In Money

Making thousands from virtual millions

I was thinking the other day about opportunities and connecting the dots.

Gained, lost, wasted — whether or not we can see them in every corner and facet of our lives is an interesting thing to ponder.

The late Steve Jobs in 2005 at Stanford, gave a wonderful commencement speech that has a section that won’t disappear from my mind:

..you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.

So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

If you can’t or don’t want to watch the video, the speech is located here.

CONNECTING THE DOTS: MAKING THOUSANDS FROM VIRTUAL MILLIONS AS A CHILDHOOD HOBBY

I made a few thousand as a teenager, just by playing a video game that started out as a hobby.

See, I was a hardcore RPG’er (role-playing gamer), who paid about $5 a month for an account for an online video game.

An RPG is basically like Sims, or any kind of computer game that lets you play online and interact with other human beings around the world via your online persona / avatar / character.

I was addicted. Like seriously addicted.

I’d come home from school, do my homework, drop my bag, and then harass my siblings to let me use the only shared home computer we owned among the 4 of us to play online.


If I wasn’t already on the fringe of my school society by being into music, getting the best grades I could,  wearing glasses AND braces, while being a bit of a loner introvert, this would do it to seal my status as: Outsider.

ultima-online-gold-pile-cash-bank

What my virtual bank account looked like when I started. (I am that geeky to keep pictures.)

Anyway, I was so into this game, that I eventually managed to get all my characters to the maximum levels of the game within a month or two of heavy, intense playing, and decided to open an online shop because I started getting bored once I had no skill goals to reach.

I created a virtual, online shop and sold everything that someone could possibly need such as:

  • little player-versus-player (PVP) packs for fighting online
  • whole ensembles for those who wanted to be stylish, dyed in different colours
  • reagents (think of them as magical herbs) to do magic spells with
  • weapons of the highest Grandmaster quality
  • armour of the highest Grandmaster quality
  • supplies like arrows, pickaxes, and the like

..you get the drift. I was aiming to be the Home Depot and Wal-Mart of the online gaming world.

Based on what customers told me they wanted, I created what I thought would benefit someone in their position (custom-made bags of things all in one shot).

I even had regular customers come by and clear out my inventory once a day because I was the only shop that was properly stocked all the time and I had a nice, organized layout that was easy to purchase from.

I also took custom orders for large batches weapons or anything else that you would need to outfit an entire clan or guild with.

It was a pretty good business, having started with a minimal amount of virtual money, but putting in a lot of long hours to build my characters up to the maximum Grand Master levels.

It got to the point where I amassed millions online in gold coins, and my bank account was reaching into the millions (hmm, maybe this is where my PF streak started to show itself), and this massive pile of gold in my bank account was the perfect, virtual representation of my hard work.

EBAY CHANGED EVERYTHING FOR ME

Then I discovered eBay. The mecca for all things to auction.

Incidentally, I later started another business selling thrifted clothing that was properly listed and photographed (another story for another time), but the main thing was that I realized that people would actually buy VIRTUAL ITEMS ON EBAY.

This concept of purchasing bytes on a screen in pixels for actual cash, was a foreign one. I couldn’t believe it.

VIRTUAL ITEMS.

SELLING FOR REAL MONEY.

There were rare items, gems, houses, and full characters being sold all over the place.

Photograph-Jewellery-Pearls-Rich-Money-Jewels-5

What I realized was that some (richer) people / kids were lazy enough to want to just buy a few million gold pieces to get started in the game, or a fully equipped and decorated house, instead of starting from scratch, and working their way up by chopping virtual wood for hours and hours on end.

The hamsters in my brain started running faster, and I saw that I could make about $20 per million pieces of virtual gold.

Guess who made a thousand bucks in cold hard cash, the very next day?

A thousand bucks to a 14 year old kid was a dream at the time. I had never had that much money in my life.

Heck, even today it’s a dream! 🙂

Too bad I didn’t know how to budget let alone save my money or invest it.

Anyway, that’s when the gaming really started for me.

