Cold Dark Heart

Cold Dark Heart
I Got A Golden Ticket?

Mur Lafferty | 3 Aug 2010 12:58
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No one wants to play with a broken toy. That's just not fun. No one wants to play a game in order to find a bug - we usually play games while avoiding bugs. Also, if you're not into endlessly repetitive activities, QA can make you insane.


Then there's organizing beta tests. Videogame fans see beta tests as a sneak peek at a game, while they're expected to play it till it breaks and then send bug reports as well. The QA lead I spent most of my time with at Red Storm was very strict with her beta tests. No matter your skill/qualifications, if you failed to apply correctly for the test, you didn't get in; her reasoning was that if you couldn't follow simple instructions in the application, you wouldn't be able to follow the instructions on how to test the game. She handled the hordes of gamers well, but I watched the stacks and stacks of data she printed out in order to keep track of every report; it was organizational hell to go through all the bug reports and track them all and determine what was a real bug ("game crashes when I do X,") and what was a waste of time ("you really should put in rappelling").

There are also the interpersonal challenges of being in QA. You're a vital part of the team. You're needed to make sure that the game doesn't ship with horrible bugs. Back before DLC, your word could make or break a console game, as there were no bug fixes to be had after launch. That sounds like you'd be respected by your colleagues, right?

Sadly, the face of the QA lead is a dreadful sight, because you almost never give good news. While you are there to make sure the game is made better, the engineers and artists just see you as the bearer of bad news. Why can't you tell them that the game is perfect, ready to ship, and by the way, here's a pony? QA almost never brings ponies to the design teams.

Yes, you play games all day. But you have to play them in a certain way. And they're broken almost all the time. And your co-workers will dread your presence. For the record, I respect the hell out of QA people. I don't have the patience or organizational skills for it, and their job is difficult and largely thankless. I'm just wanting to indicate that people think, "playing games all day" is the best job ever, when, like most jobs, it's work, hard work, and often tedious work.

After I left Red Storm, I went into freelance writing, including game reviews. Now, I thought, this was going to be sexy. This was going to be the life, where I got my games for free and I got paid to play and write about them! They weren't going to be broken either! (Unless their QA teams had quit in tears over their thankless, repetitive jobs.)

Here is where I found the ugly truth of paid game reviewing. Yes, you get games for free, and are paid to play and write about them. But you don't get handed the World of Warcrafts and the Portals and the Rock Bands. The editor gets those. You're likely offered games that you have never heard of, but you think, "Okay, I like sims, I guess I'll try Fence Builder out."

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