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
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).
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 definitely not a job for someone looking for a fun, easy experience.
'A' bug -- The 'A' bug is the very worst kind of bug. This type of bug can be summed up thusly: "It would be an unthinkably bad disaster if the game was released with this problem unfixed." Some examples:
- the game crashes;
- there is a virus in the game;
- there are obvious spelling errors;
- there are obvious graphical or audio problems;
- a feature (in a menu or accessed by pressing a button) does not function;
- there is no copyright language in the game anywhere;
- the game is not fun to play.
Releasing a game with this sort of flaw would generate very bad public reaction and bad press, or there could be legal ramifications against the company.
'B' bug -- The 'B' bug is a major bug. It's not quite as bad as the 'A' bug. It can be summed up thusly: "It would be unfortunate if the game was released with this problem unfixed, but the game is good regardless." In a pinch, if the company has a need to release the game and stop spending money testing and fixing it, and if Customer Support, Sales, Marketing, QA, and the executive staff all agree, the game may be released with minor flaws. For example:
- bugs which do not ruin the experience of playing the game;
- noticeable graphical or audio problems (especially if you know where to look for them);
- highly desirable features were left out (and are not mentioned anywhere in the game).
'B' bugs will likely show up in press reviews of the game but are things that are probably hard (expensive; time-consuming) to fix. The playing public won't be happy with these problems, but the overall playing experience is not ruined by the existence of these problems.
'C' bug -- The 'C' bug is a normal bug. The tester may feel strongly about this problem s/he has identified, but when weighed against the company's larger need to release the game, the bug isn't that big a problem in the decision-makers' view. When push comes to shove, 'C' bugs may have to fall by the wayside (if they're hard to fix, that is -- a 'C' bug that's easy and quick to fix is likely to simply get fixed, unless the project is coming down to the wire).
'D' bug -- The 'D' bug is a minor bug. Often one hears something like "It would be nice to add this feature." Especially when reported later in the test process as the release date nears, 'D' bugs are likely to remain unfixed.
"All bugs should be fixed." -- Ideally, of course, this is true. But some games are so big and complicated that the fixing would simply never end. And some testers are pickier than other as to what constitutes a bug that needs to be fixed. There have to be checks and balances in a game company (just as there are in a governing body).
"Alpha" -- The terms "Alpha" and "Beta" are defined differently by every company. Especially, developers' definitions of these terms may vary from publishers' definitions of these terms. Some developers may prefer to define Alpha as "code that demonstrates how the game will play." But most publishers (specifically a publisher's QA department) would prefer to define Alpha as "everything has been implemented in the game but there are bugs and the gameplay needs tweaking."
"Beta" -- Some developers may prefer to define Beta as "everything has been implemented in the game but there are bugs and the gameplay needs tweaking." But most publishers (or their QA departments) would prefer to define Beta as "everything has been implemented and as far as the developer knows, there are no bugs and the gameplay has been fully tweaked."
"Beta testing" -- Quality Assurance testing is a different thing from Beta testing. We usually use the term "beta tester" to refer to volunteers who test for free from their homes. Q.A., on the other hand, is a full-time position, a paid job. Beta testing is a good way to break into real testing. Look for opportunities to volunteer when you see that a game company is seeking beta testers (usually in an online game bulletin board or something - it's hard to seek out beta testing opportunities, you just have to be active in the game community's online forums. I also hear fileplanet is a place where beta testing opportunities can be found, if you really want to do it). Do the beta testing well, and you might get offered a real testing job.
"Can Not Replicate." -- Sometimes a problem will happen to a tester but he can't provide steps to replicate the problem. If the programmer can't cause the problem to occur, with the debugger running to reveal the source of the problem, it may be difficult to fix. A good tester will try to make the problem happen again or figure out why it happened.
"Gold Master" -- The CD or DVD released by QA to manufacturing. This disc has been verified and virus-checked and has gone through an extensive checklist before it's sent out the door.
