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Is Bughunting Still A Way Into the Games Industry? 70

Edge Online is reprinting an article from last month's issue of the British gaming magazine. In the article, Bug Hunt, they look at the role of the modern QA tester. While once a good way to make yourself known to the company's HR staff, it's more and more simply a summer gig between classes for college students. They also discuss the hard working conditions, soul-crushing scheduling, and the public misconception that what a QA tester does involves the word 'play'. From the article: "Anyone with any experience of the QA process will deny the slightest resemblance between testing a game and playing one for pleasure: finding bugs is unmistakably work, and, by common consensus, very dull and repetitive work at that. On top of this, pay is often poor, job security frail, working conditions extreme and recognition hard to come by. So why do it?"
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Is Bughunting Still A Way Into the Games Industry?

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  • Its fledgling, but has promise in a few years. www.betaguild.com
  • Modmaking (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doytch ( 950946 ) <markpd@gmailFORTRAN.com minus language> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:05PM (#15544807)
    I'd say that there's a better chance to get into the industry if you're a damn good modder, rather than a damn good bug finder.

    Counterstrike(HL), Desert Combat(BF42), and Red Orchesta(UT2004) are all examples of this.
    • Re:Modmaking (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rblum ( 211213 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:16PM (#15544891)
      I'd say that there's a better chance to get into the industry if you're a damn good modder, rather than a damn good bug finder.


      Judging from the buginess of some recent games, being a bug finder is not a requirement any more ;)

      • Re:Modmaking (Score:2, Interesting)

        by abmurray ( 599514 )
        The problem is that most QA guys are more interested in hitting their daily/weekly quotas instead of spending the time it takes to root out serious issues that need to be fixed. For example - I'm an artist, and I'm pretty sure I'm able to notice when something is misaligned or off by a few pixels - to me, QA would be a hell of a lot more useful if they would track down a bug on a screen that crashes 1 out of every 4 times as opposed to sending me 35 bugs that are the *exact same issue* but spread across se
        • Re:Modmaking (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot@wo[ ]net ['rf.' in gap]> on Friday June 16, 2006 @10:57AM (#15548796)
          The problem is that most QA guys are more interested in hitting their daily/weekly quotas instead of spending the time it takes to root out serious issues that need to be fixed. For example - I'm an artist, and I'm pretty sure I'm able to notice when something is misaligned or off by a few pixels - to me, QA would be a hell of a lot more useful if they would track down a bug on a screen that crashes 1 out of every 4 times as opposed to sending me 35 bugs that are the *exact same issue* but spread across several screens.

          When you're paid minimum wage for 40 hours (if you're lucky), and expected to work 12 hours a day 6 days a week (during non-crunch) for that salary, and have to file a minimum of X bugs a day or you're fired, you can't expect much quality. Coupled with the fact that most QA testers aren't properly trained professionals, but more of high-school kids trying to have a "cool" job working for a game company, it gets worse. That, and running through the same part of a level day after day gets old, quick. (Of course, I should mention that it's number of bugs filed, not actual bugs reproducible, that count - if it was the latter, expect mass firings shortly).

          Real bug reports take time to file - if it's a particularly complex bug, it can take a week or more to properly reproduce and document it.

          I suppose, since you're an artist, if your job productivity was based solely on the number of textures you produce, or complete models (let's say, one model a day, or 20 textures a day), then the quality of your work would go down as well (though, we might end up with a large number of trees and other simple models to compensate for that main character model). Add to that many high school students clamoring to replace you...

          QA for games suck because they're not allowed to do a good job (if I came across a bug that took me a day to properly report, I'd be down 34 bugs, and my coworker beside me just files 35 identical bugs in the morning and goofs off the rest of the day...).
          • Sounds like it's as much a management problem as it is a employee problem. You could have developers identify who is giving the better bug reports and remove their strict quotas (or at least weight their bugs a little differently). Heck, that probably would be a good way to find developers.
    • Re:Modmaking (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Slothy ( 17409 )
      Agreed! Except, you don't even have to work on a big name mod. If you can go to game companies and show that you know how to mod the engine that they use, that's going to get you farther than you'd guess. When applying to companies that use proprietary engines, showing that you can mod one of the big engines (Doom 3, Unreal 3, or HL2) is great.

