RALEIGH, N.C. – As hundreds of people flock to the new capital city downtown for the first Triangle Game Conference, a salary survey just out shows why so many people want to be game developers.

These jobs pay very well. And in the Triangle at least, many of the 30 locally based operations are hiring as videogame entertainment grows more important than Hollywood.

Average game industry salaries in 2008 were $79,000 in 2008, according to the eighth annual Game Developer Salary Survey from Game Developer magazine. That total is 7 percent higher than in 2007 – and how many people do you know received a raise of that size as the economy tumbled into the tank last year?

However, the recession has hit some game companies especially hard with layoffs at Electronic Arts and elsewhere. The Game Developer editors like just about every other one in existence:

"This year was a rough one, with ‘these economic times’ becoming the new corporate buzzword prefacing layoffs. This year’s Game Developer Salary Survey doesn’t fully reflect the changes in the climate, although the survey asks about layoffs and post-layoff placement, for the first time. In addition to that, you’ll find the usual stats for all major disciplines, from coders through businesspersons, as well as details about who owns homes, and where, and regional stats for within the U.S., Canada, and Europe."

However, job seekers – students and veterans of other fields that feel they can apply their programming, sales, marketing and other skills to the interactive entertainment sector – were out in droves at the conference.

Videogaming veterans will say the work is hard but fun; there’s a lot of tedious programming but it’s also artistic – you are building worlds; the hours are long, especially at “crunch time” – game deadline delivery date. But, bottom line, the challenge is to be creative, not repetitive.

Here’s the breakdown on job type and salary, and not everyone is making more than in 2007:

  • Programming: $85,024. But note this from the survey: “Experience pays in this role, as those with greater than six years of experience earned 26% more than the average annual salary.”
  • Art & Animation: $69,532. Interestingly, 28 percent of art directors reported lower salaries.
  • Game Design: $67,379 on average. Out west, the survey points out, developers make 12 percent more.
  • Production: $82,905 average salary. Here, the study notes, women make up 21 percent of the workforce which is “more than twice the industry average.”
  • Quality Assurance: $39,571 for the “testers.” But here is where many students crack into the business, and $39,571 is a lot higher than what a lot of other newbies to free enterprise make.
  •  Audio: $78,167.

Business and marketing: $102,143 plus the highest bonuses. Why so high? Games need marketing and sales like any other product, and in tough times like this the people who can execute deals are at a premium.