How to be a Games Tester

(Note: This is a repost from 2010)

Preface

This is a commonly asked question with surprisingly little resources for information available. There are a few sites such as Only4Gamers which will provides information on testing and a list of jobs that are available for a membership fee.

However, similar information is already readily available freely but is just scattered across several sites. I am writing the this article to consolidate all the freely available information into one place so aspiring testers do not have to resort to paying for information, that in my opinion should be free.

Playing games for money? Awesome, right?

Games Testing is sometimes referred to as ‘Getting paid to play games’ and from that, it sounds like an awesome job. After all, most (if not all) aspiring testers play games every day, why not get paid to play them?

The reason is because the quote is wrong, testers are not being paid to play games, they are being paid to test them and that is the crucial difference.

Playing games involves choosing the games you want to play and playing them the way you want to play. Games testing involve neither of these. Testers are assigned games to test and will need to play the games according to test scripts.

To give a real life example, the article ‘Testing Video Games Can’t Possibly Be Hardware Than an Afternoon With Xbox‘ describes a tester’s short experience on the job at Volt.

The article doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture. Games testing is effectively the minimal wage job of the games industry and the turnover of staff is the largest out of all departments in development. People get promoted, leave on their accord, get fired or are made redundant.

Whatever you do, don’t expect to get rich just ‘playing’ games via games testing.

I get a chance to see games before they are made, right?

While this is true, not every game you test will be the next AAA hit title or even good. In worst case scenario, a tester may even be given the next ‘Blah goes shopping’ title or in the best case, the next Starcraft game. To minimise the chances of working on a project that you won’t like, research the companies before you apply. Look at the games they are currently developing and have previously released.

Also bear in mind that when a game is first given to testing, it is not usually in a consumer ready state. The game will be in an incomplete state, fraught with bugs and missing features. And more importantly, they will be testing the game for months on end whether they like the game or not. By the end of the project, most people who worked on the project (including the developers) will be fed up of game and won’t ever play it again no matter how good it was.

If it is so bad, why do people want to be testers?

Most people who go into testing don’t actually want to be  testers but instead are using it as stepping stone/getting their foot in the door to gain experience and/or contacts to finally reach the role they are actually looking for.

These roles are usually Designers and Producers which aren’t usually available for those without the relative experience. Another small percentage are those who couldn’t find their way into the industry via their desired route such as a Junior Artist or Programmer for whatever reason and using games testing to gain some exposure to the industry and hopefully find their desired role from inside the company.

Testers are commonly employed at three different places, at the developer, the publisher and outsourcing companies. If you are looking at games testing as a stepping stone, you ideally want to be in a testing position with the developers as you have more exposure to the team making the game.

At the publisher and outsourcing levels, the only communication available to the development team is via the bug database which isn’t great for making contacts or getting involved in the development process.

To give real life examples of the advantages of testing with the developers, I have seen testers being promoted to positions of management and helping out with development such as audio work and level scripting. Additionally, they are frequently asked for functionality testing and feedback which allows for direct input on the game which can make a difference on the quality.

Usually the ones that stand out for the right reasons, are the ones that are kept on project to project or even promoted to a different role.

However, on the flip side of the coin, I have also seen people who have been stuck in testing roles for years without being given that opportunity to move up/out.

So what does games testing actually involve?

Details on the main different types of testing can be found the Gamasutra article, ‘Quality Quality Assurance: A Methodology for Wide-Spectrum Game Testing‘.

When a bug is found, the standard process is usually:

  • Enter the it into the bug database with a detailed description of the bug (sometimes with an attached image or video), the minimal set of reproduction steps to produce and what was expected to happen.
  • Once in the database, the developer(s) will attempt to reproduce the bug and fix it or send it back to the tester for more information if the bug report is ambiguous or could not be reproduced.
  • When the bug is claimed to be fixed, the tester attempts to regress the bug to check it actually has been fixed. If it has, the bug is closed otherwise, the bug is sent back to the developer, usually with added information to help the developer.

The actual specific process will differ from company to company as well as the tools used. Examples of bug tracking software are Bugzilla, FlySpray, Mantis and DevTrack.

Unfortunately, good testers are hard to find and even harder to keep as their tend to move on or be promoted and therefore are worth their weight in gold as they are able to find even the most obtuse bugs and provide the minimal number of clear reproduction steps that cause the bug to occur 100% of the time.

Nothing annoys a developer more then:

  • Finding ambiguity in the steps provided meaning they have to waste time either second guessing the tester or to wait for a reply from the tester after sending it back needing more information.
  • The bug not being reproducible with steps provided.
  • Given a set of steps that take a large amount of time to reproduce and then finding out at the end that bug could be reproduced in a fraction of the time.

Unsurprisingly, these annoyances happen quite frequently which is why good testers are a hugely valuable asset to the development team.

Where can I find games testing jobs?

There are several sites available to help in this respect.

Job listings:

Lists of games companies

How do I apply to a job for games testing?

There is no secret to this as it is the same for any job you would apply for. Find a job opening, send resume/CV and covering letter and wait for the response. If you look like a good fit for the role based of the resume/CV and covering letter, then you will be asked to attend an interview and if you do well, the job is (hopefully) yours.

The standard rules for resume/CV writing still apply:

  • Highlight skills relevant for the role (and if need be, provide proof of the skills).
  • Keep it the right length (resumes are 1 page, CVs are 1-2 pages).
  • Make sure there are no grammar or spelling mistakes.
  • Keep the information short and concise, preferably in bullet point form.

Also, don’t be afraid to send applications to companies if you don’t see a position advertised. In the worst case, you will told that there are no jobs available but if you are lucky, the company might just have an opening that hasn’t been advertised yet.

If you get the chance, network as much as you can. You are far more likely to get an interview if some in the company vouches for you by name rather then going through HR as application #29560386.

Unlike some of the other disciplines, applying for testing roles do not require a portfolio to demonstrate ability but I did come across a resume and portfolio for a testing position which had a list of bugs and glitches he found in retail games. This would have been impressive and but he didn’t list the reproduction steps to any of the bugs or glitches. If he had done, his resume would have stood out from the pile easily.

Get as involved as much as you can in testing software. Sign up to help out with Indie projects, open betas or even open source software to familiarise yourself with the tools used and the bug submissions processes. While it doesn’t count as industry experience, it will look good on your resume and give yourself a slight edge over the competition.

If you do get an interview, be prepared to answer questions that test your communication skills. This IGDA forum thread details one persons experience in an interview for Games Testing. The second and third pages have some actual examples of questions that have been asked in interviews. Expect some along the same vain.

Additional resources

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