How Video games turn teenager into millionaires

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From making their own games, to broadcasting live online, to playing professionally in packed stadiums – how entrepreneurs in their teens and twenties earn a living on video games.


Alex Balfanz is an 18-year-old student at Duke University in North Carolina. Every day he has lectures or seminars, followed by assignments. Like many students his age, he devotes a couple of hours per day, and many more at weekends, to video games.


But he’s not just playing them – he’s making them. And making a lot of money doing it.


“In the 10 months that Jailbreak has been released, it has already yielded seven figure profits,” Balfanz says of his cops-and-robbers adventure game released last year. A few weeks ago, it was played for the billionth time.


Balfanz is just one of thousands of young gaming entrepreneurs in their teens or twenties making money in an industry that made $36 billion last year.


It's offering new ways to make a living that didn’t exist 10 or even five years ago, even within the games industry.


Another 18-year-old student, Andrew Bereza, is the creator of Miner’s Haven and Azure Mines, two games he made over the last two years for Roblox, a kids-focused platform that allows children to build their own games and publish them online – it's the same platform that houses Balfanz’s Jailbreak.


“While I’m not in the annual millions like a couple of my colleagues have recently hit, I’ve been steadily earning six figures every year since I started,” he says.

He is using his earnings to pay for university, where he is studying computer science.

Making and selling your own games

Today, thanks to online sales platforms like the App Store, Steam or Roblox, anyone with the right idea and some development nous can reach more than a billion people.

But while the technology and ecosystem to reach this vast customer base has only appeared in the last decade, the DIY mentality of young app developers is nothing new: it’s actually not too different from wannabe rock stars starting bands in their garages in the 1970s, or aspiring directors filming home movies on a VHS camcorder in the 1980s.

“With creative industries, that’s always been the case, particularly in young people,” says Roger Altizer, co-founder of the entertainment arts and engineering programme at the University of Utah. He says that young people have always come up with creative expressions and have tried to monetise them.

With video games specifically, Altizer points out that in the 1980s, young designers made their own video games, stored them on floppy disks and put them in plastic bags, then sold them physically at stores, capturing a certain entrepreneurial spirit.

Today? We have indie games like Flappy Bird that become worldwide sensations, achieving overnight success. However, there are now so many being published, it’s becoming an ever-more crowded market.

Still, the idea of possible success in this field fuels dreams.




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