Many people who play video games have dreams about getting into the industry and being a part of making them. The problem is that game testing or more properly Quality Assurance (QA) is much more involved than just playing video games for money.
Whether it’s in the role of an artist, modeler, programmer, or more often a game tester. The idea of playing video games for money is way too alluring to pass up. Especially if you have read any gaming magazine or been on several gaming sites that plaster ads for it everywhere. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with someone who has first-hand experience working in the QA field for many years and on several popular titles. Due to Non-disclosure Agreements (NDA) he cannot go into specific details on a project without legal ramifications. For this reason, we will also be withholding his real name from the article as well. Please enjoy the interview.
Can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Slowhed, I am a broadcaster on Mixer. I create content such as game photography, game videos, and bring people together to share in the passion of video games. I have worked in the game industry doing game development (QA), retail, and streaming for a combined total of 15 years.
What companies and/or titles have you work on?
As a game development professional, I have worked for Konami Entertainment, Disney, Activision, and most recently, Amazon Game Studios. I have had the great fortune to ship over 15 titles including Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Skull Girls, Castlevania, Epic Mickey 2, Disney Infinity, Call of Duty Ghosts, Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, Call of Duty Black Ops III, and most recently New World.
How long have you been involved in Quality Assurance or QA?
I have worked in game development QA for over eight years.
Can you explain what QA is and what the actual role they perform in the game development process?
Quality Assurance test and report on defects in software but our role covers much more than just that aspect. We also test User Experience, Language Localization, Legal and Copyright issues and System Certification (the relationship between software and the platform it will run on).
QA can also be called upon to provide analysis of upcoming game design before implementation, assist with production and be called upon to work events such as demos and industry trade shows such as E3.
Why did you get started doing QA work?
I worked in game retail for eight years and have been gaming almost my entire life. Over time, my desire to build games grew and grew until I had to heed the call, yet I had no formal training or related degree. I saw video game QA as a way to reverse engineer my way into game development. I could see the path clearly and set out to achieve my goal. I would treat QA as if I were paid to go to school and take every opportunity to learn specialization outside of QA in hopes of migrating into another discipline.
Would it be fair to say that QA is a lot more than playing video games for money?
Absolutely. Quality Assurance is a professional field that is in its own way growing through puberty into a fully realized specialization. Now we are seeing the field mature and respect itself and own the role.
How did the idea of QA being a “play video games for money” get started?
The issue is twofold. The industry sold that idea to the general public knowing it could attract nonprofessionals and keep their costs low by diminishing the professionalism, the importance of the role of QA. This has now manifested in the dark secret of the game industry. Contract workers on a whole, are treated marginally, suffering no security, no pension or severance, low pay, long hours, and more often than not, required to work above and outside of the role of QA, often assuming Associate Producer work.
What does “Associate Producer work” mean?
An Associate Producer works alongside Producers and assists with completion of production milestones. These tasks can vary depending on the type of production a particular department is responsible for. Some may work alongside development to keep the overall game development on track by tracking bi-weekly sprints that dev teams adhere to ensuring milestones are hit. They may triage bugs reported by QA to determine which to prioritize. Other Producers may work alongside Marketing or Legal departments, assisting with promotional materials, responding to outside requests for interviews, staging beta tests, or setting up demos or showcases at industry events. Other production departments may focus on internal architecture and tech to ensure tools are available for development and QA. Others still may be solely focused on the games official launch, working w retailers and vendors.
Thank you for the clarification for those not familiar. Please go on with the original question.
The general public (and many who joined QA early on) bought this fallacy as it allowed many an opportunity into a field that was closed off to non-degree holders. There is little knowledge or education on what QA actually does or the herculean efforts these hard-working, passionate people exhibit on a daily basis.
What is the worst part of doing the job?