      You don't need to be John Carmack to work in the game industry, you just need to be bright and write solid code. Having something that's polished is more importan
    • Re:Modmaking (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Das Modell ( 969371 )
      Robin Walker, Design Manager at Valve, co-wrote the original Teamfortress. I think there are a lot of people at Valve who come from a modding background. Iikka Keranen (or Kernen as he's listed on Valve's site, for one reason or another) used to make maps, textures and small mods for Quake and Quake II, and even wrote a lighting program for Quake. He's now a level designer at Valve.

      Modding will most likely remain a good way of getting into the industry. I would imagine that some members of the Black Mesa te
    • ThreeRings, developers of the popular Puzzle Pirates online game, actually require job applicants to develop a small game in their (freely available) game engine.

      The downside being, if you don't get the job, you've just wasted a week of your time.
  • by still_sick ( 585332 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:06PM (#15544813)
    ... so long as there are thousands and thousands of "kids" out there who dream of playing video games for a living. It doesn't matter that the reality is nothing like the fantasy. One kid gets burnt out and leaves, ten more beg to take his place.
    • Not true, training takes time and qualified personell isn't as common as you may think. The idea that there are ten people willing to take your job for a dollar a day is nice to keep employees under control but usually those ten people together couldn't do what one really qualified person does. EA loves to treat entry-level positions as disposable but from what I've heard once you're beyond the entry level that stops.
    • I used to be one of those "kids" you speak of, and while I'm 26 now I'm still a very passionate gamer and have wanted a way into the industry for many years. A few weeks ago I was offered a job with a testing lab in Canada to localize games to the Norwegian market, but I had to turn them down. I'm not quite sure what sort of salary I could expect in a position like that, but $10 Canadian per hour is in the region of "ridiculously low". Assuming a 40-hour work week I'd make roughly $16.000 Canadian per year.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:17PM (#15544897)
    Hudson: "Is this going to be a standup open beta programme, or just another bug hunt?"
    Gorman: "All we know is that there is still is no contract or schedule with the developer, and that SOE may be involved."
    Frost: "Excuse me sir, SOE?"
    Gorman: "Guys who made Star Wars Galaxies."
    Hicks: "It's a bug hunt."
  • That's how I got in (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:22PM (#15544934)
    I'm currently a programmer in the industry (Activision studio). I spent nearly a year doing QA work, making sure to get the right connections by talking to the designers and programmers for the projects I was working on. I helped shape the game, gave constructive feedback, and hunted down bugs like no other. It got noticed, the development team passed my name along, and here I am, sitting in my dream job.

    This was a timeframe of under two years... so at the very least, it can certainly still be done.
  • by NonSequor ( 230139 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:24PM (#15544941) Journal
    Just a few days ago Mythic announced a couple of job openings in customer support on the Dark Age of Camelot news site. They say the jobs are open now because they promoted two people in the CS department to development.

    If people can go straight from customer support to development then I can't imagine they would have any qualms with moving QA people into development.
    • Or maybe those people were developers who wanted a foot in the door while waiting for development positions to open up? That is how a friend of mine got to be the PBX admin at a web hosting company, he worked tech support for a year waiting for the company to decide to commit to asterisk, then boom, promotion.
      • I think it would be extremely odd if the people who were promoted didn't have aspirations of getting into game development. I just had a recent example of people being moved into development from another department at a game company so I thought I'd mention it as a counterexample to the article.
  • by loopback_127001 ( 695885 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:26PM (#15544961)
    QA will not be a path to anything but a series of contractor jobs in the majority of the game industry for a number of reasons.

    First and foremost is the general value the software culture puts on QA to begin with. In any software environment, QA is frequently looked down upon, or at the very least not seen in the same light of respect and value that development is. This makes the QA position something that can be seen as nonessential to the primary function of the company: writing software.

    Obviously, that's incorrect, and anyone who has actually worked with a good QA team will tell you so. Trouble is, there are plenty of bad QA teams, and badly managed projects where the value of QA is not clearly laid out.

