Have you ever fancied the role of being a games tester? Chances are, you think it involves getting paid to play games all day. Well, think again.
GAMESCOT sat down with Scott Herdman from quality assurance firm Pole To Win International to chat about the day to day life of a tester, and what it takes to get your foot through the door.
Q: So tell us a little bit about your role as a games tester.
A: Specifically I’m a lead tester, so I’m responsible for managing the individual projects and the titles that we have in. So rather than doing the front line testing myself, I oversee it and organise it from the beginning. So that involves the set up and the scheduling for when we are going to test different sections of the game, and when we’re going to run different paths.
I’m also communicating directly with the clients, and just kind of keeping the project ticking over. I used to be a tester myself when I first started, and then got promoted up to leading.
Q: And what about the role of a tester in general?
A: Testers, on a day to day basis, will be assigned to a project or a game. They’ll come in and have a build of that game, and they’ll be assigned sections of the game each day – or maybe even more than one section a day depending on the game itself – and they’ll work through that.
We provide them with multiple test plans with a series of ‘test cases’ looking at specific things within the game, and they work through that looking for bugs.
We mostly do localisation testing, so the testing of translations and localised content for games. The guys will look through for any issues at all, be that a small linguistic mistake like a spellings mistake or a missing comma, down to what we call confrontation issues. So that’s if the text doesn’t display correctly, for example, or if it’s displayed in the wrong language.
They also look for any wider cultural issues. In certain countries there are different legal requirements for what can be released, or certain jokes or topics of conversation that may not go down so well. For example, we test a lot of Japanese games, and there are occasions where we see content in there that in Japan is totally normal, but for Europe, or the West, is a bit taboo.
So the role is about flagging that sort of stuff up as well as dealing with the translation, and the implementation of those translations, in the game. We’re basically responsible for ensuring that that game is ready for release in a specific country or region, with the ideal goal being that the game feels like it was developed specifically for that audience.
Q: A lot of people compare games testing to ‘playing games for a living.’ Is this accurate?
A: Often the testing of the game takes a lot longer than someone playing it at home would. We have to check all of it – sometimes we have to check it multiple times, check multiple different combinations. They work slowly through the area they are assigned, and sometimes they’ll spend the whole week working just on menus rather than the actually playing the game itself. Each time they find a bug they then have to report that bug to the client, which is generally done through a bug database.
The testers will identify the mistake and suggest a fix. If there is a spelling mistake, they’ll correct it and provide what we call a ‘suggested result.’ They’ll come up with a fix and submit a bug report which will have all the information about the bug – where it is in the game, what the issue itself is, and any information about grammar or linguistic rules that effect it.
They’ll also have to map out exactly how to reproduce that bug, which is sometimes as simple as: ‘open the game, proceed to the main menu, observe that there is a bug there.’ But it can also be as complex as requiring several hours of play to reach it in a certain area.
Once they have done all that, they submit the report to the client and return to testing. Testing itself can often be quite repetitive. Every variant of the text that can be produced in the game, we try and reproduce. of time. Testers spend days and days on certain small sections of the game just repeatedly testing them to ensure that there are no problems.
So yeah, the idea that it’s just coming to play games is quite far from the truth.
Q: Has working in games testing affected the way that you enjoy playing games in your own time?
A: Absolutely. Whenever I’m playing games at home I’ll be looking for functional bugs, or just for localisation issues, all the way through. It’s always quite satisfying when I do find one at home because I’ve caught a bug that someone else missed. But then it also extends to things like reading newspaper articles, etcetera. I end up subconsciously proof-reading them as I’m going through.
Q: Nowadays we see quite a lot of games patched after release. How does this impact your role?
A: We’re definitely seeing a bit more of that, but it depends on the game and the developer. If there’s a smaller game then quite often there is less pressure on that release, or they don’t necessarily have the money to keep working on it.
But with the bigger clients, definitely. We quite often will keep testing after they’ve hit that point where they freeze it for release. Then it will go to the day one patch, and then often there will be testing that goes on after that for future patches as well.
