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Pad Happy:
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Game Testing

Vol. 2, Issue 7
December 23, 1999 

“Testing is a good place to start in the industry”

I would never claim that my experience of testing was definitive – there are as many types of “testing” as there are programming (well, almost). I had the good fortune to work for a developer with substantial in-house resources which made things a lot more interesting for a mere tester (i.e. designers looking for design feedback from testing, personal contact with the development team) than working for a publisher. I would say, though, that this summary of the utility of a testing job is one generally accepted by my peers: if you can’t code, can’t do art and have no development experience whatsoever, testing is your best shot at that oh-so-valuable “foot in the door”. Plus, if you play your cards right, it can lead to some interesting places (junior designers are often recruited from testing departments). Some people may get a boost from work they do in the pubic domain (i.e. the guys who did the original Team Fortress now work for Valve) but testing is the place to be if your killer mod isn’t going beta anytime soon...

“Games testers work crappy hours and get lousy pay”

With most jobs in game development the hours get pretty hellish towards the end of a project, and testing is no exception. Playing games “all day” may turn into “all night” during the frantic final weeks, with testing departments often getting the shitty end of the stick when it comes to late nights at the office. As for crappy pay, that’s definitely true if you’re comparing testers’ pay to that of programmers and artists (especially of the ‘senior’ variety). However, in comparison to the many other non-game related jobs you could be doing for the same money, testing has to look good in comparison (i.e. cinema usher - another job I did that everyone else seemed to think must be non-stop fun). The long hours can add insult to injury as it is unusual for testers to get “overtime” as such, but some companies will pay a share of the royalties or completion bonus which can make up for the otherwise exploitative wage scale! Alas, whereas newbie programmers and artists can see comparatively rapid rises in their pay the same doesn't really hold true for testers (which is why nobody really wants to be a tester for more than a couple of years if they can help it).

I realise the above is a fairly abridged guide to testing If anyone has any questions about testing that I’ve left unanswered or is looking for advice, I’m be happy to help. I’d also love to hear from those of you that are testers. For those interested, the following is a quick rundown of the things propping up my CV when I was hunting for testing interviews: aside from my impending Psychology degree, I had taught myself C over the last year and written a (fairly poor) Net Yaroze PlayStation game which was of sub-NES quality but did teach me a ton about the basic structures of game development. I’d been writing for loonygames for about 6 months, and had previously written for a number of other gaming websites (including the now-defunct-but-much-beloved N64 Gazetta, of which I was Associate Editor) over the last 3 years. I also let the interviewers know that I had owned just about every console (and a fair number of computer systems) released since the mid-80’s, and I guess my pathological love of games seemed to shine through automatically. That’s the strongest thing on my side at the end of the day: I love games and I really enjoy being able to make them for a living with a bunch of other like-minded folk. It’s a cool job, and a cool thing to be part of. Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy New Year - see you on the other side of Y2K!

- Nick Ferguson is looking forward to “testing” his Xmas pressies this year. Yeah, baby!


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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pad Happy is © 1999 Niick Ferguson. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, so watch it - we know kung fu, gaijin.