The Startup
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The Startup

Succeeding in the Creator Game

The mindset and resources you need to be an infinite player

Image by freepik.com/stockgiu

So much work now is analogous to playing a video game. Move forward and try new things and you’ll find a way to level up. Stop challenging yourself and you fall behind.

There are many different games we can play. Most start with the Student Game, then switch to the Employee Game, hoping to eventually make it to the Middle Manager Game.

An estimated 50 million are playing the Creator Game. It’s a game of Learning, Creating, Promoting, and Connecting. Scores are kept with metrics such as subscribers, likes, follows, and revenue. However, it’s much more than that. It’s a game of personal expression, agency, and optionality.

The Infinite Game

There are no winners or losers in the Creator Game, it is an infinite game. In the words of author James Carse. “A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”

We play the Creator Game because the work we do is intrinsically rewarding and it creates value for others. Creating today allows us to create more tomorrow.

Long-Term Games with Long-Term People

Naval Ravikant echoes that sentiment in his advice to “pick an industry where you can play long term games with long term people.”

“But essentially if you want to be successful, you have to work with other people. And you have to figure out who can you trust, and who can you trust over a long, long period of time, that you can just keep playing the game with them, so that compound interest, and high trust will make it easier to play the game, and will let you collect the major rewards, which are usually at the end of the cycle.”

The body of work you create, the audience you build, and the relationships you nurture are compounding assets that increase in value and provide more opportunities in the future. A subscriber is more likely to become a customer. An online connection might be a future collaboration. Promoting a colleague’s new book or course makes it more likely they will reciprocate in the future.

There are ways to manipulate others for immediate gain, but that is a short-term game. Your reputation lasts for a long, long time. When your work is public, it makes a lot more sense to play nice, be generous, and to keep your promises.

The Great Online Game

Packy McCormick calls it “The Great Online Game”.

“The Great Online Game is an infinite video game that plays out constantly across the internet. It uses many of the mechanics of a video game, but removes the boundaries. You’re no longer playing as an avatar in Fortnite or Roblox; you’re playing as yourself across Twitter, YouTube, Discords, work, projects, and investments. People who play the Great Online Game rack up points, skills, and attributes that they can apply across their digital and physical lives.”

“The Game rewards community and cooperation over individualism and competition. You get points for being curious, sharing, and helping with no expectation of reciprocation. By increasing your surface area, you’re opening yourself up to serendipity. For good actors, the Game has nearly unlimited upside, and practically no downside.”

You can’t lose by playing the Creator Game. Everything you produce, every relationship you build, and all the knowledge you gain can lead to new and often unforeseen opportunities.

The gaming metaphor is very powerful because it provides a demonstrable path to mastery. It’s a problem-solving mindset where consistent action and experimentation help you advance a little further. With enough time and practice, everyone can improve and achieve more in the game they are playing.

If you play more, learn more, and experiment more, you will get better faster. While there will be some that get lucky and find the secret path to a higher level, most will have to put in the time and effort. There are rarely shortcuts to anything worthwhile.

No One Fails Forever

The most important characteristic of the Creator Game is that it is impossible to fail. There are no losers. Every day you play the game you get to create new things, make new connections, find better ways to promote your ideas, develop skills, and keep improving. This constant iteration and creation is a compounding asset that makes you a better thinker and doer.

This is difficult for many to understand. Most of our economy is transactional. When you work for X dollars per hour of your time, it can be hard to justify investing hundreds of hours with no immediate or guaranteed return.

Only a small percentage of the population has the discipline to stick through the time-consuming process of continually learning, creating, and promoting their creations. It’s hard work, and it can be disheartening when you are not getting paid.

Chris Williamson recently reported that:

90% of podcasts that are launched don’t make it past episode 3.
Of the 10% that make it past episode 3, 90% don’t make it past episode 20.
Simply by producing 21 podcasts, you in the top percentile of all podcastors ever.

Persistent consistency in the three areas of Creating, Learning, and Connecting make success inevitable. This is the creator’s secret weapon. Almost everyone else is going to quit. You just need to keep playing.

Creator Game Rewards

It’s important to remember that this is a Game, it’s not a job. There is no guaranteed paycheck at the end of the month. The vast majority of creators will never earn a full-time living from their work. Most will give up long before they can accrue any substantial rewards.

Those that intend to make a living with the creator game will likely need to diversify over many income streams. Here are some of the revenue opportunities available to successful creators:

Advertising

Sponsors and classified ads are the most common revenue source. Some examples are:

  • Podcasts like Chris Guillebeau’s daily Side Hustle School
  • Josh Spector sells classified ads in his For the Interested newsletter.
  • Many sites use ad platforms like Ezoic or MediaVine.

