Mr. Ebert, for years now, you have been making the case that video games, the most popular entertainment medium of the 21st century, are not “art”, while film, the most popular entertainment medium of the 20th century, is. Subjectively, we all can (and will) argue this point until the world runs out of oil and both these media are rendered obsolete, but in the meantime let’s approach the issue quantitatively & see where it leads.
First of all, let me give you a bit of background about myself. I was a college film student who ended up working in the game industry for several years before making the jump into tech & marketing and so I hope I can speak on these matters from a position of some experience. I’m also a lover of drama, music, comedy, visual art and literature & while I don’t usually enjoy perpetuating stereotypes, one that I feel contains a grain of truth is that of the “tortured” artist. This is not to say that all artists are Van Gogh-esque nut-jobs, driven to self-mutilation by failed love affairs & the chemicals in their paints, but I *do* believe that we all make choices in life & I think no one would argue that a career in “the arts” is the most profitable or stable one that a talented and intelligent young person could choose.
In other words, people who choose to make a living from their artistic endeavors, whether filmic, dramatic, poetic or etc., are aware of the more lucrative alternatives (lawyer / doctor / social-media expert / etc.) and have instead decided to “suffer” for their art, because they value it more highly than material wealth or social status. Are we agreed upon this point, Mr. Ebert? I hope so, or this next bit is going to be a bit tedious & unconvincing.
I have before me 2 documents. One is a “2009 Salary Guide” from a freelance staffing agency that works with clients in the advertising & technology fields. The other is the “9th Annual Salary Survey” as compiled by Game Developer Magazine
for their April 2010 issue. While neither of these documents can be considered definitive, I think comparing the two can offer some useful insights on the “game business”, as distinct from the broader “technology” industry, and can also support some of the hearsay and observations that I’ve collected during my time in both.
Since the nomenclature used by the gaming industry borrows (interestingly enough) more heavily from film than from technology, it will first be necessary to establish some valid correlations between job titles in the two groups. Let’s start with Project Managers (or as they’re known in games and film, “Producers”). According to the “2009 Salary Guide” provided by the staffing agency, an “Interactive Project Manager” can expect to earn a starting salary between $61,250 and $88,250 (for an average of $74,750) at the national level. Regional variances can affect these figures, with Interactive PMs in San Francisco earning between $82,687 and $119,137 to start, while those in Columbus, Ohio will fall between $58,187 and $83,837.
Moving on to the 2009 “Salary Survey” from Game Developer magazine, it’s reported that a “Producer” with up to 3 years experience will earn an average salary of only $42,000 for work that is (in my personal experience) largely indistinguishable from that of his or her “Interactive Project Manager” counterpart in tech/marketing. The same regional variances exist in the GDM survey, but comparing the national average salaries across the 2 industries, we can see that the games producer earns a full $32,750 less per year!
Now that this methodology has been established, let’s look at some other positions. On the more technical side of things, we can compare a “Programmer/Engineer” from the games industry with a “Flash Developer” on the tech/marketing side. As an aside, the game “Programmer” would probably consider this a rather insulting comparison, but “Flash Developer” is the best match I’ve got in the “Salary Guide”. In any case, the video game “Programmer” (with up to 3 years experience) earns an average of $54,975, while the tech/marketing “Flash Developer” starts at $75,625, a difference of $20,650.
Next we come to the “artists” themselves, who work mainly with 3D modeling & animation tools these days. In the games industry the average salary for a “3D Artist” starts at $45,200, while in tech & marketing this figure is $64,375, for a difference of $19,175.
And let’s not even talk about QA (Quality Assurance) or Strategy & Business Development.
So what my point in rattling off all these statistics? It’s this… My friends in the gaming industry are some of the smartest, most talented, industrious and sensible people I know & it is safe to assume they are all fully aware that more lucrative career options exist in other fields. Despite this, they have *chosen* to work in game development for some pretty damn good reasons. Chief among these, and the one which makes their blood boil at your remarks, Mr. Ebert, is that they, along with millions of people around the world, all share a deep-seated belief that the work they are doing has value beyond the purely commercial, that the experiences created over late nights of pizza and Dr. Pepper are reaching, and having an emotional impact on, a massive audience, and that they are all doing their part to help us understand the meaning & possibilities of life on this planet, and beyond, over the next 100 years.
Surely this effort is worth a few thousand dollars a year, and *surely* it is deserving of some artistic recognition, wouldn’t you agree?
Thank you for your time,
P.S. On the outside chance that you actually read this *and* get to the end, I’d like to take the opportunity to second the recommendation of everyone on the internet who has commented on your previous blogs to suggest that you take 5 minutes and play Jason Rohrer’s “Passage
” for Mac/PC/Linux and I will also add that the 2008 Wii title “de Blob
” (originally conceived by students from the Utrecht School of the Arts) is also worth a look. Finally, you should, if you are not already, absolutely be aware of Keita Takahashi’s 2004 classic “Katamari Damacy
” for PS2 & Steve Meretzky’s “A Mind Forever Voyaging
” from 1985.