I sold as much as I could while keeping a small working capital for myself (needed to still buy supplies and so on), and that’s how I made a bit of an income on the side before I turned 16 and got a job at a fast food place.

canada-money-cash-bills-2

By that time, I realized I was doing a lot of work when I could just become the broker. I started becoming the in-between in transactions, taking a cut like a trusted escrow for virtual goods and being sent real money.

I had in-game characters in each server to do trades, and it was a pretty decent flow of money, for doing something I’d do for free (and for fun) anyway.

A few years later, I ended up selling my entire account for $1000 at the peak of the craze, mostly because I had to get down and serious to get the best grades I could to get into the colleges I wanted.

I was just ready to move on and get serious about other things I wanted to do. Plus my other business in real life was taking up too much time for me to keep up with my commitments to the game online.

THE DOTS A.K.A. THE THINGS I LEARNED FROM PLAYING VIDEO GAMES

  1. How to type very fast (people don’t believe me, but this game made me fast at typing)
  2. People are willing to pay in cold hard cash to compensate for their laziness.
  3. Learned how to listen to what customers wanted and to take their suggestions into account
  4. Be the supplier or the go-between (like a broker), not the actual worker (unless it makes $$).
  5. You can sell to both sides of the coin, you just have to find that niche and balance
  6. Hard work gets you results, either in-game or in real life.
  7. Do what you love, the rest will follow some way or another

Looking back, playing video games helped me quite a bit.

It’s probably an unusual story to begin with, more so because I’m a girl, but I learned a lot about human behaviour even though I was making less than minimum wage (comparably, that is.)

It made me realize that being an online character is not so different from living life, and it gave me a base to help bring my other two businesses on the side to life, which ended up paying for part of my college education (selling thrift-store finds on eBay, and consulting for small businesses).

It was my start in business before I even knew I wanted to go into it, so looking back and connecting the dots, it was not really a big surprise that I started freelancing early on.

SO WHAT’S THE POINT?

Opportunities are all around you.

If people (unprovoked) are constantly telling you: Hey you’re good at this! Keep it up!… It means that you’re good at it.

You have something that people want to pay for.

Now if it’s your passion as well, then you have a winning combination that could be pruned into something more if you choose to pursue it (sometimes, you have more than one option available to pursue if you’re lucky.)

If you’re doing something that you enjoy and are good at, it means that it’s one of your natural talents.

Whether or not you can turn that into money, is another story altogether.

(For instance, lying around eating chips while watching TV is not a talent, although I must say that Oprah started out as a talk show host because she loved to talk and connect with people.)

I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but working hard doesn’t really mean anything unless you’re working hard in the right spots.


Take for instance schmoozing and public relations-duties. I can tell you without a doubt (among other things), I would be a horrible fit for:

  • going to events
  • smiling all the time
  • having to babysit and smooth over tense situations
  • being what I call (politely) a manufactured kind of niceness, while still making it seem genuine and believable

It sounds utterly exhausting.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to know how to manufacture yourself into being nice (wish I had that skill), I’m just saying it’s not my forte.

No matter how hard I work at that, I am never going to reach the levels of someone who truly enjoys their job in PR, dealing with strangers.

Never.

It’s just simply not my thing, and it’s in recognizing what you are good at, and what you’re not, that you can tease out what opportunities present themselves to you.

OTHER PEOPLE WHO FOUND THEIR CALLING

skrillex-michelle-phan-justin-bieber-shot

Various photos from Wikipedia, Michelle Phan, Canoe and their websites

  • 1. Skrillex: Whether you know this 25-year old DJ or not, he does a lot of dubstep, electro house and fidget house beats. Whether you like this music or not, or think he just adds beats to existing artists, I think it’s pretty cool that he followed what is essentially his passion, and now makes a million dollars per show, with a net worth of about $8 million.
  • 2. Michelle Phan: This girl started out doing makeup tutorials in her art dorm room. She’s now 25 years old with an estimated net worth of $1.5M just from teaching people what to do with makeup on Youtube.
  • 3. Justin Bieber: Another YouTuber, 18-year old Beebs — you can hate him or love him (frankly, I can’t stand his music), you can’t deny that he’s now filthy rich, and one of the most recognized names in pop in the world with a net worth of about $110 million.

