Arash Lahijani was in high school when he discovered that he could make a living writing backstories to video game characters.
A friend of his had paid a Fiverr freelancer $70 to do it for a Grand Theft Auto character, he recalls — so he started researching, and realized there was a market. He could also make a side income from it during the weekends and after school.
One week later, he signed up for Fiverr in April 2021. Since then, he’s earned $62,400 writing more than 400 character backstories for an online version of the video game Grand Theft Auto, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
In his second month, he earned $9,700. CNBC Make It interviewed Lahijani at Baruch College in New York, where he said, “I didn’t know that writing could make my $10,000 per month,”
Lahijani is not like other professionals who create plotlines and characters for video games studios. She writes for Grand Theft Auto 5 Roleplay players, a multiplayer online version of the popular console gaming game. To join certain servers and play with specific users, players will need to submit their character backstories.
Lahijani has clients ranging from 50-year-old dads and 15-year old kids. However, they don’t have that much cash all year. His extra income depends on how much he works. As a full-time student, Lahijani can only work three to four hours per week during school year. In September, however, he earned $1,750.
Here’s how Lahijani learned video game character backstories, and how he plans on increasing his income via writing.
How to write a backstory for a videogame
Lahijani states that his writing skills don’t come from English classes, or extracurricular interests. Lahijani studies statistics and quantitative modeling at Baruch College. He also has an academic scholarship.
He says that his gift for storytelling is a result of listening to speeches and writing. In high school, he served as a grade president, school treasurer, and was also the founder of the computer club. As part of a county initiative to improve school safety, he also worked with Nassau County’s district attorney’s office.
He says that those public speaking experiences taught him how he could create a “hook” to guide his speech. These hooks also serve as his character backstories’ first- and last sentences, he says.
Jimmycanwrite (Lahijani) offers three types to clients. Each package costs between $45-$195. He says the most sought-after package, which includes a 10-page background story that takes approximately a week to complete, is the most expensive.
For those premium stories, he asks each client about their character’s birthplace, age, job, strengths and weaknesses and their goals for the future — but those details aren’t required. Lahijani says that he prefers to work with very little context because it allows him to create a story from scratch.
One time, during writer’s block, he turned the TV on and saw a weatherman. He thought of the backstory of this person, which became the plot for his next story.
With every character, Lahijani makes up a life event that affected their personality, explains why they’re moving to Los Santos — the fictional city where this particular game is set — and what their aspirations are.
Lahijani stated, “It is a virtual universe, so if you write about a liquor store proprietor, that’s how it will appear in GTA, dealing to people who come in to buy alcohol.” “In my mind I’m helping my client see their character through major events in life.”
Why his writing will continue to be a side hustle
ZipRecruiter estimates that full-time game writer salaries average $56,417 per annum. Lahijani would earn twice as much if he earned his monthly maximum of $10,000.
Lahijani mainly uses the cash for practical purposes. He said he spent $12,000 on a car used and that he put $6,000 into a Roth IRA account.
He treats his family and himself sometimes. He says he has used some of the money to travel and gave his mother a $1550 diamond necklace as a Christmas gift.
Lahijani says he doesn’t plan to pursue a writing career after graduation, opting instead for finance and risk management — but he plans to keep writing as a side hustle.
Recently, a satisfied client asked Lahijani if he would create a custom children’s book to celebrate their nephew’s first birthday. Although Lahijani declined the offer, he realized that he could use his writing skills for more than video games.
Lahijani said, “I never thought I could be so skilled doing this.” Recently, he posted on Fiverr about his desire to teach high school students how to write college admission essays.
He says, “I want people to feel confident to write.”
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