    In the game industry in general, you have the problems as already laid out: soul crushing work hours, ludicrous release schedules, and a sense that there is always someone waiting to do your job because it's a 'dream job' in the game industry. But that applies for every single game developer too. Or have people so quickly forgotten the EA scandal & lawsuit about the lives of their programmers?

    Because most development houses are not their own publisher, they have external dependencies and requirements for quality that they must meet. Someone publishing a game thru Vivendi will hand it off to VU for an acceptance pass based on whatever criteria vivendi have in mind. Publisher's QA groups are probably the worst to work for and offer the least amount of actual outside visibility for the tester, but that's where the jobs are. The majority of QA jobs in studios are going to be reserved for people who have inside contacts or are lifetime career testers that are not trying to 'get into the game industry through qa'. They're in those positions because they're excellent testers who can help the company reach the publisher milestones. In some companies, there isn't even a QA team. The logic goes that the publisher will tell you when your game is good enough to release, and you can always bring in contractors on a temporary basis if you need to.

    The real answer as to how to break into the game industry isn't a certificate from Game Design University Of DeVry Technical ITT College, and it isn't trying to get 'any job you can in the industry'. The real answer is to develop people skills. More than any industry I've worked in, the games industry runs on word of mouth and personal references. If someone knows you, you are vastly more likely to be hired than the person with superior skills on paper who doesn't have a personal recommendation.
    • I think you will find that a lot of producers were originally testers. The promotion path tester-assistant producer-producer-head of development-studio head is well-trodden path. Whereas many programmers and artists are still doing the same job they were doing 15 years ago when they got into the industry out of college, since the whole suit thing didn't appeal. OK, some programmers and artists are studio heads too, if they prefer managing people.

      Getting a testing job with a developer offers the chance of co
    • In our company, at least, (a moderate-sized start up about 7 years in with ~275 employees) that isn't true. Granted, this isn't a game company (we make financial software/services) but QA intern to QA fulltime to dev is a pretty common path. I work with two guys so far in the company who spent significant time in qbit. They both called the experience a good one, and solid experience for development. If nothing else, they can keep on top of the people filing bug reports so we get good ones! I also think it m
  • It certainly helps (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:48PM (#15545093) Homepage
    QA never was the only way in, and it still isn't the only way in. In my experience, though, it helps a lot.

    What you learn in technical school won't give you real experience with game development. There are a million things it won't teach you. They don't teach you when to leave something broken "for now." They don't teach you the utility of having everyone in your company observe focus tests. They don't teach you that sometimes the best design of one thing has to lose so that another feature which is important can survive. And, of course, a million other details about game development from when it is okay to telecommute an artist into a meeting to how

    And, sadly, from what little I've seen they really don't let you get into the minutae of a game. Like when you push a button, does the button trigger on button down or button up? Does the animate-off occur after the button-down or during? Should the animate off take two seconds or one.

    QA gets you exposure to all of that. You come out of a (in-house) QA gig basically knowing how to make a game. If you later come back as an artist, you're suddenly a more valuable candidate because you don't have to be told everything. You know the art resource is going to change a couple of times, so as not to polish too much for stand-in stuff. You know which parts of direction are essential to follow and which parts are suggestions. You know to keep an eye on milestones, and always buffer in an extra bug-fixing day or two before one.

    Given the option between spending a year as QA and spending a year as a Programmer on a game, be a programmer. If you're going to be an artist, be an artist. But if you're still in college, or didn't graduate from MIT, get in through QA. It looks great on your resume to say that you spent a summer working along side a real team of developers, proving that you're not some random fuckup who is going to burn out in four weeks.

    Of course, this is all QA for small companies that have their own QA staff. Don't work remotely at a publisher if you can avoid it. You won't learn much there.
    • You're right about the technical experience, but in my opinion, the most important thing you can gain from being a tester is connections. You can actually meet people in the industry, you can make impressions, you can go to industry events and parties - it's invaluable. There's also the people who go on from testing positions to other positions, and can then put in a good word for you.

