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.
A game development company, also called a game developer or game studio, is a company that makes games. Although that may seem obvious, it is distinct from a game publishing company, which funds, markets, manufactures and sells games. Some game studios are owned by game publishers; an example of this would be Infinity Ward, which is owned by Activision. Others, such as Naughty Dog, are independently owned companies that may work for several publishers. Other developers are individuals or a group of individuals, called “indies”, who work freelance.
Most of the employees at a game studio work on one or more development team. A development team is managed by a development director (also called a producer, project manager, or team lead) who is responsible for assigning team members their work tasks, monitoring work progress, and providing them with what they need for doing their work. Large teams may have a number of production people involved in project management.
The rest of the team is comprised of people working in one of these three disciplines:
- Design: Responsible for determining the game premise, rules, objectives, obstacles, resources, story and other play elements. Large teams may be comprised of a lead designer overseeing system designers, user interface designers, technical designers, content designers, level designers and writers.
- Artist: Responsible for creating the game’s art. Large teams may be comprised of a lead artist or art director overseeing concept artists, user interface artists, 2D or sprite artists, 3D modelers, riggers, animators, and environmental artists.
- Programmer: Responsible for implementing the game design, art and other assets on the game platform. Large teams may be comprised of a lead programmer or technical director overseeing engine programmers, system programmers, user interface programmers, audio programmers, artificial intelligence programmers, multiplayer programmers, tool programmers and scripters.
Some development personnel may not be needed throughout the entire project and therefore work outside of the team structure so that they can assist multiple teams at the times when they are needed. These include:
- Middleware programmers: Responsible for developing tools that will be used on multiple projects.
- Audio team: Responsible for creating the game’s music, sound effects, and voice-over.
- Quality Assurance: Responsible for testing the game to make sure that the game is fun play along all player choices and that everything has been successfully implemented.
If the game’s scope is larger than the studio’s staff can handle or requires specialized skills, then the studio may outsource some of the work to third-party companies responsible for such tasks as additional artwork, cut scenes, motion capture or foreign language localization.
Finally, there are employees who handle the functions all companies need:
- Office manager: Responsible for ensuring that everyone has the supplies and resources they need to do their jobs.
- Accountant: Responsible for paying bills and handling payroll.
- Human Resources: Responsible for employee benefits and assisting in the hiring (and firing) of employees.
- Information Technology: Responsible for ensuring that employees’ technical needs, such as internet access and email, are met.
- Business Development: Responsible for finding new business opportunities and clients to work for, and keeping current clients happy.
Then there are the employees who work at a game publisher, but that’s another post for another day.