How Do You Become a Video Game Tester?
So, you’ve decided that you want to become a video game tester, but you aren’t sure how to find a job.
Before we go any further, it's important for you to realize that getting into the gaming industry isn’t easy. It’s one of the most competitive careers you could pick, and even the truly talented struggle to succeed in it sometimes.
A day in the life of a video game tester. Your results may vary.
But if you're dead set on this path, don’t let that discourage you. Listen to Shia when he tells you, “Don’t let your dreams be dreams! Just do it! Make your dreams come true!”
Here are the basics that you need to know about becoming a video game tester.
Testing Isn’t Playing
First off, you need to realize that testing a game isn’t the same as playing a game. Remember that alpha game you bought on Steam that was almost too buggy to play? Well, that’s what you can expect as quality assurance (QA) tester. As a QA tester, you’re finding bugs that break the game. You root out any code that doesn’t work, which is a lot different from playing a game from start to finish to enjoy the story or art.
There are tons of choices and actions a player can take throughout a game while interacting with objects, characters, and the environment. Game testers find the combinations that drop you through the map, ruin the game, and more. In short, you have to think outside the box and do everything you can to interact with the game in ways that the developers don’t expect.
Working Equals Life
In Skyrim, you're considered an amateur if you have less than 1,000 hours of playtime. As a video game tester, get ready to play every game as long as that.
Let's say you’re testing a fighting game that has 12 characters. It’s your job to check every single possible combination—that’s 144 fights across every map, and if there are five maps, that’s 720 rounds.
That’s hundreds of working hours just to make sure everything goes smoothly. Sure, some of us could play Mortal Kombat for that long, but what about Shaq Fu or Kung Fu Panda? No one wants to play those games for more than 10 minutes unless they love to cry, but it’s your job to root out any bugs, no matter how terrible the game you're testing may be.
Alright, if you’re not discouraged yet, you may be a great candidate for video game testing. But to get a position in the field, you still need to have some necessary skills.
First of all, you need to familiarize yourself with computer systems and consoles. Testers play on several platforms, so going into the field with a “PC MASTER RACE” attitude isn’t the best idea. Having a favorite console is fine, but as a video game tester, you need to have at least a working knowledge of all of them.
Next—play all the games! Play every genre and every title you can get your hands on. Many gamers stick to one or two types, like first-person shooters or RPGs, and that's fine to have your favorites, but you won’t have that luxury while you’re testing games.
Since it’s your job to break the game, being detail-oriented is crucial. You need to quickly pick up on the little things that will send someone to the Reddit board complaining, “Has anyone else experienced this? Lol.”
Finally, clear communication skills are a must. It’s your job to inform developers of the bugs you encountered and what you were doing when they occurred. Failing to communicate properly can be confusing for developers and won’t get you far in the field.
Getting a Job
The best way to land a job in the field is to start volunteering to beta test public games. These projects will demonstrate your aptitude for game testing and could give you the chance to network with influential people in the industry. Plus, developers are more likely to give you a shot sans experience, since there isn't a financial risk involved for them.
As you begin testing, take comprehensive notes for any bugs you encounter and replay the event to report how many times the bug occurred. Supplying detailed feedback will show your competence and is a skill that will look good in an interview. You can learn about bug report best practices online, but bug testing an actual game is what you should aim for.
Having a degree in game design, computer science, and communications are all beneficial when you’re applying for a job as a game tester. During the time you're working towards a degree, participate in as many game reviews, contests, and competitions you can.
Now, even if you manage that, you won’t start out with six-figure salary. Instead, you’ll probably have an unpaid internship or entry-level position that “pays” in only the most technical sense of the word.
But you’ve made it.
You got your foot in the door and now all you have to do is show your skills. Highlight your skills and experience in the gaming industry, and you’ll be miles ahead of the guy that walks in saying he just “loves to play games.”