It has been seen as a career entry point and, by some, even a late-stage afterthought of development, but QA and localisation are vital parts of the development process. Sean Cleaver speaks to those in the industry to find out how perceptions have changed about this area of the business
Quality assurance and localisation are some of the most important parts of video game development. When your game goes out of the door, you want it to be working and don’t want it to become an internet meme of poorly translated language.
When video game career paths are discussed, QA often seems to be a stepping-stone or entry point. It’s certainly a great way to get into the games industry. “I was living in San Diego at the time with my dad who wanted me to get a job,” explains lead QA for SpiritAI, Thomas Knee. “I applied on craigslist to be a video games tester and also applied to work at Subway sandwiches. I got offered interviews for both on the same day. I went with the video games tester one and started working there as a QA tester, it was one of the most fun jobs I ever had.”
“A long time ago, after graduating, I came across a games tester job at a small publisher and it immediately appealed to me,” says senior QA manager at Creative Assembly, Graham Axford. “When I was a child I’d worked hard to save up for a Spectrum 48k and had level edited games on and off since then. So, my first job was as a temp games tester. I was one of two testers, working on Amiga and PC titles. It wasn’t long before I was covering customer service and QA in this small company – that’s how it was then, you got involved with whatever was needed to get the job done.”
The atmosphere, the projects and the company fit together oh, so perfectly. I couldn’t be happier
James Cubitt, QA Manager, Universally Speaking
For Tiia Pukero, senior QA analyst at Rebellion, it was transferrable skills from other jobs that opened the door. “I’ve always had a passion for video games and having previously worked in a technical customer service role got me more interested in the QA side of things.”
“I started in the QA industry by accident,” admits LQA manager for Testronic Warsaw, Gaelle Caballero. “While searching for marketing and legal work I was headhunted by recruiters based on my multilingual skills. I started on a short term contract for Testronic’s LQA team in London. After a few months, I was promoted and offered a permanent contract as LQA Lead.”
Progression is important in the games industry. As games evolve and develop, so too do the skills required for the industry. QA is no different and many choose to make it their priority. “I’ve always had a passion for all things technology related and have always had an analytical mind,” says SpiritAI’s Knee. “After a couple years at PlayStation, I moved into more technical QA at other companies and decided to stick with it as I was enjoying it.”
“Chasing the dream,” jokes Universally Speaking’s QA manager, James Cubitt. “A real tale of career progression up the ranks. Over the last 11 years, I have gone from QA temp to QA tester to QA lead to QA coordinator and then to QA manager. The atmosphere, the projects and the company I was working for all seemed to fit together oh, so perfectly. I couldn’t be happier; I am doing the job I love.”
“I have always been drawn to the creative and technical,” says Creative Assembly’s Axford. “However, I’m one of those people who just didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I left university with an Applied Science BSc degree in ’92 and found it incredibly hard to get a job. I was in and out of work and did various things from filing to traffic surveillance, even geological well logging. I was interested in the games industry and when I spotted a QA opening, I knew that could be a good way to start out, especially as I didn’t have a specific development background.”
“I would be lying if I said it was my ideal career path originally (largely because I wasn’t aware it was a sustainable one),” admits lead QA at Fuse Universal, Paul Foy. “But it has given me the opportunity to work with a lot of different companies, colleagues and technologies across the years. I always wanted to work with software and games so QA was my path into it, and luckily it turned out I was pretty good at it.”
There are many positive things when it comes to taking the QA career path, as Rebellion’s Pukero explains. “Choosing QA as a career means I’m learning new things almost every day, new games, new platforms and new problems which keeps it fresh and interesting. Just this last year Rebellion’s QA have worked with three VR platforms, multiple consoles, PC and mobile. It’s not just games either, we test the company web platforms and even the 2000 AD comics app. The job requires a lot of patience, an eye for detail and plenty of organisational skills, which I like to keep improving.”
