Creating games is as much a science as it is an art. It requires an eye for both the technical and the beautiful, making it one of the most mentally challenging jobs in the world. Game developers should be paid high wages for their work – though that’s not always the case. Depending where they work, the average salary for a developer can be far lower than they may get in another city. Yet even if some places pay more, they may be too expensive to live comfortably. Some places are also fairly sparse of other like-minded game developers. Here at 25PC we wanted to find the best cities in the U.S. to be a game and software developer.
The south is where it’s at: 8 of the 15 top cities are all located in the south. All of them are bolstered by a low cost of living, high salaries and a high density of developersTech hubs like Seattle and San Francisco are in the top 15 due to the high number of game studios in those cities
Austin has one of the highest densities of software developers of any major city in the U.S. coupled with a modest cost of living. The average salary for a developer in Austin is slightly above average as well, making Austin the best city in the U.S. to be a game developer.
2 ) Atlanta
Like the other southern cities in our rankings, Atlanta is bolstered by a a low cost of living and a budding developer community. Salaries for developers are above average at $105 per year with a cost of living about half of that as San Francisco. Atlanta has 12 game studios including The Stork Burnt Down and Hi-Rez Studios.
The North Carolina capital is the 2nd best place to be a game and software developer. Raleigh is home to over 25 game studios like Atomic Games and Drastic Games. Even though salaries in Raleigh are about 1/3 less than they are in San Francisco, it is nearly half as expensive making it an easier place for a game developer to get by. Raleigh also has 14 software developers per 1,000 workers employed – the 9th best of any city in the U.S.
The 1st of two midwestern cities that are great for game developers, Columbus has the 9th best cost of living with the average developer making $100,280 per year. Columbus also has the 37th highest density of software developers. Competition for being a game developer may be steeper in Columbus compared to other big cities on our list as there are only 6 game studios such as Fresh Games and Flipline Studios. If you can find a job in game development in Columbus however, you should be living comfortably.
The home of Amazon, Microsoft and numerous other tech companies is unsurprisingly also a great place for game and software developers. The cost of living is not great in Seattle and Bellevue where it ranked as the 19th highest cost of living. However, salaries for developers in Seattle and Bellevue are the 2nd highest in the entire country standing at over $130,000 per year on average. Seattle is also home to over 80 game studios like Arachnid Game Studios and Cascade Game Factory.
Another southern city great for game developers, Lexington boasts the 26th best cost of living and 21st best mean salary for software developers making it a comfortable place to live for those with jobs. Competition may be tougher in Lexington than in other cities on our list however as there are only 6 game development studios such as Frogdice and SuperSoul.
7) San Francisco
Finally the city that most people probably think of when it comes to being a software developer; salaries in San Francisco are sky high and it’s not hard to find other like-minded developers in the Bay Area. The average software developer can expect to make an average $141,630 per year the highest of any city in the U.S. There are also 141 game studios to find a job such as 2020 Venture and Anki.
A short drive away from Raleigh, Durham, North Carolina is another great city to be a game developer. As with Raleigh, the cost of living is cheap and the salaries are great. What makes Durham rank below Raleigh however is a lower average salary. Durham game developers make an average $99,000 per year compared to $100,960 per year in Raleigh. Durham has game studios such as Prologue Games and Personalized Learning Games.
Big D is another southern city that is welcoming for game developers. Though the most expensive of the southern cities, the average salary for developers in Dallas top $109,240. Dallas has the 23rd highest density of software developers in the U.S. and is home to over 15 game studios such as Pixel and Texel and Triple B Titles.
The 7th of 10 southern cities in the top 10, Hunstville is another beacon for game developers. Hunstville is the cheapest city to live in of any in the top 15 and salaries are over $100,000. What doesn’t allow Huntsville to be higher in the rankings however is the fact there are only 2 game studios in the city. However, one of those is America’s Army, the official video game of the U.S. army.
Our Full Results
Below you can see a table for all the cities in our study. We looked at over 131 cities and ranked them based on their cost of living, the mean salary for software developers, the number of developers per 1,000 people, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Location Quotient and the number of gaming studios in each city. Here are our results:
RankCityCost of Living IndexAnnual WageSoftware Developers per 1,000Location Quotient# of Game StudiosWeighted Score
1Austin100$105,43013.732.37429.252Atlanta96.3$104,7809.111.531229.313Raleigh95.9$100,96014.042.361029.384Columbus89.3$100,2806.891.16629.635Seattle/Bellevue110.5$133,81029.094.888230.636Lexington91.3$105,4806.351.07631.637San Francisco124.7$141,63017.272.913433.568Durham95.2$99,03014.332.4433.949Dallas100.2$109,2408.671.451534.6910Huntsville89.4$100,94012.542.1134.7511St. Louis90.8$100,8805.660.95635.1912San Jose127.1$132,17044.777.51838.6313Phoenix97.1$97,9606.671.121340.8114Cincinnati89.6$91,9406.791.14241.3115Santa Clara127.1$132,17044.777.51541.8816Sunnyvale127.1$132,17044.777.51443.6317Lawrence92.7$117,130––143.5518Orem96.8$97,53013.502.27243.6319Chapel Hill95.2$99,03014.332.4143.6920Boulder108.9$104,67027.894.68543.94
Methodology and Data
To arrive at our findings, we looked at 5 factors:
The cost of living index provided by FRED (2x weight)The mean annual wages for software developers in each city from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (1.5x weight)The number of developers per 1,000 workers in the city from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2x weight)The location quotient for software developers in each city from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (0.5x weight)The number of game studios in each city provided by Game Dev Map (2x weight)
We took each factor and then applied a weight so some were more important than others. We arrived at a final score, the lowest score being the highest ranking city. We then ranked each city 1 thru 131.