Author: Ewan McKenzie – Blazing Griffin’s QA Manager.
We get a lot of speculative applications for games testers here at Blazing Griffin and from what we’ve seen many of them misunderstand what the role actually entails. So I thought it would be helpful to write a quick how-to guide for anyone wanting to work in this part of games development.
Everybody that has ever enjoyed playing computer games at some point has surely had the thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to actually be paid to do this?” Sitting around all day on the couch, eating pizza and playing all the games you want with the added bonus of receiving a real grown-up income on top of that.
If that’s the reason you would like to get into games testing then I would like to warn you; prepare to be very, very… very disappointed.
Before explaining how to get into games testing, it’s important to understand the difference between playing a game and testing a game. As a games tester, telling someone what you do for a living is often met by the response, “Oh so you just sit about and play games all day?” This is the question that causes testers the world over to be overcome by an irrational hatred of the asker, their family and everyone they have ever spoken to. The simple answer is ‘no’.
I’m sure it’s safe to assume everyone reading this post will know how to play a game. Kill the monster, collect the bananas, shoot the bad guys, win the race. You know, all that sort of stuff. So how do you test that?
Take the first example, killing a monster. You may have a list of tests to perform (a test case) when checking this functionality. Some of these tests might be:
- Does the monster spawn in correctly without glitching?
- Does hitting the monster with weapon 1 cause the expected amount of damage?
- Does hitting the monster with weapon 2 cause the expected amount of damage?
- Does the monster attack the player when it should?
- Does the monster animate correctly during all of these actions?
- Do the correct sound and visual effects appear at all points?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’ then the issue must be reported for a developer to fix. Once fixed, the tester must check to make sure that the feature now functions as intended.
Essentially, in a very simplified form, that’s the likely role of an entry level tester. It is important to be aware that, depending on the company, testers may work on the same game over a period of years. Bearing in mind the game is in development, so not up to the caliber of a released product. And no, not like this…
Still interested? Then read on!
If you are serious about a career in testing then generally a degree level qualification is sought after, ideally in a games industry specific course. While there are no degrees specific to testing itself, there are many for the other main disciplines; programming, art, design, audio, and production. Testers come from a range of backgrounds and often have aspirations of moving on to another discipline after getting a foot in the door, so to speak. That’s not to say a career can’t be made solely through testing itself.
The whole QA department at Blazing Griffin (all two of us!) have degrees in Game Design and Production Management from Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland (about 60 miles from our studio in Edinburgh) which now includes modules specific to testing. While this is a great help, any games relevant degree is sought after.
A lot of our work is reliant on good communication skills, and unlike other disciplines in the industry, we can’t provide showreels or examples of our work. Therefore, it is vital to check over your cover letters and CVs for basic grammar errors or spelling mistakes. If an employer thinks you can’t be bothered to check over something as important as that, it’s unlikely that you would be seen to have the keen eye for detail required to be a good tester.
However, showing some individual initiative other than obtaining a degree is also recommended. Two good examples are making your own games (it doesn’t really matter which software is used) or signing up to be a beta tester for games and providing feedback to real world developers.
Familiarise yourself with testing terminology before applying for a role. For example, when writing a bug report, the reproduction steps, reproduction rate, and severity are examples of fields you should include in your report. These will vary between companies, but as long as you can explain the scale you used then that’s the important thing. Perhaps ‘1’ is a high severity issue for one company while it is low severity at another. Here at Blazing Griffin we use Fatal > High > Medium > Low. Write up some reports for bugs you’ve found in released titles using these fields to show some initiative.
For example, this is what we would class as a High Severity bug here at Blazing Griffin. It’s a doozy!
There is no surefire method to get into games testing, but obtaining a degree, demonstrating solid communication skills, and being able to give examples of bugs in games will definitely help. And please, for the sake of your physical well-being, be aware of the difference between playing a game and testing a game.
Don’t let this post put you off if games testing is something you have always wanted to do. It can be a lot of fun, especially if you work in a good team and find bugs amusing. It can also a good entry role for those of you looking to explore further careers in the games industry (larger companies have a much faster turnaround of staff and therefore may hire without degrees) and will give you a great insight into how video games are made.