How to Make Money Playing Video Games 2021: 9 Unique Ways

Playing video games has become a multi-billion dollar industry. As esports leagues gain in popularity and streamers keep cashing million-dollar checks, the number of gamers is increasing and so is the number of people who hope to turn it into an income stream.

Most of the people making the largest incomes have been streaming or playing professionally for a decade or longer. But there is still room to enter the field as a beginner.

If you want to know how to make money playing video games, this is the post for you. Welcome to our new player guide on how to turn your favorite hobby into a paycheck.

How To Make Money Playing Video Games

Can You Make a Living Playing Video Games?

The short answer is yes. The real answer is much longer. How much money do you need per month?  If you can get by on $1,500 a month, it’s going to be a lot easier to hit your goal than if you need $10,000 a month.

Twitch gives their streamers half of the cost of subscriptions. So for every 1,000 subs, you’ll be earning roughly $2,500 per month just off subs/members. If you think this is doable, then make your goal to stream full time.

If gaming full-time is the goal, then treat it like a business from day one. Can you make a living playing video games? Yes. Is it going to be easy? No. But if you’re ready to get started, then check out the methods below to give yourself the best possible chance at success.

Pros and Cons of Playing Video Games as a Career

Pros
  • Work from home
  • Set your own schedule
  • Get paid for having fun
Cons
  • It’s a business and you have to treat it like one
  • Sometimes it’s going to feel like a regular job
  • You won’t make any money when you first start out

10 Ways to Make Money Playing Video Games

Justin.tv started way back in 2007. It was eventually purchased by Amazon. They saw the potential in live video gameplay and the platform took off way faster than anyone predicted. Fast forward almost two decades and the gaming world is now offering potential careers as a player.

Thanks to competition from tech giants Google and Facebook, there are several ways to play video games and get paid. The best part is you can make money from the comfort of your home doing what you love to do.

With more options comes more monetization strategies. I’m going to talk about how full-time gamers pay their bills. I’m also going to discuss how much money it takes to get started and how you can decide which of these facets is right for you.

1. Esports

Esport

Level of Skill Required – Elite
Average Salary$50,000 a year

It’s easier than ever for companies to promote new games. Streamers are paid to test beta versions and social media builds up hype for months before release. By the time the game hits the shelves, the companies are preparing for tournaments and Esports leagues.

The average salary for team members is around $50,000. However, this does not include tournaments winnings. This is simply salary for league play. Not a bad salary for half a year’s worth of work.

Right now, it’s easier to get an NFL or NBA contract than it is to get an esports deal. This is going to change as the landscape of the gaming world changes as more games and leagues come into fruition.

Consider this job if you:

  • Are a top-level competitor
  • Thrive under pressure
  • Already have success elsewhere in your gaming career
  • You’re ok with long hours

How to get started: Start small. Pick your favorite game and start streaming and playing in low-level tournaments. Scale up to larger tournaments as you find success.

You also want to exercise your networking muscles. If you become known as a friendly person who’s a wizard at the keyboard, it’s only a matter of time before Esports coaches and brands start to take notice.

2. Tournaments

Tournament

Level of Skill Required – Expert to Elite
Average Winnings – Depending on the tournament, can be a few hundred dollars to a few million

Back in the day, there were no Esports. There was no streaming. The only way to earn income was to compete in tournaments.

In the new gaming landscape, tournaments are a huge deal. The setup and staff have grown from a few people and a few computers to massive events that cost tens of thousands of dollars to get off the ground.

These events can bring in over six figures in profits after advertising, ticket sales, and merchandise are all factored into the equation.

League of Legends and Dota 2 are among the titles with huge tournament payouts. The leagues are structured to allow many teams chances to win cash prizes and some tournaments have purses well into the seven to the eight-figure range.

Consider this job if you:

  • Enjoy playing with a team
  • You are highly competitive
  • You want to eventually land an Esports contract
  • Your team has a high win rate with a legitimate chance of winning money

How to get started:

Join a team or build one yourself. If you want to play at the highest level, you may have to make some hard choices about kicking people off and playing with some folks who you may not personally like. If you want to be the best and play with the elites, you have to build an elite team.

Start with smaller tournaments and use every event as a learning experience to make you and your team better as individuals and as a group. As you find more success, you can apply to larger tournaments and win your way into larger tournaments through smaller ones.

3. Streaming

Streaming

Level of Skill Required: Anyone!
Average Salary: From $0 to millions

Streaming is a great way to build a career playing video games. You don’t have to be great or have a phenomenal team to find success.

The most important things to consider when building an audience are entertainment value and viewer interaction. You don’t need to win every game if you’re funny, witty, or otherwise entertaining.

Many streamers have giveaways and give paid subscribers access to emotes, invite-only chats, and coaching.

The majority of professional gamers weren’t able to replace their full-time income until they started creating content as a streamer and build a personal brand.

Now, some are making seven figures while the most well-known, such as ninja, make closer to eight figures a year and receive multi-year exclusivity contracts from streaming platforms. As a new streamer, you have three options for platforms. These are Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.

