A Day in the Life of Quality Assurance + Thoughts on Game Development QA

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While I’m not a tester per se, I do end up doing a lot of exploratory testing as I go through the process of doing documentation.

I’ll admit, too, that my experience has not been in games development but in accounting software development.  Testing is hard and tedious work, and can be especially bad when requirements are vague and shifting.  Given my background in QA, maybe I should be more sympathetic to the game publishers who release broken, buggy or sometimes even unplayable games on the assurance that a day 1 patch will fix things out of the box, but I’m really not.  I feel like by the time you get to actual playtesting, where many of the worst gamebreaking bugs should be obvious, the requirements ought to be solidified enough (requirements: be able to play game, complete game objectives, and perform regular tasks during the course of gameplay without defect) to get the dev tasks reissued and have a smoothly working game.

While this model may work for PC gaming, it’s a really lousy way to handle console or cross platform releases, because it works on the assumption that everyone with a console has access to whatever online network is available to download patches. The expectation for console games used to be, and in this, it was one of the few regards where console games were truly superior to PC games, was that the game would work on your hardware without requiring updates, configuration tweaks, patches to the system and patches to the game. That’s not to say that there weren’t broken and unplayable games for console, but those were inexcusable; the attitude toward PC games was more forgiving, and that forgiving attitude has allowed for some really garbage stuff making its way into console games.

Luckily, I haven’t experienced too many game-breaking bugs in console games, but that’s largely because of how restricted I’ve become in my consumption of console games. A part of it, I think, is the “fear climate” created by the stories of AAA titles being released with tons of bugs; I end up not buying games at all because I’m worried that I’ll plop down all this money for a title and then it won’t work and I will have to go through all of the headache of retrieving my Microsoft login info that i have’t used in 6 or 7 years, stringing ethernet cable across the house (I don’t have wifi) and hoping that I can figure out how to patch a console game. I’d rather just wait for a game of the year edition with vital fixes (I’m looking at you, Clavicus Vile!) and some of the DLC added in at a substantial discount.

I know it’s unfair to companies who put out quality products, I know, but I really feel like the companies who put out inexcusably broken content have ruined it for everyone. Because some AAA title that I’d have no interest in anyway comes out horribly buggy and broken, I’m more hesitant to buy console titles I’m actually interested in.

The games industry as a whole would benefit greatly just by investing a little more time, money and manpower into QA than almost any other aspect of their project. All of the assets, gameplay, and storytelling in the world isn’t going to offset the bad PR of a disastrous launch caused by a failure to devote appropriate resources to your testing. Regardless of what industry you’re in, bugs in your software are going to cost you money and trust.

There’s more at work, though, than just QA.  Video games are often marketing driven software development; the sales team has already sold the idea, deadlines are in place, the marketing is already prepared and the development now has to keep up with the goalposts of the deadline and the promises made by sales & marketing.  Anyone in software will tell you that this is a terrible way to drive product development, but it’s really just how it goes regardless of what part of the industry you’re in.  I also want to say that I’m not blaming the Devs; things get added and dropped in software projects at the whims of clients, BAs and team leads.  What needs to change is the attitude toward what is a finished product that can go out the door.  The point of QA is to make sure that broken software does not get approve and released.  The current state of things is that the window of time during which physical software product is manufactured, distributed and sold is additional time bought for developers to finish their coding.  The day the product hits the shelf cannot be treated as the deadline for completing the product, especially for console releases.

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