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Video Game Tester  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dot Nobody likes to play a game that crashes halfway through. Thankfully, there are video game testers making sure that games are bug free. They also help to ensure that the game play is smooth, fun and easy to follow.

Video game testers don't just "play." Their job is real work. They must repeatedly play their company's games all the way through, taking detailed notes about any possible problems. Programmers then use these notes to fix the glitches before a game is sent to stores or distributed online.

"Testers need to be observant and have an eye for detail," says Matthew Burns. He's a senior producer at the University of Washington's Center for Game Science. He's also a former tester.

"Sometimes problems with games aren't obvious from a cursory glance," says Burns. "Testers should notice any time the game is doing something it shouldn't. Sometimes it's a subtle thing."

The video game industry is almost always in flux -- new games and new technology keep driving it to new heights. Game consoles (such as Xbox) once ruled the industry, but the industry is increasingly dominated by games for smartphones.

Video game testers are in the "quality assurance" (QA) department of game companies. For this reason they are often called QA testers.

Video game testers also work for independent testing labs. Some video game companies outsource their QA to these testing labs.

Testing is usually done in accordance with a test plan. This is a document that specifies all of the tests to be performed on the game. Completing all of the tests on a particular version of a game is called doing a "pass" on the game.

"Theoretically, finishing a game's test pass means you've uncovered a lot of bugs, which then go back to the developers for fixing," explains Burns. "Then, a new version of the game comes down the pipe, and the testers start a new test pass on the next version, seeing if the bugs have been fixed, and writing up any new issues that may have been introduced in the process of fixing the old ones.

"This process repeats -- more or less, depending on the size of the game -- until the title is deemed ready to ship."

Video game testing can be a good entry point for a career in the video game industry.

Testers often move into more senior marketing, executive, production and design roles. Post-secondary training in marketing, business and programming can increase your chances for advancement.

Software testers working on new products not ready for public release are sometimes known as "beta" testers. The programs -- such as a hot new video game -- go through beta testing before being finalized and marketed.

The most important requirement for testers is that they be avid game players. Testers should also possess these traits:

  • Curiosity that drives them to master games
  • The ability to analyze the game's problems
  • Patience in testing for game bugs and verifying manuals
  • Attention to detail
  • The ability to adapt to changing methods and techniques
  • Energy and sharpness
  • Excellent hand-eye coordination
  • A basic knowledge of computers

"I think that QA staff needs to be super flexible," says Nathan Pinard. Pinard started out as a game tester and is now a QA manager for Ludia, a game company.

"We don't just test stuff," says Pinard. "We need to analyze stuff. I don't think a good tester is one that will concentrate on checklists. And when they're done, they're not like, 'OK, good, done.' In QA you need people who can analyze the game and give proper feedback."

Being a video game tester can be fun, but it's also hard work. Sometimes testers work on a game well over eight hours a day for three to four months or even longer. Work gets especially busy as product launch dates approach.

"There are deadlines to achieve, and there can be a lot of overtime," says Naila Hadjas. She's a QA tester for Ludia. "That's something that people complain about, but it's a necessity, basically. This can be one of the less fun aspects of the job.... But once it's done it gives you a sense of achievement that's very fulfilling."

Games in a beta or test version often crash, have choppy soundtracks and are full of bugs. It takes patience and endurance to keep doing the necessary testing!

Because testers work on video games for months at a time, they may no longer enjoy playing games for fun. They're always in "test" mode -- analyzing games for problems.

"A typical day would be receiving the latest version of the game that the developers just made," says Hadjas. "It would be playing through the game, going through the tasks, coordinating with my teammates, making sure that we each cover an area. So, basically, it's playing through the game all day long and finding as many problems as possible."

At a Glance

Find the flaws in the fun and games

  • This job can be a stepping-stone to other positions in the industry
  • Testers scour a game for any problems at all
  • Communication skills and computer training are useful