#GameDevPaidMe — salary transparency as a tool for liberation

The hashtag #GameDevPaidMe has been doing the rounds on Twitter this weekend, along with all the expected gamer hot takes (we’re all being paid far too much or far too little, apparently), dismay (*cries in artist salary*) and shock (San Francisco pays WHAT?!)

Daydreaming about a liveable wage, standard.

Some have questioned whether they can legally share their salary information at all; what good it does to do so; and if their careers will be negatively impacted for sharing it. I’m writing this to clear up some misconceptions, and to encourage you to salary transparency, especially if you have privilege; because of the myriad benefits it can have for the industry as a whole, and especially people from marginalised backgrounds.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Your employer legally cannot stop you from disclosing your salary.

The most common reason people don’t share their salary is because they’re scared of the fall out. Employment contracts are often worded in a way that heavily discourages salary transparency. But…

  • USA: Discussing salaries is considered a “protected concerted activity” by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
  • UK: Employees have the legal right to discuss pay if they choose to, and it’s illegal for employers to ban those discussions.

The sad reality is some corporations that are just shitty all round, and don’t play by the rules, and might penalise you for sharing. If you work at one of these places, 1. why?! 2. imagine how much more difficult it is for marginalised people who have to fight even harder for their own raises and advancement.

The fact is, salary opacity benefits employers (fewer people ask for their worth). This is not done out of malice; games companies are a business like any other, and they will try to keep their costs as low as feasibly possible.

If you are still worried about legal ramifications, read the terms of your employment contract carefully, and any social media compliance documentation you may have signed. Look closely at your own discomfort; are you really worried about legal ramifications, or the judgement of your peers?

Still worried? Add your salary data anonymously to Glassdoor, the UK game dev salary sheet, the US game dev salary sheet, the Swedish game dev sheet, or the equivalent for your country… you catch my drift.

Existing networks for salary transparency are not open to us

It’s true that salary information has been shared before. But it’s usually shared in close circles; between friends, between existing coworkers and alumni networks.

Do you see the problem already? The lack of diversity in these existing networks mean that those of us from under-represented backgrounds never hear these discussions. We were never invited in the first place.

It helps us know what we should be asking for

Ah, the dreaded interview question…

“What sort of salary are you looking for?”

Or even worse…

“What are you on now?”

First, both of these questions are traps. You don’t have to answer them, and most times, you shouldn’t. Especially early in career, it feels impossible (“How am I supposed to answer that when I’ve never had a job before?!”)

My face when I’m asked this question.

This leads a lot of people, ESPECIALLY marginalised people, to ask for the minimum. Some common reasons I hear are

  • “I’m just out of school, so of course I’d earn the bottom of the range”
  • “My skill set isn’t exactly what they asked for.”
  • “They’re taking a chance on me by hiring me anyway.”

With more readily-available salary data, we can go into these discussions properly prepared. If I know even one person’s salary from that company or in that role, I have a better idea if they’re trying to pull my leg or screw me. This doesn’t mean you need to turn around and ask for the maximum! But just knowing that, for example, a junior designer straight out of uni was offered £32k (who happens to be male, white, cis) makes it easier to argue that I am worth that too.

Caitlin top tip: if you’re ever asked any of these questions, turn it around. “What is the range for this role?” Most time a recruiter will tell you, and you avoid being anchored lower from the start.

Salary transparency helps us all negotiate

Negotiation- even the word feels gross on the tongue. Some folks believe it is morally wrong to negotiate in passion industries (like games, film, academia.) This is compounded for people who already feel like they don’t belong, have limited experience in the workplace, or come from a socio-economic background where salary negotiation isn’t the norm.

Some common reasons I hear from game devs on why they don’t negotiate are…

  • “I should be thankful to have this offer at all!”
  • “I don’t want to piss them off / make them think I’m bigheaded.”
  • “What if they rescind the offer?”
  • “I don’t want my new boss to think I’m full of myself right out the gate.”

Though we love making games, it is still a job. Your employer is not your friend. When you negotiate, it is not coming directly from your negotiator’s pocket. Most reasonable negotiators will not take it personally.

If you haven’t negotiated before, here’s how it usually goes:

  • When being hired: Usually the negotiation phase will be done with your HR contact or recruiter, not the hiring manager. They expect this and are trained to negotiate with you. They will not be offended by you asking for more money.
  • When in a role: you are expected to negotiate at bi-annual reviews. Usually your department will have a set pot of money that they dole out raises from between everyone in that department. In this case, your relationship with your direct manager will directly affect how much of this pot you get.
  • When being promoted: most promotions come with a raise as given. You can still negotiate this before you sign your new contract.

Hands-down the best tool to bring to any negotiation meeting is specific salary information for a range of people in your position. If people don’t share their salaries, this information is impossible to get.

Is this it?

The facts of the matter are:

  • Salary negotiation is a skill taught in MBAs, private schools and red brick universities. Your colleagues that went to those places are probably doing it.
  • Salary negotiation is drilled into people who went to big tech internship programmes, or have worked in big tech. They’re probably doing it.
  • Men, especially white cis men, are taught to negotiate assertively through the social environment they grow up in.

There are many better articles than this one on why, how and when you should negotiate. My point here is that many people you know are doing it, and you can too.

It shows the light at the end of the tunnel.

I think we can all agree: games industry salaries are often times a bit crappy. We’re taking anywhere from a 15 to 50% pay cut compared to if we were doing the same job in any other industry. We work long hours, crunch into the weekend, often for the love of it, on a game that might not ship or might be critically panned. The love is what keeps us here.

The great thing is the salaries themselves get more comfortable and liveable, especially when you get to a senior or lead level. Unfortunately many women, people of colour, neurologically diverse people and other marginalised folks never get that far; they yeet themselves out of the industry before they can get to the point where they’re both doing something they love and being adequately compensated for it.

By sharing your salary data as a senior, lead or director, it gives us something to aim for, a reason to keep doing the work and putting in the hours.

Dancing with the flying money, very realistic.

Conclusion

Salary transparency is a tool for liberation. By being open and honest about our salaries, not only can we better advocate for ourselves, but we can help other people in our industry, especially those that might have the odds stacked against them.

If you can share your salary, please do! You never know who it could help.

design leader ✧ UI, UX and Product ✦ international speaker, games career mentor ✧ contact ➼ me@caitlingoodale.com