Testers – To be or not to be

Good night, people!

As checking many things over the internet about the QA I found out this amazing site at Social Network from BioWare. There is a lot of information about the game biz, but I will focus at the QA area, which is one of my chasing objective.

Hope you enjoy the reading!
Testers — The Unsung Heroes of Games

You have undoubtedly heard that a recommended way of getting started in the games biz is to get a job as a game tester. That’s true, especially if you do not have a programming degree, an art degree, a business degree, etc. and if you can get the testing job with a game publisher or developer (rather than at a game testing lab located far away from game publishers or developers).
And you have undoubtedly also heard a lot of negative reactions to this advice. A lot of the negative things you have heard are probably from losers who couldn’t hack it even as testers, or from guys who just approached it the wrong way. There is a common perception that testing is a “lowly entry-level job” and that testers are at the bottom of the totem pole. The fact is, testing is extremely important and the test phase is vital in polishing a game into a fun experience for the end user.
That’s not to say that if you have an art degree or a programming degree, a law degree, or a business degree (or even a “game design” degree, which more colleges are offering lately), that you MUST begin in the game industry in Q.A. Obviously, if you can enter the industry in a job closely related to the subject you mastered in at college, then you should target that path instead of Q.A.
But for those who have not gotten a degree in one of those areas… Testing can be an excellent way to get your foot in the door, for a lot of reasons that will be explored in this article.

Terminology note: The Test department of a game publishing company is called “Quality Assurance,” or “QA” for short. The term “QA” is also often used to describe the function or process of testing. In this article, the terms “test” and “QA” are sometimes used interchangeably.

 Also note: This article is discussing the full-time internal job of tester (wherein the tester is an employee who comes to work daily at the game company to test games, for wages). Volunteer (unpaid) “beta testing” (wherein someone at home gets a copy of a game and provides feedback via email, usually without pay) is a separate matter entirely. Getting a job as a tester can be a good way to get started in the game biz — volunteering to do some beta testing is more akin to simply being a customer (an end user).

Quality Assurance testing jobs are usually found at game publishing companies. Developers also do some testing (but usually not full Q.A.) – but game development companies probably don’t have full-time testing jobs (unless the development company is very large and well-staffed).

Typically, someone who works at a small game development company usually performs multiple job functions. Publisher jobs are usually more specialized. So someone who starts as a tester at a publishing company might eventually move up into producing, while someone who works as a tester at a smaller development company might eventually move up into any of a number of roles.

There are also independent testing labs who hire testers. Publishers are increasingly outsourcing their Q.A. to these outside labs. Jobs at these places are okay if you just want to test and you don’t have aspirations of moving up in the industry – a tester who works at one of these labs would have to quit in order to move up in the industry. It’s recommended that if you want to work as a tester as a steppingstone to other jobs in the industry, that you work for a publisher or a large developer, not an independent test lab. If you do not understand the difference between a publisher and a developer, see FAQ 28. Working at an independent Q.A. company is not as good for building a game industry resume, unfortunately – you don’t get to interact with developers and producers as much, and without exposure to the daily goings-on of a developer or publisher, it’s harder to move up into the industry from a test lab. The remainder of this article is based primarily on working in the Q.A. department of a publisher.

If you want to volunteer as a beta tester, try hanging around at http://www.bluesnews.com and watching for announcements of public betas. I make no guarantees that you can get taken on if and when you respond to such announcements, but if you do, it might be helpful in getting a tester job later on (if you do an excellent job as a beta tester).

 TESTING — THE FINAL PHASE
In a large game publishing company such as Activision, the QA phase comes towards the end of the project. And the testers are usually not involved in the project until after most of the work on the game has already been performed. This can have some unfortunate consequences, since testers brought in at the end were not involved in design decisions and don’t necessarily know the rationale behind them. In a smaller company, team members who helped create the game may put on their tester hats towards the end — thus they are already aware of the circumstances that led to project decisions made along the way.
The fact that most testers come in at the end of the project, powerless to have a major impact on the design of the game, is perhaps what leads to some of the negativity about the job. A military analogy can be drawn, putting the testers in the role of foot soldiers and the design/production team as the officers in a battle. This analogy has a limited usefulness, so I think it’s worth mentioning, but this analogy falls apart if you try to apply it across the board to the process of making a game.

