How Gamers Make Real Money from Video Games

There is a popular saying out there that if you can do what you love for a living, you’re rich no matter how much money you actually make. I’m a believer in this philosophy, though the idea of playing video games for real money has always sounded rather strange.

I mean, really. Who would pay you to play a video game? How could you turn your time spent playing into a paycheck? Well, there are actually quite a few people out there who make a considerable living from doing just that.

Here are some ways gamers are (or potentially will) make money doing exactly what they love to do.

Games Designed for Player Profit

Second Life
Second Life isn’t technically a game, though it does appear to receive press from the same market. Second Life is a virtual world that has been around for almost a decade, and has enabled people all around the world to make some extra cash (or even a living) from products and services rendered entirely within the bounds of this virtual environment.

For several years, gambling was a popular pastime on Second Life. Until an FBI investigation prompted Linden Lab to disallow wagering, casinos and money distribution scripts were scarred all over the place. Even visiting a popular hangout could prompt you to wager some cash on devices that randomly select and distribute a pool of virtual currency called Sploders. Texas Hold’em was also quite popular.

Wagering aside, everything your avatar wears (including its skin) can be custom-designed by yourself or another member of the virtual world. This created a market for clothing, hair, skins, accessories, houses, vehicles, and even animation sets. Everything and anything inside of Second Life (except for the avatars themselves) can be bought and sold.

With every U.S. dollar being directly transferable to roughly 266 Linden dollars, it isn’t uncommon to see people spend quite a lot of real-world dollars on virtual goods. In some cases, in-world clothing actually sells for an almost equal amount as its real-world equivalent.

Sex is another big industry in Second Life. People pay big real-world dollars for virtual goods including animated beds, animations, and poses that assist in… well whatever it is the user is involved in.

Diablo III
Diablo III, the latest creation of Blizzard Entertainment, introduces a new way for players to buy and sell in-game goods. You can opt to sell your products on an in-game currency only market or opt to sell in a real-world currency store. Yes, the loot you pick up around the Diablo world can be bought and sold for real cash.

Diablo III isn’t an MMORPG. It’s actually a large-scale game that can be played in small servers or in a single player environment. Because of this unique market that doesn’t require players to buy or sell from within the same server, an Internet connection must be constantly available in order to play.

Imagine making a few dollars off of an axe you discovered while clearing out a dungeon before work, or spending a couple bucks to get that one piece of loot you really want but can’t seem to locate within the game. That’s possible in Diablo III, and Blizzard isn’t adding a single item to the market. It will be entirely player driven meaning that if folks don’t use it, it won’t be of any use.

This is concerning to some that state gold farming will become an issue. Still, Blizzard believes things will work out just fine, with smaller servers keeping the farmers out of areas players may wish to venture. It may be less annoying, but what impact it will have on the economy remains to be seen.

PayPal has recently been named the official payment-service partner of the Diablo III auction house.

EVE Online
EVE Online doesn’t directly allow you to make money from in-game items and/or currency, but you can buy game time with in-game currency. That means your profits made as a player can actually translate to being able to continue to play the game free of charge.

To facilitate this, CCP created an in-game player license that can be directly redeemed to extend the subscription by 30 days. You can also purchase this item with real money through CCP, allowing you to sell it to other players for in-game currency.

This upset quite a few players including myself. Frankly, what good is a virtual economy when it can be seeded by real-game currency? A player with a few hundred real dollars to spend gains as significant advantage over others because the investment of time to earn revenue needed to purchase ships and other items can be supplemented with cash.

Gold Farmers and the Illegal Black Market

Whether the game authorizes real-world buying and selling of virtual goods or not, there will always be a black market for these items as long as they can be traded between players. It isn’t difficult to find a site that sells in-game currency for popular MMORPGs including: World of Warcraft, Aion Online, Guild Wars, and just about any other title you could imagine.

There is an impression out there that you can hire a group of people overseas for pennies on the dollar to spend countless hours farming for valuable loot and in-game currency to sell to players through online transactions. Once a player makes the purchase, an in-game agent delivers the money.

Game publishers are cracking down on this activity, though it can be extremely difficult to detect and enforce. Consider how many in-game transactions are legally made at any given time and just how easy it would be to fake one supplemented by real-world funds. This is exactly what’s happening, and someone is making a decent living doing so.

