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Life as a Game Tester: Episode 1

posted on August 23rd, 2006 by blue dog

Hello everyone! I’m here to introduce to you to a new segment on videolamer that delves into a part of the industry that is rather unknown: Quality Assurance. It’s no picnic, I can assure you, but I wanted to spill the beans on what it takes to be a game tester, seeing how I am one. Through these articles, I’m going to try to open your eyes to how the games industry operates, and maybe let you decide if it really is something to pursue as a career. Not many companies actually detail how they go about day-to-day business, so I’m here to help you out a little. I don’t know how long this will go for, as I’m not sure if it’s entirely legal to talk about some of this stuff, but I really don’t care. Getting fired is the least of my worries.

Anyway, to start off, I’ll try to outline what I do all day. First, I live two hours away from…. the place I work. For these articles, I’m going to keep it a little anonymous. So, let’s call the setting City A, and the business Company B. I’ve been working for Company B for a little over a month now, and it’s been pretty good. A few people start the day around 10AM, while a few others don’t start it until 2 PM. The place has a nice vibe to it, especially when you get to set your own hours. I try to come in at 10AM, but sometimes no one’s around to open the doors. Can’t work when you can’t get in, right? So, as of late, I’ve been arriving to work at around 11:30AM. I commute 2 hours each way, so coming in later lets me sleep a little more.

I try to put in a full 8 hours a day, seeing as how I’m paid hourly at Company B. It’s not the easiest thing to do, though, especially considering the commute I have every day. Most days, I try to leave around 7PM, which may or may not be 8 hours. If I leave at this time, I get home at about 9 at night. It fucking blows, but I think the opportunity to work in the video game industry far outweighs the sacrifices I make.

So, once I settle in, I get to work, which means play video games for 8 hours straight. It might sound like an awesome job, but try playing any game, no matter how good, for 8 hours straight, for weeks on end. It will begin to get tiresome, trust me.

By far the best kid’s game ever made.

As I play the game, if I find a bug or gameplay issue, I write it down and log it in our database. I’ll get into that at some other point, though. I have to leave a little for later, ya know.

Currently, Company B is working on a game that is aimed at the 6-11 year-old female market. I am definitely not in that bracket; suffice to say, I’m not having the greatest time playing the game over and over again. I won’t say what the game is because of the ever-looming NDA I signed (so don’t ask), but I will say that I would never buy it. Little girls, on the other hand, might find it enjoyable, and I keep trying to tell myself that that’s who the game is for. It’s not that easy to do, though. I always come from my perspective when playing the game, especially when considering gameplay balance issues. I keep asking myself, “Is this too hard or just right?” I know a lot of kids that are pretty good for their age, but to put 6-11 year olds in one market seems a little too ignorant. An eleven year old has had a few years of video game experience when a six year-old has very little. How do you go about balancing a game like that?

Of course, I’m merely the last line of defense for the game-buying public. I didn’t design the game, so sometimes I have to ask if that’s the way they want it to be. If they want it a little harder than what I would advise it to be, then I have no say in the subject. I can suggest it, but nothing’s guaranteed. I’m sort of caught between a battle for recognition and money used wisely. Programmers want the games they created and designed to be popular, but gamers want to make sure that the money they have for getting a game is spent wisely. Most kids only get a few games a year, and a bad game looks worse if it’s the only game they get for months.

This brings me to my main theme for this article. I’ll try to give you a few tidbits of information on my job each article, and then lead into a bigger idea that I’ve gained from being a part of the industry. For this article, I want to talk about the meaning of a child’s game. What makes a game for a child? From working on one, and then looking at other companies’ products aimed at children, I don’t think anyone has defined exactly what a kid’s game is.

Is it the simplicity of the game? Is it the genre? Is it the franchise it’s associated with? Nothing can be said definitively.

No one would think an RPG would be a genre little kids would like to play, but look at Pokémon’s success.

Then look at Halo. Go on Xbox Live and you will invariably hear a kid’s voice screaming at you when he frags your sorry arse. I’ve heard little kids on Counter Strike, as well. Either parents are getting way too lenient with their kids, or they seriously don’t like playing those games that are aimed at their market. Maybe Sponge Bob just isn’t pulling his weight in video games anymore.

Aww, this game is so cute. Buy it for your children.

Some would say games that are easy would be the best route for kids. Then I say look at MegaMan. People from our generation grew up with MegaMan, and that’s a pretty hard game. Ghouls and Ghosts and Castlevania were both hard, and even Super Mario Bros. was at times a little unforgiving. I think of Mario a lot when testing out games. Some people argue that the amount of enemies in a level is what makes it easy or hard, but Mario had a fair amount of enemies in each level. And that didn’t detract from its kid appeal.

Kids do like their franchises, but what good is a game that only has a brand associated with it? You can make a franchise into any type of video game; it might not be beneficial to gameplay, but it shows that the brand truly means nothing when designing interactive media. I believe Treasure proved that with AstroBoy for GBA. That game was seemingly just for kids, but adults found it to be rather enjoyable. Look at some reviews and you’ll see that it garnered high scores across the board.

I will say that the majority of reviewers probably review games based on their own preferences, and don’t account for the fact that the game is made for children and not people their age. Rarely do you see a kids game get over an 8 score.

Most game designers probably have their own ideas on what makes a game for kids, but they never match up with the other guy’s beliefs. So you basically have forty million games out there that say they’re the game kids should be playing, and none of them are probably planned accurately for the younger market. What about educational software that’s wrapped in an action game? Maybe a Hooked-on-Phonics RPG? Has anyone thought of that stuff?

OK, you know what I’ll do. I’ll blame the parents on this one. I don’t think that parents ever really read the back of the cases to see what kind of game they’re buying for their children. If there really was an answer to this question, I don’t think it will ever be known to developers because the parents are the ones buying the games. It’s whatever they believe to be a kid’s game that shows itself as the de facto type of game for kids.

And come on, they’re game designers, not psychics.

That’s it for me this session. I hoped you enjoyed it, and I hope I can give you more info on this oh-so wonderful business called the video game industry.

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