The ins and outs of leading the next-gen video game publisher's QA team
1. Tell us a bit about yourself; how and why did you get into QA?
Hi everyone, this is Aditya. I’m one of the Streamliners, currently working as a QA Manager at Day Zero by Streamline. My journey into the games industry started about 9 years ago. My first job was at Ubisoft, as a Development Tester where I worked on multiple AAA titles on various platforms - Xbox 360, PS3 and WiiU. After working for 2.5 years, I joined Codemasters where I worked as Senior/Lead QA on number of Racing Sims and got to work on new Console gen and also gained expertise on lots of testing processes in games industry. I took that experience into my role at Streamline, where I now work more closely with the development team on products, and I am building up my own team as a QA Manager.
2. In your opinion, what are the top merits of working as a QA in games industry?
I think for most gamer kids growing up, we all at one point dreamt of working in games and being able to earn money playing games. It is true that working as a Game QA is a privilege; I get to work in a friendly environment where I am constantly learning, and doing what I love. Here you are exposed to all sorts of platform SDKs, tools, and technology that the developers and artists generally use for development, but with added freedom and flexibility to learn new things, as you are not tied to a specialization. QA is the last line of defense in production, meaning it’s our job to make the product launch-ready and bug-free for users, and for 1st party manufacturers such as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. I’d summarize the merits as: exposure to the latest tools, development hardware and the SDKs, as well as the opportunity to work with other departments to steer the game to be more user-friendly.
3. What were the biggest challenges you faced working in various QA positions and studios?
The first challenge is dealing with the misconception that people hold about the QAs – that we just play games, which is only about 20% correct. There is a whole lot more to it than playtesting the games. We have to cover network matrix tests, which no other departments really pay attention to. We also run all of the platform specific compliance tests, which are crucial for launch and ensuring your game is accepted onto the console platforms. QA teams have to run a long and tedious load and boot checks for more than 10,000 permutations. At the end of the day there’s only so many times you can play the same game and still find it fun! We also have the key responsibility of tracking thousands of bugs, and every iteration of the builds to make sure the producers and developers are on the same page. On the surface, a QA job looks easy, but it has its own complexities. Of course, that is the case for most jobs, but Game QA positions, in particular, seem to be notoriously undervalued and underestimated.
The second challenge is keeping up to date with new technologies and consoles. Console manufacturers launch new SDKs every quarter, and release next generation of consoles every 4-5 years. Every time, it is our job to familiarize ourselves with all the guidelines and operational procedures for – current-gen and next-gen alike.
So, to really succeed as a QA, you not only need to be constantly learning, but actually enjoy the process of learning and keeping motivated to push yourself. To me, that’s the charm of working in game technology.
4. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges the games industry faces when it comes to QA practices? Also, as you’re building your own QA team as part of the Day Zero brand, what are you doing differently to address the above issues and challenges?
As games get larger and more complex, more and more QA works are outsourced to external studios specializing in QA. While this helps keep development costs down and allows for thorough testing of a product to avoid bug-ridden games on launch day, it does make it tougher for individual QAs to avoid burnouts from working in an isolated environment. This also makes it harder for QAs to have a career path that reaches beyond simply testing . At Streamline, we have a full game development team with a full game pipeline. Our teams work not only on our internal IPs, but with other developers across the world on external projects. While each brand and team has their specialization (e.g. Day Zero by Streamline specializes in QA and localization), having the full game pipeline means that our employees benefit from having access to the full development ecosystem, and opportunities that come with it. There are opportunities to grow their career, not only vertically, but also horizontally. For instance, it is not unusual for Streamliners to branch out into other disciplines, as long as they’re willing to put in the work.
Another challenge that comes with remote teams is planning and coordinating the timeline of product delivery and milestones. Every test-plan and master candidate delivery for product releases could run into some last minute changes from the production team.
It requires a very disciplined QA team who are not afraid to have an honest and upfront conversation with the development team, to make tough decisions quickly across different time-zones and multiple locations.
5. QA is one of the most common ways for people to get into the games industry. What advice do you have for those who are considering this as their career?
Starting in a QA position definitely gives you an opportunity to get your foot in the door. But, as I pointed out earlier, it is not exactly what it appears to be. From bug reporting to getting the game pass certified for consoles, everything relies on QA and at end there is very little margin of error in a QA’s job. With errors from the QA’s end, the whole development team will suffer, so I’d argue that our role requires much higher focus and discipline than any other roles in the games industry. My advice for those who are starting or considering starting a Game QA journey, is to always be prepared mentally to be handling high-risk, high-accountability stakes. It is not just about playing games, but releasing and influencing consumers’ experience with the title.