In today’s world, it’s certainly possible to make money playing video games. But the truth is that it’s hard work.
Many who go this route will give up within a few years (or months) because the work aspect kills the fun of playing video games. Instead of doing what they love, they end up hating what they once loved. And it’s risky due to the crowded market. For every success story, there are hundreds of others who tried and failed.
It’s not something we’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 several potential ways you can start earning money by playing video games.
1. Get Paid to Live Stream
Anyone can stream their 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 (to monetize with donations and subscriptions). The biggest platform for streaming is Twitch, but YouTube is also an option.
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 may not reach 100 viewers for years. The reality is that most streamers never reach that point—and to earn a living streaming video games, you’ll need thousands of regular viewers.
The streaming landscape is oversaturated. Why should someone watch you when there are plenty of other popular streams to watch? That’s the tricky part. Set yourself apart with your own brand of humor or personality, by being a world-class player, or by playing games no one else is playing.
Fortunately, the barrier to entry for streaming is relatively low. All you need is a decent computer, some games that viewers want to watch, a fun personality, and streaming software. Make sure your internet upload speed is fast enough to handle the stream, in addition to whatever game you’re playing.
For PC gaming, we’ve walked through how to get started with Streamlabs OBS, which is a great beginner option. If you’re playing on console, you need a capture card, which is an additional expense.
2. Try Your Hand at Games Journalism
Fancy yourself a writer? Either join an existing site or launch your own and start writing news, reviews, and interviews for a specific game, genre, or industry. If writing for an existing site, you can get paid on a per-article basis as a freelancer. If starting your own site, you can monetize your traffic with ads, Patreon subscriptions, or similar.
Why It’s Difficult
As with most kinds of journalism, games journalism is competitive. Lots of people want to write about games for a living! If writing for an existing site, you’ll likely have to work for next to nothing while you establish a portfolio and prove your skills. If starting your own site, it’ll take years to build an audience from which you can earn enough to live on.
Journalism can be intensive. For news writing, you’ll need to tap into all kinds of sources around the clock to get scoops before others do. Reviews and interviews take a lot of time to do properly. And in general, writing every day can be a huge drain on mental energy.
Look for open positions at intermediate-sized gaming sites. Forget major gaming sites like IGN for now, and ignore startups that have no readership. Make sure you have some writing samples on hand. Send in your application (with writing samples included) and hope for the best. If you don’t have any samples, consider volunteer writing for smaller sites first.
We don’t 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 of effort that can easily lead to burnout.
3. Create Video Game Guides and Tutorials
Newbies love reading guides, especially for multiplayer player-versus-player (PvP) games. You can take several routes, such as creating a website for written guides, uploading video guides to YouTube, or publishing guides as ebooks. The first two are often monetized with ads and/or donations, whereas the ebook route earns revenue through sales.
Why It’s Difficult
Anyone can write a guide. To make any kind of money from it, you need to create guides for popular games—but the more popular the game, the more 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 and setting yourself up as an expert.
On top of that, you’ll need strong writing skills. Guides need to be dense and comprehensive, but also entertaining and comprehensible. Formatting skills are imperative, whether you’re publishing ebooks or writing for the web.
As one example, GameFAQs has a “Bounty Program” that rewards you with cash for being the first person to write a comprehensive walkthrough for a title. Most of these guides pay at least $200, which sounds great. But when you factor in the amount of time you’ll need to spend mastering the game and explaining every little aspect of it, you’ll be earning well below the minimum wage per hour.
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 or Valorant, go for build guides and mechanics guides. And for single-player games, you’ll probably have the most success with focused guides on topics like earning a certain Achievement/Trophy.
4. Host a Gaming Podcast or YouTube Channel
Have a lot to say? Try creating 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 specific game, or anything else that’s interesting.
Podcasts and YouTube videos can be monetized with ads and sponsorships, but this format can also be supported through Patreon subscriptions.
Why It’s Difficult
You’ll need to build a sizeable audience before you see any revenue. Your show must be compelling enough for people to tune in. If it’s boring, shallow, has poor production quality, or is inconsistent, the show won’t succeed.
