People really do get paid to play video games: Quality assurance technicians, more commonly called game testers, help programmers and designers identify those obnoxious bugs that inevitably pop up during the development of a video game. Testers have a meticulous attention to detail, are compulsively methodical, and have the remarkable patience to repetitively play through a game to pick out every possible glitch—long after the initial novelty of the experience has passed.
The job of a game tester is not as easy as it sounds. Playing games is the primary function, but this person is also responsible for writing detailed reports of the initial appearance of a bug, areas of gameplay and engine function that are affected, and actions taken to re-create the glitch. Game testers keep detailed logs of test cases, monitor active issues, and maintain the reporting database. Game testing is conducted within the game development studio by regular or temporary employees, not at home.
The main function of a game tester is to actively seek to crash the engine. Individuals in this position may be divided into teams to group-test a multiplayer game, or work independently to carefully consider every possible variation of play in a single level. Testers need to anticipate the end user and the various ways users may usurp the intended function of the game. Testers are given specific and detailed test patterns to follow; these patterns detail actions the game tester will take during a play period, such as opening and closing a door multiple times, or driving a racing level backwards. After a title has launched, the quality assurance department will wade through customer feedback to address evolving bugs, troubleshoot the cause, determine priority of the fixes, and initiate test cases for the patch.
Skills & Education
An obsessive infatuation with gaming is required. Overly critical nitpickers are encouraged to apply. That being said, you must also be tactful in communicating with colleagues and diplomatic in addressing malfunctions with programmers. A tester with a strong technical background is infinitely more valuable when communicating with programmers and designers. Basic IT competence is necessary, specifically the use of spreadsheets and database systems. This position also requires someone with excellent written and verbal skills, who can succinctly explain his or her test results. You must be an analytical thinker and problem solver, flexible and able to work under minimal supervision. A desirable applicant will be familiar with several different game formats (MMO, RPG, first-person shooter, sandbox), consoles, and computer platforms.
What to Expect
If you’re looking for an “in” to the game industry, this might be it. This entry-level position can be a vehicle to potential opportunities as an artist, a programmer, or a lead in the quality assurance department. While you work closely with the game designers, you will have the privileged access to pick their brains and make your talents and ambitions known. But don’t look past your immediate responsibilities and take the job for granted: The best proof of your passion for a career in games is the quality of your work in even an entry-level role. You will be expected to meet strict deadlines and produce reports that are clean, accurate, and descriptive. If you can shine in this respect, then you have an exponentially higher chance of arriving at your dream job. When positions are available, game studios will list vacancies on the career section of their website, or applicants can inquire with human resources.
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