A common service of these gold sellers is character leveling. Throw a certain amount of money at them, and they’ll level your character to the max and leave it with a number of great items and a bank account to boot. Great if you don’t like the idea of actually spending the time it takes to level your character, right? Think again. This means your character could be used to do things like spam populated areas in order to sell gold. Further to that, you risk having your account flagged and/or removed once the IP(s) of the terms violators are discovered.

Keep in mind that this process violates the terms and conditions of most MMORPGs out there, even if that game sells its own currency to users. In some cases, this may even violate the laws of your region and could result in criminal prosecution.

Character Sales

Character sales and transfer are also a potentially terms-violating way people are making money from their time spent gaming. Investing a considerable amount of time and energy into a character can appear to be a complete waste of time. Well, some players have opted to actually sell their characters through transfers. This gives the new players a head start and the original player some return on their considerable time investment.

Like illegal character leveling, buying and selling characters is often banned by the terms and conditions of the game. Still, it isn’t hard to find a handful of high-level characters on sites such as eBay or Craigslist.

Keep in mind though, like any activity that violates a game’s terms and conditions, you risk losing access to the game or even being prosecuted, depending on the laws of your region.

Tournaments and Contests

Believe it or not, professional gamers in South Korea are treated like pro football athletes are here. Television networks, Web series, and countless podcasts feature news and game footage with big-name commentators and crowds reaching into the thousands.

In fact, a good professional gamer can make six figures per year, with some making even more than that. StarCraft II, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and other competitive games can be featured in eSports tournaments with serious cash prizes up for grabs.

Some players even train for 8+ hours per day, every day. Corporate sponsors, international competitions, and even press tours are part of a top-notch pro gamer’s life.

Don’t give up your day job just yet. These are serious players that type at breakneck speeds and know every detail about every unit in the game. Strategies are drilled and teams of trainers often take part in preparing a champion-level gamer for the next tournament. If you feel that you have what it takes, enter one of the ladders online and you may earn yourself an invitation to a tournament. Win enough tournaments, and you could be competing on the international level where the big prizes can be found.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Wolfee Darkfang

    “Blizzard believes things will work out just fine”
    Just like in World of Warcraft. Mmmhmm. lol

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Matt Ryan

      Are you saying World of Warcraft didn’t work out for Blizzard? It’s the most profitable game in history, and still the largest single online community on the Web. I’d say it worked out juuuust fine. :)

      • turtlepower201

        its slowly ding with games like LOL and Dota becoming bigger, using a free to play alot of people play it. 
        they aloso maker there money though micro transactions. 

        • Fenaris

          A game that still has nearly ten TIMES the player base of any other MMO to date is “dying”?  Might want to check your opinion at the door on this one.

  • http://mrvulcan.myopenid.com/ Bert Visscher

    Interesting article. I have a number of comments on it:

    Shouldn’t that be “from doing *just that.*”?

    If you state (correctly, btw) that Second Life is not a game, then why use the term ‘in-game’? We SL residents use the term ‘in-world’.

    Chris Pirillo recorded a YouTube video entitled PayPal Warnings about 10 months ago, and people are still working with PayPal? :-s

    I believe there’s an s missing at the end of “a site that sell”.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Matt Ryan

      PayPal is still the largest online payment service in existence. I doubt a video from Chris would do much to change these major corporation’s minds. ;)

      By the way, feel free to look me up in SL. I’m Zen Paine, and you can usually find some of my work on in-world televisions via Treet.TV. :)

  • turtlepower201

    streaming, a lot of gamers that play full time stream there content. that’s how a lot of gamers support there self, make money from ads on twitch tv and Ustream and so on.

    hope it helped someone :). 

  • Terminus

    Get like 200 dollars selling an unusual in tf2.

  • http://twitter.com/fixgadget GadgetFix

    My brother makes money this way. Although I don’t think it pans out. I’ve seen it takes him weeks to reach high levels and he sells his characters for $200-500 a piece. Granted usually he can make a few high level characters in that amount of time, I don’t see it as a way to make a living.

  • AstralCreation

    You can play tf2 on steam and get game codes from selling in game items (legally) that you can then use to get money from paypal or instead of game codes paypal directly