Turning Video Gaming Into a Career

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When I was growing up, my parents thought the time I spent playing video games was wasted. And for the most part, it was. But “kids” today can turn their gaming habit into a legitimate career. Here are six ways start making money from video games…

1. Sell your gold

MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games) like World of Warcraft, Rift, and EVE Online are based around currencies: gold, platinum, and ISK, respectively. When you kill a bad guy or complete a mission or quest, the game rewards you with a certain amount of its currency. As you play the game and advance your character, the tasks you must complete and the enemies you face become more difficult – but the rewards are greater.

Yet there will always be people who want the reward without the work. And that’s where your opportunity to make a little money comes in. A simple search for something like “sell world of warcraft gold” returns millions of results.

Typical rates for selling World of Warcraft gold are between 50 cents and $1.50 for 1,000 pieces. If that sounds like a lot of gold for not a lot of money, it is. The best players, with the highest-level characters playing as efficiently as possible, might take an hour to earn it.

So while we are earning money playing a game, we’re not earning the kind of cash that can support a family. And besides, selling your in-game rewards for real world cash may get you booted from the game. (Some allow it, some don’t.) But don’t worry, because there are ways to make a lot more.

2. Get a second job (and a Second Life)

The popular virtual world Second Life is teeming with ways to earn a few real world dollars. If you’re unfamiliar with Second Life, the premise of the “game” is simple – it’s a virtual world that tries to model the real world with one notable exception: You can fly.

You can also own real estate, design clothing, open a casino, run a night club, model swimwear, or start a rock band. If you’re good enough at any of these things, you can actually make a nice bit of real world money.

Second Life minted its first millionaire in 2006 when it was announced that a woman named Anshe Chung had acquired more than $1,000,000 real dollars worth of virtual real estate. Since then, it has been revealed that several other individuals and in-game corporations have been cashing out in excess of $1 million per year. In 2010 alone, almost $119 million was traded between players.

But just like the real world, big rewards are the result of lots of hard work, talent, and a little luck. Don’t expect to become a millionaire in the virtual world overnight.

3. Start a blog or fan site

Prefer working exclusively in the real world? Start a blog or fan site with information or tips for your favorite games. Not only will you enjoy writing about something you play, you might make a few bucks by placing ads on your site (like Google AdSense). But there are also those who’ve leveraged their fandom into a career.

Just one week ago, BioWare, the developer of the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic online game, made its third fan site hire. Ken Hinxman, developer of TOR Syndicate, got a job doing web Q&A with BioWare because of his obvious love for a game that has yet to be released (and his skills at creating a community around it). It’s a real job, with real pay, from a real company, with real benefits, in the real city of Austin, Texas.

Companies like to hire people who are enthused about their products, even more so when they demonstrate serious skill doing the work to build those products. So…

4. Mod the game

If you really want to turn a video game into a career, modify it. The creator of one of my favorite Half Life 2 mods, MINERVA: Metastasis, was hired by developer Valve in 2008. His mod is free for anyone to download, and it extends the game by providing a new story, new gameplay, and new environments.

Earlier this year, another developer created a version of World of Warcraft he called World of StarCraft (a meld of Blizzard’s popular games World of Warcraft and StarCraft) and posted a video of it on YouTube. Blizzard was less than thrilled and had the video removed, but competing developer Riot Games saw the work and offered him a job.

5. Invest in virtual markets

You don’t even have to play a game to profit from it. Second Life has an official stock market dedicated to buying and selling its Linden currency, called LindeX. Prices remain fairly stable, between L$250 and L$260 per $1 USD, and with $31.5 million traded in Q1 2011, it’s a very real market.

And if you’re willing to dig a little deeper into these games, you’ll find that many have in-game auction houses where players can buy and sell the items they receive for completing tasks or vanquishing foes. The same rules as any other market apply: Buy something like “King’s Amber” when it’s low, and sell when it’s high.

6. Steal from other players

Legally isn’t the only way to make money. The uber-complicated EVE Online has one rule: There are no rules. Seriously. Deceit and treachery are part of the game, and it’s not uncommon to hear about a player who has swindled another out of a large sum of money.

In what may be the largest virtual heist ever, a user with the name “Cally” started an in-game bank in 2006 called the Eve Intergalactic Bank. The bank offered loans, interest, and insurance like any real bank would. But unlike a real bank, after a few months of taking deposits, Cally simply withdrew everyone’s money, keeping it for himself. Reportedly, he made off with 790 billion ISK, which at the time was worth as much as $170,000.

But the theft violated none of the rules set forth in EVE’s EULA, and according to developer CCP, it’s just part of the game!

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