Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

See that blog title? That's what you can expect from TGAM: cliched post titles. That and tits. Anyway, today I am proud to bring you an interview with someone who properly works in the Games Industry, unlike us scrotes who sit on the periphery. Below is an interview with a lady who has had years of experience in games testing and went on to set up her own games testing company, which, is widely regarded as one of the best QA Testing companies around and doesn't let schlep pass through the door and out the other side unlike other companies. She has chosen the synonym Jill Valentine for this interview which, sure is nice for us because it's like Jill was actually here.

C11: Hello, Jill, welcome to TGAM.
JV: Hello. I'd like to say it's nice to be here but....

C11: Isn't games testing just an opportunity to get paid for playing games?
JV: Yes and no. Do you remember some of the ridiculous time limit challenges in the original Goldeneye that you had to complete to unlock cheats and other bonus stuff? You ended up memorising the whole level and would force a restart if you got stuck on a corner for that extra key second. Well, imagine playing one of those levels of Goldeneye over and over and over again. Using every possible weapon/object and standing in every nook and cranny and seeing if you could break the game. You have to speed run levels to test the spawning and scripting and you also have to play as slow as possible. And everything in between. Most games testers can't stand to play the games they've tested again because they're sick of it. If games were films, test audiences would have to sit through films sped up, slowed down, in every other language for days on end. That analogy was quite poor actually. Games testing is nothing like film screening to a test audience. Another key difference is that if a test audience hates the ending it will be changed. If games testers hate a game story it'll pretty much remain unchanged, be hated by reviewers and then hated by the great unwashed.

C11: So, here at TGAM we blame a lot of the shortcomings in games on poor play testing. Is it fair to say that titles with game breaking glitches is just down to shoddy play testing?
JV: More often than not it is purely down to time constraints, it's all very bureaucratic in the QA industry. Everybody wants to put pressure on someone else, marketers, publishers, developers and the further up the food chain you go the less they know about the game. All they have is a spreadsheet with numbers demanding that Title X be out in time for the Xmas rush regardless of quality. Expect to see a lot more of this in the near future as more and more publishers are merging.

C11: How much creative input do testers have? If a poor clone game comes in for testing, is it encouraged for testers to point out that this is a bit of game X and some of game Y but not as good as either?
JV: That's tough but a good point to raise. When I started working as a tester it was really dependent on dev cycles. Some companies have been through developer hell and their game is two years overdue, half the staff have jumped ship and they put it through testing almost as a formality. It's shipping anyway, the release date has been set by the publishers and there's no time to fix the bugs that testers find. It was partly this factor, which led me to set up my own company. So now when we get a game in I encourage the testers to put in any feedback they think necessary. So, like in your example, we've fed back to developers saying "Look your game is the lovechild of a poor man's GTA and a last gen Poker game. And it's worse than either of those games". After the initial shock, they often come round and in one case some of the Lead Tester got to go back to the drawing board with the developers and ended up feeding directly into the structure of the game. Ideally, all the games we get to test would be like that. More often than not though we're told in no uncertain terms that Game X will be on the shelves by Date X.

C11: So how is it that games like Top Trumps Dogs n Dinosaurs ever get released?
JV: There's no need for play testing for a game to be released. There is a relationship between how smoothly a game plays and how well it is picked up at retail but if publishers think they can knock up a cheapo horrible game and con enough people to buy it to make a profit, they'll go with it. Testers will grudgingly make sure it plays on your machine and has a title screen and you can save games and whatnot.

C11: The enigmatic confused granny?
JV: Precisely, you can all whinge on and on about it on your precious blogs and forums, but at the end of the day, if Ubisoft, or whoever, were losing money on all those film tie-ins and pet simulator games you wouldn't see new ones on the shelf quarter in and quarter out.

C11: So if we want to stop the dross we've got to target Grannies who think their Grandchildren would like Petz 4: Frogs and Stick insects?
JV: Ha. Yes. Target the Grannies. Perhaps you should set up some evening classes to inform them all about the evil of the £5 game.

C11: Is becoming a games tester a good way to break into the games industry proper?
JV: Testers are the front line of the industry, without QA the industry would collapse. And yes, it's a good way to break in the same way that playing a character in the Bill is a good way to break into Hollywood. That's a no. The answer is no. The people who make games are some of the most highly qualified personnel in some pretty obscure areas, as yet there is no real formal route into making games but this is slowly shifting. Formerly, it was the bedroom programmers of the 70s and 80s who ended up as the CEOs of games developers and publishers. More recently it has been the rising talent picked up by those bedroom programmers but now that there are degree programs and such it's harder for those truly creative talents to stand out on their own unless they happen to go into formal games degree programs. Having said that though, there are many testers who I have known who have ended up in the games industry proper but it's merely because whilst they were testing to earn a wage, they were otherwise knocking up builds and demos and mods for a folio in their own free time. It's purely because most game testers have an interest in video games that they do testing but to break into the industry (in the UK at least) you gotta have more than a deviant art page and work experience testing games. But I will say that your chances of 'breaking' into the games industry because you spent 10 years as a tester or lead tester are slim to none.

C11: So testers are the unsung heroes of the "Gaming industry"?
JV: Yes and no. I mean, let`s make it clear individual playtesters are disposable but they can make a great game flawless and a good game "polished" but they can only make a bad game work.

C11: So how come we don`t see "Playtester of the year award" at any one of the 1456 gaming awards ceremonies?
JV: Yes. The awards. More award ceremonies than any other media. None of which are good and all of which seem to be less than above board.

C11: Yeah GRAW-gate and that recent strategy award rubbish. At least there``s an Oscar for making credits on films.
JV: Really?

C11: Yeah some old woman won a lifetime achievement award for doing credit rolls. Everyone was like "Yep. Woman knows how to do credits".
JV: Wow. Maybe there should be an bug-hunter BAFTA or something.

C11: What about the NAVIGaTR awards? Should the UK have such an institution?
JV: Have you seen their award shows? No. No definitely not.

C11: Okay what's the latest games you've been working on and what's the ending?
JV: Well, normally I'd be breaking all kinds of agreements by telling you any of this but since you asked nicely, we're working on Horsez 2: Heavy Petting and the latest Sponge Bob GBA tie-in game.

C11: I don't believe you but thanks for spending the time. Did you know you are only the second real person to be interviewed by TGAM?
JV: It's a pleasure and thank you for your semi-compliment.

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