UK games developers officially underpaid

Economic Jenga fumbler Gordon Brown has tried to cosy up with UK games devs this week, saying that the UK is “by far the biggest producer of computer games in Europe,” and that we’re, “leading the way in creative industries.” However, a recent survey of games developers reveals that over a third think their salary doesn’t cover living costs.

The results of a survey conducted by Develop were unveiled yesterday, painting a bleak picture of how much money we’re investing in our homegrown games businesses. Although the survey spanned developers over several countries, Develop says that over 300 of the staff surveyed were from the UK.

At the bottom end of the scale is the junior QA tester, who gets an average of £15,000 er annum. However, even the guys at the top don’t rake in the large sums you might expect. A lead designer, for example - the person in charge of all the design team and figures out the rules and structure of a game - gets an average of £37,500.

Meanwhile, a lead programmer; the person in charge of all the programming in a game gets an average of £40,000. As a point of comparison, a store manager at Tesco gets £47,000, and even a deputy store manager gets £30,000. Unsurprisingly, 35.9 per cent of the devs surveyed reckon that their salary doesn’t even cover the cost of living.

The average salary in the business, according to the survey is £31,509; a figure which is based on the median, rather than the mean, in order to factor out the few high-flying execs execs who also took part in the survey. Develop notes that the average figure is higher than last year’s, returning approximately to the average of £31,655 that was revealed in 2008.

This, says Develop, could indicate that the games industry is starting to recover from the wounds of the recession. As such, it’s no surprise that a healthy 69.7 per cent of game devs say they’re feeling confident about their jobs in 2010. As well as this, 60.4 per cent of them are expecting a pay rise in the next 12 months, although a good 38.3 per cent of them are expecting no raise at all.

However, while it’s good to see the industry recovering, it’s clear that the UK’s pool of creative digital talent, who often have to work ridiculous hours, aren’t reaping the rewards that you’d expect. It’s a situation that isn’t helped by the lack of support from the Government either. Late last year, Chancellor Alistair Darling rejected the idea of tax relief for UK games developers in his pre-budget report.

Not all politicians fail to understand the importance of the games business, though. Labour MP Tom Watson has gathered together a rabble from various political parties to get behind Early Day Motion 934. Watson also started the Gamers’ Voice Facebook group to counter negative comments about gaming from the media and other politicians.

The motion notes that the games industry accounts for £1 billion of the UK’s GDP, and supports 28,000 jobs, but that it’s threatened by competitors in the “USA, Canada and South Korea who all offer major tax breaks at either national state or regional level for game production or other substantial government financial support.” Interestingly, 67.6 per cent of the devs surveyed said they were attracted by the prospect of working overseas. We wonder why that might be.

Still, at least they don’t work in publishing.

See Edge for Gordon Brown’s recent comments on the UK games industry.