If you are looking to get into the industry and you are reading this, then please make sure you take note of the points that I raise within this article, it will make sure you are better prepared for the job that awaits you. If you are already within in the test profession, then you will probably read on with a knowing smile. If you are from other disciplines within the Software Development Life Cycle then I hope this brings a useful insight to the role of a software tester.
The Video Games industry is where I began my career in Software Testing. Like many people I saw it as an initial entry point into the sector. My initial thoughts were, ‘great I will get to play games all day’. This thought was very quickly extinguished as I realised that there was a lot more to the job than meets the eye.
There are four statements I would like to make from the beginning. They are:
1The purpose of test is NOT to decide what gets fixed. The purpose of test is to provide information to the appropriate stakeholder(s) (whoever they may be) so they can make an informed decision based on the information that has been presented to them.
2Testing games is not simply about playing them. It is working within a test framework, using the appropriate methodology to identify, record and report defects that will be discovered as you investigate the software.
3Software Testing is a skilled profession. The difference between a skilled tester a posed to someone taken off the street, is that they will give a detailed description of what the defect is, the steps to repeat the defect and then to give the defect a classification.
4Software is never completely defect free.
The last point often comes as a shock to many people and it leads to the question when to end testing? I think the best way to answer that question is to say when test has met the agreed needs of its customer.
So you want to be a games tester? What does it involve? How do I get into the sector? All common questions asked from people eager to get in the industry.
So let’s start with some basics. The role of a software tester will vary from company to company. So will the point that test get involves with a title. In a lot of my early roles we brought in at the Beta stage of development. Let me make the distinction between Alpha and Beta testing.
Alpha testing is the stage where key gameplay functionality is implemented, and assets are partially finished. A game in alpha is feature complete, that is, game is playable and contains all the major assets.
Once a game has completed Alpha there will be a code freeze where no additional features or assets will be added.
Beta testing is the stage where the game is feature complete. This phase is dedicated to testing and the fixing of defects. This means suggestions on how to improve game play or to make changes to art assets will be ignored or generally assigned as a Class D defect.
Defects are largely classified on a scale of A,B,C & D. A class ‘A’ defect is often described as a ‘show stopper’. This is where the game crashes or there is catastrophic failure in a script which means the player cannot continue the game or they may even fall out of the game environment. A general rule of thumb is that a game should not ship with a Class A defect. However the producer may make a call that the chances of that defect actually happening are low and the cost of fixing that defect high, so they may decide to proceed and then look to maybe address the issue in a later patch.
A Class B defects are issues with the game that don’t stop the player from progressing. So for example a script may have triggered and part of the event wasn’t displayed, but the player is still able to progress on to the next stage. A number of B defects can equal an A class defect and as a rule you would want to try and address as many of your B class defects as possible as often this will affect the polish and finish of a title. The difference between a game receiving a review score of 85% and 90%.
The Class C defect is used to address aesthetic issues. These are low priority defects that will usually cover art asset glitches, or maybe clipping issues. A good example of this would be a football game where occasionally you may see a player walk through another player in a replay.
Some companies don’t bother with Class D defects are they are usually reserved for requests for features.
At the end of a project, the Test Lead/Manager will write a test completion report which will detail the existing defects that haven’t been fixed. The Senior Management team will then make a call as to which of those outstanding defects need to be fixed or whether the title can out ‘as is’. This will depend on factors such as the severity of the defect and the cost of fixing it and the likelihood of the defect being discovered in open play.
To manage your expectations, very rarely will you get the opportunity to work on a title that will be your favourite type of game. Don’t expect to work on something the size of Call of Duty straight away. For every one great title, there are 10 not so great titles.
You will usually be expected to work long hours as test is at the end of the software lifecycle which means from a project perspective test is preventing a game from being released.
Test gets very little glory, but it is our job to make everyone else look good by ensuring that a good level of product is released.
Getting into the game industry is a difficult process. Either try contacting the employer directly or try contacting one of the major games specialist recruitment agencies.
I should also mention that unfortunately the sector is unstable and that in times of recession, test is usually the first area of development that is released.
As a first introduction I have tried to give a very brief overview of the industry and I will be going into more detail in future articles.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the industry and I made some great friends but it was also extremely hard work. Think long and hard if it is right for you but then go for it.
If you came to this site purely because of the games testing, then I hope you will look at other sections of the site as it will help you to gain knowledge of testing in the wider industry.