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Careers Playing Video Games Are Real and Pay Well

Believe it or not, this week marks 30 years since the release of the original Super Mario Bros. on NES. To celebrate the occasion, it seemed appropriate to take a step back and really appreciate how much the video game industry has grown since then. One of the best ways to illustrate that growth is to take a look at how many careers related to video games have sprung up recently.

Of course, there are tons of careers that deal with video games in some form or fashion. From cashiers working at “big box” retailers selling video games, to graphic designers providing graphical assets to developers, and everyone in between, there are tons of people who earn some (or all) of their income from the proceeds of video game sales. Some of the most interesting careers found in this spectrum, however, are those which revolve around actually playing video games. Those are the ones that I find most fascinating, so those are the one’s we’ll focus on in this article.

I suspect that when most people hear that a career in video games is possible, a few questions immediately come to mind:

1) What jobs exist in this field?

2) How hard is it to land a job playing video games?

3) How much income do these careers actually bring in?

4) What’s the job growth outlook?

The answers to those questions will vary based on the specific job that’s chosen, so let’s go through a few of the options available to anyone interested in breaking into the industry.


Video Game Tester

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The main objective for video game testers is to find bugs in the game before those bugs make it out to the public. This means that video game testers get to try out new games before they’re released, but it also means that the vast majority of the time, testers aren’t really “playing” the games. That is, it’s far more likely that the tester is making the avatar run into walls to test out the game physics, adding and removing items to the inventory to test that logic, and performing other odd activities with the goal of fleshing out game defects.

Now, to be fair, even though game testers don’t really get to sit back and play their assigned games like they would at home, they still do get to play video games before the rest of us, provide feedback about the game, and influence the industry — even if it’s only in a small way. All of this makes this career a truly viable option for anyone who really loves video games and is currently making less than $11.50 an hour (the average earnings of a tester is 24K per year).

Difficulty in breaking into career: Medium. Competition for an open position can be somewhat intense since you typically don’t need a college degree. Then again, since a degree isn’t required, the barrier of entry is (arguably) easier for this job than many others.

Pay Potential: Low (24K per year)

Job Outlook: Excellent. Video games will need tested by someone for the foreseeable future. This job isn’t going anywhere for a while.


Video Game Developer

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Video game developers write the code that makes video games work. As part of the development process, most developers will try out their code before handing it off to a game tester. This means that most coders will spend at least part of their average day “playing” the video game code that they wrote.

The same caveat applies here that was mentioned in above in the “game tester” section: when a developer is trying out their code, they really aren’t “playing” the game in the sense that most people would think of. Instead, the developer will likely focus on making sure whatever code they just finished writing is working as expected. Still, the pay here is pretty high, which makes this a pretty great option for anyone who’s mathematically-inclined and interested in gaming.

Difficulty in breaking into career: Medium. Four-year degree is required for most positions, but developer jobs are widely available for those with the right qualifications.

Pay Potential: High (75K per year)

Job Outlook: Excellent. Video games don’t exist without developers. Demand for this skill set continues to increase and pay continues to rise.


Video Game Live Streamer

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A career as a video game live-streamer means your job is to play video games and entertain your followers, who are watching you play in real-time. Some streamers entertain their followers primarily by being completely AWESOME at gaming, which is entertainment enough. Others resort to more gimmicky-type strategies such as giveaways, flirting, or pretty much anything else to draw in more viewers. Regardless, this job can be pretty great since this is the first job on our list where you are legitimately playing video games for a living.

Difficulty in breaking into career: LowMedium. It’s not difficult to pick-up a web camera/headset and create an account on Twitch.tv. Gaining enough followers to make the time investment worthwhile may be quite a challenge for many, though.

Pay Potential: Varies from “not enough to live on” to ~300K per year

Job Outlook: Uncertain. Live streaming of video games has only recently took off in popularity. Some people are getting extraordinarily rich off of this craze, but it’s still too early to say for certain whether this is a passing fad or a new staple in the video game culture.

For what it’s worth, Amazon has made their beliefs in this area very clear, by forking over $970 million last year to purchase the largest video game streaming network (Twitch.TV).


