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I'm currently a (happily employed) automated software tester that's curious about game testing/QA. Do game companies hire dedicated testers for pay? If yes, then what are the job prospects like? If no, then how does becoming a game tester work (volunteers? mixed roles? crowdsourcing?). Obviously game companies have full-time devs, artists, designers, managers, etc. but what does QA look like?

NOTE: I'm curious about how QA works in a game dev setting, but I'm not really looking for job tips or "Do this if you want to get into game QA".

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Have fun playing through UltraCausual Ponies 9000, 5 times each day for a month, pressing pause every half second to see if the game breaks. –  AttackingHobo May 23 '11 at 17:38
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@AttackingHobo I am interested in any job combining playing games and ponies. Where do I sign up? –  The Communist Duck May 23 '11 at 20:04
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3 Answers

There's two major "types" of game testing/QA. Publisher and developer.

Publisher QA is like AttackingHobo's comment, where you're mostly sitting in front of a game in a cubicle with tons of other people around you, and you're turning the game on and off to make sure it doesn't crash. Or you're running into every single wall to make sure there's no seams in the geometry. And you're doing this for 12 hours straight, and getting paid $8/hour, and you better show up early tomorrow if you want to keep the job. This is the game industry equivalent of a retail position. Low pay, long hours, not much chance for advancement unless you're promoted to manager of the team. It's often a temp job where you might not work for 3 months because there's no games to test.

Developer QA is more in line with the automated software tester position you have now. You work with the team who is developing the game, pointing out major bugs, being able to provide useful feedback that could impact the game, and possibly deal with build issues, or other things. Developer QA is generally full time, salaried, and will be hired by studios like all the other jobs. You're probably not going to find too many QA positions at small indie studios, but a "larger" studio might have openings.

This is just a broad overview, and as always, there's going to be differences depending on your location and other things. Josh's answer covers salary and job prospects fairly well. Realise that the game industry is competitive, and less stable than a typical software job.

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There is some professional companies dedicated to game testing.

The biggest one I know of, is Enzyme, a Canadian company:
http://www.enzyme.org

Lutin Userlab in France is another one:
http://www.lutin-userlab.fr/_pages/english

But there is probably a lot of other companies doing the same king of work all over the world and particularly in USA.

The "Game testing" wikipedia page could provide you some useful informations too:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_testing#Employment

As far as I know, Game testers used to be paid hourly, they don't earn a huge amount of money, but hey they have fun at work ;)

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Testing/QA in the games industry is basically just like anywhere else, albeit with a tendency towards less process and formal methodology than in non-game work. Companies will hire for full-time QA as well as contract staff; the ratio of each will vary based on the culture of the studio and the needs of their current project or projects (typically contract QA positions are staffed up in the lead out to a release, for example).

Some studios will interact with QA contracting services like Volt, some will hire directly, some will do both. Volunteers are typically only used for one-off usability tests.

As of the Game Developer 2010 salary survey, QA remains a relatively low-compensated domain relative to other areas in the industry (which is, admittedly, low-compensated on average). Average salaries reported for the 2010 survey period were around 50k.

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