So, You Want To Be A Game Tester?

One of the first things people say to me when I tell them that I am a game tester is, "Oh wow you play videogames all day!" While it is true that I sit in a cube all day playing games, there is a lot more to game testing than simply "playing games".

Stereotyping game testing with "simply playing games all day" makes it seem that anyone and everyone can be a game tester. And while most gamers would revel in the possibility to earn a living playing videogames, there is a lot of responsibility, hard work and super long hours that come along with the job.

So, you still want to be a game tester eh?

Level 1 - Press Start
To be a game tester, the first thing you need to do is to get your foot in the door. My game testing experience began quite differently from everyone else at Atari, my place of game testing business. I was actually a QA (Quality Assurance) Tester for a small software company here in Sunnyvale, CA. And while most game companies prefer experience, entry-level positions are sometimes available.

The thing you want to look for, if you have no QA, game testing or software testing experience, is a temp position. These positions tend to pay much less, but are usually open to people with no experience. This is where most of us fit in.

At this point the game company will be looking more at your character, rather than your experience, since logging hours upon hours on World of Warcraft does not constitute work experience. So be open and friendly, and talk a lot about what you like about gaming and what you don't like. Show the variety in your gaming experience as this will show the game company that you have culture in videogames and that you aren't stuck on just first person shooters.

At this point if they like you and hire you, you're a game tester, gratz! Now this is where things become interesting and where a lot of the game tester stereotypes go out the door…

Testing 101 - The Long Haul
The temp positions I mentioned before usually open up before one of the two "Rushes". In the industry, the rushes refer to the E3 Rush and the Holiday Rush. Most game developers want to have awesome demos for E3 and want blockbuster titles out for the holidays.

While that's great and all for the game houses, this means your title of Game Tester magically, and unbeknownst to you, becomes Slave.

My life magically disappeared when I found myself working a minimum 63-hour workweek. That's Monday through Saturday working from 9 am to 10 pm. Unfortunately you find yourself very tired after work, heading straight to bed just to wake up and repeat the process the next day. I had to put my writing career with CheatCC on hold because I had no time to preview games.

We know that an insanely long workweek during the rush is expected, but there's another long period of time that you'll be experiencing. I actually really enjoy this time, which is the 24-Hour shift! When a title gets close to code release (in which the game is sent to either Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo for final coding and distribution), most leads, or lead testers, will want to put as many hours into a title as possible. Hence the 24-Hour shift.

It sounds horrible, but you tend to get the next day off and sleep all day. And hanging out in the office after hours when no one other than your team is there is fairly cool too. The 24-Hour shift can actually be pretty chill if you have a cool lead on your title. My last 24-Hour shift was for The Matrix: Path of Neo (I can talk about this game now as it has been code released and should be out on the market soon), and we hung out in our PJ's playing the game and watching the Matrix movies in the background for reference.

So as you can see, it's not ALWAYS all work and no play, although the work part can become a bit tedious.

So now we know how to get into a game tester position with little or no experience, and what kind of hours to expect outside your normal 40-hour workweek, so let's take a look at what a game tester actually does.

The Bread And Butter
Game Testing is actually pretty simple. We're paid to break the game, so the developers can fix it. This is where your imagination kicks in. Maybe jumping all around a level will crash the game, there's a bug right there. Maybe your character walks through a wall they aren't supposed to walk through, so you spend some time running into all the walls on the level.

The developers also include Test Plans. These are functions in the game that should, well, function accordingly. Such as "If the user presses (insert button combination), then Neo performs (insert cool Matrix attack here)." It's stuff like that all day long.

If you're on a title fairly early in development, then Test Plans won't always function as they should and you'll be finding tons of bugs. Which leads to the next phase of game testing, bug writing.

Each company has a different format for their bug writing, but it's fairly easy to pick up after practice. It's pretty much a system to describe the bug, how often it happens and how to reproduce it. And as a new hire, we're not given free range to just toss in as many bugs as we want. New hires need to have their bugs redlined, or proofread. After you get so many "perfect bugs" you will be taken off the redline list and free range is granted. When this happens, you know you're moving up in the game-testing arena.

C'est La Vie
So we know how to get in, we know that long hours are more than likely required and we know pretty much exactly what a game tester does.

Hopefully you are now armed with more information than I had when I started game testing. It's always nice to go into a job prepared, and not be flabbergasted on your first day.

It may sound easy enough, which I suppose it is, but it's a really fun job. You can also meet some really cool people there too. And if you're not put on a horrible title (Totally Spies for the GameBoy Advance was my very first title), then game testing will be an utter blast.

It's definitely something to try out, and it's also a great way to get your foot in the door in the videogame industry. Many people in the videogame industry got their starts as game testers and worked their way up to many positions such as Sound Designer, Producer, Graphic Designer, etc.

I hope to one day be producing a game for LucasArts, and hopefully I'll see you there.


Devin DiNardo

Devin DiNardo is a contributing writer for CheatCC, and has been a full time QA tester at Atari for 3 months. Devin has been officially credited as a QA Tester for RollerCoaster Tycoon 3: Gold (PC) and RollerCoaster Tycoon 3:Wild! (PC). Devin was a contributing tester for Totally Spies (GBA), The Matrix: Path of Neo (Xbox/PC), Dragonshard (PC), Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure (Xbox) and Civilization (N-Gage).

By Devin