Playing Video Games for a Living is Just as Terrible as It Sounds

Illustration for article titled Playing Video Games for a Living is Just as Terrible as It Sounds

Game testing and QA positions can be really rough jobs, as previous lawsuits and even a webcomic attest.

Though the testing process is vital to good game development, not all developers or publishers necessarily consider their testers to be vital employees, it seems. IGN spoke with several, recently, seeking to discover where, on the spectrum between dream and nightmare, the job truly lies.

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Repetitious tasks and low compensation, the first two major issues IGN delves into, are sadly endemic to many a profession. But other issues raised by the interviewed employees don't just describe unpleasant working conditions, but occasionally dangerous ones:

For Frank, this meant mandatory overtime every day. "It got borderline illegal. It got to that point when I was so tired at three or four in the morning that I passed out a couple of times. Others did too and not anyone of us disturbed that person. We just let it go for a bit and brought each other back to life when we needed to."

Can workers in these positions agitate for change or switch employers? Not often, it seems. It's a small world and temporary employment contracts work in the employers' favor:

Reuben adds, "If management doesn't like someone, they just refuse to renew their contract, thus avoiding any hassle at all. This leads to people who start asking questions about workload and length to be branded as trouble makers and their contracts are simply not extended."

"The part that really hurts is that the industry is so small that if for some reason you are let go, most companies in your area know about it and won't hire you."

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The combination of low pay, long hours, tedious tasks, and poor job security would naturally seem to drive away applicants. But particularly in recent years, unemployment has been riding high and even a crummy job can be better than no job. What's more, gaming is a very popular and competitive industry, and many workers want in. The allure of "playing games all day" will always attract new employees, even into high-turnover positions.

However, as in any other industry, some companies are better to work for than others. IGN cites organizations like Blizzard and Valve that value both the QA process and the contributions of the employees who make it work. If every publisher out there felt they had the time and money to devote more resources to testing, we'd not only have better working environments out there — we'd probably have better games to go with.

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The Tough Life of a Games Tester [IGN]

(Top photo: Shutterstock)

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DISCUSSION

For people who think testing games is the same as playing games, you really need a reality check.

You may enjoy playing games until dawn and spend hours doing it for free. But you are also not doing some of the tasks that a typical games QA tester might be involved in.

Some examples of real life tasks I've witnessed (or personally done) before:

- Timing the length of loading times with a stopwatch. Repeat for every loading screen in the game.

- Start a game with one combination of player head + uniform + arena. Repeat for every single combination.

- Load up player profiles. Check his stats against the database. Repeat for every player.

- At each point of the game, remove the controller. Make sure the game prompts you to replace the controller. Repeat for every point in the game. Repeat for every combination of controllers, both connected and removed (so removing controller 3 when only player 1,3 and 4 have controllers on, etc)

- Leave a console on overnight. Check it every few hours to make sure it hasn't crashed.

- Go through the game. Find all in game messages according to a long list. Make sure all the text is correct, has punctuation, properly spaced.

- Play through Dynasty/Franchise mode and make sure it works properly at year 20 with all teams.

And if you run into any bugs while testing them, you have to go back and do this again when it's fixed. And again when the next QA cycle begins. And god help you if you find a serious bug that you're not sure how you did it.

Let's face it. Game testing is a exercise of doing things that are annoying, for 4-5 months at a time, on games that are broken and in genres you hate, over and over and over again. It's NOTHING like playing games.