      The main way you're ever going to get a job in another part of the game industry after being a tester is by knowing someon
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:50PM (#15545111)
    I've been in the game industry as a Game Tester for nearly 4 years and I've seen a vast amount of people get into the industry without needing to go through Quality Assurance. Designers have been hired because they had good story writing and communication skills, level designers have come in because their own home made levels did well within the gaming community (Eg, Unreal Level editing). Artists and Programmers coming in because they make optimized and well thought out models.

    If someone really wants to get into the game industry, all they need to do is be good at something, rather than being someone who is soso in all aspects of making a game. I'm not saying they need to be a prodigy, but simply having a basic know how on how to create what they are doing and understanding how it was done fully, instead of slapping it togther haphazardly and making it look pretty. Eg, there is a huge amount of people that make StarTrek 3D models out there. Most of which are quiet nice to look at, but when you look at it from a technical stand point, they over used polygons where it isn't needed, and/or they are unable to make the model again without a lot of trial and error. You need to be able to make a 3D model with the most amount of detail with the least amount of polygons. If you can do that, you've learnt a lot of useful tricks that most 3D "artists" will never learn.

    The best advice I can give to anyone, is _JOIN_ a mod project as a programmer or artist or level editor, and get your fingers into as many pies within that project as possible. Communicate well with the rest of the team, and hopefully the project will get out the door and you can add it to your resume, which will look very good, much better that people coming out of these new game courses from University...

    Also, join multiple mod projects, because not all of them will succeed, many will go down in flames due to the rest of the team not pulling their weight. But take note, _JOIN_ a mod project, don't try and start your own with no prior experience, it will be a waste of time, and really doesn't look that great on a resume.

    Programmers, take a look at the "Demoscene". If you really want to make great games, then you need to know a lot of the little tricks for optimizing code, the demoscene will help you with that. www.scene.org is a good place to start, have a look at what other people have created. I know a lot of the veteran programmers respect people that come from the demoscene, more than codemonkeys coming from University. Demoscene programmers tend to be very adaptable, and will normally get to work on the more interesting stuff when on projects.

    Level designers, pick a game and make levels for it. Eg, Unreal, FarCry, Quake, etc. But make levels and get them out to the community. Its fun to waste 4 months making sure every tree in your level is in exactly the right place but it doesn't serve any use in the game industry, that's what artists will be asked to do. Your job as level designer is to make fun, functional levels that work well within an engine. What you should teach yourself how to optimize your level, such as object culling, VIS, PVS, level layout etc. Also study what makes other game levels fun. You need to know exactly what makes a level good, you should be able to answer this question when asked. Your opinion is not a valid answer, you need evidence to back it up. Once you have mastered one level editing tool, start dabbling in others. You may not like it at first, but it will come in handy down the line should you ever get hired and you have to work on in-house tools to make levels.

    Artists, try all sorts of different styles of modeling, don't just make spaceships or manga characters. Show that you are versatile. Show that you can make 3D models with few polygons as possible and they look awesome. Make a few character models and import them into a game, such as a Quake3 character, or a monster for a mod project. It may be even a better idea to find someone who has drawn a charac
    • Thanks for this post, I have been 3d modelling since 98. I recently got into 3d rendering using Poser6, I do it for fun, but I've been wanting to start making some of my own content, and one thing I haven't seen too often is everyday items. A box of qtips, toothbrush, dishes, pack of smokes. Point is your comment about the mailboxes and the lamp post gave me a flood of ideas for making my own content.

      BTW, I do this for fun, I have no urge to work in any game industry or any graphic arts area, aside from se
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 15, 2006 @08:01PM (#15545180)
    I worked for QA at a major US developer for 3 years (2 of which in a Sr. position) and I have to say that this article does not exaggerate, If anything it was being nice.

    The hours are just as terrible as they say in the article, but unlike in the article after the seven months of non stop crunch hours there was no month off, maybe a few days to a week, then you either got fired or moved to another project to start it all over. The equipment is always substandard and often broken. The working situations are always way too cramped. We went even given cubicles; we worked in long rows of tables pressed up against each other so close that 2 people could back up their chairs at the same time.