Consider this job if you:

  • Enjoy being on camera
  • You’re a casual gamer considering a more serious role within the gaming community
  • You like the idea of being a creator
  • You’re ok with focusing less on money in the beginning and more on creating phenomenal value
  • You don’t have the time to dedicate to a professional team or league

How to get started:

If you already have the gaming or PC setup you want, then all you need to do is buy a microphone and camera. You may want to pick up a tripod or stand for the camera as well.

You can buy introductory gear to test the waters and see how much you enjoy it. This will cost you around $100. If you’re short on cash, a headset with a built-in mic will be fine in the beginning.

If you don’t have a gaming setup yet, you’re going to have to shell out some more cash. A PS4 or Xbox is only a few hundred bucks, but even the cheapest decent gaming pc is going to be close to a grand.

Streaming also has the largest variety of monetization methods. You can get paid through subscribers/members, donations, affiliate marketing, ad revenue, as well as brand deals, and sponsorships.

CovertGoBlue describes in this Youtube video how he made $2,919 in the last 30 days streaming on Twitch:

4. Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing

Level of Skill Required: Anyone!
Average Salary: From $0 to thousands of dollars per month

Affiliate Marketing is a link that a content creator uses to promote a product. A reader or viewer clicks on the link and if they make a purchase, the creator will receive a cut of that sale at no cost to the reader or viewer. This comes in the form of a commission.

An affiliate commission can be a percentage of the sale or itself. It can also be a defined amount, like $5 or $10. It all depends on the program.

Consider this job if you:

  • Are an excellent salesman
  • Have products in mind that are relevant to gaming
  • Want to fully monetize your gaming efforts

How to get started:

Go to your favorite game websites and scroll to the bottom of the page. You may see links for Affiliate or Become an Affiliate. Follow the directions to join the program.

You can also join networks like ShareaSale and scroll through everything they have to offer to find products or services you like.

5. Ad Revenue

advertisement

Level of Skill Required: Anyone after criteria is met
Average Salary: From Zero to hundreds of dollars per month

Ad revenue is a good way to help support your gaming career. To be eligible on any of the major streaming platforms, you’ll have to hit minimum thresholds of viewership and watch time.

Many viewers dislike ads but at the end of the day understand it supports their favorite gamer and doesn’t cost them anything.

Consider this job if you:

  • Want to diversify your gaming income streams

How to get started:

Research the eligibility requirements for your platform and then strive to hit those goals. The signup process is going to be a bit different for every host that allows people to stream. 

However, they’re easy to follow once you “get there” and you can start bringing in revenue as soon as the signup process is complete.

6. Brand Deals and Sponsorships

Sponsorship

Level of Skill Required: High
Average Salary: From hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars

When brands start to offer you deals, you know you’ve made it to the big time. Going into a tournament or wearing an Esports jersey with company logos on them will get a gamer respect and clout from the community.

As a streamer, brand deals will bring in large amounts of revenue every month if you promote them well.

Consider this job if you:

  • Like the product or service
  • Really like the number of zeros on the check

How to get started:

Once you build a following as a gamer, feel free to reach out to your favorite brands and let them know who you are. Make sure to have links available to show them how popular your stream is or how successful your team is in the game you play.

7. Donations

Donation

Level of Skill Required: Anyone!
Average Salary: From $0 to thousands of dollars per month

Virtual cheers, known as bits, are a way Twitch allows viewers to tip streamers. To the streamer, each bit is worth roughly one penny USD. A viewer can tip any amount they want.

This currency is only used on the Twitch platform and can be converted into real currency when the streamer reaches $100 worth of bits.

The amount may not seem like much, but the tips can add up quickly. Some people just donate a ton of bits to small streamers to record their reactions.

Facebook offers something similar on their platform, but the currency is called a star. It works the same way. YouTube has yet to offer this kind of incentive to viewers, but it’s likely in the works.

Consider this job if you:

  • Everyone should accept donations

How to get started:

Believe it or not, every gaming platform makes it easy to give them money. A viewer can buy the currency with just a few clicks and then start handing it out like candy.

All you have to do when you receive a donation is say thank you, tell the viewer you appreciate them, and get right back to gaming.

8. Subscriber/Members

Subscriber

Level of Skill Required: Anyone after criteria is met
Average Salary: From $0 to thousands of dollars per month

Subscriptions are available on every major streaming platform. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch all have them in various ways and they make up the bulk of a streamer’s monetization strategy.

Every platform sets up this method a little differently. Twitch has three tiers of subscriptions available. They cost the viewer $4.99, $9.99, and $24.99.

Each tier comes with some extra bells and whistles, which are completely up to the streamer. This often comes with emotes and other chat privileges only available to that particular tier.

YouTube and Facebook’s version is more interesting. The streamer chooses how many tiers they want to have and how much the tiers are going to cost. Each platform also takes a different portion of the member/sub fee in exchange for hosting the stream

Consider this job if you:

  • Want to earn a living. This is the number one way for streamers to replace a full-time income.

