Testing Games for a Living: How to Become a Video Games Tester
To some people, playing video games for a living sounds like a dream job. Find out what it’s really like to be a game tester and how to break into this unique job.
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What Does a Game Tester Do?
A video game tester has to make sure that a new game behaves exactly as its the development team intended. They have to find “bugs” – glitches and places where the gameplay does not work properly – and then communicate that to the programmers or game designers who created the game.
Although a games company might try to advertise the job as playing games all day for fun, testing games is not as easy as it appears. As a key part of the quality assurance process, a tester needs to be absolutely fanatical about playing video games. They will play them over and over, paying attention to tiny, boring details, making sure all the characters interact properly. On the plus side, there is excitement in the fact that you get to play great games before anyone else, and see inside the video game development process.
Game designer, Computer Science student and occasional QA tester
QA Testing is a good learning experience and a way to understand how teams work and adapt as an individual in the industry.
I do it every now and then when a studio or a game developer needs Testers. It’s an entry-level type of job but with my experience, network and education, I get contract requests to test some games as a QA Tester.
What I loved about it was how the position alone made you connect with the different departments and learn about different things from them.
Like for example, the art department would ask me to test out a branch that they’re working on and they would send me a list of things to look out for. They would explain what they did, what should happen and what shouldn’t happen.
Once I put in my report after testing, they would call me into their office and show me how they did things in the art software to give me an idea of their vision and see if my report is accurate or needs tweaking with that information.
Overall, it’s a learning experience. The playing the same game over and over part isn’t as glamorous as many would think it is.”
How Much Do Game Testers Make?
Full-time game testers make approximately $73,000 per year, however, that career path usually involves a high-level software development background or knowledge of application and web-based technologies. Programming skills are highly sought after.
For casual, one-off or part-time game testers, the typical rate of pay is $30 an hour, with some testers requiring up to 30 hours of work per week and others just a few hours.
Median Game Tester Salary
What Does it Take to Succeed in Video Game Testing?
Game testers don’t need any specific qualifications except an obsession with video games. It helps if they have a background in graphic design and programming so that they understand what goes into designing a game and what changes are and aren’t possible. Communication skills will also be crucial since testers need to be clear and detailed when they inform the game developers of a bug.
Testers also need to have lots of patience, a good eye for detail and not mind working odd, long hours. Developers need the games tested in shifts to meet release deadlines so gamers will often find themselves working the night shift and 10-hour working days are the norm.
If you want to be a game tester as your full-time job it’s also important to live in the parts of the world where the video game industry is situated, for example, in cities like San Francisco, Montreal and Sydney. However, even if you live in one of these cities, most game tester jobs only exist on a contract basis. When the testing cycle for a new game is over, the game QA team is no longer needed.
Finally, don’t expect to get rich being a game tester. QA testers get hourly salaries, no benefits and are employed on a contractual basis. It’s not the type of job you want if you have a family to support.
How Do You Become a Game Tester?
While you don’t need any formal qualifications to test games for a living, it is worth having some background on IT or app and game development, this way you can easily point out bugs and be able to communicate them effectively. Game testers with this background also tend to be paid more.
Alternatively, plenty of game studios actively seek gamers that have little knowledge or background in the area, as they can act as a more realistic representation of the typical gamer.
Serious about becoming a full-time game tester? This role could be your foot in the game industry’ door. Set yourself up for success with training in programming or software development.