    Using QA as a stepping stone or entry point is no longer an option at all, from what I have seen. Many developers have a very negative image of the people in QA. Out of the 100 people they hired to test probably about 20-40 are actually talented testers, and less then half of that have development skills. Because of this there has been a growing thought that if you work in QA you don't have the talent needed for development work. I have seen people get turned down from a development jobs purely because they currently worked in QA. If you want to make games, you're better off working any normal full time job and making demos/designs docs in your spare time.

    Now that I am no longer working for that developer I have much more family/free time, am able to work on my own projects again, and make nearly twice as much as I did while I was in QA (I'm now working in education)

    My suggestion for everyone who ever thought about moving into QA, Don't.

  • A relative of mine started game testing for a EA in California as a summer job. He became known to the company, and is now
    doing a masters of game design (or something like that) and has already sold one of his team's games to a large company. I'm pretty sure his team also
    won a game-design contest for MTV.

    So, as an observer, it seems to me that the answer is yes. ;)
    • To me it doesn't sound like QA opened a door for him at all. If he left to go back to school sounds more like he tried that path and either thought against it later or realized it wasn't going anywhere and went back to school. To me it sounds like his break was working for that group that won the game-design contest for MTV.

      But I guess if it was the contacts he made at the company while working for QA that allowed him to get together with that group a little credit could be given to QA.
  • by gryphoness ( 841454 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @08:29PM (#15545354) Homepage
    QA certainly IS a track into the games industry, but depending on where you go it may not get you a development position. QA falls into two categories: publisher QA and developer QA. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Publisher QA tends to track into Production. This is like Hollywood production in that you are a facilitator between the publisher and the developer. You may or may not be an asshole, either seems to work (just so that I make my bias clear from the start). A good producer is invaluable and does have some power in tipping the balance between a game that is decent and one that is exceptional. A bad one can make a dev team's life a living hell. But it is a profession all on its own. Producers must be excellent communicators, have management skills, be diplomatic, understand scheduling, have enough of a grasp of the technical demands to know what to ask of their assigned team, and be able to navigate labyrinthine publisher politics. The turnover rate is high. It is very much a "people" position and its closest analog on the dev side is mangagerial. Getting back to the article, QA definitely is a path toward a production job. But most people applying to QA hoping to get into the industry aren't looking to be producers, and probably haven't even thought about it. The track goes something like Temp Tester -> FT Tester -> Lead Tester -> Assistant Producer -> Producer, with each tier culling out increasing numbers of candidates. The other thing about publisher QA is that publishers will tend to just grab anyone off the street and throw them into a QA position. You get high school dropouts and PhDs alike working QA. Moving up to a full time position (QA almost invariably starts temp) is like making it through a firing squad; rough numbers from people I've talked to seem to show that about one in twenty will move up. But because so many people enter QA just as a side job -- with no intention of continuing in the games industry and often very little technical ability whatsoever -- those odds aren't that bad. It should be noted, too, that occasionally publishers will loan out people with technical ability from the QA ranks to fill in scripting help and the like with their developer studios. This is a good opportunity for advancement but generally is a resume padder and not much else; the dev house ultimately will be doing its own recruiting and not necessarily pull from the publisher's QA (they may not even be able to, depending). Development QA, for one thing, is much more difficult to find. Increasingly QA is done by the publisher and the publisher alone, because it's more efficient (economically). The publisher is also the one that ultimately is giving the approval on the milestone and final product, so they want to have their own in-house resources doing quality testing so that they can monitor them and ensure quality of the testing itself. A dev house with its own QA department, meaning people that ONLY do QA, is either very big or very unusual. A big developer will run a QA department very similar to the publisher's, and sometimes worse; QA at Electronic Arts are literally fenced off from the rest of the developers and are treated with zero trust, herded in and out and highly restricted on what they can bring into the building. This is because they are temps, and when you have to cycle so many people through, you quickly tap regional talent resources and have to start hiring people off the street, which many companies don't seem to mind because their QA practices mostly involve having people play the game over and over again and report where it breaks, a very primitive form of QA that still persists in the industry but is slowly being augmented by automation, and, in some rare and ahead-of-the-curve places, better actual production practices in managing QA testing teams. These usually involve keeping testers on full time, though, which companies do not like to do because they perceive the job to be 'unskilled' and therefore don't want to pay for things like health insurance and other ful
    • The track goes something like Temp Tester -> FT Tester -> Lead Tester -> Assistant Producer -> Producer, with each tier culling out increasing numbers of candidates.