"It's a feature." -- The corollaries to this one are "Not a bug" and "Works as designed" (below). Sometimes what the tester expects the game to do, and what the game does instead, cause a bug report to be written. The bug report goes to the designer, who says "that's not a problem -- that's the way I designed it to work, and here's why it should remain as is ..." If the testers can present a convincing argument that the "feature" is counterintuitive or unfriendly, then perhaps it needs to be changed.
"Need more info (NMI)." -- This comment is likely scribbled on a bug report that doesn't tell the programmer enough information about how to replicate a bug, or why the tester feels that it is a bug.
"Not a bug (NAB)." -- See "It's a feature" (above).
"Psychotic user behavior." -- Term used to characterize a problem caused by unreasonable user input. For example: "The game crashes if you press F10, then Esc, 30 or 40 times in a row." No reasonable user would do this, and even if someone does do it, it would be unreasonable to fault the game for crashing under these circumstances. If the problem is hard to fix and the project is coming down to the wire, it may be simply written off.
"Release" -- QA signs off on the game and puts their stamp of approval on sending the game off to be manufactured.
"Ship it." -- This phrase is heard at the tail end of the test process, when the test team is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
- Tester: "I found a bug."
- Lead tester: "What kind of bug?"
- Tester: "It's just a 'C' bug, not a biggie. Psychotic user behavior."
- Lead tester: "Ship it!"
Finished (tested, quality approved) games are shipped by Fedex or other courier service (or sometimes, if really important and timely, delivered by a member of the team) to the manufacturing facility. Manufactured product is shipped by truck to the stores. "Ship it" is the mantra used to seal the importance of cutting off testing and releasing the game into the wild.
"Tweak" -- Synonymous with "adjust."
"Will not fix (WNF)." -- When time is running short, and minor bugs are reported, the programmer or the designer or the producer may scribble this cryptic note on the bug report. All bugs have to be "closed" (resolved) before the game can be released.
"Works as designed (WAD)." -- See "It's a feature" (above).
I recommend that you have a college degree (even if it's from an online university) before applying for a job as a tester, but it's possible to get a testing job without one. But consider for a moment -- what is your ultimate goal? If you eventually want to become a designer or producer or move up into marketing or become an executive, a college degree is definitely helpful. If you just want to be a tester (and do not have any goals beyond that), then fine, a high school diploma might suffice. But guess what three attributes or skills you need first and foremost to be a tester...? These are the sort of things they'll grill you on if you apply for a QA job:
* Written communication skills. Bug reports are submitted in writing. They have to be clear and concise. The tester needs to be a gud speler (and needs to be fluent with punctuation marks and the Shift key). Darn my hide, I put that in parentheses, and it's really important. Let me say that again. 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. Here's an exercise that will help you...
To develop your written communication skills, write an essay or a game critique or a game idea. As you write, put yourself in the place of the reader. Every time you express an idea that could raise a question in the mind of the reader, answer the question. By the time your article is complete, there should be no questions in the mind of the reader - except questions that you want to remain unanswered.
- The bug-writing exercise. Check out this example of a written bug report: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=407098. Now make up a totally different bug, on a different platform. That example bug describes a Firefox bug (Bugzilla is the bug-tracking system of Mozilla, who makes Firefox), but it contains the important elements of a good bug:
1. A summary line
2. The actual result (what happened that shouldn't have);
3. The expected result (what should have happened instead);
4. Steps to reproduce the bug.
5. Severity of the problem (it's called "importance" on that page).
Write an imaginary bug for a PS3 game. Make up a bug; be creative. You have to write your bug in a word processor or text editor (you can't report a bug to a game publisher using Bugzilla, and you can't report a bug to a game publisher using that publisher's bug-tracking system, since you don't have access to it). And after you write the PS3 bug, write another one for an iOS or Android game. Write a few bugs and become comfortable with bug-writing. New for 2013: see FAQ 75, "How To Write A Game Bug Report."
