Quality assurance (QA) testers are unsung heroes in the games industry. Their work really only gets noticed if something gets past them, so they will generally get much less credit for their long ad hoc hours and painstaking work than other members of a development team, and a lot more heckling from gamers. Additionally, QA is seen as an entry-level role by many outsiders, but this is far from true, even if a junior QA job is a good introduction to the industry. QA testers need a definite skill-set, and a lot of stamina! It takes more than just a penchant for playing games to properly fulfil the requirements of QA testing.
I asked Stephen Woodward, our quality assurance manager, a few questions about the job:
What sort of skills and traits are desirable in a QA tester?
As with everything in life, attitude and positivity are everything!
We like people who are passionate about video games and passionate about testing. Strong communication skills are necessary to converse with the development team and document any bugs found. You must be analytical in your approach to testing and possess the patience (of a saint) required to work through bugs from all angles. This will help in nailing down solid reproduction steps that are then passed over to the development team and used to help fix the bug.
How many man-hours of testing would an iPhone game need, versus one for PS3?
Our titles vary in scope but typically you could be looking at team of 4+ testers working on a console title from anywhere between 9-12 months where as a typical iPhone title might require a couple of testers from anywhere between 4-12 weeks. That said there is no real set formula & testers are often moved between projects as required. Further ramping up of the testing resource close to a projects GM (the point where it is “done”) is not uncommon.
What does a QA tester do when first handed a game build to test, in order to search for issues?
Knowledge is power! It’s important to know the game you’re testing inside out.
We’ll start by familiarising ourselves with the design documentation as well as working closely with the development team to identify high risk segments of the game that may require special attention during the testing cycle. Armed with this information we can create a test plan that details the tests that we are going to run, the desired outcomes of these tests and at what stage of development the tests will be run. We also perform ad hoc testing, an unstructured approach that allows the tester to “free play”. During these sessions a good tester will get creative, busting out all sorts of whacky combinations that will uncover a host of unsavoury gremlins!
Does our QA team specialise on an individual basis, or does everyone pitch in on all titles up for testing?
We have evolved by necessity into “Master of all trades!” We work within an extremely reactive environment, especially where mobile development is concerned. Resource, priority & task shift is a common occurrence requiring a diverse & adaptable team. This differs to traditional console development where it’s not uncommon to have specialist testers focussing purely on technical requirements and other testers focussing purely on gameplay functionality.
Which aspects of portable games development do you think present the biggest challenges for the team?
Compatibility testing has proven to be a huge component of mobile game development. iOS and Android both host a wide range of hardware/OS versions that we must support. Initially it was a case of laboriously testing through each combination, effective but not overly efficient. Over time we have discovered what to expect from specific device/OS combinations allowing us to perform specific high value tests at the beginning of the test cycle. The sooner we identify bugs, the sooner they get fixed.