These people have something that other people want, and will pay for.

How can it be that a DJ for dubstep can make a million bucks a show?

Because he’s doing something right.

How come a lot of other makeup YouTubers like Michelle Phan, haven’t reached her level of success, especially at her age?

Because she is doing something right.

They all have a je ne sais quoi quality about them that is both confusing, unattainable and undoubtedly admirable.

They’re all doing something that meets these 3 criterion:

  1. Passion — Consuming passion that will make them do it even for no chance at an income
  2. Talent — They’re good at what they do (generally speaking, I’m going to keep mum on debates about “talent”… 😉 )
  3. Drive — They work hard to be the best that they can be in their chosen field

..and it has resulted in society basically rewarding them financially for all of that.

They’re one in a million, that’s true, but they’re good examples of what is possible with a bit of luck and timing.

SO THIS ALL BOILS DOWN TO MONEY, THEN?

Of course not!

You don’t need to have or make millions to realize that you’ve found your calling.

I found mine without knowing it would be lucrative, and I’m not a millionaire. Yet.

money-one-million-dollars

Like most people, my millions will only come from saving my income, not from making an income of millions of dollars a year.

My day job (not writing or blogging), is being a freelance consultant, and like any other day where I hate my job, the good days mostly outweigh the bad.

I don’t have millions and won’t realistically have a single million until the age of 45 or so, but I don’t care.

I don’t want to become a DJ, a makeup YouTuber, or a singer and make millions.

It isn’t my thing, and I’d be crap at it because my passion wouldn’t be genuine or evident.

The problem is that people read about making a million bucks per show as a DJ, and they’re so blinded by the money, that they go out and buy a turntable and start trying to replicate someone else’s success.

Or they start a YouTube channel, making makeup videos or singing while making soulful cow eyes at the camera, and wondering when the fame will roll in.

Find something else.

Find something YOU (and mostly, only you) are good at.

You can tell when people are good at what they do, because they don’t need to do much in way of trying to convince you to respect, admire and/or like them.

They just have an evident, focused passion on what they enjoy doing and it shows.

Everyone respond to the genuine, not the manufactured, and the opportunities are really all around us if we take the chance and risk on them.

Chasing a job just for the money has never paid off for anyone.

Financial fortunes may be easy to gain in that respect, but they’re just as easily lost, and you’ll be unhappy for a good chunk of your life.

And that will be all for what? A number in a bank account?

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have paid my $600K home in cash (my half was $300K), my $180K casr in cash, worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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19 Comments

  1. Zee

    Ha, I think the most interesting thing that you learned from your gaming was one of the strange things that I also learned from gaming – how to type really fast and accurately. I’m a software engineer, but I didn’t learn to type quickly from classes or even work. I learned from games, and it’s actually an extremely useful skill for me now since I do work in computers.

    Now texting on the other hand…. ugh.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Agreed. Sometimes when I see others typing, I get frustrated at how slow they are.. and how many mistakes they make and then REFUSE TO CORRECT THEM!!!! 🙂

      Reply
  2. KC @ genxfinance

    I only knew about Michelle Phan through the girls in the house. I can’t stand dubstep or Bieber but you are right. When you really look at it, or even when you won’t, they are filthy rich. As you said, they are doing something right. Whew, I feel like I’m quite motivated now to start something. light bulb moment. I’m going to brainstorm and look for that one thing I’m really good at.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      They’re good at something that people want and are willing to pay for. Find out what it is people love about you!

      Reply
  3. Evan

    Love the story! What game was it?

    Ever tell this story to someone and they say you were lucky? I hate that! You then have to convince them that playing the video game was “work.”

    Every time I explain what I do with website advertising that work luck comes about and I get so mad lol. I work freaking hours per night when I am not at the office on it.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Ultima Online 🙂

      Everything is work, some endeavors are more “worthy” to others than playing video games but there are opportunities in everything.

      Reply
  4. Shandi76

    Regarding making money selling virtual items on eBay, there is a great book about that called Play Money by Julian Dibbell, He spent a year (around a decade ago) trying to make a living wage from virtual loot. I really enjoyed it.

