Closed beta versions of video games are like test runs distributed to a limited audience, and people with access often think of themselves as the “real” beta testers, but this is not the case. In a closed beta, only a fraction of the bugs remain undocumented, and the company wants to see if the games can hold up to actual non-testers playing them. Before these games can get to that stage, however, they have to go through the Quality and Assurance testing. Q&A testers go through the “real” beta testing stage. As a former Q&A Tester, I’d like to share part of my experience in this often-misunderstood job.
Let’s start at the beginning: getting the job. Getting a position as a Q&A tester, like most jobs these days, is done mostly online. I did a Google search to find the application, which is pretty standard fare – name, past work experience, educational background – things like that. If the company thinks the application seems in order (a process that takes only about a week and a half), then a representative will call for an interview.
The interview can make or break a person’s chances of getting hired. It sounds like any other job, but in the interview for a Quality & Assurance Testing position, the interviewer’s questions are highly specialized. Because the companies are hiring for a creative position, questions are designed to make the applicants think practically while showing off their personalities. Applicants have to be innovative and think outside of the box when testing, so of course, creativity is key.
A hiring call follows a successful interview, inviting the interviewee to attend a required group orientation and complete a week of in-office training, where the Project Leads can monitor the progress. After that week of training, new hires are sorted into groups. Most companies have a “Functional” group, a TRG group and an Online group. “Functional” is commonly viewed as the stereotypical tester position, where the testers play a game and search for bugs that inhibit gameplay. TRG, or Technical Rules and Guidelines, is in charge of most of the legality of games’ content, such as the logos, button graphics and the like. Online team members, as the name suggests, test online gameplay and deal with multiplayer capability issues.
A typical day of testing is not exactly the fantasy land of fun and video games that many perceive. You do spend all day playing video games, but the hours mimic any full time workday. A day begins as early as 7 a.m. and can stretch as late as 7 p.m., assuming that you are on the day shift. Night shift is the exact opposite, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m..
Every morning a new “build,” or draft, of a game comes in, and multiple builds come in as the day progresses. Each section takes that game and searches for bugs that specifically violate their own guidelines. This is where most people think that by playing game, bugs magically appear, but unfortunately, that is almost never the case. Remember the creativity that got the testers hired? This is where they put it to use. Their job is to break the game. When I say “break,” I mean they have to make the game crash, wreck, stop working. Doing any number of seemingly stupid things, like removing the disc while constantly pushing the Start Button and then putting the disc back in while pressing the Reset Button, can break the game.
Once a bug surfaces, unless it crashes the game, the tester who found it writes up an extensive bug report that details every single step taken to reproduce the bug. If a game-crashing bug appears, a Project Lead is called over to watch the tester reproduce the bug. These bugs can be very silly like game characters randomly dying or disappearing from the screen. When these errors occur, the tester who found them writes the bug report with pride knowing that he has done his job well. The process is sometimes tedious, but it’s what the testers are there for. Testers can see daily results — a skilled tester finds around 20 bugs per day.
The overall atmosphere of the Q&A Testing office tends to stay relaxed, apart from high-stress submission periods. Project Leads are generally personable, and the entire staff is willing to talk gaming far and wide. When someone mentions an older game, for instance, there is a fantastic chance that at least a third of the office has played it. Hours can get long and often require coming in on weekends, which makes planning anything outside of work difficult.
Obviously, the job isn’t for everyone, but dedicated, skilled and creative gamers can expect a tight-knit community after just a few weeks of work. Soon enough, going to work seems more like hanging out with friends for extended periods of time to play games and point out flaws. Think of it as criticizing a game with friends, writing about it and watching the game improve because of what you and your colleagues did.
Christian Moberg is a junior majoring in computer science and Japanese.