Do you love playing video games so much you wish it could be your job? Getting paid to play has traditionally been reserved for those who land game testing gigs. But new ways to profit off your favorite games have emerged in the last few years – and they could make you a millionaire. (Level up your winnings by investing in this fast-paced, highly skilled industry. Learn more in Power Up Your Portfolio With Video Game Stocks.)
IN PICTURES: 9 Ways To Use A Tax Refund

Start Selling In-Game
One of the ways to cash in on your game is to sell virtual items that are part of the game. There are basically no limits to what you can sell. Some people sell specific objects, points, avatars or even entire accounts that have been built up to a high level. But it doesn't stop there. You could also sell real estate, clothing and even a virtual space station – like the one that sold for US$330,000 in the game Planet Calypso this past December.

How Does it Work?
You play the game for fun and have built up a character that kicks some serious butt, but you are ready to let it go – if the price is right. There are a couple of ways to go about selling. First, you can post on classified sites like Craigslist or Kijiji, or on forums specific to your game of choice. The downside of this method is it's up to you to protect your investment. Use secure money transfers, through your bank or sites like PayPal.com, and make sure you are paid before you hand over your password.

Alternatively, you can work with vendors to sell what you've already created. Sites such as Internet Gaming Entertainment (ige.com) buy and sell virtual currency and assets for some of the most popular games, including World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, EverQuest, EverQuest 2, Final Fantasy XI, Lineage 2 and many more. And it isn't just casual gamers who are cashing in. You could be employed by an internet vendor who pays you to create and develop accounts for sale. Talk about a dream job! (The glitz and glam of Hollywood could help put some more glitz in your pocket. Find out more in Analyzing Show Biz Stocks.)

Go Pro
Another way to get paid to play is through professional gaming. Competitive play through organizations like Major League Gaming (MLG) are growing quickly, with 4.4 million online matches played in 2008, up 625% over 2007, according to CBC.ca. In fact, Electronic Arts Inc. (Nasdaq:ERTS). just announced an agreement with MLG to "integrate online tournament functionality across a number of upcoming EA SPORTS titles in 2010". With the help of major sponsors like Dr. Pepper and Doritos, MLG is promising seasonal prizes totaling over $500,000 in 2010 – and that's just for Halo 3. (Teach your kids the relationship between work, money and achieving financial goals with the five simple lessons found in 5 Money Skills To Teach Your Kids.)

Second Life – A Whole New World
According to the creators, Linden Labs, Second Life is not a game – at least, not in the way you might think of a game. Instead, it's an online 3D world where users can socialize using free voice and text chat, shop, run businesses, vacation, fall in love and basically do anything you can in real life, but through your avatar. The Second life currency, Linden Dollars, can be purchased through the company's website and, trade like a real world currency – the cost is not set; it fluctuates daily with the Linden economy. As of March 2, 2010, the exchange rate was around 260 Linden dollars for one U.S. dollar.

In November, 2006, Ailin Graef became the first "virtual millionaire" through her Second Life avatar, Anshe Chung. Graef's net worth exceeded one million dollars U.S. at the time, all of which was earned through the virtual world. Her initial investment was the $9.95 paid for a premium account (basic accounts are free).

Is it Legal?
As this market grows, there are increasing questions about the legalities of selling virtual goods, stemming from the question of intellectual ownership. If you create characters or acquire virtual goods in a game, does that mean you take ownership of them over the company that created the game? In January, 2007, one of the biggest players in this space, eBay, delisted all "virtual artifacts" from its site, including characters, accounts, special items, attire (yes, you can even buy or sell what your character wears!) and points. The big exception eBay made? Second Life.

According to eBay's policy on selling digitally delivered goods and items, "The seller must be the owner of the underlying intellectual property, or authorized to distribute it by the intellectual property owner."

What Games can I Play?
Again, the sky seems to be the limit. If the game has an online component and demand exists, go for it! In addition to the games listed above, you could also consider EVE Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Halo 3, Counter-Strike – people are even selling Neopoints for the online cartoon game at Neopets.com.

Game developers keep creating new ways to integrate gaming and making money. Kwari, for example, is a PC first-person shooter that makes you money in real time – you make money for everyone you shoot, and lose money every time you get shot. The game is free to download, but you have to pay for your ammunition, rather than paying a monthly subscription.

The Bottom Line
The internet is expanding our definition of career, by allowing a forum for your passion to become your pension. Non-traditional jobs are becoming viable opportunities not only for making a living, but making millions. (Personal finance is not covered in schools, so it's up to parents to teach kids how to manage money. Find out more in 5 Ways To Stunt A Child's Financial Growth.)

Still feeling uninformed? Check out last week's Water Cooler Finance to see what's been happening in financial news.

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