In a way, this is like a hybrid of guides (#3) and live streams (#1). You need the knowledge and insight of a guide creator, plus the diligence and charisma of a streamer.
On the plus side, podcast content doesn’t have to be as deep as a guide, and your personality doesn’t have to be as distinct as a streamer. You could dedicate a channel to gaming news for one genre, for example.
Tournaments are commonplace for PvP games. Of course, the more popular the game, the larger the prize pools become. If you’re skilled enough to join an eSports organization, you may be able to earn a livable salary through winnings and sponsorships. Most competitive gamers also take advantage of live streams (#1) for additional income.
Why It’s Difficult
Not everyone has what it takes to win. You can be a world-class player, yet still get knocked out early in a tournament and leave with zero winnings. Even if you do win some cash, it may not cover the cost of hotels and flights. If you aren’t consistently at the top, forget about living off the winnings.
Furthermore, the eSports industry is still relatively young. Even if you land a position on a revered team, the “salary” could be below minimum wage. The industry is plagued with con artists and thieves who prey on naïve gamers. Stories about players who aren’t paid what they were promised have popped up from time to time.
Find a popular PvP game with lots of tournaments and heavy interest from eSports organizations. Practice, practice, and practice some more. As you get better, network with other professional gamers to get your name out in the open.
Being completely realistic, you’ll likely have better luck (and earn more money) pursuing a career as a non-competitive streamer. That way, people will still enjoy watching you even if you’re not the absolute best.
6. Get Paid to Test Games
Games go through various phases of development before they’re released. Near the time of completion, developers need outsiders to playtest their games with fresh eyes. As a playtester, your job is to check over everything the developer wants you to look at, which includes finding and documenting bugs and other issues.
Why It’s Difficult
These days it isn’t too difficult to become a tester, but it can be mind-numbing work. Playing to intentionally break games becomes boring fast, especially if you have to keep checking the same places after every revision.
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 game testing positions are for mobile games.
For on-demand playtesting, look into services like PlaytestCloud, BetaFamily, and BetaTesting. 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.
7. Sell Accounts or Digital Items
If you’ve spent enough time in some games, you might be able to “flip” your account or in-game items to other players. As one example, you can resell some Steam Trading Cards earned by playing games to players who want to collect them. While you won’t make huge money from this, you might be able to earn enough to cover your next game purchase.
You may also be able to sell accounts. For example, in Overwatch, the practice of using a “smurf” account (a secondary account that’s ranked much lower than the player’s actual skill level) is common. Since you must reach a certain level to play Competitive matches, players who want to smurf might look to buy an account to save themselves time. Similarly, a player might pay you to rank up their account if you’re more skilled than them.
There are other ways to get creative with this; you might use sites like Fiverr to sell “gaming services” to people who are interested. Maybe someone is lonely and just needs someone to group up with for an hour, and will pay for the privilege.
Why It’s Difficult
While this form of gaming income requires less dedication than most of those mentioned above, it’s still not perfect. Unless you already have extra accounts or rare items sitting around, the time that you must spend to earn them makes it barely worth pursuing.
Grinding a game just to earn new cards or reach a certain level is boring, just like playtesting. And there’s no guarantee that someone will want to buy what you’re selling.
Depending on the terms of service for a particular game, selling your account or other items may be against the rules. Always be sure that you aren’t doing anything wrong before you try this.
Research the games you like to play and see what items from it sell for a good price. A site like PlayerAuctions helps connect buyers and sellers of gaming items.
Earning Money to Play Video Games Is Still Work
Games are fun because they give us a way to escape reality. When gaming becomes your job, that aspect of escapism disappears—and likely so will the fun. Love playing games? Think carefully before turning it into a potential career. You may come to regret it.
If you still want to forge ahead, the opportunities discussed here are the best ways to make a gaming-related living right now. Of course, there’s always the option to make your own game and earn money through sales, as well as in-app purchases or ads. But games take a long time to develop and require a totally different set of skills.
Image Credit: file404/Shutterstock
Free game development software is a great way to start making video games. Here are the best gamedev software worth using!
About The Author