Wanted: Video Game Tester

I have seen the advertisements too. "Get paid to be a video game tester!!!" The promise that game companies will pay you hundreds of dollars to sit on your couch and play video games. Really? And you will be a bona fide software tester. Really?

If sitting at home playing games all day is what you’re looking for, then you have come to the wrong site. It you are serious about becoming a professional tester, I’m here to get you going.

I can tell you what my firsthand experience was when I worked as a video game tester at a large game company. What I won’t do is sell you empty promises claiming that you can make a living by laying on your couch gaming all day.

If you really want to become a video game tester, then you should know what to expect. You should know that a job testing games for a living is a very different beast than sitting around gaming with your friends all weekend. You should know how you can expect to be treated, who you will be working with, and how you can expect them to smell.

Smell??? Yes, smell…but we’ll get to that in a minute…

The Life of a Temp Video Game Tester

Most of the big game companies hire testers seasonally. They need extra warm bodies to perform their tests to get the game finished in time to be on the shelves in time for the Christmas shopping rush and for the Spring/Summer restock.

Almost all of these hires are temps. They may even be the same temps season after season. What they are NOT: RFTE = Regular Full Time Employee. An RFTE gets benefits. An RFTE may get stock options. An RFTE can participate in offsite parties. An RFTE is subject to reviews and raises.

Temps don’t get any of this. This is due to companies’ fear of liability (look up the old Microsoft temp employee lawsuit).

If you are hired as a temp video game tester, you will not get any of the fringe benefits listed above. You will be worked as hard and as long as they can – you DO get overtime – but this does not mean that you will be converted into an RFTE.

I have a colleague that was on a testing team at a large game company where I once worked. He had been a valued and professional QA tester with his previous employer (where I had trained him) and now was working as a temp at this game company.

His team (Temps and RFTEs) was put on a schedule of 15-hour days 6 days a week for 3 months. This was voluntary, but all those that attempted to opt out were highly pressured and if they didn’t agree were released (California is an “at will” employment state).

The Promise: The company would throw a huge party to celebrate their achievement if they hit the date.
The Reality: The company did indeed hold quite the celebratory shindig. However, fearing liability, the Temps on the team were not allowed to attend.
The Reward: The temps were each presented with $10 gift certificates to a movie theater chain.

I tell you this story not to scare you away from working for a big game company, but simply to inform you. There are undoubtedly others that have temped and had much more rewarding experiences. You make your own choice – at least now it can be an informed one.

Your Coworkers and You
These large gaming companies staff the majority of their Quality Assurance departments with gamers. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a gamer. But let’s be clear – a gamer is a gamer. A professional video game tester does more than just game.

Having the need to complete thousands of manual tests within a short window, these companies must hire disposable staff. You will work with temps that have no desire to be professional testers – they just want to play games and have found one way to get paid for it (at least for a short time). The company gives these employees the title of “QA Tester” – this does the Quality Assurance community no favors.

If you want people to game with at lunch, you’re in the right place. But if you want to grow your testing skills and take them to the next level, you’re probably not.

This is not to say that everyone that you work with will be a gamer. On the contrary, you will find coworkers who truly are developing their testing craft. But please remember that these are the exception…not the rule.

Testing is Not the same as Gaming
As rewarding and enjoyable as testing games can be, becoming a video game tester entails more than you would probably think.

Getting a job playing games is one thing, actually testing them is another. Finding bugs and reporting them, pouring over every single possible path through the game, tracking every combination available to the user, and contributing to the overall quality of a shipped product is a much more disciplined endeavor than just sitting down to enjoy endless hours playing your favorite game.

You also may have to test a game or genre that you don’t really like. While your testing brethren are fleshing out the latest nuances of the newest networked racing game, you may be verifying that Spongebob is wearing the correct outfit in each game scene you have been assigned the responsibility for.

You should also know beforehand that after playing development versions (read: unstable, incomplete, and crash-prone) of your favorite game for 4-6 months (or longer), you may never really enjoy playing that game again the way that you used to. Seeing which features are left out, which bugs get deferred, and how disorganized the software development process can be might very well change the way you view your favorite games. So yes, believe it or not being a video game tester does have a few drawbacks.

Your Coworkers and You – Part II…What is that smell?

Since your testing department will be filled with gamers, I should offer one final warning…some of them don’t smell very good. Now this is not just some rant about the lack of personal hygiene practiced by some video game players.

What I am talking about is the smell that is produced when many people:
• Eat every meal out of the company vending machines
• Game (on work premises) at every chance during their non-work hours
• Never go somewhere that they have a chance to bathe

So imagine if you will: multiple bodies covered in a stale sweat that is the byproduct of pork rinds, hot pockets, bagel dogs, and artificial cheese stuff, in a poorly ventilated space, for days at a time. This is not a work environment I would wish on anyone – especially after experiencing it myself.

But if you want experience…
All that being said, if you want to break into the Quality Assurance field, want to get paid to play games, or just want to see what the whole deal is about, by all means get a job at one of these large gaming companies as a video game tester. Securing an entry-level position is generally easier because they have the openings (at least seasonally) and have the bandwidth to hire several untrained gamers.

I don’t agree with most of their processes or methodologies, but it can be a place for you to get a start. If you plan to go this route, do yourself a favor and prepare. Check out the Testing Basics. If you really are serious about getting paid real money to play games, invest in yourself and find out what you need to know to Succeed as a QA Tester.

Return from Video Game Tester Truths to Successful Quality Assurance Home

E-mail Address
First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you SQA the Right Way!.