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Make Money Just By Playing Video Games

By Tony | updated On Sep 1, 2023, 10:15 AM UTC


If you really love playing video games, you might have wondered if there’s a way to turn your obsession into a paying hobby, or maybe even a career.

You might be surprised to find out that there are four main ways of making money playing video games. Everyone automatically thinks of streaming these days, of course. But some of the other options are far more accessible and realistic if you’re a detail oriented person.

So dust off your controller and limber up your fingers, because we’re about to discuss the ways you could be making money playing video games!

A Warning For Future Pro Gamers

Don’t make this decision lightly. The moment you turn your gaming hobby into a source of income, it can become drastically less fun.

Every part time and full time career path that we’re about to mention involved dozens of hours playing the same games over and over again. Variety streamers are rarely a success from the start, they normally need to specialize in one or two games to get their initial audience. In the other career paths, you might not even get to pick the game that you’re playing!

So if you want to have as much fun as you’re having right now, maybe becoming a pro gamer isn’t for you. With that warning out of the way, let’s look at the four main ways that you could be making money playing video games.

Streamer - The First Way You Could Be Making Money Playing Video Games

In 2023, one of the most popular ways to make money playing video games is to stream them on Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Kick, or Facebook Live. This is one of the most independent ways of involving video games in your income stream, as it’s exceedingly rare to be part of a ‘team’ of streamers (outside of common sponsorships by gaming organizations, which is a thing).

Earning money as a streamer

We already have a complete guide on how to become a streamer. But we’ll give a quick summary here and add a few details that weren’t available at the time of publishing the other article.

You’ll need some minimal physical hardware as described in the guide, and a stable streaming schedule. People need to know when you’re on, and if you want to make any significant money, you’ll need to stream for at least 5 hours a day and prepare for at least 1 to 2 hours (which may include extracting and quickly editing the vods (videos on demand) for YouTube). That’s pretty much a full time job if you go with a 5 to 6 day a week schedule.

If you can only do it part time, make sure to get right into the meat of the broadcast. An ‘after work’ schedule of 3 hours a day for 6 days a week can work if you’re just starting out. You’re only likely to hit the second rung on your service provider’s ‘streamer tiers’ with part time streaming. Then you need to make a decision: Ramp up the hours, or be satisfied with what you have.

Try to focus on one or two (related if possible) games at the beginning. Variety streamers rarely see success from day one, they normally start as specialists and slowly branch out after getting a bigger audience.

The thing to understand about streaming is that it takes time to build an audience. You need to be entertaining, consistent, and respond quickly to changes in the platform. Policy shifts and new incentive models can drastically change your short and long term plans.

One example of this is the recent hammering down on multistreaming by Twitch (in mid 2023). As an Amazon-owned company, they decided to emulate what they did on the self-publishing side: Forcing exclusivity as much as possible.

So now streamers have a decision to make: Stream exclusively on Twitch, or try to multi stream on a bunch of other platforms? If you decide to multistream (also known as multicasting), we have a new tool suggestion for you rather than OBS: StreamYard. The reason is that it handles multistreaming natively, right in the browser. It’s not that great for Twitch, but it’s excellent on many other platforms, making it perfect in this scenario.

Whatever you decide, understand that the competition is much more fierce since the Covid pandemic. The stats are impressive. In 2019 there were 3.6 million consistent streamers on Twitch. In 2022, even after the lockdown dip had already started to decrease the number of people indoors, there were 7.6 million consistent streamers. This slightly outpaced the gross number of hours watched and the total viewing public figures, meaning the competition for each viewer is tighter than ever.

Streaming takes time, talent, charisma, and a bit of business savvy in order for it to become a realistic way of making money playing video games. If you don’t have all of those attributes, you’re going to have to get help from people who do. Once the money starts rolling in, you may want to reinvest some of it by getting freelancers to do the things that you don’t know how to do. That may involve investing in branding, in training for your presentation skills, in icons and other subscriber rewards, in vod editing, or in business planning and management resources.

The less you outsource, the more you need to do yourself, which means more prep time each day and more learning time that you need to set aside in the long term. Choose your wheelhouse carefully, and be prepared to outsource certain tasks if you start to get bigger and need to budget your time more carefully.

Other than those specific points, refer to the guide linked above for a more nuanced look at becoming a streamer.

