How to Make a Living Playing Video Games

Dear Brian,
Are there any jobs for people who are interested in gaming, and want to earn a living by gaming?

There are actually plenty of ways to make money playing video games, and I wish my high school guidance counselor knew of them instead of recommending the Army.

1) YouTube/Twitch Videos

YouTube and Twitch are two of the most popular sites for monetizing video game videos. PewDiePie is one of the most famous YouTubers, with over 10 billion views (take that Psy) and an estimated net worth of nearly $60 million. This is more than Hillary Clinton, Meek Mill, and Emma Watson.

The difference between YouTube and Twitch is that YouTube is mostly focused on prerecorded videos, making it popular among gamers who simply use video games like Minecraft as a platform for their own scripted work (saving time and money in set design and removing the need for a professional video camera).

Twitch, on the other hand, is mostly used for streaming live games. As opposed to scripted comedy, gaming skill is what rules the Twitch ratings.

Be aware that PewDiePie is the exception, not the rule, and it’ll take years of solid and consistent content to build a large enough viewer base to make any real money.

Money in video game videos mostly through affiliate advertising, and free programs like Fraps will help you record game footage while you play while Handbrake is a great free video editor/transcoder to optimize for the web.

Check your ISP’s data upload limits before uploading to ensure you don’t get hit with expensive overage charges.

2)eSports Leagues

There are currently around 20 different eSport leagues around the world, and several of them are broadcasted on cable networks, video game consoles, and online.

Between these 20 leagues, underground tournaments, and sponsored one-off competitions, there are thousands of video game tournaments happening around the world every year, many with prizes topping $100,000 for first place (and dropping exponentially or disappearing entirely for each lower ranking).

In order to cross the poverty line and make a decent living, a professional gamer has to win at least one major tournament per yer, so focusing on being the best in one game is a great way to go.

The top gamers in the world averaged around $300,000 in 2015, and professional gamers often supplement their income by taking sponsorships (and some eSports teams pay a salary, though it doesn’t compare to player, or even referee, minimums in leagues like the NFL or NBA).

Professional gamers must not only be the best, they have to keep up on when/where tournaments are being held. Like being a famous rapper or athlete, public performance is only 1-percent of the game. The majority of the work happens behind the scenes, and it’s harder than it looks.

3) Working for Developers

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Everyone working for a video game developer loves video games; that’s why they got into the business. If you want to make money playing video games without the stress of working as a freelancer, look for jobs at a video game developer.

Video game testers don’t make much (starting hourly rate is $8-$10), but you’ll literally be getting paid to play video games. Also your title won’t be “Video Game Tester,” it’ll be “Quality Assurance Analyst,” which translates to a cushy job in any industry in Corporate America.

Be aware that QA testing in the video game industry is about as low on the totem pole as you can get (thus the feature in Grandma’s Boy) and is equivalent to a call center job.

Other options if you want to utilize your passion for games to contribute to the industry are marketing, 3D modeling, computer design, software engineering, and business management.

Keep in mind working for major companies like EA, Nintendo, or Bethesda isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. They’re still corporations like any other, and you must drink the Kool-Aid to survive. Teams are routinely let go when not needed and suggesting innovation or changes is a long, laborious process filled with red tape.

4) Review Video Games

Hardcore Droid Brian Penny

Another blue-collar method of making money playing video games is to review them. There are countless video game outlets online, and they all need reviews, previews, tips, tricks, and strategy guides. If you’re already playing video games, start documenting the strategies and learning how to take screenshots.

Reviewing video games will gain you free media passes to the eSport tournaments listed above, along with E3, PAX, Comic-Con, and other video game-related events held throughout the year. At these events you’ll gain all the early access you need to content, along with having a chance to meet with and interview developers.

Working in the video game media is as cutthroat as Hollywood’s media, and speed is the name of the game. It’s important to not only provide accurate and detailed coverage, but to provide it first in order to beat out sites like IGN, GameSpot, or Kotaku (who are in competition with each other and everyone else).

If you already have your finger on the pulse of the video game industry, reviewing video games is a great way to monetize your passion.

Here’s a tip for 2016 – VR gaming is going to blow up in a big way, and early access to VR gear will get you a leg up on the competition.

Want more info on working in the video game industry? Check out How to Attend and Prepare for E3 from my “How to Attend for Major Events” series.

Brian Penny VR HeadshotBrian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work appears in High Times, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Main Street, Lifehack, and Hardcore Droid.

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Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer.

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