You can be a games tester. Meet certain criteria, display a certain skill set and, as quick as you can say “text string truncation,” you are welcomed to join a bunch of other weirdos like-minded individuals who also derive pleasure from fiddling with a product in its development phase. You can do your utmost to make sure that no one ever again asks the question “Who tested this?” YOU tested this, and you did a darn good job of it too! Spoiler alert - somebody, somewhere will, at some point, think or possibly even mutter something along those lines anyway, but the satisfaction felt when your name appears in the credits will more than compensate for those “pesky moments!”
It is fine if you already have mixed feelings about the very idea of working as a games tester. We are not here to sugarcoat the realities of the work although we actively encourage dedicated and experienced gamers to consider this as a career choice. Of course, you could simply grind through your days as a games tester, treating it like any other job – working on an assembly line, for example. Do your 8 hours a day, hate every minute of it, head home and burn out after a year. You could, however, turn your hobby, passion even, into a career through which you also receive many benefits. It was the enthusiasts that blazed the original trail for the games industry, and it is the enthusiasts that ensure that it is still so alluring after so many years – Today’s enthusiasts and trailblazers? Well, those are the people we are looking for.
So, what would a games tester job description look like? Is it really about getting to test games? Can game testing really be as simple as playing games and getting paid for it? Can you earn enough to make ends meet as a games tester? Is there room for self-development?
Allow us to respond to these questions and more...
"Build more farms."
Certain things are simply facts, for example, there can be no development without basics, there can be no units without resources, you cannot build the cavalry without first building the farms. Any old-school RTS peasant can tell you these! So, before describing what a games tester does all day, let us give you a brief description of what one of these rare animals looks like and what they appear to do.
Surviving on a strict diet of almost nothing but games (and probably a sprinkling of pizza!), it is a small wonder indeed that the perfect games tester prides themselves in their vast knowledge of this immense industry. The broader their experience, the more familiar they are with the widest possible variety of titles and genres, platforms and operating systems, the better their chances of surviving in the games testing wild, conquering all bugs before them without fear or fuss.
Additionally, and like any solid construction, if a broad knowledge and high level of expertise in gaming are the foundations and the bricks with which a good tester is built, a good knowledge of English is the cement, holding that building together. Mentioning this as a prerequisite may seem redundant to some – “everyone understands the language of business,” don’t they? Well, anybody that has the burning desire to become a games tester will also have to communicate with the other “wildlings” at some point and thus, as most of the gaming industry operates in English, so must we. This is not only because English is the language of business, but also because the results of our work need to be reported in a precise and concise manner that is understandable to both our peers, our team leaders and our clients. The perfect games tester is not only able to convey their observations; they can do so in a succinct manner, quick, to the point, deadly… Like a language ninja!
They should, incontestably, also possess the modal supremacy to accommodate the consummate and established language use and register. While acquaintance with and comprehension of sophisticated grammar forms, obscure expressions, and quintessential qwertyfication are more than welcomed, being able to refrain from relying on baroque-like locution, Shakespearian annunciations and vernacular gymnastics, fixating instead upon the essence of the knowledge and its rudimentariness, almost effortless delivery, is unequivocally and infinitely better. Which, distilled down to its constituent parts, dictates that a games tester should employ the antithesis of the register used in this paragraph!
“The cavalry’s here!” – These boys are really good. But they don’t come cheap, you need those farms first
Your next question will now, undoubtedly, go something like… “I know insane amounts about games and gaming, my mastery of English is unquestionable (I even understood what the previous paragraph said!) and I am ready to turn my passion into my pay check. What else do I need to know and where do I sign up?” To which we reply… You must possess an eye for detail, almost bordering on OCD levels, too! You need to be able to see the cause and effect chains behind the errors that your newly-appreciated levels of pedantry are forcing you to notice. You also need a creative approach. Not all bugs can be solved in the same way or are even caused by the same things. However, and we do hate to harp on about this, the devil really is in the details. A games tester has to notice every discrepancy, every shortcoming and every error that appears in the title placed before them. As we explained earlier, the foundations and bricks are the skills and knowledge of gaming, while the cement in the ability to communicate in English, there is still a part of the house missing… you need to have a finished exterior. You need a façade - windows, doors, window sills, guttering, pipes and so much more. The OCD-level attention to detail, the creative thinking, the ability to see under the skin of the puzzle to be solved are all the traits that form this final part of the construction.
Ultimately, if, during your experience with video game titles, you have ever wondered about broken functionality, about incorrectly set character models, missing textures, words that fall off the end of the game or horrible animations – this job might be just for you.
We mentioned the need to be able to understand cause and effect chains. This trait is particularly important as not all bugs can or will be spotted at first glance. The majority of them require executing a sequence of actions through which the bug will become visible. This is where we find some of the differences between a good games tester and an excellent games tester. An example of this would be (and, believe it or not, this is not entirely fictitious) after selecting character X, drawing weapon Y and jumping three times near the big rock just next to the bridge, the game will crash. Welcome to the world of games testing. A general rule of thumb is, if something appears to be easy, then it is probably either being performed incorrectly or is simply not worth the effort! As you can see, very often those actions (or steps as we tend to refer to them) may seem to have no bearing on one another or may appear to be completely unrelated. Your ability to find these “unrelated” steps will help you to stand out from the crowd and prove that you are the droid that we are looking for!
