How to Make Money Playing Video Games

How to Make Money Playing Video Games

“Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson once penned a comic wherein two parents watch their son play Nintendo while they cycle through starry visions of what the boy might make of himself through his gaming prowess. Select “jobs” included “Princess Rescuer” and “Nintendo Expert,” and each one offered a generous salary plus benefits.

The joke is pretty obvious: a kid who pumps hours into a video game isn’t doing a whole lot to enrich his or her future job prospects. And, to be fair, when Larson first drew that cartoon (the ’90s), video gaming was smaller, more contained, and believed to primarily be the domain of young boys.

Fortunately, times have changed, and so has the games industry. There still aren’t any want ads for princess rescuers, but there are several ways you can make some money–or even a career–from video games. In fact, as child education expert Dr. Yvonne Fournier pointed out in a July 2010 column outlining the benefits of gaming as a pastime, “The hopeful parents in the Far Side cartoon were heralds of the future!”

If gaming is your passion, consider getting into:

Game development — Kind of obvious, but no less an ideal position for anyone who wants to get into the industry. Video games don’t materialize out of the air. Moreover, this is an ideal time to get into game development. Social and free-to-play games have led to the creation of hundreds of small, independent studios, not to mention offshoots of major companies that focus exclusively on mobile games.

In the 8- and- 16-bit landscape, your sole North American schooling option for game development was the then-tiny Digipen college. Now, your options are limitless–which is all the more reason to research game schools before committing to one.

If schooling isn’t an option for any reason, you can always mess around with your own creations, and/or join one of the hundreds of online communities dedicated to homebrew game development. Education is important, but so is experience and passion.

Games writing — Getting into games-based writing can involve one of several jobs. There’s “games journalism” (a term that some critics of the craft choke on), which refers to writing game news, previews, interviews, reviews, and features for magazines and websites. Game journalists also maintain blogs, Twitter feeds, and whatever social media demands of them.

Otherwise, characters need to say things in games, and someone needs to write the relevant dialogue. That’s to say nothing of menus and tutorials. Game translation and localization is also in great demand, now that games are crossing almost every border in the world.

Game testing — Testing a game for bugs is pretty much the bottom of the totem pole as far as game-related jobs go. Far from being a job where you “get to play games all day,” game testing can be tedious, grueling, and low-paying. The positions are often temporary, so once a project is done, chances are good that you’ll need to seek out a new job.

On the plus side, game testing presents an excellent opportunity to work your way up into game development. Game testers who do well on a particular game stand a decent chance of being asked to test the publisher’s next venture.

Community moderation — The rise of online games has also made it necessary for players to “live” in those games, address player complaints, and try to keep everyone from treating each other like dirtbags. This breed of moderation is especially important in kid-oriented online games, which promise a safe and fun environment.

Player moderation doesn’t stop with the game, either. Most online games have a bustling blog, forum, and/or community that must be tended to. Moderators need to be on hand to make sure nobody is posting pornography or kitty spam.

Many moderator positions start out as volunteer work, but some offer the potential to move up to paying positions.

Professional Gamer — Here it is–a true instance in which playing games can reap considerable cash rewards. Don’t expect to walk into your “Dream Job,” however; gaming on a professional level takes a great deal of dedication, and unless you luck out with a sponsor early on, you’re going to spend a lot of your own money on travel, lodging, and general competition fees.

You should also work out whether you want to compete in general tournaments, or focus on a specific genre or game. For more info, check out Major League Gaming and SK Gaming.

Oh, and lest you forget: Game Theory‘s own Scott Steinberg has also written an entire career guide on the subject: The free to download book Get Rich Playing Games.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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