Reviewer or YouTuber - The Second Way You Could Be Making Money Playing Video Games

An alternative to streaming, and one that might not necessarily mean you’re working as an independent contractor, is becoming a game reviewer or YouTuber. Depending on how hard of a life you want to live, you can either try to do this on your own or get a job with a gaming magazine or gaming network.

Earning money as a video game reviewer on YouTube

Becoming an independent game reviewer uses many of the same tools, and carries a lot of the same risks, as streaming. The video recording and screen capture process is largely the same; utilities like OBS can be used for both tasks. The talents required are mostly the same, though you’ll need less spur of the moment inspiration and more in depth story building skills, given the difference between live audiences and the typical YouTube viewer.

On that note, there are more video hosting platforms out there than YouTube, of course. But it’s the biggest, so you should probably start there. The skills you learn as a YouTube game reviewer or playthrough content creator will transfer to other video hosting services.

Now you need to attract a following. You’ll want to pick a theme or a genre and stick with it. You don’t want to confuse or bore your audience once you attract a core following. So if you pick the theme of ‘reviewing games on sale for under $5’, suddenly doing a month of the latest AAA title isn’t going to do you any favors. If you do looter-shooter playthroughs, switching suddenly to rhythm games is just shooting yourself in the foot.

You also need to establish a solid portfolio. This is done for two reasons. First, you aren’t likely to see blockbuster success in the first year, and your back catalog is mainly what viewers will have to go by, as far as getting a read on whether or not you’re worth a follow. Secondly, it can serve as a kind of resume enhancer if you decide to apply for a job with a gaming network or game review magazine.

This is the second option available to online game reviewers and game based video content creators. Some of these companies are looking for journalism or related degrees, others are just looking for talented individuals and don’t care about educational requirements. In either case, having an online portfolio that showcases what you’re good at is vital. So if you aren’t the best editor, consider getting some freelance help to polish up your best videos so that potential employers will be impressed.

Working with a bigger company is a far more reliable way to make money playing video games, but the pay ceiling is lower. In other words, you’re unlikely to hit it big working for IGN or one of the other game critic houses. But you have far less competition, and far greater job security.

The downside is that you’ll rarely pick the games you play and review. The company will have a list of games they need to cover, and only once in a great while will you be able to pick up an indie gem and spend quality time with it. You’re mostly going to play whatever AAA game the corporation is paying you to play.

The upside is that most of these companies let you work from home, have mostly flexible hours as long as you hit your deadlines (minus group meetings and the like), and are less volatile about their hires than the game testing space, which we’ll discuss in a short while.

Pro Gamer - The Third Way You Could Be Making Money Playing Video Games

If you have the talent and don’t mind taking a few risks, you could try to become a pro gamer. This is one of the more independent ways of making money playing video games, but there are possibilities of being on professional teams or gaining team-oriented sponsorships as well.

Earn money competing in video game tournaments

This is one of those ‘you have it or you don’t’ situations. For part time pros, you can compete in online tournaments and try to climb those leaderboards while earning prize pool money. Organizations like Game Champions will help you get into the groove so that you can realistically set competition goals and improve your performance under pressure.

Only the best of the best can even entertain the idea of becoming a full time pro gamer. You’ll need top level skills, specifically in games with pro leagues. It’s not like you can be good at some random game and create a competition and prize pool based on that.

In fact, pro gamers will often need to shift what games they play over the years, following the prize pools if their chosen game falls out of vogue. Some games last a long, long time on the pro scene (TF2, DotA, Starcraft, and LoL for example) and others change a bit from version to version but the core skills transfer (Counter-Strike, Smash Brothers, EA sports games, etc.). But if you get unlucky, you might need to hone a whole new set of skills in order to chase the money.

The good news is, there are support structures already in place in the form of teams. You might think that leaves individuals out in the cold if they pick one-on-one games, but that’s simply not true. Teams like Cloud9 and Astralis might be mostly interested in games like CS and League, but teams like Tempo Storm and Red Bull take on talented individuals from all kinds of Esports, including non-team games like Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone, racing games, and more.

A lot of these players start at the scholastic level. This allows them to play in organized ‘feeder’ systems where they can test their talent in a structured way. This is how more and more pro gamers are being discovered these days, although open competitions are still a viable way to show off your talent.

This method of making money playing video games is probably the most all-or-nothing of the entire bunch. You can compete locally without much of a commitment, but once you’re traveling nationally and internationally, you either succeed or you’re doing the opposite of making money. The expenses add up quickly with no sponsorships and no part of the prize pool.

