STACK NZ Aug #65




I t’s a common question we get asked: You get paid to play

also ‘feel’ bugs. They must also be able to speak and write English.” Robin says that the majority of today’s games

We ask Robin how they charge for the work conducted by testers. Is it by contract? An hourly rate? “Actually, we are charged with an hourly rate by our testing provider. This is negotiated via a yearly contract and an agreement on how many hours we’ll spend in 12 months.” Communication is a vital skill as a games tester. All faults found during testing are required to be catalogued and accurately conveyed to the client. Robin identifies this as the key element in the working relationship and the one that can invariably cause the testers, and not just the developers, problems. “There is a real difficulty in getting information in general [from the developer]. A lack of information regarding the design docs and game behaviour can cause untold problems. “Developers have a lot of tasks to perform and don’t always have time to update the design docs created at the very beginning of a project. So, for many bugs, testers have to ensure what they have found and identified is a real bug, or not one ‘by design’.” Inevitably the final part of the development cycle is where the majority of the testing is done, and Robin says the key is recognising when this peak period is about to begin. “Most of the time we can identify when we’re about to get busy, so it’s not too difficult to handle and testing providers are used to it. “But we really try and push to start testing as early as possible, in order to have more time to test... which also means more time for the developers to fix the bugs. “It can be high-pressure and the period at the end of the game is not for the faint-hearted. We must deal with any delays that may have happened in previous stages, and so it’s up to us to catch up the time lost before. It often means double shifts and weekend testing. But we’re used to it.”

video games? Well, theoretically we get paid to write about them. Such is the demand of other

testing undertaken by NBGE is outsourced to external testers primarily

aspects of the job that all the playing we need to do is done in our own time, and much of that time is spent on games we probably wouldn’t have played as a consumer. The same can be said for a video games tester. On paper it sounds like a dream job: rock up to the office with your sandwiches and a water bottle, pull on the Uggs, settle into a comfy couch and get paid to play games – oh, and catch the occasional bug. But imagine sitting at a desk playing the same part of a level for days on end, searching continuously for faults. Does that still sound like fun? Olivier Robin knows a thing or two about games testing. He joined the industry back in 1991 as an assistant producer for Infogrames France, before establishing the internal QA (quality assurance) at Infogrames Europe, where he managed the department until 2003. Over the next six years, Robin worked as a QA project manager for various companies throughout Europe before settling at Namco Bandai Games Europe (NBGE), where he currently oversees QA in France. While there is no specific qualification for entry into a games testing role, an understanding of some programming and gaming experience is beneficial; the job is notoriously underpaid and extremely stressful, but many testers use the role as a gateway into the development industry. Testers must also be proficient gamers in order to play the game at the highest difficulty levels. “In order to be successful as a games tester, you have to able to stay focused and apply methods without ‘playing’ or being bored,” says Robin. “It’s easy at the beginning of a project, but when a tester works full time on a project for six months, it becomes less fun for him. This is where we find ‘senior’ and strong testers. “We mainly want the testers to have experience in QA methods and usual QA practices. We need to work with trained testers who know the Hardware Manufacturers’ Standards (HMS), and can detect non-obvious issues. Testers must be able to follow test plans, but

located in India, where reliable relationships are built up over a number of

Olivier Robin

years. Where the testing process actually commences on a Namco Bandai title depends on where the game is developed. “We mainly start on Beta stage if the game has previously been tested in Japan first,” Robin notes. “If we work on a European production game, we will start some preliminary tests from Alpha stage. Once the game has been released, we are also in charge of testing patches and DLC packs. “When we begin working on a game we are looking for major bugs which violate HMS compliance standards, as well as all important functionality bugs which can damage the end-user experience or decrease the level of fun and quality. “All bugs are listed in a database, checked by a QA project manager, and sent to the developers for fixing. If developers are reluctant to fix, we discuss it with them. Sometimes it’s better to waive the bug, rather than creating more issues with one unique fix. Sometimes we push to have the bug fixed if we consider it to be really bad for the player.” playthroughs, to checking the printed materials for the box and providing videos for the various rating boards across the globe. The length of an assignment can also vary. “The time spent on projects can differ and can take anywhere between eight weeks to more than a year if we include all the testing that has to be done on patches, DLC and all the additional content that a publisher decides to implement,” explains Robin. “Consequently, our teams can vary from anywhere between four testers to upwards of 25.” The testing process involves everything from partial and full

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