* Verbal communication skills. The tester must be well-spoken. Words that come out of a tester's mouth must convey his thoughts clearly, giving information to the listener. Imagine these two exercises, which will help the tester in developing verbal communication skills. How a tester performs in these exercises also reveals the level of his existing verbal communication skills. Both of these exercises are best performed in neighboring cubicles -- the two people taking part in the exercise can easily converse but cannot see what the other is doing.
- The paperclip exercise. In this exercise, the tester must describe a randomly-bent paper clip to another person who has a pencil and paper. The goal is for the tester to get the listener/"customer" to draw a picture of the bent paper clip, without the tester ever saying the words "paper clip" or describing what the object is made of or was originally used for in any way whatsoever. Simply describing how the paper clip looks in its present state, the tester must obtain a correct picture of the paper clip on the second person's piece of paper. It can be enlightening for the tester to see what the drawing looks like, after completing the exercise. This exercise can also be performed using pipecleaners or twist-ties. The clip should be bent in a flat (2D) shape, not a 3D shape, since the listener/"customer" is drawing on 2D paper.
- The building blocks exercise. This exercise is used at Nintendo of America to train or test their Customer Support representatives, but I think it applies equally well to the communication skills needed for testing. Both parties to the exercise have identical boxes of wooden building blocks (it could also work with Legos, I suppose). The tester builds a structure from his building blocks and describes his structure to the other participant in the exercise. If the tester does it well, the two structures will be identical. If the two structures are not identical, the tester can learn how he ought to improve.
- The telephone exercise. This is an actual question that a testing applicant was tested with. "Describe the use of a telephone." He thought it was a stupid question and gave a stupid answer. Don't do what he did! When you're applying for a QA job, you will be asked to prove that you'd make a good tester. So if you're asked how to use a common everyday appliance like a telephone, give a clear and coherent description of how to use it. "There are two uses of a telephone: it's for receiving calls, and it's for making calls." Then describe how to act when the telephone rings. Describe how this works for a user of a phone with a wired handset, a wireless handset, and a mobile phone. Then describe how to make a call - if you have a dial phone, if you have a touch-tone phone, and if you have a mobile phone. If you can't do this, you'll never get hired to test games.
Snap reading comprehension quiz: What are the three attributes needed for a game tester?
For extra credit: Can you think of any other ways to improve your skills in these three areas?
Location, Location, Location
If you want to get a job as a tester, you must live near a game company that employs testers. You have to be able to commute daily to the game company. You canNOT get a full-time job testing games from your own home. And they won't even bother looking past your address on your résumé if you aren't local. It's just a bother to have to interview a non-local, when there are droves of qualified locals banging down the door begging for QA jobs. You can research game company locations using my Game Biz Links page. If there are no game companies near you, move.
Don't look for advertised QA positions. The game companies constantly receive so many unsolicited applications that they don't have to spend money on advertisements for QA jobs. Just go ahead and send your résumé in. If you can't find a way to apply via the company's online jobs page, just go ahead and email your résumé to "jobs@" the company's website domain. You can also snailmail your résumé, but that's not as good (they can't just put your résumé into the computer folder, they have to make a paper folder, and as weird as this sounds, that's not as convenient for them).
And network! Join the local IGDA chapter. If there isn't one, start one. If there is one but it's not active, volunteer to organize booze-and-schmooze get-togethers or something. FAQ 54 (see nav frame at left) is all about networking.
Find out what staffing agencies the game companies in your area use, if you can, or just research technical staffing agencies, call them up, and ask if they provide testers to your target game companies. If they do, send THEM your résumé too. More about staffing agencies below.
Choose the company wisely. You have to be in the right QA (not just any QA), if you hope to advance up and out of QA into development or production.
- External test labs - no opportunities for advancement. Period.
- Publisher QA - opportunities for advancement depend on whether the publisher has in-house development. If they don't, then your advancement opportunities are probably to production only.
- Developer QA - mucho opportunities for advancement.
