Since early 2012 I’ve been using the popular video game development tool GameMaker Studio full-time to create video games for a living.
I’ve been publishing my experiences over at my personal blog. The most popular series of posts that I publish are my online income reports, each of which is a summary of my monthly online earnings. In those reports, I try to be as transparent as possible and I openly share my digital earnings.
In the last 3 months of 2013 I earned $29,000 online. I’m 21 years old.
My reason for sharing these statistics is not to brag or boast, but to inspire others who dream of making money with GameMaker – it’s absolutely possible. While I’m not the only developer making a career out of GameMaker, few others seem to have the time or will to share. In this post, I want to discuss how I make money with GameMaker, what actions I took along the way, and where this path has led me.
Where Did It All Begin?
Growing up, it was never my goal or even my dream to make a living from video games – it didn’t even cross my mind. I automatically discounted game development as a legitimate career option for myself. I live in Australia where the professional video game industry is basically non-existent, and my family lived in places where the jobs most people ended up with involved retail work or fixing cars.
I never had frequent access to computer games, or a Nintendo, or a Game Boy, but boredom fuels creativity in children, and for me it certainly did.
When I was aged 8 or 9, I opened a box of cereal that included a free copy of the popular game Age of Empires. Since my parents restricted my time spent on our beige-colored Windows 95 computer (also know as a “rock” by today’s standards), I entertained myself by trying to recreate the classic strategy game using cardboard sheets and paper. Instead of playing games for hours on end like many of my friends, I dissected them and tried to recreate them any way I could. I even made a graphical RPG with branching paths in Microsoft PowerPoint. Little did I know these distractions hinted at what my future would hold.
I won’t bore you with my life story, so let’s skip ahead a few years to the end of highschool. I received good scores upon graduating, despite a lack of interest in school, but I was faced with pursuing careers I wasn’t interested in, or attending university/college and racking up debt I didn’t want. I began to consider the possibility of making a career out of game development.
I had been using GameMaker for 5 years and my experience with the program had been highly positive so far. I was growing increasingly certain that if I worked hard enough I could generate at least a small income by making games. In fact, I already had. Several of my past projects had produced a small amount of revenue in the form of donations received from players. This early support ignited my commitment to game development as a commercial endeavor, and I’ll be forever grateful to those people who invested in my work. I plan to repay them many times over one day.
Unfortunately, despite all of my progress during the following year, pressure was mounting to get a “real” job and generate a more significant income. My parents are quite traditional and were completely skeptical of the lifestyle I was pursuing. They of course only wanted the best for me, and so I accepted a part-time job at a convenience store to keep them satisfied. I disliked the job, and thankfully it was short-lived work that lasted just a month or two.
I haven’t had another job since.
I don’t plan to ever have one again.
Soon after leaving, GameMaker Studio was released and everything started to change. GameMaker Studio is a product that extends GameMaker’s functionality by allowing developers to create games not just for Windows, but for other platforms too. Today, this includes Mac OS X, HTML5, iOS, Android, Ubuntu, Windows Phone 8, Tizen, and more. It has been a fantastic catalyst.
I purchased the HTML5 export, which was one of the first offered, when it was in a public beta testing stage. HTML5 is a relatively new web technology that is often compared to Flash. Combining GameMaker Studio and the HTML5 export functionality, I could play GameMaker games in a web browser for the first time without any third-party plugins. I knew that concept in itself was going to be huge, but the more I studied HTML5 technology the more I became convinced that it would be the future of cross-platform gaming. It was “the next big thing” and I wanted a slice of the action.
In December 2011 I released my first HTML5 game, a basic sudoku puzzle. At the time, very few HTML5 games existed, so I wanted to see if anyone was interested in paying money for them. I spent dozens of hours researching the potential of commercial HTML5 game development and networking with the few developers who were a step ahead of me. Very little information about commercial HTML5 game development existed back then, but by stringing together the information I could find I managed to make progress.
When companies started paying me hundreds of dollars for the rights to distribute my simplistic HTML5 games I began to invest all of my time into the niche I had uncovered. With time and effort, I started to make a consistent and growing income from my HTML5 games.
In April 2012 I registered my business and officially became a self-employed, full-time, independent game developer. I have earned between $2,000-$14,000 solely online each month since.
Establishing A Sustainable Business
Importantly, I have not just focused on making games. I quickly realized that I would need to diversify my online income (which is easier said than done). Finding one way to make money online is difficult enough, yet alone several. I decided to improve upon my growing social media and promotional platform and then leverage it to sell a product of some kind. The idea was to create and market my own product without having to rely on a third-party.
My approach to this involved creating a personal blog and using it as a way to establish an audience and extend my platform. I eventually wrote and self-published a book called Making Money With HTML5, which most of my readers are now all too familiar with. This was the first time I had sold a product directly to customers (as opposed to companies) on a significant scale and my attempts at marketing seemed to be effective. The book has received overwhelmingly positive feedback and has sold unexpectedly well. The success of this product paved the way for the sale of other products too, such as the Mobility Engine for GameMaker Studio users.
Seeing the value of the platform I had built, I decided to go bigger and extend my reach within the GameMaker niche. I set out to acquire this website, Game Maker Blog, which at the time was not being updated at all as the owner had just finished his education and was moving forward with his life. I was too, just in a different direction. I spoke to Philip, with whom I had a good relationship, and made him an offer to buy the site. We quickly came to an agreement and I assumed ownership of Game Maker Blog.
While Game Maker Blog is now a part of my promotional platform, it has always been something more than that to me. As an avid reader myself, I was glad to have the opportunity to breathe fresh life into the dying site. Game Maker Blog isn’t a perfect reflection of what I want it to be yet, but with the help of a few writers we’ve been able to maintain a steady stream of quality content and address some important topics. Being able to shine a sizable spotlight on issues related to GameMaker has allowed me to encourage change, fuel growth, and inform over 100,000 unique visitors along the way.
Where Has It Gotten Me?
This journey has led me to where I am today. I feel like this is only the beginning of a much longer story, but I have importantly got my “start” and I hope things will only go upwards from here.
I still make HTML5 games, just not often. I decided to automate the process by working with partners who provide content for me to publish on their behalf. We share the profits and both parties benefit. I spend a lot of time writing these days, but that’s mostly by choice. My products are still seeing strong sales and I’ve been able to generate enough income from advertising in my games and on my sites (enjoy free online poker games for example!) to pay my sizable server bills. And of course, I’m steadily working on new games for a variety of platforms.
I work from home, and I work on what I want, when I want. I realize that the control that I have over my life is exceptional considering my age. I can fly anywhere in the world on a whim, and still make a living. I can sleep until midday and work until midnight. I can take a day or a month off and not have to beg my boss for the privilege (because he doesn’t exist).
I simply can not imagine doing anything else.
I’ve had multiple job offers from companies around the world. I turned most of them down, except for one which is still on the table and one which I received last week. But, I’m not actively looking for a job in the industry. My near-daily commitment to using GameMaker over the past 8+ years, combined with an aggressive focus on marketing, monetization, and networking, has resulted in what I can only describe as a “dream job.”
With more and more people starting to make money with GameMaker Studio, there has never been a better time to turn your hobby into a career, or at least a tidy side-income. You never know where it might take you!
Note: This article is intended as a follow-up to our recent post, 5 GameMaker Success Stories »