Games testing can be a lot of fun. It can also be mind-numbingly tedious. Invariably it involves long hours of poorly paid work with very little job security. It’s one of those jobs that rarely meet the expectations of new recruits.
My own career in games started in a converted cupboard, wedged in with another new tester, a couple of computers, consoles, and TVs. It was really hot. We were frequently asked to pull all-nighters and work weekends. The first game we worked on was aimed at kids. It was not something I would have chosen to play. We were given detailed printed spreadsheets with a checklist of what to do and told to log bugs in a database.
During the first week I saw a lot of ways the game could be improved. I wanted to be a games designer. I would enter suggestions into the database. After a couple of days I was told to stop making suggestions. Usually by the time testing is ramped up for a game the design is already locked. Your job is to find bugs and verify fixes. You do not have a creative input.
You are getting paid to play games. You tend to form close friendships when you have to work long hours together. The camaraderie was a lot of fun; in fact it became the main reason for going to work. You also learn a lot about how games are constructed. It’s an insight into game development that you won’t find anywhere else.
You don’t get to choose the games. You’ll have to play the same levels and test the same menu items over and over until they are burned indelibly into your mind. As I write this almost 15 years later I can still remember every detail of that first game I worked on, including the hole in the collision map that they never fixed on one of the levels. You have no power to ensure that all the bugs you report get fixed.
You also don’t get any thanks or even much respect from most of the other game developers. In a way you’re set in opposition because you are finding things wrong with their work and it’s hard for them not to resent you, especially at the end of a long project when everyone’s tired.
The hours are long and the pay is poor. There’s also a high chance you’ll be laid off when the game is released. Few developers have enough projects to require a constant team of testers. Outsourcing to dedicated testing teams is much more common now than when I started. You have a better chance of stable employment if you go to work for a publisher or a testing company, but only slightly.
Looking for Jobs
Find out what game developers and publishers are in your area, or somewhere you’re willing and able to move to and check out their websites. If there’s nothing there then contact them asking about testing vacancies. A passion for games and an ability to communicate clearly will usually be enough to get a foot in the door, but any extra experience you have with software development or software testing will help you.
If you want to impress and boost your chances then consider volunteering to work on a mod (modification) of a game you like, or get a little experience as a beta tester.
How to Succeed
You must be able to clearly convey how to repeat a bug you’ve found. This is getting easier than it used to be because screenshots, workflow, and even video recording is more common now, but it’s still an important skill.
Videogame testing is all about being meticulous and thorough. Use your brain to try new combinations and uncover sneaky bugs. Be respectful in your dealings with the development team, and if your aim is to move on to another role then build relationships and ask questions.
A lot of the people I worked with in that first QA department have gone on to lengthy careers and work at top developers and publishers now, so the opportunity is definitely there.