Testing console and computer game titles to find bugs and glitches in the software.
Games testing is one of the least skilled jobs in the games industry but, when done correctly, it plays an extremely vital role both in games development itself, and the development of a games industry career.
The responsibly of a games tester is usually to perform repetitive play-throughs of a title, following a set schedule or testing in an ad-hoc fashion. The aim of this is to try and break the game in any way possible. Any problems found in the games can then be reported back to the game’s programmers and designers so that they can be fixed before release.
Most testing takes place in an open-plan office environment and testers often spend long hour working on computer monitors or TV screens. The games industry has historically been dominated by males although this has begun to change over the past few years, with influential females such as Jade Raymond, Paulina Bozek and Cammie Dunaway, stepping up to share the limelight.
Although testing is quite similar from company to company, there can be some differences, depending on whether you work for a development studio or a publishing house. Obviously not all publishers and developers follow these roles exactly but there is a stereotypical divide between the two which is discussed throughout this guide, and should be considered if you are applying for a job.
The average wage of a games tester is about £14,000 per annum, with a starting wage of around £12,000. Although developers and publishers tend to offer similar starting wages, the former will often review wages based on your experience and skill more regularly. This is less common at a publishing house where wages are usually set at the same level for all members of staff in that role. Senior Testers and workers in managerial roles, such as a Lead Tester, can expect to earn from £15,000 – £22,000 per annum.
As a way of boosting wages and encouraging productivity, bonus payments are very common within the games industry. At most publishers these bonuses are fairly low and paid once or twice a year. Testers working at a development studio often receive much bigger bonuses based on the performance of their department. These are usually paid out if the team reaches deadlines set by the company. Overtime is very rarely paid for a developer so the larger bonuses are often used to thank their employees for the extra time they have given.
Games testers are usually hired on fixed-term contracts. These can span anywhere between three, six or twelve months. More experienced testers may be offered permanent positions but outside of publishers these are rare and often reserved only for more advanced testing roles.
- Sweeping game builds for bugs and software errors.
- Performing ad-hoc testing procedures to find bugs and gameplay issues.
- Working through test plans to check possible in-game combination problems.
- Writing up bugs, by allocating them a class and clearly describing how they can be reproduced.
- Creating test cases to help check new software.
- Checking games for spellings, ratings, technical requirements and legal issues.
- Checking games at Alpha, Beta and Final build stages against a list of requirements.
- Providing feedback and balancing information to other departments.
Very few games tester roles require you to have a University degree. Being educated to A Level standard will usually be sufficient, and some companies will accept a minimum of 5 GSCEs at grades A-C.
There are several key skills that are needed in order to be a good games tester. As testing is seen as an entry-level job, having these skills is usually looked upon as more important than having high levels of education or experience.
Passion, Knowledge and Dedication for Games
You don’t need to be fantastic at playing games but you do need to have a wide knowledge of many different game genres and systems. When testing the same game for several months a strong passion for games can help to keep you motivated. Employers will often ask about your favourite game during an interview, and they’ll want to know why you like it. Some companies will also test your knowledge of the games industry by asking about recent news stories, or important changes within the industry.
Teamwork and Communication
Most testing is done as part of a team so being able to communicate, both written and verbally, is a must. Teamwork and the ability to mix well with others are also very important as you will most likely be working with the same people in a confined area, sometimes for very long hours at a time.
Eye for Details and Problem Solving
The majority of testing involves looking for bugs and errors during gameplay. You will not only need to be able to spot these problems but also work out how you have caused them to happen so that you can then describe the process to other people in the team.
English and Writing Skills
Comprehension, spelling and grammar tests are often set during interviews to assess these areas. These are vital for checking in-game spellings as well as writing clear and coherent bug reports. Some companies also use ability tests to judge your general intelligence. An example of these tests can be found in the Related Links section of this guide.
If you are working for a publisher you will most likely work a set amount of time, around the standard of 35 – 40 hours per week. Over-time is usually paid for at large publishers and working it is optional. Depending on the publisher, you may work 5 days a week or you could be contracted to set shifts, such as working 4 long days and then having 4 days off.
Working for a developer can be quite different to this. Most developers work on a flexi-time system, allowing you to start and finish work at different times each day. A day’s work can, however, be extended on short notice and it is expected that this will be completed as part of your normal pay.
Working for a developer will also mean that you are much more likely to be affected by “Crunch Periods”. This is a period of time before key milestones of the game-making process are completed. During this time a lot of pressure is placed on teams to take on very long hours with the incentive of cash bonuses if the work is finished on time.
