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Step 5 of Game Development: Testing It Out

Once almost everything is in order with a game, everything needs to be tested. Every game we’ve ever worked on was thoroughly playtested daily all through the production phase, and ideally every programmer will playtest the changes they’ve made to the code before submitting it. Even the most well-oiled development cycles still need a solid amount of time to squash any last minute bugs. It’s interesting to note that being a video game tester is not the most fun job in the game development industry.

This is because game testers have absolutely nothing to do with a game’s design and it is a truly tedious job. Their entire job is to test out a game and intentionally try to break it (make it crash). They try to find any bugs or glitches anywhere in the game. Their job will be to spend x amount of hours testing out the menu system, doing nothing but going in and out of menu screens, adjusting the audio settings, and more until they break something. Once they’ve found a bug, they need to reproduce everything they did five to ten times in order to give a step-by-step process for the programmers to reproduce the bug while they have a debugging tool running.

Testing out early gameplay.

Testing out early gameplay.

Even when you get to play a fun game, the testing process beats any fun out of the game tester quickly. For example, one of our developers had to help out the playtesters working on the Guitar Hero: Aerosmith game. Any game, no matter how fun, quickly loses its appeal when you realize you can’t try to get a good score and improve at the game, but instead need to follow a specific set of inputs in order to reproduce a hard to reproduce bug. The only creative input a tester could possibly have is in the rare instance when something is just impossible. If they are testing out a new level and the level designers put a platform too far up for the players to access it, the playtester can explain how the level is too high to reach and that’s about it.

In order to be a good playtester, one has to be have a love of doing monotonous things in an extremely repetitive way. It helps if the playtester has some experience in programming or art, since he or she can use the same lingo programmers and artists understand. For instance: “It looks like this model is using the wrong texture,” or “This character’s collision box is too high.”

There are many reasons why this job is not for everyone. It’s a mental shift since your job at work isn’t to play games in order to have fun and enjoy yourself, but instead to find bugs, reproduce them over and over, and write up a detailed report to give to the game dev team. Basically, if a playtester is having fun at work, then they are doing it wrong.

To get into the field of playtesting, a lot of game dev studios will attend job fairs at local high schools and community colleges. A great way to get into playtesting is cold-calling a studio and ask if they have any openings. Even if they don’t have any openings, there tends to be a lot of turnover, so they usually keep the contact info of anyone interested and will often call you back when a position opens. A lot of smaller studios also have temporary playtesting rounds, where it’s not a full time gig, but you’ll be hired for a few weeks or months, making it a great part time job.

To best track and squash bugs, there are a ton of different bug-tracking services available, some free to use and some that require money. Most larger studios even have their own proprietary software they use for logging/tracking. For smaller studios, bug-tracking spreadsheets where playtesters can log their bugs are used. Some categories for the bug-tracking spreadsheets are: steps to reproduce, logging what the bug is, how to make the bug happen repeatedly, and severity of bug. Severity can be rated on a scale of 1 to 3. 1 would mean that the game cannot be released unless the bug is fixed. 2 is an obvious bug that affects gameplay but is not severe. 3 is something that is a visual bug that doesn’t affect gameplay.

The challenges at the bug-squashing stage are always the hard to reproduce bugs. Every game has them, where you’ll be playing and all of a sudden the game will crash and sometimes no matter what you do, you can’t get it to crash again. A lot of times, fixing a completely unrelated bug will suddenly fix some other bug that was related after all. However, more often than not, fixing one bug as a chance of introducing a new and different bug, so bug-squashing is always a difficult but necessary task for every game. Click HERE to pre-order Freepoint High now!