Video game testers examine new or modified video game applications to evaluate whether or not they perform at the desired level. Testers also verify that different tasks and levels within a game function properly and progress in a consistent manner. Their work entails trying to find glitches in games and sometimes crashing the game completely. Testers keep very close track of the combinations they enter so that they can replicate the situation in order to remedy it. Testers also offer opinions on the user-friendliness of video and computer games. Any problems they find or suggestions they have are reported in detail both verbally and in writing to supervisors. Video game testers act as quality assurance testers who specialize in testing video games.
According to the Interactive Digital Software Association, approximately 145 million people play video and computer games. In other words, 60 percent of all Americans age six and older help to make the gaming industry a success.
History of Video Game Tester Career
Over the years, technology has continued to shrink computer size and increase speed at an unprecedented rate. The video game industry first emerged in the 1970s. Early engineers included Ralph Baer and Steve Russell. Magnavox first manufactured Russell’s TV game console, The Odyssey, in 1972.
Atari and Sega were the prominent manufacturers of video games throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Nintendo gained popularity in the mid-1980s, and continues to be a dominant player in the industry. Although gaming is a relatively new industry, companies such as Magnavox and Nintendo are more than a century old.
The field of testing and quality assurance has changed with the advent of automated testing tools. There will always be a need for video game testers, however, since they, not a computer, are best suited to judge a game from a user’s point of view.
The Job of Video Game Testers
The primary responsibilities of video game testers are game testing and report writing. Testers work with all sorts of games, including handheld electronic devices, computer programs, and traditional video games, which are played on the television screen. As technology advances, testers are responsible for games on more compact electronic devices, such as mobile telephones and palm-sized electronic organizers, as well as online games.
Before video game manufacturers can introduce a game to the consumer market, they must run extensive tests on its quality and effectiveness. Failing to do so thoroughly can be very expensive, resulting in poor sales when games are defective or do not perform well. Video and computer games require extremely detailed technical testing.
Games to be tested arrive in the testing department after programmers and software engineers have finished the initial version. Each game is assigned a specific number of tests, and the video game testers go to work. To test a game, testers play it over and over again for hours, trying to make moves quickly or slowly to “crash” it. A program crashes if it completely stops functioning due to, among other things, an inability to process incoming commands. Testers spend the majority of their time identifying smaller glitches or indiscrepancies in games, which are known as “bugs.”
Video game testers must clearly report any bugs that they find in a game. They keep detailed records of the hours logged working on individual programs. These are called bug reports. Bug reports are based on the tester’s observations about how well the game performed in different situations. Testers must always imagine how typical, nontechnical users would judge it. Video game testers can also make suggestions about design improvements.
Prior to being employed in this field, it is important for potential video game testers to carefully observe how different types of people play games. This will help to ensure that suggestions and evaluations reflect more than just personal bias.
In addition, testers verify that video games perform in accordance with designer specifications and user requirements. This includes checking not only the game’s functionality (how it will work), but also its network performance (how it will work with other products), installation (how to put it in), and configuration (how it is set up).
Once video game testers make sure that the correct tests are run and the reports written, they send the game back to the programmers for revisions and correction. Some testers have direct contact with the programmers. After evaluating a product, they might meet with programmers to describe the problems they encountered and suggest ways for solving glitches. Others report solely to a game testing coordinator or supervisor.
The goal is to make the video games and computer programs more efficient, user-friendly, fun, and visually exciting. Testers keep track of the precise combinations of controller movements, keystrokes, and mouse clicks that made the program err or crash. These records must be very precise because they enable supervisors and programmers to replicate the problem. Then they can better isolate its source and begin to design a solution.
Video game testers work closely with a team of development professionals. Computer and video game developers and designers create and develop new games. They delegate responsibilities to artists, writers, and audio engineers who work together to produce the developer’s desired vision of each game. These professionals creatively collaborate their ideas of style and flow to make each game a polished and engaging finished project. Programmers have to reproduce the bugs before they fix them. Producers keep the video game’s progress on schedule and within budget.
Video Game Tester Career Requirements
Interested in becoming a video game tester? If so, then take as many computer classes as possible to become familiar with how to effectively operate computer software and hardware. Math and science courses are very helpful for teaching the necessary analytical skills. English and speech classes will help you improve your verbal and written communication skills, which are also essential to the success of video game testers.
It is debatable whether or not a bachelor’s degree is necessary to become a video game tester. Many companies require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, while others prefer people who come from the business sector who have a small amount of computer experience because they best match the technical level of the software’s typical users. Courses in computer science and psychology are beneficial. Some companies require job seekers to submit a short writing sample when applying for a testing position.
If testers are interested in advancement, however, a bachelor’s degree is almost certainly a requirement. Few universities or colleges offer courses on video game testing. As a result, most companies offer in-house training on how to test their particular games. A few specialized schools, like The Academy of Game Entertainment Technology, offer courses such as Introduction to Computer Gaming, Game Testing, and Test Management. A very small number of schools, including DigiPen Institute of Technology, exist solely to train digital entertainment developers.
Certification or Licensing
As the gaming and information technology industries become more competitive, it is increasingly important for video game testers to demonstrate professionalism in the workplace. Some game development companies encourage testers to earn computer technician certificates. Such certificates can be obtained at community colleges and technical institutes, as well as fouryear colleges and universities. Also, the Quality Assurance Institute offers the certified software tester, certified software quality analyst, and certified software project manager designations to applicants who pass an examination and satisfy other requirements.
