What it’s like to be a videogames tester?

Videogames testing: where you get paid to play games all day. Sounds great? Here's one person's story...

Videogames testing is the kind of job that sounds quite idyllic on paper. Sitting around playing games all day, in exchange for cash? That’s the kind of carrot that’s hard to resist. But what’s it actually like? Well, glad you asked.

 About six years ago, I was working in retail with another Christmas looming and had a flashback to the same time the year before when I told myself “I won’t be here next Christmas”. Yet there I was, ready to stuff an entire box of mince pies in my ears to stop the festive music infesting my brain for yet another shift. My brother sent me a link on Facebook that one of his university friends had posted for a games testing job based in Germany. Despite having zero experience besides playing the odd video game in my youth and not speaking a word of German, I applied and thought future me could worry about that if I needed to. When I got an email asking if I would complete a short functionality test, I was pleasantly surprised and on the verge of giddy.

The test was pretty basic proofreading and writing a bug report from a couple of screenshots from a game – nothing horrendously strenuous. Managing to pass that, I was then deemed worthy of a Skype interview. I of course did that thing where I was dressed up and looking super professional on the top half but had my pyjamas bottoms and fluffy slippers on under the desk – standard Skype meeting attire.

A couple of days later I was offered the job for a three month contract and was asked to start two weeks later. They got me started and arranged my accommodation which is ideal because I wouldn’t have known where to start. And then in what felt like a blink of an eye, I was suddenly sat on a Lufthansa airplane heading to Frankfurt knowing no one and dreading the complex language barrier that was ahead. The first day on the job was different to what I was expecting. We weren’t in dark rooms sitting on bean bags surrounded by snacks yelling “NOOB” into our headsets. It was an actual place of business, in a standard office at desks with computers.

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I specifically tested games for the Nintendo 3DS, so there was no need for some insane six screen set up like you’d seen in a film or TV show that time. The main game I tested was tactical role-playing game, Fire Emblem Awakening. It took the best part of a year to fully test.  The job was pretty straightforward: everyone was allocated a particular chapter of the game and you’d play it through multiple times noting every single bug in the gameplay, like a character getting stuck in a particular street despite there being nothing in its way, or text flying around the screen making it illegible. Every minute detail was logged on a collaborative program that was essentially a mindblasting version of an Excel/Google doc. Simultaneously you’d also be on the look out for spelling mistakes, weird in-game text that didn’t make sense and random uses of punctuation.

All the games were from Japan so they were translated into English first before they could be translated into other languages.

 Sounds easy? To be completely honest, it was. We’d basically have a week where we’d be busy testing away and a week sitting around waiting for the next game build. Waiting for new builds of games was a lengthy process while all our copious notes were being read and attempted to be resolved. It sounds good having loads of down time, but you’d still be in the office every day regardless of whether you had a build to work on or not. You’d work 50% of the time and be sitting at your desk trying not to go insane of boredom the other 50%. Once the new build would come in you’d start all over again, retesting the same chapter to mark any fixed bugs and typos and logging any fresh ones or reflagging any that were still there. If you could mark every bug you’d logged as fixed, then you could move onto the next untested chapter of the game.

As a basic Localisation and Quality Assurance Tester, there were never any huge red flags in terms of stress or overwhelming pressure. When testing we had ample time to test and log every single detail – it takes as long as it takes and there was always time for breaks. Sometimes when there’s such a big bug to plough through in one section, those breaks and chatting to colleagues are what keep you sane.

Fire Emblem was a pretty decent game to test, I really ended up getting into it despite claiming it wasn’t my type of game – I had always been more of a FPS/Action-Adventure kind of player – Left 4 Dead, Red Dead Redemption, Hitman and GTA were my poison. If we were to travel back in time, you’d see me on my Amiga 500 playing SuperFrog, Back To The Future II or Shadow Of The Beast II, which I was definitely too young to play at the time and the backstory terrified me but I was adamant that I was going to save my kidnapped baby sister. If you actually look at the opening scenes of Shadow Of The Beast II, there’s a typo where they’ve written ‘babes’ instead of ‘babies’ – a tester should have flagged that, y’know….

After spending ten months testing Fire Emblem we moved onto a role-playing sports game called Inazuma Eleven 3 which had three different versions. It was the most repetitious game I’ve played in my entire life; it probably didn’t help I have zero interest in football. Even the bugs were repetitive, but the most frustrating was one that meant you could never win on a specific football match which meant you continued playing the match until you were ready to throw your DS out the window. I lasted about a week testing that game when I decided it was time for me to head back to the UK. Now I’m not saying this experience is exactly the same for each testing role at every company (and stories of crunch in the gaming industry are not in short supply) and even though my three month contract quickly turned into a full year, it gave me a rough idea that although on paper it sounds like an amazing job, in reality perhaps it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Not for me, anyway. There are plenty of people in the industry who absolutely love testing games and if that’s your thing, I say go for it. After all if you don’t try, you’ll never know will you? I’m definitely glad I took the leap and it’s also pretty cool that I can say that my name appears in the credits for one of the biggest games that console released.

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Still didn’t like that football game, though…