    I used to play World of Warcraft and kind of wish I had sold my account when it was still worth something.

    Reply
    1. Mochi & Macarons

      Oh yeah I remember WoW.

      The good thing is I sold it when it was at the peak. Now I think it has gone downhill.

      Reply
  5. Liquid_Independence

    That’s quite the childhood story ;D First MMO I played was a free one called Runescape. The internet has helped so many people find success. From gold farmers in China to Bieber, the opportunities are endless. I’m the same age as Michelle, but only have like 1/10th of her wealth. Wish I had some kind of talent I can sell on the internet too heh heh. The other thing is these famous people also had to work very hard to get to where they are now. I’m not sure I can do that given my laziness lol.

    Reply
    1. Mochi & Macarons

      I’m odd, what can I say?

      Michelle Phan is also really great in her videos. She’s personable, and charming. I can see why she’s successful.

      I too, would rather just work and save. What they are doing, takes a lot of work.

      Reply
    2. Mochi & Macarons

      Skrillex is also 25 by the way. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Joe

    There are so many great lessons in this post for entrepreneurs and new business owners. You should have a separate blog for this sort of content; it would have made for 3 great posts alone. And while I don’t think video games have provided me with a ton of value — compared to, say, my degree — there have been studies demonstrating their are positive outcomes, e.g. quicker problem solving and decision making skills.

    Reply
    1. Mochi & Macarons

      That’s very kind of you to say so 🙂

      I was thinking about another separate blog, but I don’t think I have enough in me to write only about “Career” all the time, although I will keep in mind that I can write more of these posts in lieu of Money as a topic.

      Video games taught me quite a few useful life skills, but ultimately it sucks the life out of you if you let yourself get addicted.

      I make decisions quickly anyway (impulsive), but when I did a lot of fighting online (player versus player), you had to plan ahead, be organized with your pack and think quick.

      Reply
  7. PK

    Ok, I’ll bite – what game? I don’t recognize the screenshot you’ve got there.

    Nowadays it seems video games are a very slow wealth transfer to other countries, where people can justify grinding for hours for in-game gold and items (enough that it’s earned Wikipedia articles!).

    Reply
    1. Mochi & Macarons

      Ultima Online. 🙂 Very much like EverQuest or EverCrack.

      I got out of it at the age of 17 (while working a minimum wage job on the side), but it was a fun ride nonetheless.

      Reply
  8. StackingCash

    Very fascinating post because I enjoy gaming tremendously. Wish I had the talent and wherewithal to accomplish what you did in your online game. I have to resign myself to just enjoying the game, not earning a living from it. IRL, I’m just a blue collar worker in the service industry making a decent living but not quite enough to save for a secure future IMO. I do have plans to do more, but need to take a few first steps in the right direction. Whether or not it proves successful, only time will tell.

    Reply
    1. Mochi & Macarons

      The only way I made any money from gaming was spending hours as a teen to collect rates and make stuff for other people as a business and them being able to sell all of it on eBay.
      It was more time that minimum wage, I’ll tell you that. Much like blogging!! 🙂
      If your gaming is not RPG, can be easily replicated (no rares), and can’t sell things to others (Minecraft or First Person Shooter falls into this) then it’s a lot harder to eBay anything.
      Otherwise they do hold gaming competitions worldwide! 🙂 really good players (addicts) make a living playing games.

      Reply
  9. American Debt Project

    I really liked this point “If people (unprovoked) are constantly telling you: Hey you’re good at this! Keep it up!… It means that you’re good at it.” I hear this but sometimes don’t know what to do with it. I try my hand at a lot of things and have finally found some work that fits, I’m good at, and can be lucrative. I’m not diving in headfirst, but testing it out. It’s exciting. The endgame for me is not a bunch of money either. It’s having the freedom and opportunities that life is really about. it’s not being blind to them because you are too stressed out about a bunch of limits you created for yourself. Great post!

    Reply
    1. Mochi & Macarons

      Thanks!! 😉

      If you are hearing that you are good at it, I suggest you get better at it and keep your eyes peeled for more opportunities.
      That is kind of what happened in my current job and I was told I could freelance, so I took the risk and did it.

      Reply

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