Ever wondered how you can get paid to play video games? Well, if you possess the right blend of employable skills and technical know-how, then a job in this highly lucrative and ever-expanding industry could be yours for the taking.
This is everything you need to know on how to become a video game tester…
1. Research the Profession
As with any potential career path, you should always research the profession thoroughly. This will give you a clearer indication of what you’re letting yourself in for, including any downsides.
Game testers are hired by development studios to play through unfinished versions of their game, looking specifically for any bugs or glitches and then reporting back their findings. Contrary to popular belief, they are not tasked with ‘reviewing’ the playability of the game but acting instead as quality assurance (QA) testers.
This is an important distinction to make. As a video game tester, you won’t be ‘playing’ games as such – you’ll be testing them. That means that you will be trying to ‘break’ the game by doing things that the developers and programmers might not expect a player to do. Finding these bugs, recreating them and – most importantly – communicating them is a game tester’s bread and butter.
Your day-to-day responsibilities may include:
- being assigned a full game (or one section of a larger game) and attempting to find as many bugs as possible
- trying to recreate the bug so that the programmers will be able to find it
- documenting everything that you find using internal specialist software
- presenting written reports, either to lead testers or to the programming/design team
- attending meetings and consultations with other testers and/or the programming/design team as required
- possibly working alongside programmers and developers to tackle more complex bugs.
Essential Skills and Qualities
Soft skills are a hugely important part of beta testing; game developers are less interested in your level 51 Prestige, after all, and more in your ability to write a coherent and understandable bug report. These are the key skills and characteristics you need:
- communication skills – it’s no good finding a bug if you can’t explain to the developers what it is and how/where to find it
- attention to detail – you will need to have an eye for the small details, whether it’s noticing something that looks out of place or memorising what you did to trigger a certain glitch
- creative skills – you’re trying to break the game; that means you need to think outside the box when it comes to player interactions
- a strong work ethic – although it might sound fun, game testing can entail long hours and huge amounts of repetition; you need to be able to stay focused, enthusiastic and productive for long periods of time.
Working Hours and Conditions
In the majority of cases, it is not possible to test games from home; instead, you would likely be required to work within the studio’s offices alongside other testers. This means that you should ideally live in or around a tech city, with some of the most developer and publisher-heavy locations including:
- Austin, USA
- Brisbane, Australia
- Kiev, Ukraine
- London, UK
- Montreal, Canada
- San Francisco, USA
- Seoul, South Korea
- Stockholm, Sweden
- Tokyo, Japan
You will also likely log a lot of hours, particularly during critical stages of the development process; it’s not unheard of to put in 90-hour weeks when release date deadlines are close. The lack of job security can also lead to stress, with some companies setting bug quotas that determine whether or not a contractor is laid off.
In terms of salary, it’s no secret that video game testing doesn’t pay a lot. Much of the work is contracted out, with most developers paying hourly rates of between $10 (£7.59) and $20 (£15.19), subject to commission. (That said, some of the larger studios may offer fixed contracts and salaries.)
This also means that, in most cases, you won’t be entitled to healthcare or any other associated perks and benefits, either. There are reports of QA testers being paid similar rates as far back as the late 90s, too, so don’t expect those rates to go up anytime soon.
There are no growth outlook figures available specifically for video game testers, although software development as an industry is predicted to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the world over the next 10 years. Indeed, video games have evolved massively over the last decade, and it is now a multibillion dollar industry. This trend is only set to continue, with more titles being produced across an array of platforms than ever before.
2. Get the Qualifications
Video game testing and QA testing in general is considered an entry-level position, meaning that there are no formal education requirements. However, if you ever hope to progress further than testing and move into programming or designing, then you will almost certainly require a college or university-level education.
Obviously, experience of playing video games will help. If you have a background in programming or game design mechanics, then this might also give you an advantage when it comes to determining the causes of certain bugs. On the whole, though, how you sell yourself to potential employers is the most important thing.
3. Land Your First Job
Due to the aforementioned lack of job security, QA testing experiences a high amount of turnover; therefore, positions are available fairly frequently. Consult all the usual online job boards and also the individual websites of as many studios and developers as you can find in your area, and make sure your CV is up to scratch.
Don’t forget to include a cover letter detailing your passion for gaming and your motivations for becoming involved in the industry, either, as this can help to set you apart from the crowd.
As mentioned, qualifications are not the most important aspect of a potential game tester’s application. You need to demonstrate that you can be flexible, willing to work long hours and in possession of the basic skills necessary, such as communication and attention to detail. Make sure you focus on this during the interview process, rather than your exploits within the fictional worlds of Tamriel, Azeroth and the Animus.
Finally, be wary of fake job scams, too. If it sounds too good to be true, then it most likely is. As with any career, you should never give up payment in exchange for being ‘introduced’ to a potential job opportunity, even if it looks legitimate.
4. Develop Your Career
As touched upon already, the relatively low rates of pay, high turnover and long hours mean that game testing is seen as more of a job than a career. And while it is possible to progress to a senior or lead tester position, the majority see QA testing as a steppingstone into a programming position.
If this is your goal, then you will still need a relevant degree or qualification, and it’s unlikely your employer will fund it. As a result, many testers use the money that they make to fund their degree, leaning on the industry insight and experience that they have built up as well as the all-important network of contacts they have made.
Alternatively, you could move into software QA testing, which generally tends to offer more job opportunities, better pay and a more stable working environment.
There are a lot of misconceptions around what life is like as a game tester. Most certainly, it is not a case of sitting around playing advance copies of the next big-budget title before anyone else. It can be an invaluable experience, though, especially if you are adamant on beginning a career within the video games industry. As long as your expectations are realistic and you enjoy the work, then there’s no reason why such a position can’t be yours.
Have you ever worked as a video game tester? What were your experiences? Let us know in the comments below…