(L-R) Paul Foy, Tiia Pukero, Graham Axford, Gaelle Cabellero
QA, as we have said, comes with a bit of a negative connotation, but really, does it deserve it? By all accounts, working in QA is rather enjoyable. “Games are a great example of where creativity and technology merge, says Creative Assembly’s Axford. “And that’s an exciting place to be. There is continual change and evolution, and that occurs in QA too.
“The part of QA I enjoy most is the investigative side of it,” says Fuse Universal’s Foy. “Trying to find the root cause of an issue or trying to discover those very specific steps to reproduce a problem or a tricky bug is strangely satisfying, and it’s fun acting as a puzzle or problem solver.” “Unfortunately, it does tend to mean that you accidentally come across and spot bugs on almost any site you visit in your day-to-day browsing outside of work.”
There is a joy and a satisfaction then in overcoming problems, but for others, variety is the spice of their QA life. “Every project is always different and being able to communicate directly with developers about the issues we find gives me a better idea what I should be looking out for,” says Rebellion’s Pukero. “That makes my job not only easier but also more interesting and enjoyable. In the end, I help make games better for our community and that’s satisfying”
For Testronic’s Caballero, one of the best things is one thing the games industry can often miss out on - a clear career path. “Testronic is a great employer,” she says. “It identifies talent and helps develop employees in the direction that is right for the individual. Testronic has helped me understand that QA is the right fit for me and my personality.”
“Getting to be part of a team that makes today’s biggest gaming titles as good as they are is very rewarding,” adds Universally Speaking’s Cubitt. “We get to see and test some incredible games before they hit the shelves, which is always a big bonus. I feel very privileged. And from a team perspective, one of the best things is testing the multiplayer component of games. Competition in the office is always a good thing.”
Rebellion performs in-house QA on all of their games, including the upcoming Strange Brigade. You can read our recent interview with Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley on this and on being an independent studio here.
It’s not a secret that QA has a stigma, because it is so often used as an entry door to the industry and, typically, it hasn’t been high on the priority list for developers. However, times and priorities are changing. “Unfortunately QA isn’t a priority at a lot of companies who could treat their QA staff better,” says Pukero.
“So perhaps when people think of QA they think of low pay and no job stability or progression, but this isn’t the case at Rebellion. Here we’re also directly involved with each game team, work face-to-face with developers who listen to us and have a real impact on the games.”
The change in opinions is something both studios and outsources have noticed. “Historically, QA was considered a late service in the production process and as such was regarded with less importance than it is today,” says Testronic’s Caballero. “Nowadays, QA is more respected and understood due to the longevity of developer and QA integration, early engagement, live operations, DLC and the power of social media. QA is now more important than it has ever been and far more respected in the industry.
"Here at Testronic, we value the virtue of communicating and raising awareness of the importance of QA. A game that is launched after good QA is more likely to keep the users engaged in a competitive marketplace. Bad QA or lack of QA will interrupt the user experience and potentially drive away your user base.”
“Some people still have the very outdated view that QA is an unskilled job suitable for any general gamer and therefore have lower value compared to other games jobs,” says Creative Assembly’s Axford. “Alongside this, there has been an historical lack of respect for QA staff. This perception is fortunately not the view of
“These days computer games can be amongst the most complex things you can create, and therefore complex to test,” Axford continues. “This is especially true with deep and complex triple-A titles like the Total War franchise. In the past I often heard the phrase ‘so you just play games all day?’ but thankfully, I don’t get that anymore and that positive change is being seen right across the industry. QA tasks can be specialised and their work needs to be respected across the dev team, leads and senior managers, to achieve the best outcome for the game.”
“In today’s digital world, where everything is a tap away, games are constantly becoming more and more accessible to the world,” concludes SpiritAI’s Knee. “This in turn means the standards are also rising. I think strong QA is vitally important for this. I’ve been in forums or in a Facebook comments thread where people are annoyed after a buggy game releases and there is a massive day one patch release. If I could help prevent this from occurring, I would be happy in my work and also be a very happy gamer.”