      I managed to skip the drudgery of being in QA and started out at the A.P. level, without any industry experience. I had the combination of a college degree in a related field, an eye-catching resume [crummysocks.com], a broad skillset, and a friend in the industry (personal networking is extremely underrated).

      • That is a pretty nifty idea for a resume. On the topic, I used to have a QA position at the worlds worst development house, and I still can't get the stink off me.
      • Moving into AP actually isn't that hard if you have the background, it analogs to moving into a programming or art position because you have the degree for it. It just IS possible to go up through QA still -- which in a way is kind of frightening considering that in a lot of places they don't even bother training QA for production formally. Someone with a related college degree would probably do much better, though it depends entirely on the person; some people learn really well through observation and can
    • I'm not sure to mod this "+1 contains some useful information" or "-1 unfortunately it's so unreadable as to be useless"...so I'm just going to encourage you to learn the use of paragraph/break tags.

    • Wall of Text crits you for 12321. You die.
  • ...You mean game testing involves more than just tightening the graphics?
  • The job described in that article sounds damn near perfect, to me...especially the anecdote that was supposed to 'chill my bones'. A repetitive job, requiring some thing but hardly any physical labour; huge hours at an hourly wage; being able to sleep at work to get more of those paid hours in; job perks like a new wardrobe, or cocaine...where do I sign? Games aren't really any fun for me, as it is, but I'd love a job I could lose myself in.

    One of the best jobs I had in my life, I was working 80 hour week
  • but my understanding that QA people are in strong demand. In my experience QA people are paid at least as well as developers at most big companies.

    I can't imagine a development shop doing all of their QA through kids on summer break like the article suggests. High quality QA is essential and without it large development projects will implode.

    That said, I don't particularly want to work QA, it seems mindbendingly boring to me. Development may also be hard work, but there's more room for creativity at least t
  • Yes if you can find a good smaller company, no if you want to go through someone like, say, Microsoft.

    Microsoft actually does their XBox QA through a seperate company created solely for the purposes of avoiding temp working lawsuits. I don't think I need to explain then how they treat their contractor QA staff. Of which I have been one in the past.
  • by RomSteady ( 533144 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @11:55PM (#15546342) Homepage Journal
    I'm not going to deny that QA is difficult. I started at Access Software and stuck with QA through almost five years at Microsoft Game Studios before saying "fsck it" because of the stress and leaving games for a bit to try my hand at coding.

    During my time as a programmer, I learned two things. First, even just spending time testing games helped me learn enough about coding in a performance-critical environment that I was able to carry many of those lessons over into "the real world;" and second, as much as I enjoyed making things, I enjoyed breaking them even more.

    So I've returned to QA. Sure, QA is often the scapegoat in case anything goes wrong; QA often has to work shifts that would make sweatshop workers quit; QA rarely receives the recognition due or the compensation necessary...but QA is also one of the most rewarding careers in terms of variety and challenge. Every day, I receive a build and wonder what's wrong with it this time and how can I break it.

    When I report something to a developer and see them seethe for an hour on end trying to figure out how they're going to fix it...it makes my heart smile. Those are the moments I live for.

    That's why I test.
  • First of all, I have worked in QA for a summer, and I'm going back to Activision in about a week for this whole summer. It's an erxcellent job! And no, not just because I'm "playing" computer games; 9$ an hour is good pay for something that requires no experience and no education and can be done over a summer; in short an excellent college job. Perhaps Activision is better than the rest, but working conditions were not that bad. The worst I had to deal with was being stuck with the "Duke" X-box controller o
  • I worked QA at Atari in Beverly, MA from September to Christmas, 2003.

    As a recent high school graduate with no college experience (in college now, though), it paid $10 an hour. On top of that, it was 60 hours a week mininum. Time and a half for over time, so I was making $700 a week, $550 after taxes. Damn good money for a high school student with no job experience whatsoever.