Testing jobs are much more common at game publishers than at game developers. (Read FAQ 28 to learn the difference between a publisher and a developer.) Do your research. If you get the chance to apply for publisher QA, learn about the company. Try to figure out before the interview how much internal production or development exists at this company. You can also ask about that during the interview. If you have to take a job at a company at which advancement opportunities are limited, you may want to make that a temporary gig to build up your résumé for a couple years. In the meantime you can research other companies with better advancement opportunities.
Some game companies who need testers use temp staffing agencies (examples: Volt, Kelly Services, Aerotek...). They don't hire the testers themselves - rather, the temp agency hires the testers, and "loans" the testers to the game company. These agencies may call themselves something besides "temp agency," by the way. "Staffing agency," "technology personnel provider," whatever. When I was younger I worked through such an agency and called them "job shoppers." Usually, if you apply to the company directly, they'll tell you the name of the staffing agency they get their testers through. But game companies are notoriously tightlipped, meaning you might not hear back from them at all. So if you're trying to break in through Q.A., look not only at the game companies near you, but the staffing agencies as well. Find the technical staffers, the ones that supply IT workers and stuff.
For More Info
For more information about how to get a job in the game biz, read FAQs 4, 24, & 27. Don't do any of the Stupid Wannabe Tricks like believing scam artists, or basing your life plans on your fantasies about the game biz.
About Those "Game Tester" Websites
Do NOT send money to sites that promise game testing gigs online, like becomeagametester or gametesterguide.net or gamertestingground or earnwithplaying.com, or other sites like that (pretty much any URL with "game" and "tester" or "testing" in it). You can't trust the promises made by any of those sites. There's even one that warns you against testing scam sites, gametestingscams.com/ - this one is also a scam. (^_^) It's warning you to beware of scams, but it's all a lie too (and it is undoubtedly the brainchild of someone who owns one of the sites it's "warning" you against). These sites exist to take money from you, not to help you get a full-time testing job. The practices of these sites have been changing; some of them may actually sometimes get you involved with some testing for a time, but their main business is to sell you stuff: "guides" and "memberships" and such. Even t-shirts and hats and certificates. No professional game company cares about a "certification" you might get from a game tester site. One of those sites was even selling content that I wrote and give you for free here on this website; a blatant violation of my copyright. If you see any of my words in materials you bought from one of those sites, they're violating my copyright -- that means they're not legitimate, and you should run, not walk, away.
How do you tell if a site is legit or not? Simple. If they want money from you, don't give it to'em. If they can give you work without you paying money, that's fine -- but that work might or might not be a positive addition to your résumé. How do you tell if that work will look good on your résumé or not? Simple. If they pay you, and the work period is measured in months or years, then it looks good on the résumé. A testing gig that lasts only a couple days or weeks looks very questionable on the résumé -- it looks like the game company tried you and found your work lacking. And a testing gig that doesn't pay you is called an "unpaid internship" -- and if you have an internship on your résumé, you'd better have the name of someone at the game company (not someone at a game tester site) to vouch for your internship. If you do work as a tester, you don't pay them -- they pay you. If that's the way it works (you get paid for testing), and if they don't try to sell you stuff or charge you any money for anything, then it's legit. No legitimate game testing service or recruiter will ask you for money for anything, or deduct anything except the usual government withholding. (If you had a good experience with one of those sites, tell me all about it and I'll change my stance, and I'll share the news with other game biz wannabes. This offer has been here on this site for several years, and so far not a single person has shared anything positive about any of those sites.) I wrote more about this sort of questionable website in FAQ 24 and in my July 2007 column on the IGDA website, "The Games Game" - the editor entitled this column "Summer Job Scams (July 2007)." The column is at http://www.igda.org/games-game/. If you look for the July 2007 column in a later month, just click Archives to find all older columns.
But you don't have to believe me. Other game biz pros have discussed the topic of these test scam sites on GameDev.net and GameSetWatch. Check'em out:
And look at what these scam sites offer to people who'll post links to their sites, if some sucker pays the scammer money:
That last one might change their URL or close down when they find out that people are showing you (you: the potential sucker) about how they make money, so here's what it says on that site as of March 31, 2008:
Gamer Testing Ground
The target audience for this website would be people 18-30 years of age, as kids will not have a credit card and will waste your click-throughs or will request a refund when their parents find out that their credit card has been used without permission.
