May 11, 2016
Quality Assurance has always been seen as a “foot-in-the-door” into the industry. And hey, perhaps it does serve that purpose in many cases. But QA has become so much more, and with the industry developing so rapidly, quality assurance has never been so vital to a game’s success.
It’s often seen as a low-level role, with disposable workers who slog over menial tasks for hours on end. But with the size of the gaming industry now, this view of QA is changing. Being a QA tester is becoming a much more attractive position, which is evolving to have much more to do with the development process overall. And so it should.
QA can often prove to be a good starting point for people who want to work in the industry, as they can learn about all the nitty-gritty details about game design that are necessary for success. It can teach people a lot about the processes behind games, and where designers often go wrong. So why treat QA as only a stepping stone? It’s a learning process in itself, and it’s one that’s very rewarding. It’s hard work, there’s no doubt about it. But there’s definitely something to be learnt from the role.
With the rising number of major franchises, ensuring they reach the highest possible quality is essential to pleasing fans, as this means they will continue to purchase sequel upon sequel.
The internet is huge now. Everyone accesses it on a daily basis. Back in the 90s, not so much. But now, if there’s problems with a game, people complain online. And boy, will every gamer on the planet see it. And this would inevitably end in less gamers purchasing the titles, reducing revenue overall.
One example I’d like to bring up is the Mercenaries franchise. Now the first one on PS2 was a very popular title; and so I was ecstatic when the second one was announced for PS3. Imagine the fun you can have with better physics and graphics on the next-gen system! How wrong I was. It was a bug-ridden mess that was a genuine chore to play through. My love for the previous game diminished as I painstakingly attempted to love this game. But I just couldn’t.
With massively complex worlds now accessible on multiple platforms, all bugs need to be ironed out to make sure the product is ready to be shipped. There have been examples of games shipping with game-breaking bugs, which is just not acceptable when fans are dropping a lot of money on titles they’re very excited about. Gaming is no longer just a hobby; but it’s something many people align with, and it serves many different purposes for many different people.
Bethesda are notorious for shipping games with a number of bugs, and of course it’s impossible to eradicate every little glitch when you’re creating a vast virtual world from the tiny village to the mountaintop. They received a lot of criticism for fans, but they are a studio which deliver quality games time after time, and attempt to fix any problems as fast as possible.
My experience with Skyrim was fine; many PC gamers stated the console editions were far inferior. And yeah sure, my PS3 copy suffered some slowdown and stutters when loading, but overall it was very playable. But one update meant that my character or “camera” couldn’t go underwater without freezing my entire console. And my current quest was attempting to retrieve something that was underwater. So I gave up with the game, and put it back on the shelf. It took Bethesda quite some time to fix it, but by that time my attention had turned elsewhere. See, had this bug been ironed out before the update was rolled out, or had been fixed quicker, this would not have been an issue. And I’m sure I was not the only one.
Aside from bugs, evaluating the gameplay itself is of a top standard is essential. This involves difficulty, balanced gameplay, controls, but most of all, that the game is fun to play. What good is a game if it’s not fun? That is why we need QA.
Online updates means QA is now a longer process than ever. It used to be that when a game shipped, it was finished. There was nothing you could do after the moment it was on the disc and in the consumers’ hands. But now, with added features, DLC, and updates, QA continues long after the game is released. After all, when online updates are so easy, avid gamers would be very disappointed if studios did not address any concerns that are raised. Self-publishing is more possible than ever, dealing directly with consumers instead, and so the way in which they are created has changed.
Other recent trends such companion apps means that QA stretches further than just the game in question. With Android spanning a multitude of devices, testing is tougher and more important than ever. Compared to testing for a single console, managing to ensure an app works on a huge array of smartphones is quite the feat. And on the Google Play store, you are sure to find people complaining about compatibility issues, or any other bugs they come across. Maintaining the same core gameplay across all devices is integral to success in a very over-saturated market.
Alongside this, the ever popular free-to-play model has managed to change how distribution and development works, with constant updates to keep the public glued to their phones. This means that with each update, QA is needed to make sure the quality stays as high as possible. With thIs phenomenon becoming global, everything from language to compatibility needs to be tested to ensure that it gains success worldwide. There are a lot of entirely new IPs and start-ups, which cannot rely on previous QA testing; it’s all new. And when you throw social or multiplayer elements into the mix between devices then it becomes all the more complex. Alongside this, new platforms and OS updates such as iOS7 or 4.4 KitKat on Android means that apps have to constantly adapt to keep up with the current smartphones on the market.
Everything from AAA titles to tiny indie games are being released on mobile devices, and so QA is going to continue to become more vital to the success of future games, as well as becoming an integral part of the development cycle in general. With limited funding, a lot of indie studios cannot afford to spend too much time on QA, yet it has to be done otherwise all their efforts could be hindered by bugs or other quality issues. Quality Assurance cannot be shunned any longer.
QA is best when it’s part of the development cycle, rather than throwing a group of grunts into a room to play through an unfinished game. Testers can often become a part of design decisions and any new features, as part of the creative process. Who knows what the future holds for the gaming industry; but what’s for certain is that QA will play a big role in how it evolves.
The Game QA & Localisation 2016 event will be returning to Barcelona, Spain (29-30 June). For more information, visit www.gameqaloc.com/europe.