Arash Lahijani’s lucrative side hustle: Writing video game backstories

When Arash Lahijani was a high school student, he learned that he could make money by writing backstories for video game characters.

He recalled that a friend of his had paid Fiverr freelancers $70 to do it for a Grand Theft Auto character — so he started researching, and realized there was a market. Even better, it’s a side hustle he can do after school and on weekends.

A week later, in April 2021, he started using Fiverr. Since then, he has earned $62,400 for writing more than 400 character backstories for the online version of the video game Grand Theft Auto, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.

In just his second full month on the platform, he made $9,700. “I never knew writing could make me $10,000 in a month,” Lahijani, 19, a sophomore at Baruch College in New York, told CNBC Make It.

Unlike professionals who develop characters and plots for video game studios, Lahijani writes exclusively for users of the role-playing game Grand Theft Auto V, the multiplayer computer version of the popular console game. In this iteration of the game, players must submit character backstories in order to join a specific server and play with a specific user.

Lahijani, 19, said he wrote about 400 Grand Theft Auto character backgrounds. He has earned $62,400 since April 2021.

Arash Rashijani

Lahijani’s clients range from “50-year-old fathers to 15-year-olds” and don’t make that kind of money year-round. His extra income depends on the hours he works, and as a full-time student he can only put in three to four hours a day during the school year: In September, he made just $1,750.

Here’s how Lahijani learned how to write video game character backstories and how he plans to increase his income from writing:

How to Write a Video Game Backstory

Lahijani said his writing skills did not come from English classes or extracurricular interests. Lahijani is studying Statistics and Quantitative Modeling at Baruch College on a full academic scholarship.

Instead, he said his knack for storytelling came from writing and listening to speeches. In high school, he was the grade principal, school treasurer and founder of the computer science club. He also worked with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office as part of the county’s school safety initiative.

Those public speaking experiences, he said, taught him how to write a “hook” that revolves around his speech. He added that these same types of hooks now serve as the first and last words of his character’s backstory.

Lahijani, known as Jimmycanwrite on Fiverr, offers customers three packages, each priced between $45 and $195. The most expensive option is the most popular, he said, and includes a 10-page backstory that takes about a week to complete.

For those high-quality stories, he asks each client about their character’s birthplace, age, job, strengths and weaknesses, and their future goals — but these details aren’t required. Lahijani actually said he prefers to work with little or no context because it gives him creative license to make up stories from scratch.

Once, during a writing block, he turned on the TV to see the weather forecast. He said he imagined the man’s backstory, which became the plot of his next story.

For each character, Lahijani concocted a life event that shaped their personality, explaining why they moved to Los Santos — the fictional city of this particular game — and what their wishes were.

“It’s a virtual world, so if I’m writing about a liquor store owner, he’ll be in GTA and deal with people who come in and buy alcohol,” Lahijani explained. “In my opinion, I’m helping my clients understand their personalities through major life events.”

Why his writing became a side hustle

According to ZipRecruiter, full-time writers at video game studios make an average of $56,417 per year. If Lahijani’s maximum monthly income was $10,000, he would earn twice that amount.

For the most part, Rashijani used the cash for practical things. He said he spent $12,000 on a used car and put $6,000 into a Roth IRA account.

Sometimes, he treats himself and his family. He said he spent some of the money on travel and bought his mother a $1,550 diamond necklace last Christmas.

Lahijani says he doesn’t plan to pursue a writing career after graduation, opting instead for finance and risk management — but he plans to continue writing as a side hustle.

A satisfied client recently asked if he would write a custom children’s book for their nephew’s birthday. Lahijani didn’t take their offer, but it made him realize he could apply his writing skills beyond video games.

“I never realized I could do this so skillfully, and now I think I can use my writing to help other people do other things,” Rashijani said. He recently posted on Fiverr that he wanted to teach high school students how to write college admissions essays.

“I want people to have the confidence to write,” he said.

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