*NEW* Cross Sell Opportunity:
In the backend we keep track of which affiliate referred which customer. When a particular customer logs in to the members area he is presented with an opportunity to buy membership to Gain Opinion at a discount rate. To buy the Gain Opinion membership this customer will go through YOUR ClickBank ID.
Additional benefit: up to $20.00 extra commission from EACH member.
Do I need to say it again? Beware of websites that ask you to pay for a job as a game tester. Don't fall for the hype. They just want your money, that's all they're about.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. (Right now, as a matter of fact.) If you want to get into the game biz (either to design your own games or just because it is a field that's interesting to you), testing is a great way to get started. Don't listen to those naysayers who say testing is a dead-end job. Most people don't realize how hard testing is. Or how important it is in the process of making games.
For MORE about testing, see Lesson 17: More About Testing -- The View From Inside Q.A., by guest lecturer Matthew S. Burns.
New in 2013: be sure to read FAQ 75, "How To Write A Game Bug Report."
Tips on interviewing for a QA job: http://www.takeinitiative.co.uk/?p=474
A must-read, from April 2013: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-04-29-the-class-of-quality-assurance. Read the whole thing, including the reader comments.
Another a must-read: http://parabellumgames.wordpress.com/how-to-be-a-games-tester/.
And read this too: http://www.gamecareerguide.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2429.
Want the latest word on salaries in the games biz? Go to gamecareerguide.com and type "salary survey" in the site's Search box. I also keep an updated direct link to the latest salary survey on my Game Biz Links page.
Websites change. Links go bad. If a link goes bad, first thing is go to the website (delete all the parts of the URL after the domain name) and explore to see if you can find the new loacation of the page. Then email webmaster at sloperama.com to let me know the new URL for the sake of future readers. When reporting a broken link, make sure to include the location of the broken link (which of the many pages on this site is the broken link on?).
What is a game analysis?
>From: Alec G
>Sent: Tue, September 6, 2011 8:55:20 PM
>Subject: Game Analysis...What is this...Game Analysis?
>I understand that, in order for you to give me the best game career advice suited to my unique situation, you need to know that...
>My approximate age is: _20
>The level of education I've completed is: _High School
>My occupation (if student, enter 'student') is: _Courtesy Clerk
>The type of game job I aspire to (if applicable) is: _Game Designer
>The country I live in is: _United States
>My game biz question is: _I am currently attending Collage and am trying to get a job at Blizzard Entertainment as a game tester, but in order to submit an application, I must write a 3-5 page Game analysis on a game of my choice. My question is, What exactly is a Game analysis, but more importantly, where can I find an example of one. (to use as a guideline) I did a google search to try and find one, and found only one useful article, but as I said, I want an actual Game Analysis paper to work off of something more solid.
>And thank you for taking the time to read this.
I don't see how you're going to balance a full-time QA job with being a full-time student, but hey. More power to ya.
An analysis is an examination of a thing, in detail. So to analyze a game, you would consider one of its features to determine the feature's positive and/or negative aspects. Then you would do the same thing with another one of its features. Then another, then another. You can find lots of examples of them online, generally referred to as "reviews." Reviews, though, are usually focused on the commercial aspects of a game, whereas for a QA analysis you ought to focus on the design choices, usability aspects, playability, and balance. I am not going to try to find a sample game analysis for you. You can do that your own self, or you can just try to write one based on the information I've given you. If you want to become a game designer eventually, this is something you shouldn't have too much trouble with.
Los Angeles, California, USA
September 6, 2011
What is a game analysis?
Got a question about video game Quality Assurance or working as a tester? Email Tom; the answer will be posted on the bulletin board.
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LOG:Minor editing (paperclip exercise paragraph), April 22, 2001