    And yeah, it was work. But you know what? It was good work. I enjoyed what I did, even when it was mindless and repetitive. It beat t
  • by idries ( 174087 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @04:45AM (#15547187) Homepage
    Several years ago, just before I left my 'proper job' to work in the games industry I was involved in a pretty disastrous software project. The project and companies involved shall remain nameless, but basics of the story will be familiar to alot of people.

    We had a small in-house team (9-10 coders) and the business decided to embark on a project which was way outside of the teams' capacity. After several weeks of protesting that the project was too big for us to deliver in anywhere near the drop dead dates we were given management finally relented and brought in a development consultancy to supplement our small internal team. This consultancy (who will also remain nameless) brought with them a small army of mostly incompetent coders and a giant army of business analysts, architects, project managers and other varieties of monkey trained in various levels of sales and management speak. Needless to say the consultancy left the internal team todo most of the coding work and spent alot of time making presentations, sending long e-mails, creating complex charts of various kinds and then left the delayed, feature barren, burning carcass of of the project behind and pocketed alot of cash.

    The one thing that the consultancy brought with them that actually helped was a team of sub-contracted QA staff who were located off-site at the consultancy's office, some miles away. I was even younger and stupider then than I am now and at first I complained bitterly about the 2 page bug reports that I began to receive from them on a regular basis. These reports would contain a massive amount of detail for even the most trivial bug, complete (often 100%) repro cases for bugs which were incredibly complex and (IMO at the time) were never going to be found by normal users. The reports often also contained references to specific areas of the functional specs that we had written at the start of each project which our implementation was not entirely adhering to.

    Now that I am less young, less stupid and work in the game industry I pine regularly (as my colleagues will no doubt confirm) for those QA people whose bug reports were so clear, complete, accurate and detailed. The bug reports I receive now from game team testers are like drawings on the wall of a cave when compared to the reports described above. They are short, unclear, often completely inaccurate and sometimes the text is not even recognizable as English.

    The reason for this massive discrepancy in report quality is glaringly obvious. When I worked at the consultants office for a little while (just prior to leaving that job) I actually sat next to the QA team. The difference between that QA team and all the QA teams I've worked with in games was like night and day. In a word, they were professionals. Most of them were graduates with 5-10 years of work experience, they were obviously well paid (some of them better paid than me I think) and their personal appearance and hygiene put most of the coders to shame. They had analyzed our entire functional spec, without any interaction with the development team and created a complete test plan which they synced up to our development schedule. They had identified a number of complex testing tools which were appropriate for our product, acquired them and were actively using them to find bugs the we could hardly even imagine. They were often able to isolate the causes of problem, when the cause and effect were in totally unrelated parts of the product (functionally speaking).

    That's not to say that the game QA teams I've worked with have been all bad, but they're a totally different class of tester than the guys at the consultancy. I suppose that the title of this post is alittle misleading, as I have also worked with the class of tester found in the games industry in other industries, but they are less common and generally in smaller numbers.

    Anyway, before I get modded off topic the real point of this post is that I would like to see the kind of testing described above happen more in the industry
    • Here's my take on why most QA teams suck:

      The reason is related to the reason why in some countries crunch time happens so often and lasts so long that in the end, whatever extra work was done by having people working extra hours has been, due to the extra bugs introduced by stressed-up/tired designers and coders, totally wipped out and the delievery took even more time than it would without crunch time:
      - Inexperienced and/or incompetent managers always concentrate on immediate and visible positive effects a
  • With all of the talk about the deplorable working conditions in game development companies, I'm surprised anyone wants to work in that segment of the industry.

  • Bughunting was definitely the way into the game industry for Satoshi Tajiri [wikipedia.org]. After spending his childhood hunting insects, he later came up with the idea that became Pokemon.
  • That article is pretty spot-on. I recently got a 'real job' after spending about a year, on and off, working as a temp game tester for US$10 an hour, 8 hours (if not more) a day. I was lucky enough to work in a place with no daily or weekly bug quotas, thankfully. I definitely don't regret the experience - it was an eye-opener into the inside world of games, and I actually did enjoy the work (despite my occasional complaining). While I was working, I quit playing almost everything, though, and I still s
  • .. even if it doesn't lead to a FT job, could you squeeze a few days in on the Rogue class?

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