Testing, and it is imperative that this is made clear, can also be boring. Quite often, in fact! You are given a portion of a game, and you are set to work to look for bugs. One hour. Two hours. Eight hours. Two weeks. There is always the risk that routine can take over as you mechanically repeat the same actions over and over. The trouble is, this can lead to inefficiency when it comes to bug discovery. Here we really start to understand exactly why a great games tester needs to be creative. Ideally, the ability to organize their work time, be constantly alert while testing and brimming with innovative ideas are also key. How else do the “jump thrice after executing certain steps, and you will see something hilarious” bugs get discovered?! Testers who can stand the repetitiveness while retaining their creative senses intact are worth their weight in gold. To finish the grand construction metaphor – the ability to overcome the sometimes altogether tedious tasks while continuing to be passionate about gaming and testing games is the roof over our structure thus completing the latest build of our perfect games tester. Yes, we are aware of the fact that in the construction process the roof is normally built before the finer, more detailed work begins. However, passion and dedication form the barrier which protects all of those other qualities from decaying and fading away over time.
"You must gather your party before venturing forth."
Why do I refer to this classic line from Baldur’s Gate? Quite simply, because game testing is not a loner’s job. We work as a team, firstly, to ensure that we cover all areas of the game being tested and, secondly, to ensure that those areas are divided equally between everybody in the team thus avoiding workload duplication. Imagine, if you will, a classic RPG in which you are attempting to create a perfect team. Sure, picking a squad of rogues may seem like a good idea, but how far will you go and how efficient you will be once you get that team out into the wild? The same applies to any games testing team. We need a warrior, a rogue, a few spell-casters and at least one healer. Only when all of the basic classes are covered can we even consider taking on hybrid professions and multiclass characters
An example of a well-composed team which allows you to save the world. Or conquer it, the choice is yours.
What does a specialized team of testers actually do? Running tests and bug hunting is, as stated, the crux of the job. However, after their job is done, when they are truly filled with pride of the kingdom, then comes the time to process the results. This is where the good level of English comes in handy. Part of the daily routine is the delivery of the test results to the senior testers, those responsible for task coordination and further data processing, in a clear and concise form, be it through feedback discussions and detailed description of actions undertaken during the day to simply filling out excel tables. Oh, did we mention that familiarity with Excel is also a must?! Excel is one of your best buddies in this line of work.
"I can't use this yet."
So, now you know what is expected of a games tester, what a tester does, what the daily routine looks like, some of the tools that they will need to use and even a little about the personality types that make for excellent testers and you feel that you fit the criteria quite nicely, but you are still not sure whether or not you actually want to be one! Let us try to address this – YES! YES, YOU DO!!! However, let’s avoid arbitrary statements and offer a brief justification: Working as a games tester not only puts food on your table and allows you to work in an industry that you are passionate about (let’s face it, you would never have gotten so far in this article if you weren’t!) but it also gives you almost endless opportunities to develop your skills. Being a games tester does not amount to manual clicking or “button mashing,” it is way more interesting than that. If you enjoy playing with the technological gadgets, then the opportunity to lay your hands on state of the art equipment, some of which has not even been released into the marketplace yet, cannot be overestimated.
Also, while you may begin your career as a dutiful tester requiring guidance and support at every step, you may soon discover your untapped potential and “soft skills,” the ability to interact effectively and harmoniously with others, which would then allow you to manage people, such as the case of the author. Thus, working in games testing can also be a path to developing your managerial skills. If, on the other hand, you are more the tech-savvy type and your longer-term goal is to work as a games developer, what better way to understand the complete landscape than starting as a game tester and learning the basics of the industry from the other end of the telescope? Who knows, you might even have what it takes to dabble in test automation (yes, we also deal with this in games testing although, to really develop an understanding of it requires an entirely different article for another day!) where you will aid your team by writing clever bits of code, which, in turn, will automate some basic functionality tests of the title.
I'm not interested in who you are. You've just arrived. I look after the new arrivals."
This questionably polite sentence welcomes The Nameless Hero, the protagonist of a classic game which, against the odds, found popularity despite being poorly optimized, containing crude dialogue, clunky movement, and countless bugs. Gothic, a game developed by Piranha Bytes in 2001 still lingers in the memory of gamers, even as an unpolished product. Imagine what a masterpiece this title could have been if hordes of ready for bug-hunting testers with their teeth sharpened and keyboards connected had been let loose on it in a bid to eliminate those shortcomings and inconsistencies.
These unsung heroes, these guardians of quality, remembered only upon the discovery of a bug in an already released product as Joe Public shares their discovery with colleagues, shaking their heads in shock and disbelief while uttering, half-jokingly maybe, those fateful words…
“My God, who was responsible for testing this game… If only I were a games tester…”
“Good doggie.” Forgive him his questionably correct physiology, the title was released over a decade ago. Even at the time of release, it did not impress with its graphics quality. Or animations. Or well-written dialogues, for that matter.
Do not stand in line with people like that – stand in line with us, Game Testers. “Why are you wasting your time playing silly computer games? You will never get anywhere in life just sat there playing.” You have surely heard that or something just like it on more than a few occasions, right?! Well, the times they are a changing! Why not take all of the doubters down a peg by proving that it was not just beneficial, but instead the start of an amazing journey through which all of that hard work, knowledge, skill, and talent are put to good use and paid for too? All that time spent beating the high score, rescuing the princess or saving whole worlds formed the nucleus of a games tester in you – why not finish the job and bring all of that into focus as a real games tester? We will show you the way.
Your adventure starts at www.zostantesteremgier.pl.
Join the frontlines.
Author: Łukasz Sokalski
Proofreading and fine-tuning: Shaun D Hawkes