Q&A with QA
Quality Assurance is a critical component to game development. Testing starts as soon as the first code is written and increases as the game progresses toward completion. I’ve had the honor of meeting passionate quality analysts committed to producing great games. MMORPGs have unique demands that keep analysts on their toes. Many of my friends often ask how a person might start a career in gaming, specifically in MMO testing. So I sat down with a group of my closest connections for a Q&A about QA.
They began by describing the methodologies in game testing and how they are evolving.
“QA has felt some shifts in the past few years,” said James, a QA Team Lead. “I’ve only been in QA for a little over four years, so I can’t say exactly, but from my first days to current, game testing went from ‘test A to B’ to ‘how does this feel as a user.’”
We also went over the biggest differences analysts face when testing single player versus multiplayer games.
“As testers, we test any and all types of games, but tend to be placed onto one game until launch/release. At times, we are ‘loaned’ to another project due to priorities. In single player games, you have a linear set of objectives with few factors to influence. For example, you can kill every creature in a dungeon, explore every inch of the map, but you ultimately must kill a specific ‘boss’ to advance. In an MMORPG, although you can still have a linear set of objectives, there are many more factors. Other players may be killing that ‘boss’ you need to complete the quest, the ‘boss’ might spawn in different locations, or you might even have an alternative way to complete the quest.
“Of course, some things cross over between single and MMORPGs. It comes down to the game itself. The difference is mainly scope. Single player games are a lot more straightforward, and easier to create test plans for. With online, there are several things that affect finding bugs. You have a lot of network testing, pairing up with people, disconnection issues, etc. It comes down to seeing how each interact with each other, especially for whatever it is that you are specifically testing.”
I also asked if bots are becoming more and more utilized in game testing.
“We have automation people (sometimes embedded within a team), but they are a small part of the greater whole. Automation would be able to run a mission over and over again to see if there is any straightforward issue. But a human tester is used to find bugs (anything from, ‘hey, there’s a visible seam on this weapon that looks weird,’ to ‘this quest doesn’t complete when the objective is met if I do this….’). Automation is becoming more prevalent in performance testing. For the majority of other types of testing though, you need a human being to administer them for best results.”
When I asked one of my favorite questions—what do QA analysts like the most about their job—every answer was heartwarming.
“I enjoy the fact that I am helping to make a product as good as it can be. Seeing my name in the credits brings a sense of pride in my work, let alone hearing a player say, ‘OMG, that was SO awesome!’ about something I may have touched.”
“I love coming up with ways to ‘break’ the game so the player gets the best experience possible. It's kind of like Neo dodging bullets in the Matrix. Being creative enough to find the crashes and glitches is a really rewarding feeling.”
“When I see a comment about a player’s experience, how much they liked choosing their avatar, or how they pumped their fist at a job-well-done, that’s what it’s all about. No one knows I had a hand in that player’s experience, but I’m smiling from ear to ear because that player loves the game.”
For those who are looking to start a career in MMORPG testing, I asked what advice they’d give a newcomer to the industry.
“To prepare, you should have a strong foundation in the game design process overall, have superb analytical, problem solving and critical thinking skills. A bonus is having a degree in computer science or being familiar with programming languages like C++, Python, and other scripting languages. When you play games, look in the game folders. Mess with the editor if there is one.
“For serious game QA jobs, you have to have had prior game testing experience. So people should try and get into any studio they can for six months to a year. Definitely pursue research on software development in the games industry. There are so many different facets to the development process, that when you have a good grasp of it, you will be an amazing QA tester.”
Of course I couldn’t end our Q&A without asking about the challenges that come with the job, too.
“Testing one area of a game over and over can become tedious but working toward that final polish is what keeps you going.”
“The difficult aspect is always time. Do you have time to put a satisfied polished on that model? Does this work at home just like it does at work? We receive both praise and criticism. You can’t satisfy everyone. But, in the end, am I proud of saying, ‘I worked on that game!’”
Hope you enjoyed the Q&A! Huge thanks to all the dedicated gaming analysts out there, with a special thanks to my interviewees.
Every week, Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about MMO gaming, the issues the genre faces, and the power of shaping online worlds.
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