Video game testers need strong verbal and written communication skills. They also must show a proficiency in critical and analytical thinking and be able to critique a product diplomatically. Video game testers should have an eye for detail, be focused, and have a lot of enthusiasm because sometimes the work is monotonous and repetitive. Testers should definitely enjoy the challenge of breaking the system.
Some companies recommend that testers have some programming skills in languages such as C, C++, SQL, or Visual Basic. The most important thing is that testers understand the gaming business and the testing tools with which they are working. Video game testers should also be creative problem solvers.
Exploring Video Game Tester Career
Students interested in video game testing and other computer jobs should gain wide exposure to computer systems and video games of all kinds. ST Labs/Data Dimensions Inc. offers the following advice. Become a power user. Get a computer at home, borrow a friend’s, or check out the computer lab at your school. First, work on becoming comfortable using the Windows programs and learn how to operate all aspects of computers, including the hardware, thoroughly. Look for bugs in your software at home and practice writing them up.
Secondly, play as many video and computer games as you can. Get good at all different types of games. Learn the differences between games and become familiar with all commands, tasks, and shortcuts.
Keep up with emerging technologies. If you cannot get much hands-on experience, read about the industry. Join a computer group or society. Read books on testing and familiarize yourself with methodology, terminology, the development cycle, and where testing fits in. Subscribe to newsletters or magazines that are related to video game testing, programming, animation, and game design, such as Game Developer (http://www.gamasutra.com/topic/game-developer). Get involved with online newsgroups that deal with the subject—Gamasutra (http://www.gamasutra.com/) is one to try.
If you live in an area where numerous video game development companies are located, like the Silicon Valley in northern California, for example, you might be able to secure a part-time or summer job as a video game tester. An internship with a game development company or any computer-related internship will be a helpful learning experience.
If possible, save up to attend the Game Developers Conference when you are a sophomore or junior in high school. This is a great chance to network with the industry and make yourself known. In addition, investigate the possibility of spending an afternoon with a video game tester to find out what a typical day is like for him or her.
Video game testers are employed by computer and video game manufacturers. The Occupational Outlook Quarterly refers to games as the Wild West of the computer industry, meaning that no two gaming companies are organized in the same way. There are approximately 219,000 people employed in the computer and video game industry.
Opportunities are best in large cities and suburbs where business and industry are active. Many testers work for video game manufacturers, a cluster of which are located in Silicon Valley, in northern California. There is also a concentration of software manufacturers in Boston, Chicago, and Atlanta.
Positions in the field of video game testing can be obtained several different ways. Many universities and colleges host computer job fairs on campus throughout the year that include representatives from several hardware and software companies. Internships and summer jobs with such corporations are always beneficial and provide experience that will give you the edge over your competition. General computer job fairs are also held throughout the year in larger cities. Some job openings are advertised in newspapers. There are also many online career sites listed on the World Wide Web that post job openings, salary surveys, and current employment trends.
Video game testers are considered entry-level positions in most companies. After acquiring experience and industry knowledge, testers might advance to any number of professions within the gaming industry. Project managers, game test coordinators, game designers, developers, and programmers are among the possibilities. Video game testers can also move to other areas of the software industry as quality assurance testers.
The U.S. Department of Labor does not publish data specifically on video game testers.
According to Salary.com, software quality assurance workers earned salaries that ranged from less than $51,875 to $71,978 in 2005. Most testers receive paid vacation and sick leave and are eligible to participate in group insurance and retirement benefit plans.
Video game testers work in game development studios. They play games for a living, and this work can be very fun and entertaining. However, the work is also generally repetitive and even monotonous. If a game is being tested, for example, a tester may have to play it for hours until it finally crashes, if at all. This might seem like great fun, but most testers agree that even the newest, most exciting game loses its appeal after several hours. This aspect of the job proves to be very frustrating and boring for some individuals.
Video game developers may put in long hours in order to meet deadlines. Their work hours usually include nights or weekends. During the final stages before a game goes into mass production and packaging, however, testers are frequently called on to work overtime.
Since video game testing work involves keeping very detailed records, the job can also be stressful. For example if a tester works on a game for several hours, he or she must be able to recall at any moment the last few moves or keystrokes entered in case the program crashes. This requires long periods of concentration, which can be tiring.
Meeting with supervisors, programmers, and developers to discuss ideas for the games can be intellectually stimulating. At these times testers should feel at ease communicating with superiors. On the other end, testers who field customer complaints on the telephone may be forced to bear the brunt of customer dissatisfaction, an almost certain source of stress. The video game industry is always changing, so testers should be prepared to work for many companies throughout their careers.
Video Game Tester Career Outlook
The number of positions in the gaming industry is expected to grow faster than the average through 2014. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), computer and video game sales were around $7 billion in 2005, and are expected to maintain steady growth.
Companies in the gaming industry continue to gain popularity and respect. Fortune magazine named Electronic Arts one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2003.
The push toward premarket perfection will also help to keep the video game testing profession strong. To stay competitive, companies are refining their procedures to ever-higher levels. One thing is for sure—the video game industry is here to stay. According to the ESA, 53 percent of the most frequent computer and video game players expect to be playing games as much or more 10 years from now as they do today.