You started as a tester and were making $8 an hour and were happy. You did a great job, so they offered you a test lead position for $36,000 a year. If you were working a flat 40 a week, this would work out to approximately $17.30 an hour or $692 a week, and would be good.
Most test leads don't work a flat 40. Most test leads end up working about 60 hours a week. Guess what? You just prorated yourself down to $8 an hour. I'll explain.
When you are working hourly, you get paid time and a half for every hour above 40. If you aren't getting overtime, check with your local labor board because there are severe problems.
At $8 an hour, you gross $320 a week.
If you work 1 hour of overtime, that goes to $332 a week. At 10 hours of overtime (not uncommon), that goes to $452 a week. At 20 hours of overtime, that goes to $692 a week...a tie with the salaried test lead position.
During crunch time, there are times when I've worked enough hours to prorate myself down to minimum wage.
Most companies say that because you are salaried, you are now part of the bonus program, etc., but given how rarely the bonus programs pay out anymore, you really have to stop and think for a bit. If hourly won't pay a living wage and salaried essentially requires you to devote your life to work, who is really benefiting?
As long as game testing is seen as glamorous and attracts the sheer number of applicants that it currently does, there is no systemic solution for this. If you are going to accept a salaried position, work with your manager to put hard caps on the number of hours that you will work each week. Failure to do so can only end in wishing that you stuck around flipping burgers.