Personally, for me, the worst part was knowing that we in QA are marginalized. That if I remained, the math pointed to me becoming political and fighting for unionization. The quality of life for most AAA QA, especially at a Publisher, is not healthy. I’ve seen families destroyed, coworkers hospitalized, relationships ruined, and overall long-term growth stymied as many employers offer little to no opportunity for upward promotion. I am happy to say that this is slowly changing at some of the more progressive studios, but unfortunately, this should be common practice, industry-wide. Unionization is key to protect the rights of the QA professional.
Any Horror Stories you want to Share?
I’ve too many to mention and most would in some way break NDA and contractual agreements I’ve signed, but I can skim across some of the toughest times.
That’s understandable, please go on.
Excessive crunch (when teams work round the clock to hit a set publisher date) sometimes peaking at 80 plus hours a week.
Missing most of my firstborn’s first year for fear I’d lose my job and or relevance within a project.
Qualifying for food stamps while shipping AAA games.
Watching qualified candidates and QA coworkers passed over and ignored for advancement into permanent positions.
Waking up on my way home to find myself riding my bike on the edge of a sixty-foot drop into the LA aqueduct during an intensive crunch.
Those are definitely some horror stories. Let me ask then, what is your favorite part about Q.A. work?
QA satisfies so many aspects for me, I could not choose one. Let me describe why. Games are an absolute passion for me. Since its first inception (Pong, Asteroids, Tempest, Galaga) to now, (Apex Legends, PUBG, Sekiro, and many indie games) I’ve never lost the fire in my gut for gaming.
QA touches on so many satisfying disciplines in a common workday. Analytical and deductive thinking, team communication, writing clear and efficient reports, advocating for the customer, and helping mold the design of a game. Shipping a title (the completion of a game project that reaches the market) is one of the greatest feelings. One can stand there with only an idea and be part of a team that brings it to life. It is immeasurable.
Since I asked for horror stories earlier. Let’s look at what you would say is your proudest moment while working on a project?
Being part of a team that created something from nothing. For myself, there is nothing like it in the world.
Watching a Call of Duty go live, the metrics and data flowing across our view screens as gamers log into a new title and delight in a shared experience. Knowing that I’ve advocated on behalf of the user and fought for efficiency and logic in game and UI design.
Is getting into the field of QA difficult?
It’s is incredibly accessible for those wanting an entry-level path into game development. If one does their research, they could advance up through a studio that’s more progressive and actually hires QA into other departments.
What would say to someone looking to get into the game industry through Q.A.?
I applaud those who wish to join game QA, whether it be for the sole passion of being a QA professional, or to use that opportunity to advance into other disciplines, such a producer, programmer, designer or another specialization. Like any life decision, I would encourage tons of research, especially in regard to an employer’s ethics, long term plans for employees, and healthy leadership that manages projects efficiently and avoids crunch at all times. I would also recommend they ask themselves how passionate they are and if they could endure the grueling requirements that come with shipping a game. It is an endurance race and can be extremely taxing both mentally and physically.
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and answer these questions. Are there any closing statements that you would like to make to the readers?
I’d love to encourage anyone who wishes to make games, to begin doing so right now. One needs not even join a studio as the availability of tools to create games are so widespread and accessible, one could easily begin the process immediately. If one wishes to learn game development at a studio and has little or no training, QA is an excellent opportunity to enter into this field and grow as one works. I highly recommend tons of research and be very careful with choosing an employer who respects their entire staff and avoids crunch at all costs. If anyone wishes to ask me further questions you can reach me via DM through my Twitter.
Thank you for taking the time to do this.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you!
As you see from the interview QA is much more involved than just playing video games for money. Link any other job there are ups and downs to that field of work. Do not take this as an article against the idea of doing QA work. It is meant to enlighten and inform you with just a glimpse into that world. If you are interested in doing more research into getting into game development, I will post a few links to respectable sites that developers and studios use to hire.
Thank you again to Slowhed for taking the time out of his schedule to sit down with me. If you are interested in asking more questions or just enjoying his content, here is his Twitter and Mixer info.