The other day I overheard a couple of kids talking about enrolling in a video game testing course. They assumed that the role of a video game tester is to get paid just for playing video games all day.
Their presumption gave me an idea for an article that would crush their little spirits and show the young people of Victoria what the job of a video game tester actually involves. It may seem mean, but they’ve got to know what they’re getting themselves into so they don’t waste their time (and their parents’ money).
What better way to begin crushing dreams than by interviewing Jamie Stewart, the Head Programming Co-Coordinator at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment in Melbourne?
Jamie Stewart is a former graduate of the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE) (Canberra) who has spent some of his career working in the video game industry as a programmer for Venom Games (an outlet of 2K Sports). He has helped out with games like Don King Prize Fighter, Ferrari Challenge and Supercar Challenge. He now works at AIE (Melbourne), teaching first- and second-year Programming.
What do most people presume video game testing is?
From my experience most people would tend to assume that any career in games – be it programming, producing, working as an artist, or as a games tester – involves playing games all day, and getting paid for it. This (unfortunately) couldn’t be further from the truth for the majority of positions within the games industry.
Could you describe what a video game tester actually does?
A games tester is responsible for ensuring that the game they are testing is as free of bugs, glitches and any other legal issues. Games testers are typically referred to as the quality assurance – QA – department because “tester” can be seen to be a bit derogatory.
It is the role of the QA department to play progressive iterations of a game under development, looking for any outstanding issues that cause the game to become unplayable or take away from the overall experience of the game.
One example would be finding a glitch in a fighting game that would allow the player to easily defeat any opponent on any difficulty with ease (this is akin to being able to cakewalk the boss character on the original Mortal Kombat game by simply jumping straight up and kicking – works every time).
Games testing work is akin to watching eight seconds of your favourite movie on repeat, except that it’s more than likely not your favourite movie – it’s probably a movie you never wanted to watch. You only get an eight-second segment of movie to watch and all the while you have to take notes, looking for anything that is out of place, then send these notes along to the other departments that are involved in the production.
The other departments very likely won’t thank you for this – they’ll probably despise you for it because your job as a tester is basically seen as you highlighting all their shortcomings.
Also, it’s sad to say that as a tester you would very rarely get to work on the types of games that you would like to play. You could end up having to work on games that are geared for demographics that you may not necessarily fall into, like being a 20-something-year-old male and working as QA on the latest My Little Pony console release and having to ensure that the game maintains continuity with the existing game world. Not everyone gets to work on titles like Skyrim or Halo.
How hard is it to become an employed video game tester?
A QA position is typically seen as an entry level position, where no real prior skill or qualification is needed other than having a passing familiarity with computers and games console systems and a passion for games – a lot of passion for games – and the ability to critique them or see past the gloss and find the flaws in a game.
What is the pay like for video game testers?
The salary for games testers is typically the lowest in the industry. From experience if a company advertises a position as minimum wage that translates to “If we could pay you less – we would.” So if you’re interested in making money, perhaps the games industry isn’t really for you.
How hard is it to become a tester for well-known game companies such as Konami, EA, Capcom or Naughty Dog?
It’s going to be hard to get a testing role for Konami, Capcom, or Naughty Dog, especially if you’re living in Australia. These companies all have their development studios and HQ located overseas.
Very rarely will a company relocate a tester for work, unless they have a very proven track record or are in a leadership position. You’d be better off trying to relocate yourself and then applying for the job, although if you don’t have any tertiary qualifications you may find it hard to get a working visa in some countries.
EA, on the other hand, have an Australian development studio, and they do hire QA staff from time to time, so your chances of getting hired there are slightly higher. However, there’s going to be a lot more people applying for those positions, some of whom may already have testing experience. So while the barriers to entry are quite low, there are a lot of able bodies out there who are capable of filling these roles.
For those interested in becoming video game testers, what advice do you have for them before actually pursuing that career?
Play a lot of games. Play games you don’t like. Write about those experiences. Get involved in a gaming community. Look at the modding community.
Have a look at games development courses – if you’re that keen on getting into the games industry there are other avenues for entry, most of which require qualifications, which sets them apart from entry level positions.
Otherwise, try approaching local games companies. Some people I know started out testing games for free – a kind of unpaid internship. If you want to work in this industry you’re going to need to push yourself, because it’s a popular industry.
You need to stand out from the crowd, so you had better be dedicated and – even though it’s games – you had best take it seriously.
Thank you Jamie Stewart and AIE for giving us and our readers information about video game testing.
What games would you like to be paid to play? Let us know in the comments below.