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I have recently been invited to do some volunteer playtesting for a pretty well known developer. They made it very clear that it was on a volunteer basis only. It's not a job and I won't be getting paid. What should I expect? What kind of input are they going to be looking for from me? What tips do you have for doing the playtesting well? What should I do to ensure I'll be invited back? Have you or anyone you know done something similar to this before?

Also, although this is unlikely (at best) to turn into a job, what tips do you have for possibly getting my foot in the door at the company? I am happy to just be able to participate, but I would love to be able to make some good connections since I plan on building a career in the game industry. Thanks in advance.

Update:
I've been invited back to be part of a regular test group for the same game. We went over some UI designs and filled out a survey on what we thought of them and how well we understood them. Then we had a video taped Q&A session with the QA supervisor and some of the developers. We discussed the designs we critiqued in the survey and elaborated more on what we thought of them. Finally, before leaving, we played a few rounds of one of the test builds of the game, just for fun. It was a great experience and from what I observed about the offices and the general work atmosphere, I'm even more sure I've made the right career choice for myself, personally.
I've accepted an answer to this question, but I'm still open to hearing about experiences from other people who have been involved in volunteer playtesting!

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2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Volunteer playtesting is usually just a few hours of watching you over your shoulder (or at the really fancy places, through cameras and one way mirrors) to see what you do when you're exposed to something you haven't seen before so they can see where frustrations lie or what you're inclined to do given a certain situation. They might ask you to fill out a questionnaire afterwards, but it isn't as useful as just watching you go through the game. Or at least that's what it should be. Related question from the opposite angle: How do you get useful data from playtesters?

At the larger companies you probably won't be meeting anybody that has any say in hiring or any hand in development; they usually have dedicated focus testing people taking notes. Smaller companies have the designers and leads there to watch.

It's like anything else, you might make a contact if you come across as somebody who knows their stuff and aren't a complete idiot. But don't go into a company and say "I have a great idea for a game" because they're not going to listen to you.

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Thanks for the great answer. One of the hardest parts of deciding to pursue a career in game development is convincing people that you're not another naive, "I have an idea for a game" stereotype. I'll use this as an opportunity to gain some better insight into the developer work environment and more so just enjoy it as a fun experience. Thanks again for your answer and the useful link. –  Amplify91 Mar 22 '11 at 20:15
"What should I do to ensure I'll be invited back?"

Nothing special, really, but this depends of the company. This might be "napkin testing", where they only rate initial reactions, and after you've seen the game once, you're useless as a tester.

Since it really does depend on the company and their methods, they may interview you afterwards (or even during), so give useful feedback. Don't be a fanboy, or over-critical; just try to be honest.

Or well, there's one way to ensure you'll be invited back. Just bring a couple million dollars.. =)

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Hell, if he brought pizza and caffeine I'd invite him back. :) –  James Mar 28 '11 at 19:12
    
A small development house might, a bigger one might be insulted. –  Jari Komppa Mar 29 '11 at 5:48

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