How to become a videogame tester?

Playing games for a living is the dream, but is it a realistic dream? In this article, we explain you how to become a videogame tester

From a game tester standpoint, the short answer is no. That’s not to say you can’t earn a living testing games. But that distinction, the one between playing and testing, is an extremely important one to make.

As you’ll see, playing and testing are two very different things.

There’s no doubt that you are extremely familiar with playing games. It’s a real blast, after all. So we’ll talk instead about what it takes to test games. Buckle up! It’s a bumpy ride.

What Does a Video Game Tester Do?

‘Video Game QA tester’ is the official title of the position. QA stands for quality assurance. That shift in title helps distinguish game testing from game playing and is the first step on a journey of realigning expectations.
In short: you’re finding bugs, errors.

Your job as a game tester is to break the game. You want to root out any code that doesn’t work. In order to do this, you have to be a little unconventional in your playing and testing.

Think about it. In a massive game like League of Legends, there are millions of combinations of player actions. Players can interact with objects, characters, and the environment in nearly endless sequences.

Game testers are tasked with trying those combinations to make sure everything functions. More than that, testers are required to think outside of the box.

You need to interact with the world in a way that the developers didn’t expect or anticipate.

Think of some known bugs and glitches in games. Now, there will always be junk games out there that seem like the dev team gave up a quarter of the way through development.

We aren’t talking about those. Think instead of some of the bugs and glitches in better-made games. In the original Halo, there’s a glitch on one level where you can throw a grenade and stay seated in a pelican.

In order to complete the level, you need to get out of that pelican. The developers didn’t expect players to start chucking ‘nades before they were off the transport!

There are unlimited item glitches and level-breaking glitches throughout all kinds of games. These are the result of players interacting with the game outside of the way developers expected.

Video Game Quality Assurance testers are tasked with finding as many of these bugs as they can.

How Long Does It Take to Test a Game?

To root out every single bug, quality assurance testers need to test literally every combination. In a fighting game, this means every single character needs to face every other character, on every single level.

If you have a fighting game with 12 characters, and each character has to fight every other character, you’re talking about 144 matches.

But, since there is bound to be more than one level, you need to conduct 144 fights across every single map. So if there are five maps, you’re looking at 720 fights.

You can see how, even with our fake numbers, something as “contained” as a fighting game could still result in days and days of testing work.

Maybe that sounds fun, playing through a fighting game one thousand times. You’re probably picturing your favorite game; is it Marvel vs Capcom? Dead or Alive? Mortal Kombat?

The truth is you will very rarely get to actually pick which games you work on. In some cases, you’ll luck out and get a good one. More often, however, you’ll be stuck playing games you aren’t too keen on.

Then there’s the workload breakdown. There will be games that are too big for every tester to play all the way through.

Instead, you’ll be given a specific part of the game, and you’ll have to chip away at every aspect of that narrow game window. It’ll be your job to make sure that your 10% of the game works 100%.

QA testing is as much “playing games” as editing scenes in a film is “watching a movie.” It’ could be a lot of frustrating repetition. You could be testing the same area of the game for months!

The repetition is further compounded because in order to log a bug you need to be able to recreate it.

The implication of bug recreation is that even if you find a game-breaking bug if you can’t recreate it, you can’t report it.

You need to be able to come up with a detailed road-map of the bugs so that developers can recreate the bug on their end, and hopefully fix the problem.

Now, all of this isn’t to say you wouldn’t enjoy your time as a QA tester! We’re just describing the reality of the job.

You aren’t curled up on your futon, raking in wins and loot boxes in the Overwatch Beta.

You’re in an office, playing the same parts of the game for hours, trying to break it.

Essential Video Game Tester Skills

Let’s talk about skills.

Being detail-oriented is extremely important in the Quality Assurance tester position. You’ll need to be able to pick up on little things in order to succeed at this job.

A flexible brain is also an asset. You’ll need to be a little creative when you’re coming up with ways to break a game. You’ll also need some serious focus skills.

We’re talking laser-focus skills. As deadlines approach, you’re going to need to put some serious hours in, and you have to be able to work productively the whole time.

Lazy, leisurely gaming won’t cut it when it comes to sniffing out bugs.

Communication also plays a pivotal role. Remember that you need to communicate to developers the steps to recreating the bug.

When you send off a bug report, that should be the end of the correspondence, until the developers report back to the QA team saying they’ve fixed said bug.

You don’t want to waste their time (and yours) by fielding questions on your report. Communication is pivotal.

It’s also worth noting that you might be talking to different people. Maybe the problem doesn’t just involve the programming team.

You need to be able to communicate effectively with all of the departments involved in the game.

This could require you to adjust your methods, i.e. you might need to be more sensitive with the game artists, and more candid with the programmers.

Do I Need a Degree to Become a Videogame Tester?

You definitely do not need a degree!

A degree related to programming or video games could improve your chances of getting a job as a video game tester, but it is not a requirement.

An unfortunate truth of video game testing is the high turnover rate. Long hours, low pay, and a lot of contract work lead to new video game testing positions always opening up.

Possible degrees for video game testers include:

  • Game Design
  • Software Development
  • Software Design
  • Software Engineering
  • Computer Programming
  • Computer Science
  • Graphic Communication
  • Software Quality Assurance
  • Software Testing

Another thing that might be good to keep in mind testing a new game: what are the video game trends right now.