Games Game December 2009
Each month, industry veteran Tom Sloper provides career guidance to game biz wannabes, newbies, and junior professionals with the goal of helping them break into the industry, and stay in. Submit a question to Tom for developer-oriented advice in this column (IGDA members only).
Choosy Tester (December 2009)
I want to work in Quality Assurance, but I only want to test FPS's or RTS's. I don't want to test any movie licensed games or kids' games or some goofy Wii game for girls. So how do I make sure I get the kind of test jobs I want and am most qualified for?
Choosy Tester Candidate
I can only tell you how to increase your chances. I don't have a magic formula.
You want to look at two kinds of company: developers of your preferred genre, and publishers of your preferred genre.
Developers typically have a smaller need for testers than publishers do. A development company might employ play testers (testers who test the play of the game) and smoke testers (testers who just run the game to see if it even works) and certification testers (testers who are more technical, and check the game for platform requirements compliance). A development company knows that the bulk of the testing will be performed by the publisher, so their QA need is not as great as a publisher's. Besides, the game designers and level designers can perform play balance testing. The programmers themselves perform smoke tests and check for certification requirements compliance. And unless the developer is big enough to have multiple projects going simultaneously, in various stages or phases, the need for testers may be sporadic. A development company is typically smaller than a publishing company. So while you get to wear more hats at a developer, the number of testers needed at a typical game development company is smaller than the number of testers needed at a publisher. Fewer opportunities.
Publishers typically have a sizeable Quality Assurance department. But the majority of their testers may be employed through a staffing agency (meaning the testers aren't full-time employees of the publishing company itself). And their work may be seasonal, with periods of layoffs between busy seasons. And a publisher usually has a variety of games needing testing (in a variety of genres and on a variety of platforms). Even a publisher that makes FPS's or RTS's may well make other kinds of games as well. And a publisher who hires you through a staffing agency probably has to lay you off after a year, due to legal technicalities of employment law.
So if you only want to test FPS's or RTS's, you have to do your homework. First identify developers and publishers of those genres. Then you need to identify pockets of them -- areas where multiple such developers and publishers have their offices. You don't want to move to an area where there's just one company and pin all your hopes on that one company keeping you employed full time (much less giving you a job in the first place). Then you'll have to move to one of those areas. QA testers don't get hired long distance.
Lastly, you have to realize that if you get a job testing for such a company, it's quite possible they'll need you to test games outside of your special area of interest. I recommend that you keep your options flexible, and not be too choosy lest you find yourself unable to get a job at all.
Please note that there is no guarantee that Tom will be able to respond to all the questions he receives. It is up to his discretion which questions he uses for this column. For further advice and resources, check out the IGDA's discussion forums, the Breaking In web site and the Students & Newbies Outreach section.
Tom Sloper's game biz career began over twenty years ago at Western Technologies, where he designed LCD games and the Vectrex games "Spike" and "Bedlam". There followed stints at Sega Enterprises, Rudell Design, Atari Corporation, and Activision. In 12 years at Activision, Tom produced 36 unique game titles (plus innumerable ports and localizations), designed four games, and won five awards. Tom worked for several months in Activision's Japan operation, in Tokyo. He is perhaps best known for designing, managing and producing Activision's "Shanghai" line. He is currently consulting, writing, speaking, teaching, and developing original games. Find out more at Sloperama.
© 2009 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.