For some idea of what it takes to be at the high end of the pro gaming ladder, take Johan "N0tail" Sundstein as an example. He earned over $5 million over the 2018/2019 DotA seasons, with two wins at The International. He’s considered to be the highest paid eSports player of all time. And he trains about twelve hours a day, at least five days a week. This is what it takes for most players at the very top to have a multi-year championship run. Understand that your twitch reflexes can start to decay in your late 20s and early 30s, so if you want to retire at some point you either need to make all of your money while you’re young, or find another career after you age out.

Pro gaming can be brutal. But believe it or not, our last method of making money playing video games might be even more punishing in the long run.

Game Tester - The Fourth Way You Could Be Making Money Playing Video Games

One of the most common, but least independent ways to make money playing video games is as a professional game tester.

First off, remember that warning we made at the top of the article? Consider it a professional certainty here. Whatever games you’re testing, you are very likely never going to want to touch them again.

Professional game testing is one of the most certain ways of making money playing video games, but also one of the most grueling. It’s often an hourly contract position with plenty of overtime expected. 50 hour weeks are the norm, more during crunch times. Companies hire on a regular basis, because burnout rates are immense. This is the ‘fast food’ experience of making money playing video games. There’s no glory to be found here, but you will at least get paid.

Video game testers normally play the same game over and over again for weeks on end, methodically testing the game’s mechanics (scoring, controller responses, intended progression paths, etc.), physics (gravity, barriers, speed limitations, camera orientations, etc.), and compatibility (console specific standards, memory and processor usage, optimization, etc.) among other factors.

It can be quite grueling, particularly when you realize that every bug that you find must be regression tested. That means for every new patch, the continued existence of the bug must be confirmed or denied. Games are allowed to release with known bugs, but certain consoles and retail platforms will bar a game from release if it breaks their standards or has significant ‘A-level bugs’ that are game breaking. So regression testing, although tedious, is required.

Bill Ricardi, a former Deloitte test manager and contract game tester for Namco, gave us some of his thoughts on game testing as a career. He stresses the difficulty of the testing lifestyle, and how it can quickly take a toll on one’s physical and mental health if the tester doesn’t find some way to balance their (extensive) work life with their personal life. His take on the industry echoes the many other accounts of game testing that we’ve heard over the years.

Later, when asked what the hardest part of being a game tester was, he immediately replied:

‘The lack of power to change anything. You are the lowest person in the corporate food chain, seen as instantly replaceable if you make a fuss. All you can do is report your bugs, and everyone up the line can overrule your perception of its importance… marketing, programming, management, executives, and even key influencers. You have no say in the end result. You are a bug finding and regressing machine, and you’re expected to make your case once in writing, and then shut up and get back to testing.’

We are hardly the first to document the poor working conditions of game QA testers at many companies, nor the first to compare the experience to a horror story. These tales have been going on since the 1990s.

But if you really want to be the first one on your block making money playing video games, professional game testing has the lowest barrier to entry, does not require marketing skills or excessive travel, and is the lowest risk path towards getting some kind of paycheck.

There are also some spotlights being shown on the industry, as of 2023, that might result in better working conditions. The unions have started to form, and Microsoft has given the largest one a nod. So maybe things are looking up. But change is slow in this industry.

Which Route Is The Best For You?

The route that’s best for you depends entirely on what’s most important to you.

For example, in terms of the most ‘entry level’ way to make money playing video games, game testing requires no particular educational background. Candidates should have excellent attention to detail, and a history of avid video game playing.

The route to making money playing video games with the highest pay ceiling is either streaming or pro gaming, which could eventually lead to million dollar paychecks at the very highest levels.

As far as having a long lasting career, that applies solely to video game reviewers, content creators, and critics. Testers will likely suffer from burnout, and age will eventually remove the twitch reflexes required for competitive play.

In terms of making money part time, the only real option would be online tournament play. Every other avenue demands a ton of time invested before you’ll see any returns.

Summing It All Up

Making money playing video games, generally speaking, requires a lot of time investment.

Just look at the pro scene. Imagine how much time that the average person spends playing video games casually. Now add all of the other factors like time spent running the business and looking after the finances, taking on feedback, putting yourself out there for tournaments, tryouts, interviews, and of course practice… it adds up.

And all of the other avenues towards success in making money playing video games have their own prerequisites, trials, and time sinks as we’ve already discussed. So it isn’t a decision to be made lightly.

Have any additional questions, comments, or resources that we should be aware of? Feel free to contact us, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.