Gaming Jobs: Game Test Technician

By Published July 19, 2011 at 7:49 pm
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Video Game Tester. The job title alone conjures up images in most people of the perfect job where people sit in a room (that looks just like their living room), eating junk food, and bad-mouthing people over Xbox LIVE all day (alternatively, the facebook ads would lead you to believe that all game testers are twenty-something females). In reality that's the life of someone who actually does play video games all day which, despite what people may say to me when I tell them what I do for a living, is not the life of an actual video game tester. What it really entails is hours and hours of loading, playing (often for a very short amount of time, depending how far along the development cycle the game you're testing is) and crashing, loading the game up again and trying to reproduce the bug so that a series of concise steps and a general bug report can be written.

 

While that may sound a little tedious, all that is balanced out with the fact that you'll be given the opportunity to help shape the games of the future. If you're working on a game early enough in the development you may even be able to suggest a feature that will make it into the game. You never know, the opportunity is there though. If you're reaching for that first difficulty step onto the ladder that is the games industry, you would do well to read on.

I'm not going to pretend that there aren't bad points about working in QA: there definitely are, and they're some pretty big ones too, but it's up to you to decide whether it's something that you'll be interested in doing and whether the negatives are deal-breakers. I can only give you the details, I can't make the decision for you. The main downside to working as a tester is that you'll almost always feel like you're on the bottom rung of the ladder. You may have played video games for 20 hours a day for the entirety of your life, but the developers will still do what they want. A game you're testing may simply not be fun to play; you can bug it to your heart's content, but if they turn around and say that it's “by design” (WAD - Working As Designed) then there's nothing you can do about it. You could keep complaining, but it's going to start annoying you and the developers rapidly. So you may as well just get over it and move on. Tough.

The availability of work, in general, is not necessarily supportive of the large supply of wannabe-testers. The fact is a lot of testing teams will grow during the development of a game and then, once the game is released, the team will shrink back down drastically -- some people might be out of work for parts of the year. A lot of the time a tester won't know if they're working next week, never mind in a month or two. That can be very stressful for some people, so if that's something that sounds like it's going to decrease your quality of life, then maybe testing isn't the way into the industry that you're looking for. I would advise, however, that you at least give it a go. You never know, it might not bother you as much as you think it would.

To be honest, however, there are lot more good points attributed to being a video game tester than immediate negatives. The most obvious of which is the fact that you're being given the opportunity to work in the notoriously difficult games industry. Once you're inside the games industry, it's more about who you know than what you know. As long as you know the right people, the sky's the limit in regards to where you can get yourself. A little bit of knowledge will go a long way too, of course, but remember those long periods without work that I talked about when I was going through the bad points? Why not use those to learn a programming language, start a website, or just practice some art? Basically, if you want to stay in the games industry, and move up the ladder, then you're going to need to learn a skill. Testing is the perfect job for enabling you to have a little bit of time, here and there, where you could easily fit in a couple of tutorials and lessons to teach yourself a little bit something extra. Something that would give you an edge when moving up that ladder I keep talking about. If you want to move up the ladder, don't get stuck as a tester -- it's like being type-cast in a movie; you'll forever be viewed as 'nothing more than a technician.' Be careful of the amount of time you spend in each job.

If you're the kind of person who wants to get involved with the games industry in any way, shape, or form then there's no better entrance into that world than being a test technician: you'll get to know the ins and outs of the development world, from the times when it all goes perfectly according to plan, and even the times when absolutely nothing works out the way it should. You'll get to meet new and interesting people, some of whom will be pivotal in helping you move up the ladder if that's what you're wanting to do. More important than all that though, at least in my opinion, is the fact that you'll get the opportunity to shape a game; you'll be able to have a hand in making something that millions of people will enjoy and, hopefully, grow to love. You'll have a part in bringing joy to those people and, believe me, when you see the look on people's faces when they're playing a game you helped, in any way at all, bring into the world, there's a little part of you that will know that you made a difference. You may only be a tester, the lowest rung on the development ladder, but you DID make a difference, and I love it!

If you're interested in getting involved with video games testing, there are a few options available to you. First of all, you could just get busy and start testing, find a game that you're interested in testing, and apply to be a part of the beta. It could be a closed or open beta - that part doesn't matter - what does matter is that you actually take part in the beta and do the job instead of just using it as a way of playing games earlier than everyone else. Find out how the developers would like you to submit bugs, whether that's some type of in-game method such as a topic submission form or a section of the game's forum, and write in that specific format. That would give you a little experience in formatting a bug report as well as potentially making the developer want to read your bugs instead of the plethora of inevitable “your game is broked! Fix it plz!” that they're bound to receive. The other option available to you would be to just apply to a testing company or contract house. There are dozens of contract agencies that will take technically savvy folks and place them in jobs at game companies (meaning you will be employed by the contract agency, but working at a game company -- this increases your visibility). Sites such as Edge.co.uk or Develop-Online.net keep listings of jobs in the games industry, and testers are one of the positions within the games industry that will always be available, just pick a company and apply. It couldn't hurt. You'll have a much better shot if you've been a part of a few betas or at least some evidence of a proficiency in writing or technical writing.

Get out there and start gaining experience! You already play games -- making videos of major defects, exploits, or general bugs and using those as resume pieces is a fantastic start.

Last modified on July 19, 2011 at 7:49 pm

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