6 Ways to Make Money Playing Video Games

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Well, what if you love playing video games? Is it possible to get paid and make money playing games? 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 will give up within a few years 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: for every 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 several potential ways you can start earning money by playing video games.
1. Get Paid to Live Stream
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 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 some 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.
Getting Started
Fortunately, the barrier to entry is low. All you need is a decent computer, some games that viewers want to watch, a decent personality, and some streaming software.
For PC gaming, we highly recommend streaming gameplay with OBS Studio, which is free, open-source, and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. For console gaming, we’ve covered some ways to capture your gameplay.
2. Try Your Hand at Games Journalism
How It Works
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 or Patreon subscriptions.
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 have to work for pennies 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 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 at intermediate-sized gaming sites. Forget sites like IGN for now, and ignore upstarts who 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.
I 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 Guides and Tutorials
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 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.
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 build guides and mechanics guides.
4. Host a Podcast or YouTube Channel
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 specific 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 you see any revenue. Your show must be compelling enough for people to tune in. Boring? Shallow? Poor production quality? These will all keep your show from succeeding.
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, 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 starting your own YouTube channel. These are good resources to start with.
5. Win Tournaments and Acquire Sponsorships
How It Works
Tournaments are commonplace for PvP games, and 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, 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 winnings.
Furthermore, the esports industry is still 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 naive gamers. It isn’t unusual to hear about players who are never paid what they were promised.
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 completely honest, you’ll likely have better luck (and earn more money) pursuing a career as a non-competitive streamer.
6. Get Paid to Test Games
How It Works
Games go through various phases of development. Near completion, developers need outsiders to 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. 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.
Getting Started
For on-demand playtesting, look into services like PlaytestCloud, BetaFamily, 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.
Earning Money to Play Video Games Is Still Work
Games are fun because they give us time to escape reality. When gaming becomes your job, that aspect of escapism disappears—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. If you’re interested in making your own games, check out these free game development software and tools.
Image Credit: file404/Shutterstock
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