My husband is an artist and has expressed interest in designing board games before. As a result, we were both curious about how much game designers make. So, I thought I would do some research and write about it.
How much do board game designers make? An employed board game designer in the United States makes on average 73,000 per year, while a freelance board game designer makes on average 6.5% in royalties of the wholesale price of each board game sale.
While that’s the short answer, there are actually a lot of caveats to this question. Three are three common types of board game designers—employed ones, freelance board game designers, and the entrepreneurial board game designers who self publish on Kickstarter. In this post, we’re going to look at all three of these types of designers, and the various ways in which they get paid.
Employed Board Game Designers and Their Salary
If you would have asked someone in the board game industry ten years ago how much a board game designer makes, his or her answer most likely would have been, “however much they make in their day job”.
Most people design board games as a hobby, side hustle, or passion project. I bring this up because, while yes, there are employed board game designers, you need to know that it’s a fairly new position, and the jobs are few and far between.
That being said, an employed board game designer works on designing games for a company (their employer). That company will then take care of the many other aspects that go into making the games they design a finished product.
Employed board game designers (in the United States) make on average $73,000 per year, according to both Zip Recruiter and Glassdoor. Zip Recruiter has seen salaries for board game designers vary from as low as 19,000 per year, and as high as $140,000 per year. But most employed board game designers’ annual pay falls between $36,000 and $92,000 per year.
While there are some advancement opportunities for board game designers, there are typically fewer advancement opportunities than there might be with other jobs. That being said, advancements and an increase in pay are still possible, based on your experience and the amount of time you’ve worked for a company.
How Employed Board Game Designers Get Paid
Employed board game designers get paid just like employees in many other companies do. The individual in the position would either get paid by the hour or they’d be on a salary. And they’d take home a regular paycheck just like in most other jobs.
Freelance Board Game Designers
Now, we know that being an employed board game designer isn’t the only option. There are several freelance board game designers as well. And a lot of smaller to medium-sized publishing companies actually rely on freelance board game designers to find and publish the games they’ve designed.
Freelance board game designers spend countless hours designing and creating their games. Then, they spend time prototyping and play-testing their games until they feel that their game is ready to go. Once it’s ready to go, they pitch it to publishers in the hopes of landing a contract. At that point, there are typically three things that the publishing company can and will do.
- Decide to sign the game and offer the designer a contract
- Ask for developmental changes
- Decide not to sign the game
Being a freelance board game designer means doing a lot of work upfront before you even have a chance of earning a penny. It can take weeks, months, or even years to create a game that’s ready to pitch to board game publishers, and even then—there’s no guaranteed paycheck.
How Freelance Board Game Designers Get Paid
Freelance board game designers get paid much differently than how employed board game designers get paid. They usually get paid in royalties based on the terms that they themselves and the publisher agreed to in their signed contract. This means that the designer receives a small percentage of the profit every time a game is sold.
While this can and does vary, a game designer can expect anywhere from 5-8% of each sale at the wholesale price, with 6.5% being the average. (Wholesale prices are typically 50% of the retail price.)
Most publishing companies pay these royalties on a quarterly basis. And some publishers provide an advance up front. But, any advance would go against the royalties that you will receive.
Entrepreneurial Board Game Designers That Self Publish
Now, there is a third category of board game designers—those who are entrepreneurs and self publish their board game(s) on Kickstarter. These designers are those who take care of the entire process of bringing a fully fleshed board game to life, from start to finish.
Now, when you look at Kickstarter campaigns that are being successfully funded, it’s easy to get shocked by how much it seems like these designers are making. But in reality, there are highs costs associated with producing board games.
Before a campaign is even started on Kickstarter, those designing the game have already spent several hours getting it to the condition it’s in. So, the first cost is time. But there are several other costs to consider:
- The components that will be a part of the game
- The printing of the game itself
- Board game art
- Video production
And the list continues. The bottom line is that self-publishing is expensive. I recommend reading this article to get an idea of how much it can cost to self publish a board game on Kickstarter.
How These Entrepreneurial Designers Get Paid
The amount that board game designers who self publish on Kickstarter earn varies quite a lot depending on the type of game they’re creating, and the costs associated with it. But, the way that they get paid is fairly simple—they get paid through Kickstarter campaigns.
If their project on Kickstarter is fully funded, then they first have to pay fees for Kickstarter and their partners. This can total roughly 8-10%. After that, then comes manufacturing and fulfillment costs, taxes, and various other expenses in order to produce the game. And at the end, once all of the expenses have been paid for and the game is on the way to the backers, you get paid by keeping what’s left (if there is any).
Encouragement for Aspiring Board Game Developers
I hope the information I shared above was helpful, especially if you’re considering becoming a designer yourself. And if you are considering becoming a board game designer, there are a few things I want to leave with you as you start your journey.
The first is that if you plan to get into board game design, you need to really love board games and designing them. Being a freelance board game designer, finding a job as an employed board game designer, or self-publishing on Kickstarter is not easy. But, while it is difficult it most certainly can be done.
There are several resources that you can turn to for more direction, like the Board Game Design Lab, Stonemaier Games, and Brandon the Game Dev. But one thing you can start doing today is to learn the mechanics of board games, play board games, and simply become an expert on the different types of board games and their mechanics. That will help you as you get going.