Pro Gamer

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A career as a pro gamer is something that most casual gamers probably dream about at least once or twice in their lives. With jackpots reaching into the millions (at the most high-profile tournaments) it’s not hard to see why most people would consider trying their hand at becoming a pro gamer. Nevertheless, a career as a pro gamer will yield very little riches for the vast majority of people who try to break-in to the profession, since the competition for the job is quite intense.

Choosing this career will likely mean many long hours playing the same game, learning as much as possible about the game, developing strategies, and –in general– treating preparation for the tournaments as if your entirely livelihood depended upon it. After all, as a pro gamer, that is the case.

For those reasons, I would say that successfully creating a career as a professional gamer is probably the most difficult path to choose from on this list. Nevertheless, if you have the determination and really love gaming, there’s little to lose by giving it a try.

Difficulty in breaking into career: Medium-High

Pay Potential: Varies from “not enough to live on” to over $1 million per year

Job Outlook: Fairly stable. Pro gaming is probably not going anywhere, but the field is so competitive that it may be extraordinarily difficult to find any sort of long-term success here. Then again, it’s worth noting that tournament jackpots have been steadily increasing, with a recent tournament paying out $6.6 million to a winning team of 5 players competing in Dota 2, so one or two “big tournament wins” may bring in more than enough earnings to make the career financially viable.


Walkthrough/Review Video Creator

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A career making gaming walkthroughs basically means that you will be recording yourself as you play through a game in order to help others get past certain (perhaps tricky) parts. You’ll probably also want to explain what you’re doing as you go, so the viewer can make sense of exactly what’s happening. In the end, most people post these sorts of walkthroughs on YouTube in small chunks (15 to 20 minutes per video) and then earn income from YouTube as the number of video views increases.

A career making gaming reviews is very similar, except you’ll be reviewing the game instead of simply explaining how to progress in the game. The earnings potential is very similar for reviews though, in that the primary monetization strategy is to shoot a video of your review and then post it on YouTube, where it will generate income as people take a look at what you have to say about the game. Reviews from “no name” individuals may not get many views at first, but if your reviews are well-thought-out, particularly well-done, or just entertaining in general, you may find yourself with a growing following of fans before long.

Difficulty in breaking into career: Low. You really just need to grab a microphone and record yourself either playing video games or reviewing them… then post it on YouTube.

Pay Potential: Varies from “not enough to live on” to over $16 million per year

Job Outlook: Fairly stable. Video game reviews and walkthroughs have been in high demand on the Internet for as long as I can remember and I don’t see demand for this sort of content disappearing overnight.


Video Game TV Series Creator

Red vs. Blue

The main idea behind this career is that by adding voice-overs to in-game footage, you can use video game avatars as characters in your show. Probably the most well-known example of this can be found in the Red vs. Blue series, which uses the Halo franchise to provide their animation. To be sure, a career making “TV Shows” from video games is not something that everyone will be able to pull-off, but with a little ingenuity and a knack for writing quality story lines, this just might be the ticket to a career full of independence, creativity, and –of course– video games.

Difficulty in breaking into career: Low. Pretty much anyone can add voice-overs to in-game footage and then upload it to YouTube. Creating entertaining content, on the other hand, will be much more of a challenge.

Pay Potential: Varies from “not enough to live on” to over $2 million per year

Job Outlook: Fairly stable. Some of the earliest pioneers in this field (Rooster Teeth with the Red vs. Blue franchise) are still going strong over a decade later.

 

There are certainly more out there that I haven’t though of, but this list should provide a decent starting point for anyone interested in the industry. To me, all of these careers are fascinating when considered from the perspective that they were essential non-existent just a few short decades ago. I suppose that such is the way of technological advancement!

If there are any careers I’ve missed that you’d like added to the list, let me know in the comments or shoot me an e-mail.

 

More Resources:

GlobalPost – Where Can I Get a Job Playing Video Games?

Indeed – Video Game Tester Jobs

Yahoo! Answers – How do I get a job playing video games?

Game Job Hunter

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