Jun 7, 2013
Ahead of the Game QA & Localisation Forum in London later this month, Gaming IQ caught up with forum speaker and professional Swede, Niklas Lundström of Paradox Interactive, to chat about the importance of QA in today’s industry, and a few of the challenges that Paradox have faced.
gIQ: So Niklas, why is QA important in gaming?
Niklas: QA is important for a number of reasons, the most obvious being to find bugs in games. Even if the developers don’t have the time or resources to fix everything QA finds, it’s still valuable to build up a database of issues.
This way you get a much more sober view of the state of the project. QA is, however, also important as a “sanity check” for the developers, where QA can come in with fresh eyes and comment on things that are unintuitive, tedious or simply not fun in the game.
Overall it falls on the QA department to help the developers meet the target quality of their game. Experienced QA are able to see at an early stage what might be broken in a game and immediately find ways of replicating the problems they encounter, which in turn helps the developers to know exactly where in their code they need to start looking.
gIQ: If QA is so important – why does it suffer from such a negative consumer rep?
Niklas: One thing that most people outside the business fail to realise is that a game can have undergone lots and lots of excellent QA and still be really buggy. The state of a game from a functionality or usability standpoint hinges on so much more than just the testing of the game; every so often a development team doesn’t have the time, resources or ability to prioritise to keep up with everything that QA reports to them.
This leads to crunches that – if allowed to go on too long – will hamper the quality of their product, regardless of how well tested the game is. If you’re playing a game and see a bunch of glaring bugs and issues, you can be almost certain that QA has seen and reported these same issues. What you don’t see, however, are all the other glaring issues that QA has already reported and that the developers have addressed.
gIQ: So do you think the industry as a whole can do anything to change this perspective?
Niklas: I think there is a general problem in the industry where QA is seen as the “lowest tier” within a game development studio or a publisher. QA often have equally as tough working conditions as everyone else, but with worse pay (often they’re unpaid interns) and few opportunities to grow within the company. QA is often seen as a stepping stone to greener pastures in the industry, instead of a valuable department in its own right where employees are given an opportunity to advance within QA and improve on their salary there. The industry as a whole needs to adjust its attitude towards QA as a profession and that sort of thing always takes time.
gIQ: How do you incorporate QA effectively into Paradox projects, and get the most out of it?
Niklas: With Paradox growing very rapidly over the past couple of years, the QA process has been growing and adapting as well. Many methods that we have implemented are still fairly new and untested in “live” situations, but essentially QA gets involved when we receive a vertical slice from the developer.
At this point we’re mostly taking a quick look at the game to try to determine what we can do in terms of play testing the game, so that we’re able to find any design or interface problems at an early stage. We then start getting increasingly more involved around alpha review and forward. We work very closely with production and an important aspect for us is the close dialogue we keep with our producers.
gIQ: What are the key challenges or bottlenecks that you tend to face working in the QA team?
Niklas: Being a relatively small team working on many titles from developers around the world, it is often a bit of a challenge planning and communicating everything. The fact that many of our developers are in completely different time zones from our own complicates this further. So essentially our single most challenging task is to coordinate everything and ensure that all our developers and titles receive the attention they need.
gIQ: Some people have commented in the past that a few of Paradox’s earlier titles (such as the Hearts of Iron franchise) have been quite buggy at release – what would you say to this, and has Paradox changed anything with this in mind?
Niklas: Back in those days Paradox was still a pretty small company with limited resources. Combine this with the fact that the internally developed titles in particular are extremely complex; it was very hard for the team to deliver stable and relatively bug-free releases.
Since this easily leads to customers feeling like they’re paying money to essentially be beta testers, it’s been very important for Paradox to keep supporting these games long after release to reward our extremely loyal fan base.
Since the release of a game like Hearts of Iron III, though, our QA setup has changed dramatically, where we have one team dedicated to the Paradox Development Studio games and another team dedicated to the games published by Paradox Interactive. No game studio is ever going to deliver a completely bug-free title, but Paradox certainly hasn’t been asleep at the wheel in ensuring that we deliver significantly more polished games in the future.
gIQ: Do you think there are any particular general trends you’ve seen emerging in the industry at the moment with regards to QA?
Niklas: I hope so. It’s hard to speak for other companies, and I think there are still a lot of examples of how it shouldn’t be done in terms of working conditions and testing routines, but at Paradox I definitely feel that there is a healthy QA environment. People see the enormous difference QA makes and it’s noticeable for us in QA as well when the effort we put in is visible in the end product.
gIQ: What’s the Paradox ‘vision of the future’?
Niklas: That’s probably a question better directed at our CEO Fred Wester, and I’m sure he could talk all day about it, but it’s safe to say that Paradox wants to keep delivering a plethora of games where gamers should feel that they can always find something that appeals to them in our catalogue. Every game can’t and shouldn’t be for everyone, but there should be a game for everyone.
gIQ: You’re speaking at the Game QA & Localisation Forum in London this June, the world’s first ever QA & localisation-dedicated two-day meeting for the gaming industry – why did you get involved in it, and what are you looking forward to about it the most?
Niklas: It’s going to be a fun, interesting and hopefully informative couple of days and it’s also my first visit to London so I’m stoked!
gIQ: If you could give one piece of advice to either a developer just starting to grow their QA team, or a QA tester putting their first foot on the industry career ladder, what would it be?
Niklas: For a developer implementing their first QA team, my first advice is to make them feel like a part of your team. This is not only good for them because it makes them work harder and feel more appreciated; it’s also good for you since it’ll automatically improve your communication with them, which helps you funnel the information coming from them.
This way you’ll understand the process behind their mountain of bug reports that otherwise may put a crunching developer off. For a QA tester starting out in the business, you may have the ambition to “climb the ladder” and move on to becoming a programmer, designer or producer – which is fine – but remember that the work you’re doing right now is just as important to the end product, and unless you stay in the present and work hard at what you’re doing in QA, you’ll probably never get the opportunity to land that designer gig you might be aiming for.
Niklas is Associate QA Manager at Paradox Interactive, responsible for team leadership, setting up testing routines and administrating bug-reporting software. He will be speaking alongside the likes of Sony, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Sega at the QA & Localisation Forum on June 25-26th in London, UK
Book your ticket at www.gamingQA.com