Confessions of a Game Tester

Sept 20, 2007

Dream job?

It's the profession some know as "getting paid to play." When people hear what game testers get to do for a living the response is often along the lines of "You get paid to do that? That's gotta be the best job in the world!" But what is testing really like? We talked to some real-life testers and got some seriously honest answers.

What's it really like being a tester?

Tester A: I hate to ruin people's fantasies about the glamour and glitz of the game industry, but testing is not as cool as it sounds. Try to imagine a job where it is your responsibility to open and close a door for 12 hours a day 6 days a week just to see what happens. That is not to say that the job can't be fun if you are working on a game that you like.

Tester B: I often hear 'Wow, you played video games for a living,' and while it was fun at times, it isn't a dream job by any stretch of the imagination. You don't really play the game, you play an assigned part of it.

For instance, if it's a multi-character game, you may be assigned a specific character, and told 'Ok, today take that guy and use every weapon and every fighting combo and make sure they all work right.' It can get pretty tedious. Another misconception is that the pay is good - it isn't. Testers are the bottom of the entire game development process, and layoffs are common.

Above: If you land a job as a game tester, it probably won't be for Halo 4 or Grand Theft Auto V

Tester C: The novelty of playing games for a living can wear off very quickly, particularly if the game you are working on is not of interest to you. Can you imagine working 40+ hours a week testing games like Strawberry Shortcake or Barbie Horse Adventure?

Some poor souls had to do that. Also, you're not just playing the game; you're constantly evaluating it, taking down notes, writing up bugs in the database, communicating with developers and other testers, looking for ways the game can be improved, and creating documents and spreadsheets. All in all, you come to realize that it is a job after all, with a lot of responsibilities.

Tester E: 99% of testing is not about playing the game for fun. The focus is primarily on breaking the game, which could be as simple as a playthrough, as repetitive as running into walls for hours at a time, or as complex as isolating a platform-specific bug that only occurs when multiple variables are set a certain way.

Simply being a skilled gamer doesn't in any way mean you can test. If a bug isn't communicated properly, the information is worthless. Those who can't communicate their thoughts or have a poor work ethic usually won't last long.

Matthew Keast
My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.