“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s one of the most common sentiments you’ll hear when trying to decide a career path. Well, people love playing video games, don’t they? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could make a living that way?
The truth is, you can! But… it’s hard work. Many who go this route give up within a few years because the work aspect vastly outweighs the fun. Instead of doing what they love, they end up hating what they once loved. It’s also quite risky. For every make-money-playing-games success story, there are hundreds of others who tried and failed.
It’s not something I’d recommend unless you are young, single, and willing to commit several years knowing that it may all be for nothing. But it’s certainly possible! Here are six potential ways to make this dream a reality.
1. Live Streams
How It Works — Stream your gameplay in real-time for the world to see. Aim to build a large audience (which you can monetize with ads) or a loyal audience (which you can monetize with donations and subscriptions). The biggest platform right now is Twitch, but YouTube Gaming is catching up. Ignore Hitbox and Beam, which are too small to make any real money.
Why It’s Difficult — It takes a long time to build a live stream audience. You may not break 10 viewers for several months, and you might need several more months to reach 100 viewers. The reality is that some streamers never even reach that point — and to make a living, you’ll need thousands of regular viewers.
Game streaming is heavily saturated. Why should someone watch you when there are plenty of other well-established streams to watch? You can set yourself apart by providing a unique kind of humor or charisma, by being a world-class player, or by playing a game no one else plays.
Getting Started — The barrier to entry is low. All you need is a decent computer, some games that viewers will want to watch, a decent personality, and some streaming software. For PC gaming, I highly recommend using Open Broadcaster Software, which is free, open source, and even works on Linux. For console gaming, we’ve covered some ways to capture your gameplay.
Check out some successful Twitch streamers to see what makes an enjoyable stream and how they tap into their audiences.
How It Works — Newbies love reading guides, especially for multiplayer player-versus-player (PvP) games. You can either create a website for written guides, upload video guides to YouTube, or publish guides as ebooks. The first two are often monetized with ads, whereas the ebook route earns revenue through sales.
Why It’s Difficult — Anyone can write a guide. To make a living, you need to create guides for popular games, but the more popular the game, the more guide-writing competition you’ll run into. To set your guides apart, you’ll need to offer more insight than others can provide, which means investing a ton of time into a game and setting yourself up as an expert.
On top of that, you need strong writing skills. Guides need to be dense and comprehensive without being wordy and full of fluff. Formatting skills are also imperative whether you’re publishing ebooks or writing for the web.
Getting Started — Find a popular game, figure out what players are having trouble with, learn the ins and outs of that problem, then teach others how to overcome it themselves. In massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), aim for gold guides, leveling guides, and raid guides. For PvP games like Overwatch, go for character guides and mechanics guides.
3. Podcasts or Videos
How It Works — Create a daily, weekly, or monthly show related to gaming. It could be an opinion-based roundtable discussion, a series of interviews with high-profile players, tips and tricks for a certain game, etc. Podcasts and YouTube videos can be monetized with ads, but this format can also be supported through Patreon subscriptions.
Why It’s Difficult — You’ll need to build a sizeable audience before any revenue comes your way. Your show also must be compelling enough for people to tune in. Boring? Shallow? Poor production quality? These can all keep your show from succeeding.
In a way, this is almost a hybrid of guides and live streams. You need the knowledge and insight of a guide creator plus the diligence and charisma of a streamer. On the bright side, the content doesn’t have to be as deep as a guide and your personality doesn’t have to be as distinct as a streamer.
Getting Started — We’ve written about starting your own podcast and what makes a professional-quality podcast, so those are good places to start. There’s a lot of overlap if you prefer the video route: just upload to YouTube instead of using a podcast host. Check out popular gaming podcasts to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.
4. Competitive Gaming
How It Works — Tournaments are commonplace for PvP games, and the more popular a game, the larger the prize pools become. If you’re good enough to join an esports organization, you may earn a livable salary. Most competitive gamers also take advantage of live streaming for additional income.
Why It’s Difficult — Not everyone can be a net-positive player. You can be a world-class player, get knocked out early in a tournament, and leave with zero winnings. Even if you do win some money, it may not cover the hotel and flight costs. If you aren’t consistently at the top, forget about living on winnings.
Furthermore, the esports industry is still young. Even if you land a position on a revered team, the “salary” will likely be below minimum wage. The industry is also plagued with con artists and thieves who prey on naive gamers. It isn’t unusual to hear about players never getting paid what they’re due.
Getting Started — Find a popular PvP game with lots of tournaments and heavy interest from esports organizations. Practice, practice, practice. As you get better, network with other professional gamers to get your name out there. But to be honest, you’ll likely have better luck (and earn more money) pursuing a career as a non-competitive streamer.
5. Games Journalism
How It Works — Write news, reviews, and interviews for a specific game, genre, or industry. You can create your own journalism site (which can be monetized with ads or Patreon subscriptions) or work for an established site on a paid-per-article basis.
Why It’s Difficult — As with most areas of journalism, it’s quite competitive. Lots of people want to write about games for a living! If writing for an existing site, you’ll have to work for pennies while you establish a portfolio and hone your skills. If starting your own site, it will take years to build an audience from which you can make a living wage.
Plus, journalism can be quite demanding. If you pursue news writing, you’ll need to tap into all kinds of sources around the clock to get scoops before others do. Reviews and interviews can take a lot of time to do properly. And in general, writing every day can be a huge drain on mental energy.
Getting Started — Look for open positions on intermediate-sized gaming sites. Make sure you have some writing samples on hand. Send in applications (with your writing samples included) and hope for the best. If you don’t have any samples, you may want to consider volunteer writing for smaller sites first.
I do not recommend launching your own games journalism site until you have several years of experience writing for an established site. Writing day in and day out is hard enough. Managing a site on top of that? That’s a whole new level that can quickly lead to burnout.
6. Games Testing
How It Works — Games go through various phases of development. When they near completion, developers need outsiders who can playtest their games with fresh eyes. As a playtester, your job is to test everything the developer wants you to test, which includes finding and documenting bugs and issues.
Why It’s Difficult — These days it isn’t too difficult to become a tester, but it can be mind-numbing work. Also, the pay isn’t great (on par with, or slightly better than, minimum wage). And unless you can land an internal position at a large game development company, most testing positions are for mobile games.
Getting Started — For on-demand playtesting, look into services like PlaytestCloud, BetaFamily, MyAppAware, BestReviewApp, and ErliBird. Becoming an internal tester at a company is tougher. You’ll have to browse job boards, research companies for open positions, send in applications, and hope for the best.
Playing Games for Work Is Still Work
Games are fun because they grant us periods of escape from reality. When gaming becomes your job, that aspect of escapism will disappear, and likely so will the fun. Love playing games? Think long and hard before turning it into a potential career. You may come to regret it.
If you still want to forge ahead, the opportunities in this post are the best ways to make a gaming-related living right now. Good luck!
Have you tried any of the above? Know of other ways to make money while playing games? Share with us in a comment below!
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