The foot soldier does not have the general’s-eye-view of the battle, and is expected to just do what he’s ordered to do. In a battle, there’s rarely time to pass the strategic thinking all along the line so every foot soldier understands what the general is doing. In the process of making a game, I like to share my strategic thinking with my testers as much as possible — not all designer/producers do things the way that I do. It’s a hard thing for the testers to have to accept that it’s too late to add features, and I’m sympathetic to that.

TESTING IS REALLY IMPORTANT
As a designer and producer, it’s very important to me that the games I make are easy to use, friendly, and fun. I am my game’s worst critic. In the QA phase I typically am the most prolific writer of bugs. But I’m also the guy who often has to reject testers’ bugs as “Not a bug” or “Works As Designed.” Sometimes the tester whose bug is rejected may think I’m not on his side, but there are no sides! QA and I share the same goal — to make a game that will be a positive experience for the end user.
The way to make sure the game will be a positive experience is through thorough testing. Get multiple pairs of eyes looking at the game, get multiple pairs of hands taking the game through all its paces. I play the game one way, but somebody else plays it another way, trying things I never thought of. So I need the help so all the flaws can be found before my game goes out the door.
TESTING AIN’T EASY
To some folks, the term “testing” conjures up a mental image of guys (and some gals) sitting and playing games all day. Sounds like fun, easy work. Far from it. It can be fun in the long run (it’s an enjoyable job as jobs go), but it often feels like work. And it definitely isn’t easy. It’s fun to play a game, but it’s not easy. Ask any gamer. If a game is easy, it’s no fun. If a game isn’t fun yet (if the balance isn’t there yet, as sometimes happens), then it’s definitely not easy to force yourself to continue playing it. If your job is to test, you have to do it even if it’s no fun. And THAT ain’t easy!

And when you’re testing a game repeatedly, playing the same section over and over again, the fun of playing it can sometimes wear thin.

Testers have to be computer literate. You may be called on to test a computer game, so you have to be able to install cards and joysticks and drivers, you have to be able to uninstall and reinstall operating systems. Even if you are testing Playstation 2 games or Game Boy Advance games, you still have to use a computer to write your reports.
Testers have to be good communicators. You can be the most awesome bug-finder in the company, but if you can’t explain to the team how you found the bug, what the bug is, what should have happened versus what did happen, and what you think is going wrong down in the code, then it can’t be fixed! This part is extremely important, so it bears repetition. A tester must type in complete sentences. A tester must understand, and habitually use, proper punctuation and capitalization. You cannot become a tester at a game company where everybody uses English, if you cannot communicate properly in written English. This is such an important requirement that I will repeat it another time, at the end of this article (FAQ) (Lesson).
A good tester doesn’t just find a bug and report “I picked up the green sword and drank the blue potion, and the game crashed.” A good tester digs deeper, figures out how to make it happen again, and, knowing how the game works, figures out what’s really going wrong. Maybe if he goes back, picks up the green sword and drinks the blue potion again, the game won’t crash. Maybe the circumstances that caused the crash are deeper than that. A good tester is like a bulldog (see? So much for the “grunts and generals” analogy!) — tenaciously digging his teeth into a bug and not letting go until he figures it out (look there, even the bulldog analogy falls apart if you try to take it too far).
Testing is definitely not a job for someone looking for a fun, easy experience.
LEARNING THE BIZ FROM THE TRENCHES
Working as a tester is an excellent way to learn the game biz. Testers are exposed to (if not directly involved in) several other aspects of the business of games. Through working as a tester on several game projects, a lot can be learned about the business as a whole.
Development aspects
(Terminology note: “development” is used herein to refer to the “pre-production” aspects of a project, thus this refers to the design. “Production” is used to refer to the creation of the code, art, and audio.) Through testing a game, the tester will have questions like, “why was it designed this way?” There are often several different ways that an interface for a particular feature could work. Sometimes those different ways are enabled as user-selectable features, and sometimes the designer just picks one standard way for the feature to work. The tester is among the earliest users for the game, so is often exposed to design aspects that subsequently get changed (or do not get changed).
Production aspects.
The tester finds a bug and reports it. Most of the time it’s a simple matter of making a fix. But sometimes it’s a complicated matter involving discussions between QA and the Production team. In the meeting at which the discussion takes place, the tester will gain insights into what it’s like working on the Production team. After several such meetings, the tester gains a broader perspective on the process as a whole.

