The areas of the industry are divided into the following businesses:
The various companies whose job it is to bring the games to the market. They control what games make it past the development stage, through funding and management of the finished game. They also are responsible for marketing, PR, Sales and manufacturing the game, and often companies like EA, Activision and Codemasters will pay the developers in advance to cover the cost of development. Once the development process is finished, the game is sold by the publisher and the money made back will go back to the publisher until they have made the money back that has been advanced to the developers. Depending on the game's success, how much money is made back determines both a developers additional royalties and also a publishers investment in a developer; if a game doesn't sell, regardless of weather a sequel is already in production if the publisher isn't behind it financially it wont see the light of day.
The multitude of Programmers, Artists, Designers, Sound Engineers, Musicians, Producers and Writers who all all work on creating the game itself. Development companies vary from independent to part-owned or fully owned by Publishers, distributor or hardware manufacturer. Most games are funded by a Publisher; The developer pitches their game idea to a publisher who agrees to fund the development work through an advance against future royalties. The developer then proceeds with development of the game, receiving regular payments upon reaching pre-determined milestones in the project. With the up rise of indie games however, a lot of games are being created and funded via online fund raisers, putting the fate of the games release in the hands of those who would inevitably want to play it.
The companies who are responsible for getting the finished game from the Publishers to the shops that sell them. As Publishers don't deal directly with the stores, they sell their games onto Distributors who then in turn sell the game to the various shops they deal with. With current generation consoles all providing their own digital distribution services via their respective online services (PSN, XBLA and WiiWare), distributing companies are being replaced causing a massive shift in the industry.
Two main TYPES of hardware exist in gaming, both Pc/Mac's and game consoles, Pc's are open access, meaning anyone with the funds and backing can develop games for them, while consoles are closed systems, meaning all the games are made in industry, and so apart from hacking a console illegally, the games made for consoles are much more stable due to a longer and more thorough process of development and testing.
As someone who is studying to work in the development side of the industry as a game artist, i have researched the individual roles and salaries to see how they differ and also to see the path needed to take to get where i want to in the industry. (Estimated wages are in dollars, and all wages increase, both after being in the industry for 3 years and then again after 6).
Programmer/Engineer: Between $50,000 and $90,000 a year. Is the highest paid role, especially at entry level position.
Technical Directors: Has a lot of responsibilities, so can earn between $60,000 to well over $100,000 a year
Game Artists: New and under 3 years experience can expect an average of $40,000 per year. If position held for over 6 years can earn up to $67,000
Game Animators: Between $46,000 and just over $75,000 in the current climate
(If you gain a senior role in either the art or animation department of game development, salaries can range from $64,000 to a ridiculous $214,000)
Videogame Designer: Between $46,000 and $70,000
Creative Director: Between $45,000 and $81,000, though depending on the company senior roles can bring in up to a reported $180,000 a year.
Producer/Executive Producers: Producers are only usually roles given to those who have worked in the industry a few years first anyway, but those can earn anywhere between $62,000 and $200,000 a year.
Game Tester: Between $32,000 and $50,000 a year
Lead QA: On average, between $40,000 and $60,000, though if highly skilled and have longevity can earn up to over $200,000!
Sound Engineer/Technician: Between $50,000 and $74,000 a year.
Musician/Composers: On average can earn between $55,000 and $90,000, but with longevity can earn over $200,000.
Success in gaining a position as a game artist in particular, tends to be based off a good, solid portfolio and knowing people who are already in industry to get to know all the inner workings of companies and how they accept new prospects. While some companies rely on a good degree, others may not even take that as a priority instead basing it off what work you show them, and how professional you act during the interview. At the end of the day, concentrating on a specific area in a role you want to work in, will mean you have a solid strength that you can work to your advantage and can offer a prospective company.
(An in depth look into the more specific roles, and how much they pay)