The Life of a Video Game Tester
Testing, or quality assurance, is an extremely important job in the game industry. It is a low-paying job, at or near minimum wage, and the working conditions aren’t always the greatest (I once visited Activison’s testing department — it was crowded, dark, and the smell of body order was overpowering), but for many people in the game industry — especially designers and producers — it was their first job.
Being a game tester is not as glamorous as it may sound to some. It involves playing the game before it is fun to play. You may be playing the same broken level over and over again, either trying to find new errors, or replicating the one you just found so that you can document the steps for recreating it. Then, after the problem is addressed by the development team, you need to verify that it was indeed fix and that the fix did not introduce new problems.
Being a good tester requires you to be observant, persistent, methodical, and have excellent communication skills. There are actually two personality types or approaches to testing: The Judger, who follows checklists and does repetitive testing to find content errors; and The Perceiver, who does open-ended testing and tries unconventional things to find context errors.
As important as the testing function is, QA people are often not treated with much respect in the game industry. Part of the reason is that it is an entry-level position, but perhaps an even bigger reason is that developers get upset when someone finds bugs in their work. And many of them do not want to be given design suggestions (mainly because they are trying to meet a launch deadline) and would rather you just find programming defects. This is unfortunately, because testers can have great insight and sometimes fixing a problem correctly involves a design change instead of a programming change.
If you are interested in a testing job, many of the big publishers and studios, such as Activision and Electronic Arts, have permanent testing departments. Check their websites for job openings. Smaller developers hire testers on an as needed basis, and some use Craigs List to find part-time help.