How much can I make?
This all depends on your experience, level of expertise, specialization, location, and negotiation. I believe for junior level artists, salary could start around 40-50k in general, then it goes up from there. There’s a lot of different factors that add to this. Don’t worry! I’ll go over each of them one by one to help break it down.
Do your research
The best thing you could do is doing the research yourself by using websites like Glassdoor and also searching out freelance sites and seeing how much contractors get paid. Remember you don’t make great amount of money until you have a lot of experience and have made a name for yourself. Set realistic expectations! Next is to research the cost of living at the location of your work place and the taxes. For example, cost of living is vastly different from Colorado to California. I personally made a painful mistake of quoting my price at a slightly higher rate when I moved from Colorado to California, only to find out California taxes are so much higher than Colorado. Yes, all this isn’t the fun stuff, but it’s very important.
Experience is going to set the base pay amount for you like any other job. The more experience, the more money. Your portfolio is important too but experience tells the hiring company that you don’t need as much hand holding as a junior person might. It also tells them that you know how to work with other people. So for those who are just starting out, get your foot in the door somehow. Working on a game mod with other gamers (You can find forums for this) can help you get started. If you can get lucky enough to intern at a game company, do so. Apply for jobs and see if you can land anything. I started actual paid work by going into game development forums and put my portfolio and services out there. I started getting contacted and accepted jobs here and there. Then I started getting in contact from legitimate studio, which got my career started. So, after you’ve created a great looking portfolio, try to get your foot in the door.
Depending on your specialization, your salary will change too. Programmers usually get paid more than artists on the same level of experience. The rarer the specialization, the more pay you’ll be able to get. Recently I’ve been finding out a great graphics programmer is extremely hard to find, so I imagine their pay is a lot more than regular programmers. This is something you should research on your own by checking out survey sites like Glassdoor.
Living in San Francisco, California cost a lot less than living in Denver, Colorado. The main things you need to calculate for starters is rent, state tax, cost of food(how much is a regular lunch cost?), and gas. This is very important. I’ve gotten a good amount of raise only to find out I get paid the same paycheck because the state tax was dramatically higher at my new workplace. Knowing your budget will help you set your expectations and help you plan ahead for the future. Also keep in mind taking a paycut to go to a different state which has lower taxes and cost of living isn’t a bad thing. You might be living more comfortably at a lower tax state than a higher one. So research and plan for the future!
This is where I feel even experienced artists in the industry lack the skill in. Simply put, artists are passionate people. Passionate people will work for lower wages because they feel like they’re lucky to do what they love. The industry sometimes takes this passion and low balls talented artists. This is why it’s very important to know your worth. Once you negotiate your pay, it’s hard to go back and have them adjust it, which makes this process very important. General rule is that bigger the company, the more pay you can push for. Some famous companies do use the status of their company to low ball since they have a lot of talent trying to get into their company. First thing you should do is research and calculate the cost of living at that location. Come up with a base salary/hourly pay number you MUST have for you to live and work there. This should be the number you absolutely say “No” to if the company goes lower than this number. You don’t want to be in a situation where working at place cost you more money than you make. Don’t make this mistake because you’ll be miserable. Come up with a number you think you’ll be comfortable with. Basically what you’re doing is making min and max numbers and trying to find a good median. Find a good happy number and keep that number in mind. Make sure you’re also realistic by comparing the number to the research you’ve done on what other people in the same position as you are being paid. Now you have a good numbers in mind, let’s talk about negotiation in action. Assuming you’ve made it through the interview process, they want to know how much you would like to get paid. The best thing to do at this situation in my opinion is to let them go first. Something along the line of “I would like to see what you guys were thinking first”. Reason why I think this is a smarter move is to figure out the range you can negotiate terms. This way you don’t go too high or low. Some places will tell you what they’re thinking around first. Some places won’t and insist what you would like first. If they say a satisfying number, you should either agree, or try to push it a bit further. You can take a risk or play it safe. Your choice. A good thing is to have reasons backing your push for more, if you are (Cost of living is higher, you have a family, etc). Be careful here though because they might not like it if you push too far and not follow through. If they insist on you going first, tell them the number you’ll be happy with. They might accept your proposal, or try to renegotiate with you if they were looking for a lower amount for the position. If they really want you, you’ll have more power here. Your portfolio, experience, and personality are the three main reasons for you to negotiate harder. Factor in relocation, flights to go interview in person, hotel, meals, etc. Companies usually handle all these. Make sure you ask them how much of it they’re willing to cover. If they’re not covering them, I’d be very weary about even working there and cut the process immediately. Do keep in mind that every place is different. What I’m saying now is not the black and white answer. Find what you’re comfortable with and start there. You might mess up a lot of these if you’re starting out, but that’s okay. You live and learn like everyone else. This process also goes easier the more you interview since you start figuring out your self worth. Now go out there and make some money!
*Above image is owned by Rockstar Games “Grand Theft Auto 5”