Marketing / Sales aspects.

Testers don’t only test the game, they are also often called on to check the text on the package and in the manual. The hardware specification must be accurate, and so must the product claims (the bullet points describing the game’s features). Through analyzing the product claims, the tester can gain an insight into how the product is being presented to the buying public. Ship dates are hateful deadlines that often preclude the fixing of a pet bug. (More on prioritization of bugs below.) Through immersion in a few game projects, the tester comes to learn the importance of prioritizing bugs. As Dr. Laura says, “is this a hill you want to die on?” The company needs to ship its games in order to make money to pay the testers. Games can’t be tested and fixed forever, and as a tester is involved in the process a few times, he learns about the realities of making games for profit — how to prioritize the bugs he finds.
Customer Support aspects.
No matter how thoroughly the testers pound on a game, there are bound to be some problems that only surface when the game is released into the wild. They’re animals out there! They do all kinds of things to games that those in Production and QA never thought of, and that results in calls to CS (Customer Support). When those calls start coming in, the first call CS makes is to QA. The QA-CS relationship is therefore important. The tester who thought he was finished with that game is ordered back into service — “try the game on this hardware configuration, or try doing this and that and see what happens.” And the dreaded, “How could you have missed that?” The tester cannot help but learn about the kinds of issues CS faces.
Manufacturing aspects.
Even manufacturing is something the tester will learn about through his involvement in making a game.
– When the tester is given a box and manual to approve before the game is finished, the tester will learn that it takes longer to print a box and manual than to run off the CDs.
– When the game is a console disc (rather than a computer disc), the tester is exposed to the issues involved with platform manufacturer approvals. And to the fact that patches are not possible. It has to be right the first time with a console disc. And on those rare occasions when something goes wrong in the manufacturing process, the tester may be impacted by having to re-test and re-release. And even if it doesn’t have to be re-tested, through the day-to-day immersion in the culture, the tester learns all the painful details of what happened with that finished game before the tester gets his own copy (which he may not even want to play any more).
– There can even be differences between a manufactured CD and a gold CD burned internally (in a CD-R). On one of my computer games, we had made our music tracks the normal way according to “redbook standard,” which worked fine when we tested them. Little did we know that when the game was sent off to be manufactured, that the CD manufacturer would put shorter blank spaces between the music tracks. When the manufactured game was played, the audio would be played from one music track — but then, before the CD head went back to play the track again from the beginning, it would wander into the beginning of the next track (so there would be a brief false start of another tune before recycling back to the beginning of the proper tune for that level). We had to remaster all the music with blank space at the front of each track. I know I learned something from that — and I’m sure the testers did too!
Design aspects.
As you play the game looking for bugs, you’ll most likely encounter aspects of the game that could be improved to enhance the fun, the fairness, the addictiveness of the game. This “play testing” aspect will likely be part of the job (not only bug testing). When something has been adjusted to better balance the play, you’ll get to learn how play balancing works. It’s just not possible to remain ignorant of design aspects when you work in QA.

See what I mean about how the tester gets to learn a lot about the biz? And here you thought testers just played games all day.
TESTING IS A STEPPINGSTONE … 
                                         for those who are cut out for bigger things

That’s right, there was some qualifying fine print in that heading. Not everybody who gets hired as a tester is cut out for bigger things. If you work hard and well, display a good cooperative attitude, communicate well and effectively, it’s likely that you will be able to grow into higher positions.

If you shine as a tester on a couple of projects, you will likely get promoted to lead tester. If you shine as lead tester on several projects, you may get promoted to test manager. Or someone in the production studio may want you to join their team as a production coordinator or assistant producer or even junior designer.

Just showing up and doing your work isn’t enough to warrant promotion. You have to be bright, and you have to shine brighter than most. There’s nothing unfair about that (despite the grousing you might hear from some who never seem to rise to higher jobs).

I forget where I heard this saying, but it seemed apropos to this topic:

“Smart people learn how to use their skills. Happy people learn how to live with their shortcomings.”

If you are good, you will find a testing job to be an excellent entry to the games biz.

Source: http://sloperama.com/

Well, the text had a lot more information, but as I mentioned before, I am going to aim at the QA area and try to get as much info about it as possible.

Wait for more, because there is a lot of things over this website and I have a lot to read!

Good Night!
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