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I'm currently an independent game developer. I'm open to the idea of working on a team in the game industry. I'm under the impression that being a "game tester" is a relatively easy way to get a job... however that job may be somewhat undesirable. So how was your experience working as a tester in the game industry?

Some interesting experiences could include:

  • Did the game tester position lead to other more desirable positions?
  • How were the relationships between testers and developers?
  • Did you write any code? (test "frameworks", unit tests etc)
  • If bugs made it into production was any (potentially unfair) blame put on the testers?
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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I'm not a tester but I've worked on teams with them, and had students enter the industry as testers.

Up sides:

  • Yes, it is a "relatively" easy way to get a job. Key word: relative. Testing jobs are still competitive.
  • You're one of the few people on the development team that can actually say you play games for a living.
  • It's a (false) foot in the door.

Down sides:

  • The best description I've heard of QA is that it's walking into a wall for 40 hours to make sure you can't walk through it. The job is tedious, to say the least, and most people really can't stomach it for very long.
  • You're one of the few people on the development team that works part-time, so the pay is lousy and you can pretty much count on being let go at the end of the current project. You're on a ticking clock, so if you want to work yourself into a more permanent position, you've gotta work hard and fast to do so. Actual transitions from part-time QA to full-time programmer or designer are rare (all the more so as more would-be developers are treating QA as an entry point).
  • In my experience, there has been a clear separation between development and QA. While testers are at least treated nicely as human beings, it can be frustrating when you write up a bug only to hear that the dev team isn't doing anything about it -- not because they don't want to, but because there aren't enough resources and the leads have to make tough calls about what to fix and what not to.

To answer your other questions: I've not seen very many QA people doing test scripting or other programming-like things, but that might be because many testers have no programming skills, or because purchasing a license for an automated test suite isn't in the budget, more than anything. And yes, bugs ALWAYS make it into production, but I've NEVER seen the testers get blamed.

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Not a tester, but observations as a developer for big and small companies

Did the game tester position lead to other more desirable positions?

Sometimes, but rarely. The most common paths out of test are:

  • tester -> test manager -> Associate Producer on the dev team.
  • tester -> lead tester -> junior designer

I've seen more testers go the producer route that design, but it depends on their skills and the team. The step out of test is hard, and often is down to timing and luck more than your ability.

If you are currently developing games and have the necessary skills I'd try for an entry level design/programming job and exhaust that before going to test.

How were the relationships between testers and developers?

Depends on the team, but they are often pretty separated often in entirely different buildings.

Did you write any code? (test "frameworks", unit tests etc)

Was never a tester, but most of their day is spent just trying to break the build in specific ways. In the later stages of the game, half the day is spent trying to reproduce various bugs the dev team thinks they've fixed.

Unit test stuff is done on the dev team side of the equation.

If bugs made it into production was any (potentially unfair) blame put on the testers

There are always bugs that make it into the final build. A big retail game logs 10 of thousands of bugs over the course of development. While all known crash bugs are fixed before shipping on consoles, many of the minor ones are closed out as not worth fixing, since any fix has the potential of introducing future problems. The testing team isn't blamed for any of those choices which fall on the producers and leads.

However on the console side there are specific requirements from each of the console manufacturers. If the testing team misses testing for one of these, then yes they would be blamed because they are known beforehand. Any test team for an established developer is very aware of this process though.

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I've been in development for 30+ years, and was QA for about 15 of that (also QA manager, and director of engineering, hiring both QA and developers.)

If you can get a QA job -- if you have tenacity, attention to detail, and can reliably show up for work -- then, yes, it's a fairly "easy" way to get a foot in the door.

However, do NOT fall for the romantic notion that game-tester means you "play games all day long." In fact, many people who become game-testers find that they come to really hate playing games in their spare time, as it "feels too much like work." In game testing, you may be asked to do things like

  • Play the same level 800 times until you can figure out the exact steps needed to make it mis-behave like it seems to about 1-in-50 times.

  • Skip all the cool parts of game-X and play this boring side-quest that nobody will ever do, because we need someone to test it.

  • Write-up your findings in excruciating detail, such that someone else can step-through your instructions and see exactly what you saw, but without asking anyone any questions -- they have to be able to do it from just your written instructions.

Also, you need to be passionate, but without too much ego. That is, you have to care enough to want to make things better, but ok with frequent shooting-down of your ideas for improvement, and not let it drive you bonkers.

Back to your original question: what makes being software-QA (games or otherwise) an easy entry-level position is that the skill-set is something that anyone can develop, and doesn't require a lot of schooling. As above, tenacity, attention to detail and reliability are more important than many technical skills.

It's also a good growth position. It's easy for a motivated person to go from "entry level QA" to "lead tester" in just a couple of years, and promotion opportunities are many.

While it CAN lead to a development position, typically QA and developer skill sets are very different.

It's also a lot of hard, frustrating work. It is NOT "playing games all day long"! Some folks love it, some folks leave to do something more enjoyable, like flipping burgers. The difference lies with the individual more than with the job.

Btw, if you want to beef up your resume for an entry-level game-tester position, volunteer to do some beta-testing for games online, and learn how to write a decent bug report. (You can Google this. A good report is not "paladins suck" or "the space orb needs nerfed." Find out what it means to write a good bug report and then go out and write some. When you go to a job interview, take along 2-3 of your best to show, and explain that you have no professional training, but that this is what you were able to learn on your own. That's valuable skills, right there.

Good luck!

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It's been said above, testing is very, very tedious. Manual testing is a monkeys job.

Companies understand that coming in through support is a well known path for people looking to get into the game industry. There are companies that don't like it. I recently watched an interview with Gabe Newell where he mentioned companies firing an employee who attempts and move out of QA. Companies need testers who are genuinely interested in what they're doing. So if this is your path make the best of it.

How were the relationships between testers and developers?

Big companies tend to create group atmospheres. Artists will hang out with artists. Programmers will hang out with programmers. Testers will probably hang out with support. You will have to make an effort to network (lunch, activities). There is no reason why you wouldn't be able to create good relationships with developers.

Did you write any code? (test "frameworks", unit tests etc)

You're talking about two different roles. One is a developer and one is not. Your entry level position revolves around manual testing (actually playing the game). If you have development experience then you would come on board as a QA Engineer and focus on writing code that tests the code (you wouldn't be playing the game). Small studios just don't have a budget to support a QA engineering staff so you'll have to target the big dogs if you're interested in this.

If bugs made it into production was any (potentially unfair) blame put on the testers?

This is a team effort. If people are playing the blame game you might want to look for some other company to work with. With code bases being hundreds of thousands lines of code no tester is going to find all of the bugs. That's just not realistic.

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