Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Computer game tester
Though many a teen boy's "dream job", a game tester's job is demanding and repetetive work. Especially as a game nears release, the hours are intensive and the work gruelling.
Modern video and computer games take from one to three years to develop (depending on scale). Testing begins late in the develop process, sometimes from halfway to 75% into development (it starts so late because, until then, there is little to nothing to test). Testers get new builds from the developers on a schedule (daily/weekly) and each version must be uniquely identified in order to map errors to versions.
Once the testers get a version, they begin playing the game. Testers must carefully note any errors they uncover. These may range from bugs to art glitches to logic errors and level bugs. Some bugs are easy to document ("Level 5a has a floor tile missing in the opening room"), but many are hard to describe and may take several paragraphs to describe so a developer can replicate or find the bug. On a large-scale game with numerous testers, a tester must first determine whether the bug has already been reported before they can log the bugs themselves. Once a bug has been reported as fixed, the tester has to go back and verify the fix works.
This type of "playing" is tedious and gruelling. Usually an unfinished game is not fun to play, especially over and over. A tester may play the same game—or even the same level in a game—over and over for eight hours or more at a time. If testing feature fixes, the tester may have to repeat a large number of sequences just to get to one spot in the game. Understandably, burn-out is common in this field and many use the position just as a means to get a different job in game development. For this reason, game testing is widely considered a "stepping stone" position. This type of job may be taken by college students as a way to audit the industry and determine if it is the type of environment in which they wish to work professionally.
In software development quality assurance, it is common practice to go back through a feature set and ensure that features that once worked still works near the end of development. This kind of aggresive quality assurance—called regression testing—is most difficult for games with a large feature set. If a new bug is discovered in a feature that used to work, once it is fixed, regression testing has to take place again.
Computer game testing becomes gruelling as deadlines loom. Most games go into what is called "crunch time" near deadlines—developers (programmers, artists, game designers and producers) work twelve to fourteen hours a day and the testers must be right there with them, testing late-added features and content.
Many console manufacturers, such as Nintendo, require videotapes of gameplay in order to agree to publish a game. The manufacturer can then agree to manufacture the game or refuse (refusal normally requires fixes before they'll publish a game). Creation of these videotapes of flawless play usually falls on the shoulders of testers since they have the most experience with the games. This can be a gruelling process since one slip-up in gameplay can cost hours of videotaping to be wasted.
In the early days of computer and video games, the developer was in charge of all the testing. Since most games were so limited in scope, this was easy and usually required no more than one or two testers. In some cases, the programmer themselves could handle all of the testing.
As games have become more complex, a larger pool of QA resources are necessary. This being the case, most publishers have a large QA staff that they have testing various games from different developers.
Usually one group of testers will work on the same game from the beginning of the QA process to the time the game ships (goes "gold"). Thus, they become experts at the game and become familiar with all its nuances and weaknesses. Normally a group of testers will work on from one to two games at a time, depending on each game's scale. As one game nears completion, they may focus more time on it as the QA requirements escalate. Near the end of development, the QA staff may relocate to the development location in order to provide intensive QA work and be easily accessible to developers.
Despite the large QA infrastructure most publishers have, many developers will retain a small group of testers to provide on-the-spot QA from time to time.
Despite the job's difficulty, game testing doesn't pay a great deal and is usually paid hourly. Testing management is usually more lucrative, but this type of job usually requires years of experience and some type of college degree. For this reason, most game testing jobs are taken as "foot in the door" positions, used as a stepping stone for more lucrative lines of work in game development.
- Game industry veteran, Tom Sloper's advice "Working as a Tester"
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