Donations

Sites like Patreon and Buy Me a Coffee allow fans to support your work.

Products

Selling courses, books, and other resources are also common. Here are some multimillion-dollar examples:

Affiliate Marketing

Promoting products and services from other companies for a commission can be very lucrative:

  • Pat Flynn continues to make tens of thousands of dollars from promoting web hosting and other services.
  • Niall Doherty is making more than $20k per month promoting make-money online courses.
  • Ryan Robinson makes over $30k per month from affiliate products.

Services

The content you create can be a great way to promote your freelancing or agency services.

SaaS

Subscription software is one of the most lucrative opportunities because of the recurring revenue.

Merchandise

Selling physical products that tie into your creator focus can be a lucrative opportunity.

Communities

Paid membership communities are a great way to leverage your audience. Here are some examples;

Job Boards

Investment Syndicates

Using your audience to raise money to invest in startups has gained popularity in recent years with investment SPACs. Here are some examples:

Licensing

  • Ryan’s World is not only the highest-earning YouTube channel, the Kaji family also have their own animated cartoon and Ryan Kaji’s image is used on mouthwash, toothbrushes, etc.
  • In addition to advertisements, affiliate links, and memberships, YouTuber PewDiePie sells his own branded apparel line.
  • Uber-influencer Huda Kattan of HudaBeauty has her own cosmetics line.

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)

While still new and experimental, NFTs have offered a new way for creators to get paid for their creations.

Optionality

The primary benefit of regularly creating is the options it opens up in your career. People who do interesting things, get to do more interesting things. Publicly creating, sharing, and connecting opens up opportunities for:

  • Collaborations — Partner with others on joint ventures.
  • New Business — Your audience is more likely to purchase your products and services.
  • Job Opportunities — Forget your resume, get hired because of your body of work.
  • Book deals — Smart people with an audience are much more likely to be discovered.
  • Speaking opportunities — Interesting people are hired to speak at events.
  • Consulting/coaching — Demonstrate your expertise and build an audience for your services with the content you create.
  • Investment opportunities — Investors put their money into people with a track record of hustle.

How to Play The Creator Game

Success at the Creator Game requires a long-term, continual effort on 3 main activities:

  1. Creating (Audience)
  2. Learning (Expertise)
  3. Connecting (Network)

Create

Obviously, creators create. Being good at your craft is the price of entry. There are no shortcuts here. If you want to succeed, create a lot.

There is a constant battle between keeping the attention of your audience and burnout. You need to find a sustainable cadence.

You will also have to get good at promoting your creations. If no one knows you exist, you don’t exist. Creating = Promoting. If you don’t want to play that game, you are in the wrong game.

Learn

Continual learning is important to gain and keep domain expertise, as well as, mastering essential creator skills like:

  • Search Engine Optimation
  • Writing
  • Storytelling
  • Copywriting
  • Podcasting
  • Video Editing
  • Landing Page Design
  • Sales Funnels
  • Social media
  • Paid Advertising
  • Viral Marketing
  • Internet Memes
  • Interviewing
  • Public Speaking
  • Buying Businesses and Social Media Assets
  • Course Creation
  • Community Building

Learning is a dynamic, ongoing process. Those that keep up with what’s working now, and what’s on the horizon will be at an advantage.

Fortunately, we all get better the more we play the game.

Connect

Skills are the cost of entry, but the quality of your connections can open up so many more opportunities. Ultimately, the relationships we build are a superpower that amplify everything we do.

Like Naval says, we need to “play long-term games, with long-term people”. You will never know who will promote your work, recommend your services, offer you a job, invest in your startup, or collaborate on a joint promotion. It’s human nature to reciprocate generosity.

However, too much networking is self-serving. Expecting an immediate upfront reward from our connections is the worst way to build our networks. Connecting is not spamming people in forums or by email. It’s not handing out dozens of business cards at a networking event. Not every human interaction needs to be a financial transaction.

Help someone every day and see where it takes you. You’ll be surprised.

What Game are you Playing?

The Creator Game is not for everyone. Most are better suited for the Employee Game. Often the Startup Game or Freelancing Game can be much more lucrative with more immediate income. It can take a long time to earn sufficient income as a creator.

The best reason to play the Creator Game is that you can’t imagine doing anything else. Find a way to express yourself that gives you energy. If you have to create and love the process of continually leveling up your skills, the Creator Game might be the only game for you.

If you are interested in leveling up in the Creator Game, check out my IdeaEconomy newsletter. It will help you keep up with what’s working in the creator economy.

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John Bardos

John Bardos

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