How to get started:

Just like ads, every platform has different criteria you have to meet before you’re eligible to get subscribers or members. Once you do, the signup process, which varies from platform to platform, is relatively painless.

You need to do something to make your subs feel special. This could be invitations to sub-only chats, emotes, or coaching services.

9. Writing & Blogging

Blog

Level of Skill Required: Medium
Average Salary: $8,000/month

Writing and blogging are two of the most underutilized ways to make money from video games.

One group that continuously excels in the writing and blogging space is Magic: The Gathering players. Pro Magic players are quick to tell new people that they aren’t going to earn a living from tournament winnings.

While many of the best have found enormous success on Twitch and YouTube, some of them get paid for writing as well. Stores such as Star City Games and Channel Fireball pay popular MTG players to create videos and write articles.

Given how much most freelance writers get paid, I estimate most of them are making somewhere around $.05 per word depending on their popularity and writing skill.

The players write about deck building, tournament experience, as well as retroactive writing, writing about some of their worst plays and what they could have done differently.

If you enjoy writing, then blogging or starting your own website is a great idea. You can use this website to further expand your monetization with ad networks and affiliate marketing, create your own products, write how-to and gameplay guides, and the list goes on.

Also, when you aren’t streaming, you can use social media to promote blog posts so your followers see a constant stream of content.

Consider this job if you:

  • Enjoy writing
  • Want more of your content to be owned by you
  • Want to maximize earning potential

How to get started:

Starting a blog is much easier these days. You chose a host, a domain name, and then design the website. Most hosts at this point are integrated with WordPress, making the entire process seamless.

After you design the site, start writing some content. If you want to take it seriously, then study up on SEO (search engine optimization) best practices so Google will help you to get as many eyes on your content as possible.

What Games Give You Real Money?

Sometimes game creators and marketers will reach out to individual streamers. They’ll invite and pay you to beta test their product live on stream.

You can also get a portion of sales on Twitch if you’re a partner. The commission is 5%. This is a standard commission but there’s a twist. Viewers who are just followers can buy these games and give you the commission. They don’t have to be subscribers.

YouTube and Facebook are not currently offering this form of monetization, but it’s likely on the way.  To answer the question of what games give you real money, the answer is any game on Twitch can pay you real money.

Pick 4-5 games and then research which of these games have the largest tournament purses. If you incorporate this research into a stream as well as tournament play, you’ll set yourself up for a ton of success and can eventually land an Esports contract.

How to Choose the Best Streaming Platform for You

Each streaming platform has plenty of pros and cons for new streamers. Let’s highlight a few of the big ones.

PlatformBeginner FriendlyDiscoverabilityMonetizationGrowth Potential
Twitch10/101/1010/102/10
YouTube7/106/109/107/10
Facebook8/108/108/105/10

Twitch

Twitch Logo

As a new streamer, it’s going to be a challenge to get viewers. You’ll have to be a master of social media and even then it’s going to take a while before you can fully monetize.

When you click on any game you’re going to see streamers with the highest view count first. This means you’re literally going to start at the bottom. If it’s a popular game, it’ll take a full minute of scrolling to the bottom of the list.

If you’re someone who is active in the Twitch community as a viewer, then you might have an easier time getting started. Friends you’ve talked to for years will flock to the stream to show support and your favorite streamers may pop in on occasion to play with you or see how you’re doing.

Overall, Twitch is a rough starting point for most streamers and because of that, I don’t recommend starting here.

YouTube

YouTube Logo

The biggest problem with new creators on YouTube is they don’t understand how to use the built-in SEO tools to help their videos show up in search results. Before you start streaming, take some time to study all of the possibilities.

If you think YouTube might be the right move for you then put the time into the research. Learn how the algorithm works and study up on best SEO tactics to get your content some early views.

For the average new streamer, I recommend YouTube as a starting point.

Facebook

Facebook Logo

On the other side of the coin, we’ve got Facebook. If you’re ok with all of your friends, family, and high school chums knowing you’re a gamer, this might be an ideal platform for you.

Facebook streaming for gamers is set up as a Facebook page, similar to a business page. You can share it with all of your friends or only certain ones. Then they can share it with their friends and so on.

While it’s easy to get started and build an audience of Facebook, it lacks a bit in the monetization category and the other platforms are better suited for a long-term career.

Once you have all of the hardware you need, you just need to download OBS (open broadcasting software) and you’re good to go. You can download it free here.

How to Make Money Playing Video Games – Some Final Thoughts

No matter which platform you use, it’s going to take a ton of time and patience to make your career profitable.

If you hang in there, use social media, cross-promote, and make an entertaining stream, you have a real chance at bringing in some money.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy my article on How to make money as a kid in 2021.

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Author Bio - Christopher Liew is a CFA Charterholder with 11 years of finance experience and the creator of Wealthawesome.com. Read about how he quit his 6-figure salary career to travel the world here.

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