When working long hours, game companies will try to make you feel as comfortable as possible. Many will have an on-site canteen to provide hot meals, and most have kitchens for making snacks and drinks throughout the day. It is quite common for companies to order take-away food for staff during crunch times, to be eaten in the office as work continues.
In both a publisher and a developer, testing usually takes place in an open-plan office environment. Every worker has their own equipment for testing and a computer for writing reports on. Office atmospheres are generally quite relaxed and it is not uncommon for slow periods of work to be filled by the playing of multiplayer games for fun, and to build staff morale.
Experience is not usually seen as the highest priority when applying for a job in games testing. As the job is so popular, however, having experience can be vital in helping you to stand out from the crowd. Some studios will offer work experience to local schools, but many choose not to do this to reduce the risk of information leaks.
It is very rare to find a company who offers testing work experience to people of any age; one company who does do this, however, is Lionhead Studios. You can find more information about their work experience scheme in the Related Links section of this guide.
Outside testing itself there are not any specific previous jobs that employers look for in new candidates. Any previous work with computers can be beneficial as this will show you have some basic technical understanding. Jobs that show you have an interest in games, such as working in a videogame retail store, can also help to increase your chances.
- Bizarre Creations – Liverpool – Developer
- Evolution Studios – Runcorn – Developer
- Sony Computer Entertainment Europe – Liverpool – Publisher
- SCEE Liverpool Studio – Liverpool – Developer
- Code Masters – Warwickshire – Developer/Publisher
- Rare – Twycross – Developer
- Lionhead Studios – Guildford – Developer
- Media Molecule – Guildford – Developer
- Microsoft – Guildford – Publisher
- Electronic Arts – Guildford/London – Developer/Publisher
- Sony Computer Entertainment – London – Developer/Publisher
- Rockstar North – Edinburgh – Developer
- Realtime Worlds – Dundee – Developer/Publisher
There are literally hundreds of jobs that you can move to from being a games tester. The most common career progression is in test itself, moving up to a Lead Tester, Test Manager or Test Supervisor role. All of these jobs are concerned with quality assurance and bug checking but, the further you move up the ladder, the more the role becomes about planning and people management in these areas.
Testing is known as being an entry-level job as it also opens up paths into other areas of games production. Testing can help to provide you with vital experience for jobs as a Designer or Producer, and can help you to gain access to jobs in Art and Coding, although these roles will also require the correct skills and education.
Also known as…
- Computer Games Tester
- Videogames Tester
- Mobile Games Tester
- Software Tester
What’s it really like?
Stuart has been employed by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe since 2006. He began working there straight after finishing his degree, and after 6 months was offered a permanent contract. He currently tests first party software, looking for functionality and quality assurance bugs. Here are his thoughts on the job….
I’ve worked on a variety of titles over the years from triple A games like Killzone 2 and Little Big Planet, as well as PSN titles such as Wipeout HD and Savage Moon. One of the best things about the job for me is just being a part of the industry, as gaming has always been one of my favourite hobbies. Getting to see new games before they are shown to the public can be quite exciting, and talking to people who are filled with enthusiasm and ideas for the games they are making is fascinating. Seeing how a game develops from its initial stages to its final release is also really interesting as each game can be different and unpredictable.
On a typical day I will be working on the same title for over seven and a half hours, playing either certain sections of a game or performing an entire playthrough. We might be asked as a team to enter every bug that we find or only the serious crashes and hangs; this all depends on the titles stage of development. There are also plenty of times when we simply “play about” with a title. Although this might not sound like work, it is actually one of the best ways to find natural bugs.
Game testing is not as easy as it sounds; there are many downsides to being a tester that have to be considered seriously. Working on the same game for several months to a year, for example, can get very monotonous. Finding self motivation and focus during these times is crucial, and an important skill. Another thing to remember is that testing a game is very different to playing one. If you come into the job thinking you are going to be playing and having fun with the games then you will be very disappointed.
If I had to give one tip to anyone looking for a job in games testing it would be to apply to as many games companies as they can. Don’t be too picky as gaining even 3 months experience can help, and just being in the industry will instantly make it easier for you to hear about other available jobs. Personally I am looking to progress into a focus-test driven design role but there are plenty of other areas that can open up to you. Networking is the key to taking advantage of these opportunities, so making as many friends as possible is very important.