The video game market is currently valued at approximately $65.49 billion in the United States alone — and being such an dynamic and fast-paced industry, you know that new titles are coming out all the time. Each has its own potential to make millions of dollars in profit.
Video game writers represent only one of many essential cogs in this global industry, but don’t discount the meaning of that word. Essential. If you have ever wondered if there is a place for you in the gaming sector as a writer, you likely wonder how much video game writers typically earn every year. Let’s take a closer look!
Average Salary for Video Game Writers
To provide some much-needed context, the Bureau of Labor Statistics — which tracks salary trends across professions and across the United States — shows that the broader profession of “writers and authors” earns a median annual salary of $67,120. The lowest 10 percent of earners, which includes those in less profitable positions like reporters as well as entry-level workers, makes less than $35,880. At the highest end, it is possible to make over $133,460 in this field per year.
How do video game writers stack up? Pretty impressively, it turns out.
Salary.com reports that video game writers:
- Make an average of $71,160 per year.
- Lower earners, in the bottom 10 percent, still earn up to $56,106 annually.
- The top-earning video game writers have salaries that exceed $85,207.
ZipRecruiter, using a different data set, estimates an average annual salary of $50,209, while claiming that typical salaries range from $17,000 per year to $121,500.
PayScale indicates that video game writers earn an average annual salary of $67,500, and offers a range of $49,000 to $90,000 per year.
None of these platforms offer a complete picture on their own. They each gather data from real-life game writers who have shared their annual income from this job with the platform, however. As such, we can reasonably conclude that:
- Video games are likely to make at least $17,000 per year. These low earners may be entry-level, or working for indie studios that have not (yet) risen to fame.
- The top end of the scale, in which earnings of more than $120,000 are within the writer’s grasp, is probably reserved for experienced writers (within the field of video games or outside of it) who work for the most popular studios.
What Do Video Game Writers Make Per Hour?
Data from PayScale suggests an average hourly rate of $19.65 among video game writers, while ZipRecruiter estimates an average of $24 per hour. Some video game writers will be paid per project, regardless of the amount of hours they put in, while others may be employed full-time. Your hourly rate may or may not reflect your annual salary.
Based on Experience
In a “typical job”, you would expect for your salary to follow a fairly predictable upward incline as you spend more years in the field. Being a video game writer is not a typical job. Do you still have a significantly higher earnings as you gain experience?
Salary.com doesn’t think so. This platform reports that those with around a year of experience as video game writers earn an average of $70,572. Due to the evolving nature of video games, nobody who started their career as a video game writer straight out of school retired with the same job aged 65+. The most experienced video game writers may have just over 20 years of experience, looking at the fact that Half-Life was released in 1998. These industry veterans have an average salary of $72,447, according to Salary.com.
This is not a career in which you automatically make more money as you spend more years in the field, in other words.
Based on Education
- Video game writers who have earned only a high school diploma make an average of $66,690, according to Salary.com.
- With a Bachelor’s degree, that average shoots up to $69,160.
- A PhD increases your average annual salary to $71,160.
This shows that people who do not hold degrees can still thrive in this field given the right aptitudes, but also that the video game industry does value formal qualifications.
Top Paying States for Video Game Writers
Aspiring video game writers may be able to work partially or even fully remotely, but the top-paying jobs are based in the states where the most profitable studios are located. They are California, Washington State, New York, and Los Angeles.
Job Outlook for Video Game Writers
The video game industry is not only constantly evolving, but it is also still fairly young. These facts, in combination, make it hard to determine what the outlook is. The video game industry has experienced some recent dips as a result of the global economic outlook, but is currently again projected to grow.
Currently, 261,906 workers are estimated to be employed in the video games industry. Numerous more people will be working as freelancers. This figure does not only include writers, of course, but also countless other professionals that include developers, graphic designers, and PR personnel.
Those video game writers who build a solid reputation for themselves are quite likely to organically be invited to participate in new projects. If you’re good, you will probably have work.
What Exactly Does a Video Game Writer Do?
The precise nature of a video game writer’s job description depends on the studio they are working for, as well as each individual game. In general, video game writers develop scripts that will become an integral part of tomorrow’s video game titles, and will will subsequently be voiced by voice actors or appear on screen in the form of text.
Besides writing scripts, which forms the core of the job, video game writers may:
- Brainstorm and develop new characters to be used in video games, which will then have spoken roles.
- Develop compelling backstories for video game characters.
- Work closely with members of the development team to ensure that the scripts match their vision for the game.
- Edit and further develop draft script ideas that developers may have had in mind.
- All this requires strong research skills that allow the writer to help build entire worlds.
Each game is unique. No two jobs will be the same. Video game writers will have to immerse themselves in the game’s target audience. The developers may already have very specific plots in mind, forcing game writers to work within strict confines. The task may also be more open-ended.
How to Become a Video Game Writer?
Video game writers are writers. As such, it would seem like pursuing a degree in an area such as journalism, creative writing, English, English literature, or communications is your best bet if you aspire to be a video game writer one day.
Experienced video game writers agree, but not quite — because, to fully understand this world, you would also benefit from other skills. Working on coding and design skills will never be a disadvantage. You may try to design your own games, as well, to get a better understanding of the process.
After college, if you don’t end up with a job as a video game writer immediately, you may want to pursue work as a web content writer in the area of gaming reviews, or work on fiction. Being an experienced gamer, and therefore understanding what kind of script makes the gaming experience more entertaining, can also certainly help you.
Qualifications to Be a Video Game Writer
There are no minimum formal qualifications to be a video game writer. A Bachelor’s degree in creative writing or a related field can be helpful, as can coding and design skills and gaming experience. However, raw talent and connections within the video games industry will likely be even more important to those who are trying to kick-start a career in this field.
Skills to Be a Video Game Writer
Video game writers will rely on a varied skill set during their jobs. The skills that allow video game writers to excel include:
- An amazingly creative mind. Some skills are inborn, rather than learned, after all. Relying on formulas won’t get you very far.
- Strong writing skills, which can be nurtured in college.
- A solid understanding of the video games industry, including being able to read the market — what plot lines will appeal to future gamers?
- Outstanding interpersonal skills, with a focus on listening skills. Video game writers are helping games developer by others come to life, and will have to pay close attention to developers’ visions.
- Patience. Video game writers will likely have to write, delete, revise, edit, and write again. Being able to follow directions is crucial.
- Confidence. To be able to pull off a successful career, video game writers cannot be filled with self-doubt.
Can You Be a Video Game Writer Without a Degree?
Yes. Opportunities as video game writers may very well be open to talented writers who happen not to have a degree. The video games industry continues to embrace people who take non-traditional career paths. However, a degree in a relevant field is likely to help. As we have seen, it does increase your earnings potential.