Games Developers - Who Do You Think You Are?
A recent survey of game devs gave some interesting details on the community's demographics, like their youth, inexperience, and lack of interest in making money.
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Games are a significant player within the entertainment sector, accounting for a large portion of the global entertainment economy. Over the last decade, mobile and web gaming has come of age while the increasingly powerful hardware found in game consoles and gaming PCs can accommodate increasingly rich, fully featured immersive gaming.
In this article, I want to consider the people behind the games — the developers. The insights reported below are based on the Developer Economics Survey by Slash Data, which took the opinions of those working in game development, either as professional developers, hobbyists, or students. If you’re a game developer, you may be interested to know a bit more about people like you working in the industry. So, read on!
How Do You Know This Stuff?
As a freelance writer, one of the hats I wear is as a senior analyst working with Slash Data. We run regular surveys of software developers around the world to uncover valuable insights from those working in mobile, desktop, IoT, cloud, web, game, AR/VR, data science, and machine learning. The 15th Developer Economics global survey wave ran from May to June 2018 and reached more than 20,500 developers from 167 countries.
On to the juicy stuff...how many people are working in game development?
The Game Development Community Is Relatively Small
Across the population of developers answering our survey in Q2 2018, 39% said they were involved in game development, but only 6% reported to be working as professional game developers, while 10% identified themselves as students of game development, and 27% were writing games as a hobby. Taking into account our estimate of the number of software developers globally in Q2 2018, we estimate a population of 7.7M game developers worldwide.
This number is relatively low compared to other communities; it is about the same as those in the fields of data science and IoT, which are relatively recent arrivals.
But games have been a part of the software landscape for decades, haven’t they? So why are game developers still a small cohort? In part, the sector has expanded relatively recently; mobile and Internet-based gaming only really took off in the last decade. Game development is also highly segmented. There are many developers who work on aspects used within game development, such as frameworks and graphics pipelines, while not creating games themselves. As such, they may not directly identify themselves as game developers.
Of the development areas we surveyed, such as games, web, or mobile, games have the smallest percentage of developers who identify as professionals. This may well lend weight to the suggestion that the industry is segmented and many professional developers are not directly involved in creating games, but instead in enabling game creation.
Game Development Is a Popular Hobby
From our survey, the largest population of hobby developers by proportion was found in the games vertical, accounting for almost three-quarters of it. This may well be because creating games is an accessible hobby for all kinds of programmers. Games can span a huge range of platforms and styles, and writing games as a hobby is fun. It can also be a way to try out different technologies without being too much like a day job.
In North America, eight out of ten game developers identify as hobbyists, with a similar number in Western Europe. This may be a result of these regions being the first to establish game development as part of the mainstream. Hobby development has also had a long time to establish itself, starting in the 1980s with home setups such as the ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, and Commodore 64. The developer population in these locales has had time to get comfortable with hobbyist game development.
Indeed, North America has long been a well-established powerhouse of game development and, in Q2 2018, this region accounted for the largest population of the world’s game developers. The next largest population was found in East Asia, which is unsurprising as China is the world’s largest market for purchasing and playing games. The third largest region in terms of game developers in Western Europe and Israel.
Game Developers Are Inexperienced
Most game developers have less than three years’ experience. Almost one-third have less than one year of experience. A similar pattern can be observed for mobile, IoT, data science, and machine learning developers, reflecting their relatively recent arrival and growth in the software field. The nascent fields of AR and VR have even fewer experienced developers, as we would expect from their relative infancy.
There is also skew toward youth in the game developer community compared to the population of all developers answering the survey. In recognition of the contribution of games to the economy, a number of governments have recently created education schemes to offer funding for those training to be game developers. The relative youth of the game developer population may reflect the successful uptake of these initiatives, as they encourage young people to study game development and enter the industry.
The proportion of game developers over 35 is smaller than the general developer population. Older developers rarely make a transition into games from other development fields for various reasons, including the comparatively poor compensation rates and long working hours typical of the game industry. We would not, therefore, expect a large group of older developers in an industry that, as we have already observed, has newly arrived.
Making Money Isn't a High Priority for Game Developers
We asked those identifying as game developers in the survey, “What is the most important goal in game development for you?” Making money seems to be a low priority for the combined group of all game developers, with just over one in ten saying that their most important goal is to generate direct revenue. Given that such a high proportion of game developers responding to the survey identify as hobbyists it is perhaps not surprising that the focus is not on making money.
The “non-monetary” goals (having fun to build things, gaining experience, being creative) all ranked higher than those goals that directly or indirectly generate revenue, and combine to account for the goals of almost two-thirds of the game developers responding to the survey.
Hobbyist developers place having fun at the top of their list of reasons for creating games. In comparison, professional game developers don’t seem to prioritize having fun. This is somewhat to be expected, given that they are talking about their day job, rather than what they do in their spare time. Interestingly, though, the number of professional game developers wanting to create or express themselves in an artistic way matches that of the broader game developer population. Professionals may not set out to have fun, but they do aim to be creative.
What kinds of games are they creating? Well, action and adventure games lead the way, with arcade-style games a little further behind. Puzzles, educational games, and strategy games are also popular, not surprisingly, since these translate well to mobile form factors; mobile gaming is a buoyant and successful part of the market at present.
The game development community is still small, but this can be explained by a relatively recent expansion due to mobile and Internet gaming, and segmentation into product creators and those that enable them. The majority of those identifying as game developers are hobbyists and they are relatively inexperienced and youthful. Our survey found a community of game developers worldwide, but with a strong concentration in North America, Western Europe, and East Asia. We also discovered that game developers were more interested in having fun than making money and that creativity was valued by all types of developers equally.
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