For us, the point where they start preparing for release isn’t necessarily the point where we stop testing. There comes a point where they freeze the game for submission to the client, and start preparing the disk and all the promotional material. They can then add the day one patch to it just before release, so we’ll quite often keep testing right up until that point. And again, depending on the title potentially longer.
There are some games where we’ve been testing on them six months after release. Sometimes they add little bits of content at the same time, so we keep testing that as well.
We’re definitely seeing a longer spread of time on them, and more work post-release of a game.
Q: We hear a lot about ‘crunch time’ when it comes to games development. What are you experiences with it as a tester?
A: Because we are an outsourcer, we’re kind of shielded from ‘crunch time’ normally. We tend to work the Monday to Friday, within normal hours, depending on whether a game is a day away from release or six months away from release. What we do see sometimes during that crunch is that the client will request overtime from us, so there are times where we do work weekends or we do work extra hours. But generally it is the 9 to 5. What we tend to see more, is that the clients will add more testers or more teams to the project so that the number of staff we have working on it grows, rather than necessarily the hours changing.
There will be times when we come in and we know that they’re going through ‘crunch time’ and we’ll see e-mails from the clients coming through to us at all sorts of crazy hours. They’re either working super late or are coming in super early. Sometimes that will have a knock-on effect on the kind of testing that we’re doing. But in terms of the crunch itself, we are definitely well shielded from that on the whole. That’s beneficial for all of us here definitely.
Q: What is the best thing about being a games tester?
A: The best thing for me is just being a part of the process. The games that we’re working on and that I quite often enjoy myself – having that impact on them and improving them in one way or another is always a really satisfying feeling. Especially when you see the end result, and you see it out there. There’s a real satisfaction in knowing that you played your part in getting it there. For me that’s definitely the best part of it.
Also, seeing games and seeing bits of hardware that haven’t been released yet, is always really nice as well – getting that sneak peak.
Q: And what’s the worst part?
A: I’m not too sure really. The sort of repetitive nature of it I guess can be a downside for some people. You know, just speed testing that same area again and again. But I wouldn’t necessarily see that as a downside, it’s just a part of the overall job.
I wouldn’t say there’s any particular downside for me.
Q: Is it important to be passionate about games as a tester?
A: I think to a certain extent. I think when you’re talking about the functionality side, you do need to be able to poke into all of the corners of the game, and to find all of those real functional issues. If not passion, you definitely need to know games inside out and know them well to have an idea of where you are going with it.
On the localisation side, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. We see a mix of guys who are a really really into their games, but we also see a lot of people who are more here for the language point of view.
For functionality, it’s definitely a big positive – maybe not a necessity but it’s definitely a benefit on almost every level. But from a localisation perspective it’s not so important. It obviously will always help – the more knowledge and the more passion you have is always beneficial, but not necessary.
Q: If someone was looking to get into games testing, are there any particular qualifications or skills that they would need?
Generally, some background in functionality testing, and definitely some sort of degree or qualification in the field, will help. Games development or something code-related is always good, but not essential.
I studied law at University, and then started working here. There are other guys I know that have backgrounds in journalism, the music business, etcetera. There’s a whole mix.
Yeah, on the functionality side, definitely a background in computing, and some form of development is beneficial but not essential. On the localisation side, the key thing is the ability to speak the language that you’re wanting to test to a good native level.
Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to get into testing?
A: That’s an interesting question. If this is someone who wants to be involved, I would say just of do some reading up on QA (Quality Assurance) and testing beforehand, and ensure that that’s definitely the route to go down.
In terms of the overall structure of how a game is developed, QA is not one of the more influential areas. We can’t dictate the direction the game is going in, or dictate features or anything like that. I would say be sure that the QA testing side of it is what they want. If they’re looking at actually getting into development then it might not be the best route. Having said that, it is a good step in the door.
But I would basically say to them, be sure you understand what testing is before you really go for it, because, as you say, there are a lot of misconceptions about how it is, and how a day to day tester works. Understanding that it’s not just sitting and playing a game is vital before jumping in.