Turning Gamers into Side Income

While I’m mired in the suck of unemployment, the wheels have been churning. My previous job consumed enough CPU cycles to keep my mind pretty thoroughly occupied, and what was left over, I dedicated to shooting, the Second Amendment, and blogging about shooting and the Second Amendment. Shooting is now an expense, so I’m not doing much of it these days, and blogging was never more than a part time job. So that leaves me with what to do between rounds of looking for work, and doing interviews.

In my free time I’ve been doing some more flight simming, and involving myself more in that community. A few people have made games revolving around flight sims, but those have mostly involved Virtual Airlines, and Virtual Air Traffic Control. The problem I have with all of these ideas is that they are essentially extensions of simulations, and as games go, I think that caters to more of a niche audience.

I’ve always believed that the primary purpose in any gaming community is being able to compare yourself to other people. That’s true whether you’re a video gamer, or your game is competitive pistol shooting. If you don’t look at the people under you in a ranking, and think “Heh, I’m better than all those guys,” and look at the people above you on the ranking and think, “For now, I’ll learn from you, because you are better than me, but one day, one day, I’m going to totally pwn you,” then you’re not really endowed with the competitive spirit, and may even lament what I’m talking about. A true gamer prides himself on his competence in his craft, but in order to understand the bounds of that competence, comparison is necessary.

In order to compare yourself, you have to have a pretty good social understanding of the community in which your operating, which requires an active social element, where people know and interact with each other. In my college days, I was a high wizard on a MUD. A good MUD needed to have a balance of both these elements on order to succeed; you needed to know your fellow players enough to divide them into rivals and allies, and you also needed a way to measure your skills in relation to others.

Competition is an excellent driving force, but you can not make the path to masterdom easy, lest the view from the top of the mountain seem uninspiring. You also cannot make it too difficult, for then the sensible path is just to surrender to the mountain and turn back. In my experience with competitive Silhouette shooting, competence is too difficult, and that discourages beginners. I think practical shooting is more popular today because it has the right balance of difficulty to master, but still offers enough early reward to keep it interesting for beginners.

Fantasy is another important element in any game. At the risk of offending people, this is another major appeal of IDPA and IPSC that other, more traditional shooting sport lack. Both try to be simulations of defensive handgun situations. This translates to the flight sim community as well, which feeds pretty exclusively off fantasy. Flight sims cater to aviation enthusiasts who don’t have the time, money, or good health to do the real thing. Whether you’re an actual pilot who still dreams of flying large airliners, or a diabetic who can’t get a medical certificate to fly a Cessna, the community has something to offer you. But to go back to the shooting analogy, imagine an IPSC or IDPA competition essentially boiled down to a match director scoring everything up, and going down the line at the end of the match, “You lived, you died, you lived, you lived, you died,” etc, etc. You’d probably still have people who’d be interested, but who are the winners and losers? Who is better than the next guy? Sure, you want to live, but this is a game! It has to be to keep people interested long term.

If you can combine the fantasy with community and competition, I think you have something really appealing. This is the thought that’s been obsessing me for at least the past five days. I’ve been playing a game that’s a plugin to the two major flight sims, that almost has the right idea, but it’s a poorly thought out and shoddy implementation too focused on simulation rather than social networking and gaming. I think I know how to do it much better. To top it off, Microsoft largely got out of the flight sim business, and that industry is about to be upheaved with the arrival of X-Plane 10. All I keep thinking about is, if I could get 2000 people to pay me 15 bucks a year, that’s real money. If I could get 4000 people a year to pay me 15 bucks a year, that’s almost a job. This community is willing to pay money for entertainment, and a lot of folks have made money on third party add-ons. Even if I got 500 people t pay me 15 dollars, it’s decent money versus the effort. It’ll boost my skills at software development and integration, which can’t hurt for a job. My ideas will tax my skills in Python, C++, PHP, SQL and systems administration skills such that I’m having a hard time seeing a downside to doing this. At worst I keep working with some important jobs skills, and at best I make a few bucks on the side. This is one of those times when I feel a lot of things coming together. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I think this could help me out, and provide some people with entertainment, and perhaps contribute to another community that has a tough time recruiting new members.

5 thoughts on “Turning Gamers into Side Income”

  1. For an example of how competition and gaming can be combined as a business, check out Major League Gaming or http://www.majorleaguegaming.com/. I only know about them because Barb’s nephews compete in their tournaments quite successfully.

    Their tournaments have become big business with MLG holding them in civic centers. They hold team competitions in Halo Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and StarCraft 2. I don’t know about the others but the winning team in Halo receives $20K in a regular tourney and $100K at the nationals.

    In between the tourneys they hold LAN competitions.

    I don’t know about flight sims but with a dedicated enough community I think something less “gaudy” than MLGPro could be quite successful.

  2. If you do decide to do something flight sim that would be awesome! The community is driven forward by the community members that are willing to step up. Austin Meyer of X-Plane is a perfect example of what you are talking about. Maybe it will be part of the answer to your employment issues.

    Part of the problem with the civilian sim side is there is no real inherent competition. That’s part of what I liked with combat flight sims, there was more on the line even if you were flying cooperative mission. You didn’t want to let your wingmen down. Also my draw to the combat stuff was that I’m a CFI that couldn’t swing the military thing even though when I was hardcore into it was was still trying to make the fighter pilot dream happen.

    I was a big time Falcon 4.0 fan and the community modding even before the source code link was great. After the source code leak there was even the commercial re-release of some of that SC mods. Now I dabble in the Strike Fighters series due to the lower fidelity makes for lower time commitments works better with 2 young daughters.

    The Fighter Ops guys talk kinda about what you are referring to in that you get almost a RPG style character that starts in flight training and works his way up. WWII Online also has that RPG element.

    I think it would be cool IMO to have a VATSIM network with a Flight School to Regional to Major airlines RPG style progression.

    If can be of any help, let me know. Like I said, I’m a CFI and used to write for Computer Pilot magazine and Betatest. I could use a new project in the sim world.

  3. I can tell you for sure that the PC world is seriously missing a decent flight combat game. Sadly the last good one was Battlefield 2 and that was a FPS.

  4. I’d really like to do something like this myself. Since I’m now working two jobs, though, I don’t have the time, so I can’t even say “Let’s team up and do it!” (Certainly silly notion, because you don’t even know my technical skills, but it’s probably there, just because I’d like to do something like this! :-)

    But you’re right: even if you can’t bring the actual simulator to the point where you could sell subscriptions, working on it will help keep your skills up-to-date.

    In any case, if you could pull this off while working–or even while looking for work–I’ll be rooting for you; I’ll be pleasantly surprised if you can do this for a living, too!

    Good luck–both on this project (if you decide to pursue it) and in your continued job search.

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