole number in the box below, without any punctuation. If you are paid hourly, please estimate an equivalent weekly, monthly, or yearly salary. (source)
The following statistic compares the self-reported income from 46,693 professional programmers as conducted by StackOverflow.
💡 The average annual income of professional developers worldwide (US and non-US) is between $33,000 and $95,000 for various programming languages.
Here’s a screenshot of a more detailed overview of each programming language considered in the report:
Here’s what different database professionals earn:
Here’s an overview of different cloud solutions experts:
Here’s what professionals in web frameworks earn:
There are many other interesting frameworks—that pay well!
Look at those tools:
Okay, but what do you need to do to get there? What are the skill requirements and qualifications to make you become a professional developer in the area you desire?
Let’s find out next!
General Qualifications of Professionals
StackOverflow performs an annual survey asking professionals, coders, developers, researchers, and engineers various questions about their background and job satisfaction on their website.
Interestingly, when aggregating the data of the developers’ educational background, a good three quarters have an academic background.
Here’s the question asked by StackOverflow (source):
Which of the following best describes the highest level of formal education that you’ve completed?
However, if you don’t have a formal degree, don’t fear! Many of the respondents with degrees don’t have a degree in their field—so it may not be of much value for their coding careers anyways.
Also, about one out of four don’t have a formal degree and still succeeds in their field! You certainly don’t need a degree if you’re committed to your own success!
Freelancing vs Employment Status
The percentage of freelance developers increases steadily. The fraction of freelance developers has already reached 11.21%!
This indicates that more and more work will be done in a more flexible work environment—and fewer and fewer companies and clients want to hire inflexible talent.
Here are the stats from the StackOverflow developer survey (source):
Do you want to become a professional freelance developer and earn some money on the side or as your primary source of income?
Resource: Check out our freelance developer course—it’s the best freelance developer course in the world with the highest student success rate in the industry!
Other Programming Languages Used by Professional Developers
The StackOverflow developer survey collected 58000 responses about the following question (source):
Which programming, scripting, and markup languages have you done extensive development work in over the past year, and which do you want to work in over the next year?
These are the languages you want to focus on when starting out as a coder:
And don’t worry—if you feel stuck or struggle with a nasty bug. We all go through it. Here’s what SO survey respondents and professional developers do when they’re stuck:
What do you do when you get stuck on a problem? Select all that apply. (source)
To get started with some of the fundamentals and industry concepts, feel free to check out these articles:
- Freelance Developer – How to Code From Home and Earn Six Figures [Industry Report]
- How to Become a Python Freelancer—and Earn $1,000 on the Side? [A Step-by-Step Tutorial]
- How Adam Earns $5000 per Month as a Python Freelancer on Upwork [Month 4]
- Wikipedia Game Development
Where to Go From Here?
Enough theory. Let’s get some practice!
Coders get paid six figures and more because they can solve problems more effectively using machine intelligence and automation.
To become more successful in coding, solve more real problems for real people. That’s how you polish the skills you really need in practice. After all, what’s the use of learning theory that nobody ever needs?
You build high-value coding skills by working on practical coding projects!
Do you want to stop learning with toy projects and focus on practical code projects that earn you money and solve real problems for people?
🚀 If your answer is YES!, consider becoming a Python freelance developer! It’s the best way of approaching the task of improving your Python skills—even if you are a complete beginner.
If you just want to learn about the freelancing opportunity, feel free to watch my free webinar “How to Build Your High-Income Skill Python” and learn how I grew my coding business online and how you can, too—from the comfort of your own home.
 The figure is based on this code snippet:
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt import numpy as np import math data = [71295, 101644, 115846, 86200, 92061, 93910, 64053, 100000, 84000] labels = ['Glassdoor.com', 'ZipRecruiter.com', 'Builtin.com', 'SalaryExplorer.com', 'Zippia.com', 'SalaryExpert.com', 'PayScale.com', 'Talent.com', 'Comparably.com'] median = np.median(data) average = np.average(data) print(median, average) n = len(data) plt.plot(range(n), [median] * n, color='black', label='Median: $' + str(int(median))) plt.plot(range(n), [average] * n, '--', color='red', label='Average: $' + str(int(average))) plt.bar(range(len(data)), data) plt.xticks(range(len(data)), labels, rotation='vertical', position = (0,0.45), color='white', weight='bold') plt.ylabel('Average Income ($)') plt.title('Game Developer Annual Income - by Finxter') plt.legend() plt.show()
While working as a researcher in distributed systems, Dr. Christian Mayer found his love for teaching computer science students.
To help students reach higher levels of Python success, he founded the programming education website Finxter.com. He’s author of the popular programming book Python One-Liners (NoStarch 2020), coauthor of the Coffee Break Python series of self-published books, computer science enthusiast, freelancer, and owner of one of the top 10 largest Python blogs worldwide.
His passions are writing, reading, and coding. But his greatest passion is to serve aspiring coders through Finxter and help them to boost their skills. You can join his free email academy here.