Beginning - effectively - with Everquest, a new era of gaming hit the youth of the day. The ability to pick, play, and advance a fantasy character in a fantastic world filled with other people became available, and many people leapt right in. People began devoting their whole lives to playing their Everquest characters. People have even killed themselves over their addiction to Everquest.
Nor is Everquest the only one in its class. There's also Asheron's Call, Diablo 2, Anarchy Online, Neocron, Earth & Beyond, the upcoming Star Wars: Galaxies, and if you listen to the right people, someday Shadowbane. All of these games create fantastic environments for people to develop characters in and get addicted to.
Now, I'm not about to blame Sony or Verant for any deaths or real-life losses - blame is beyond the scope of this article. What I'm hoping to bring to light is the fantastic qualities that games of these nature have which we can use to make a decent amount of money from. They're addictive. They can consume large amounts of a person's life to obtain comparatively little gain. They tend to be safe from other forms of quick gain such as cheat codes or hacking, and even when they're not, offenders are generally swiftly punished while loopholes are fixed.
As a kind of analogy, think of a MMOG as a small country. Within this country there are certain rules and a specific currency. This currency may be gold, credits, platinum, or Stones of Jordan. Whatever, just something that is traded because it has worth. The key thing you must remember is that this currency has an exchange rate. You can exchange these currencies for US dollars. Don't believe me? Check eBay:
Sold yet? Well, if you're still reading this article, we'll assume you are. So let's move on to the next section.
The very first thing you'll need to do is choose a game. Ideally, this will be a game that you're already familiar with, but if you're not familiar with any, then you'll find that some lend themselves better to your purposes than others. Do a little bit of research on eBay; see which ones seem to be selling the best. Keep to the ones which have a lot of auctions with bids on them. Just because there's 600-some auctions doesn't mean any of them have ever sold. While you're there, you may want to check out the completed items search. This will give you an idea of how well this game has sold items in the past, so you can see if your particular game is on the way up or down.
Now that you've chosen a game, you'll need to read the EULA (End-User License Agreement). Sometimes this involves actually buying the game (or asking someone who has the game), sometimes not. Regardless, you should check to see if your new occupation is legal under the framework they've provided. Some companies fully allow these kinds of activities, and some fully prohibit it. More often than not, the EULA in question will have some words in it that would otherwise prevent you from selling, but if so, check eBay. If there's a lot of sales on eBay (and have been a lot of sales), then it's likely that the company in question has more of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Usually these sections of the EULA are merely there to keep them from having to get involved in any lawsuits about player sales.
The next - fairly obvious - step is to buy the game. Keep in mind that many of these games charge a monthly fee to play. Your first month is usually free. Also - shop around and check out eBay once again. You can usually reduce your costs for this stage of the venture, too. Oftentimes you can get a copy of the game ground-mailed to you for the same cost as going to the store to get it. It's not exactly cost- or time-efficient, but it sure sounds cool, and gains you bragging points.
Getting Into It
You've got your game, you've done your market and legal research, and you're all ready to go. NOW what do you do?
Well, this stage is actually rather game-dependant. Usually certain character classes are more efficient at gathering the "currency" of the world than others are. Usually there's a better place to gather that currency. And usually there's a prevalent tactic to use to enrich yourself. Learn these. Ask around in game, look on message boards, heck even hit up Google. Discover this class, location, and/or tactic and use it like mad.
Generally, it'll take a little time to get up to a point where you can effectively make use of the game to accumulate this currency, and up to that point you're just burning money and time. So be as quick as possible in your leveling. How should you do this? Once again, ask around. Someone out there likely knows.
If all else fails, do me a favour, however. Stop whining and look for yourself. You're looking at optimizing your time, sure, but don't be a whiner about it, and don't go out of your way to bother people about it. These people are more than likely going to end up your customers at some point, so try not to alienate them ahead of time.
