1980s' programmer salaries...

Y'know, other stuff, Sinclair related.
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5MinuteRetro
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1980s' programmer salaries...

Post by 5MinuteRetro » Wed Nov 15, 2017 11:29 pm

Okay, I'm sure this has been done before somewhere but my decrepit middle-aged mind would like a redux...

How much would a talented/star ZX Spectrum programmer expect to earn in the 1980s, both then and/or adjusted for inflation (although to be fair I could do that second bit myself)?

So, your Joffa Smiths, Kevin Toms, Jon Ritmans... what did those guys earn annually/per project in their heydays? I guess it's safe to assume that today's big-name code-meisters earn considerably more?
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Re: 1980s' programmer salaries...

Post by Mike Davies » Thu Nov 16, 2017 7:25 am

5MinuteRetro wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 11:29 pm
So, your Joffa Smiths, Kevin Toms, Jon Ritmans... what did those guys earn annually/per project in their heydays? I guess it's safe to assume that today's big-name code-meisters earn considerably more?
At least this year both Mark R Jones (Ocean; Wizball, Gryzor) and Martin Wheeler (Virgin; Dan Dare, REBEL) have posted photos of their original offers of employment. My mind is failing me at the actual numbers. Something like £20k a year for Mark, and £10k a year for Martin, ballpark??
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Re: 1980s' programmer salaries...

Post by ramsrc » Thu Nov 16, 2017 7:29 am

I do remember reading at one time that Matthew Smith could have afforded to buy a Porsche at 14 (or some such similar statement).

As a child, I was pretty awestruck by that - but despite a career in IT, I have yet to own a Porsche :lol:
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Re: 1980s' programmer salaries...

Post by 5MinuteRetro » Thu Nov 16, 2017 10:19 am

In the last year or two I heard Jon Ritman interviewed on some podcast (possibly The Retro Hour), and I'm pretty sure he said he got something like £50,000 for Head Over Heels. Perhaps I completely imagined that figure, mind. But I also think he said it sold something like 300,000 units. So, with those kinds of numbers I don't think such a figure would be beyond the realms as a royalty... but again, I might be completely misremembering the stats. I really should go back and listen to the podcast, I guess!
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Re: 1980s' programmer salaries...

Post by Joefish » Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:28 am

Depends if you were getting a flat salary to work in-house, a fixed sum as a contractor on a single project, royalties from the software house acting as publisher, or an in-house salary plus royalties.

To get £50K off a game that sold 300 000 units would only need around 17p per copy getting back to the author (33p maybe, if shared equally between two people). That doesn't seem a lot from a game that retailed at £8. But was probably quite a relatively high value given who was involved in the deal. Very few authors would see that sort of success.

There's a reason there were so many schoolboys and young upstarts in 80s games programming - they're easy to exploit! Someone still living with their parents isn't quite so demanding of a living wage. Actually paying someone a working wage from an entertainment industry with all its fads and downturns isn't easy. No-one was really getting very rich, except perhaps a few directors who were siphoning off too much cash, and they pretty much all failed as businesses in the end.

There was lots of talk of programmers who could fancy cars, but it was mostly lies - Imagine's one supercar was actually on hire purchase and just got loaned out as a reward (mostly to its salespeople). If you total up your own salary over a few years you could afford all sorts of things, but you know it really goes on food, mortgage, gas and electric, etc. And that's without a serious drug habit going on...
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Re: 1980s' programmer salaries...

Post by Ralf » Thu Nov 16, 2017 7:24 pm

Yes, programmer were young guys who often thought that their fun with working on the game and excitment when it's released by some company was enough reward for their hard work. Only later they realised that they should get much, much more and instead their cash was collected by some older guys in suits.

There is some interesting stuff in in hidden messages in games:

http://www.worldofspectrum.org/equinox/eggs/

Task Force:
MY GOD, AM I EVER GOING TO GET ANY MONEY OUT OF INTERCEPTOR.... I DOUBT IT.....I SOLD TASKFORCE FOR ONLY £800 TO INTERCEPTOR... I GET THE FEELING I WAS RIPPED
I remember seeing some more, may somewhere else but can't find it at the moment
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