Getting A Sale
Now that you've amassed a decent quantity of the currency in question, it's time to sell it. The easiest and quickest way to go about doing this is eBay. Simply go and sign up for an account (you'll require a credit card), but that's about it. Also, you'll want to sign up for a Paypal account to accept payments. Both of these will make it tremendously easy to sell in-game. No having to worry about setting up a web site, or accepting credit card payments. eBay and Paypal do this for you.
However, there are some tricks:
- Develop a professional-looking sales template. You can take a look at mine here. I was for a brief period of time trying to run a powerleveling service (wherein I advance characters as fast as possible for money), and I was able to take the look of my site and incorporate it into my auctions. This makes it look like I'm a professional (I like to think I am), and that I'm trustworthy. I mean, are you more likely to trust the guy who spent 40+ hours on a site and registered a domain, or a guy who spent 40+ seconds writing up a description and can barely understand HTML?
- Always be courteous, kind, and prompt with delivery of goods. Go out of your way to get them to the customer as soon as possible and in as convenient a location as possible. Remember, if you treat them like gold, they'll write that in their eBay feedback. Your eBay feedback will get you as many sales if not more than your sales template.
- Include a "Buy It Now" button with your sale. This is one of eBay's options that allow a bidder to outright buy the item for a certain price instead of having to go through the bidding war. Set your bid price to about two thirds of your "Buy It Now" price, so you won't have to worry about losses too low if only one person decides to bid. Fear not, though. Every time I've set a "Buy It Now", I've sold the item within 24 hours of it going up, at the "Buy It Now" price.
Of course, it's not the perfect life. I mean sure, you get to set your own hours and listen to music and relax in your own comfy chair instead of standing on your feet for eight hours a day, but it's not all peaches and cream. Let's take a look at some of the drawbacks to playing videogames for a living:
- Ergonomics: If you don't have an incredibly comfortable chair, you could be ruining your posture and your back. Sure, you may not see any trouble with that now, but trust me - in six months when your back is wrecked and you can't sit anywhere, let alone at the computer, you'll wish you'd followed my advice. Buy a comfortable chair, sit up straight, and take regular breaks, or you'll break.
- Fitness: You're not working a hard job, heck - you're not even working a vaguely strenuous job. You're working a simple desk job. And people who work desk jobs often have problems staying fit. So take up a hobby that involves getting up and moving. Watch (and work to) and exercise tape or two per week. Play some DDR. Whatever. Just get up and move.
- Boredom: Yes, it is cool to be playing games for a living. And fun, too. For a while. Then, to be honest, it gets kind of boring. Occasionally you'll have to sit around and wait for some monster, item, or quest to spawn so you can continue making money. Occasianally you'll have to travel long distances (for some games you have to travel long distances a whoooole lot.) Eventually whatever game you've chosen will become boring. So read a book, crank up WinAmp, or buy a cheap second monitor and videocard and watch DivX movies in your spare time. Catch up on homework. Or write an article about your new profession for K5. ;)
At last we breach the touch grey area of whether this is all moral. On the one had, these game were created to be a fun, recreational activity. They were not intended to be a job. They were balanced in an attempt to provide a steady progression from low levels to high levels and to make sure that everyone had a fairly even ride from class to class. When someone buys a million gold, a high-level set of armour, or even a full, high-level character, they bypass all that careful thought and planning and directly ignore the developer's vision, as well as the other player's right to play the same game at the same level. It is hard to compete with someone who has money to throw at the game as well as time.
But on the other hand, some people don't have time to throw at the game, only money. These people are successful in life, but would also enjoy the time to play Everquest or Earth and Beyond. Their problem is that they don't have enough time in between cases or patients to put in the hours required to build a character that can keep up with their friends and guildmates. Why should there not exist a service to aid them.
I'm not about to provide any final answers here, since we are all (grand assumption) mature adults, and we all have varying ethical positions. I've battled my own demons on this obviously, since I do it for a living, but to each their own.
At any rate, I am available to answer more in-depth questions beyond the scope of this article. I have some experience, as I've been living off of the preceding techniques since October or so. I'd only be too glad to help.