If your idea of the perfect weekend is two days spent in the company of Mario, Link and Desmond Miles, a career as a games tester could be right up your street.
Games testers play video games and look out for bugs, glitches, spelling mistakes, story errors and other problems. They report any issues they find to the creative teams to fix so that the game is as smooth as possible when it goes on sale.
In this article, we’ll look at how to become a game tester by asking:
- What does a game tester do?
- What qualifications do you need to become a video game tester?
- Are game tester apprenticeships available?
- Where can it take me?
- How much does a game tester earn?
'Like nothing better than hanging out with Mario & Link? Consider a job as a game tester'
What does a game tester do?
Game testers don’t just sit down and play a game through as you might do at home. Instead, they play systematically and look out for problems. This might mean testing the same part of the game over and over again to make sure it works smoothly, and often involves working on incomplete games with features missing.
Tests a tester might carry out include:
- Matrix testing: Fighting each characters against each other to make sure they behave as expected.
- Functionality testing: Making sure the game design meets the intentions of the storywriters, artists, designers and developers.
- Regression testing: Making sure bugs you have reported have been fixed by the developers.
They also look out for:
- Spelling or grammatical mistakes in the text.
- Story errors.
- Location glitches.
- Copyright issues.
- Problems with the audio or graphics.
Game testers suggest improvements to the game as well as spotting mistakes.
They usually work in teams which divide up the testing work between them. Problems or improvements are reported to the relevant team (story, animation, development, design) through an IT system. Testers help prioritise the fixes by ranking how important a bug or enhancement is when they report it – this ensures the worst problems are tackled first if there isn’t enough time or money to fix everything.
Games testers work for game developers or publishers, or sometimes an outside testing agency who test other people’s games for them.
What qualifications do you need to become a video game tester?
Game testers don’t need any particular qualifications, apart from a love of gaming and an excellent knowledge of different types of games, platforms, styles and genres.
However, when it comes to what you need to become a video game tester, there are plenty of skills which can help:
- Attention to detail to make sure you spot the smallest bugs.
- A patient, methodical and thorough approach to your work.
- Good discipline and a hard-working attitude to ensure you’re focused on spotting problems and improvements – even when you’re playing a game you really enjoy!
- Excellent problem-solving skills to help you identify possible fixes and enhancements.
- The ability to work to deadlines while staying calm and focused.
- The ability to prioritise your work and manage your own workload.
- Outstanding communication and people skills. You’ll have to deal with artists, developers, designers and storywriters – who communicate in very different ways.
- Good IT skills – you’ll need to be able to use spreadsheets and learn to use new systems for reporting bugs.
- Programming skills will help but are rarely essential. They’ll come in handy if you’d like to progress into design or development.
Is it for me?
If you love gaming, game testing might sound like your dream job, but it can be demanding, stressful, repetitive and tiring.
Depending on who you work for, you may not get much choice over which games you test. You will probably work on some amazing games, but you may also have to play children’s games, arcade games and some which are just plain rubbish!
You will probably have to play the same bits over and over again. If you’re carrying out “matrix testing”, for example, you may have to fight characters against each other in every combination at every level, so the experience differs from gaming for pleasure where you progress as you win fights.
Game testers are often placed on fixed-term contracts (temporary employment for 6 or 12 months, for example) or work as self-employed contractors. This means you may not be entitled to the same benefits (like annual leave, a pension) or job security as permanent employees.
Game testers say that things can the workload can be especially tough during “crunch time” – the final deadline before a game is released. You may have to work long hours or even weekends at this time.
Many game testers enjoy their job and love playing games for a living! If you’re conscientious, methodical and like solving problems, it could be a great way to enter the game industry.
Where can it take me?
Game testing is an “entry-level” position, which means you don’t necessarily need qualifications to do it. It can be a great way to get a glimpse inside the world of game design, and could be you first step to becoming a game designer, animator, storywriter or developer.
However, game testers say that opportunities for progression can be hard to come by, particularly if you’re self-employed or on a fixed-term contract.
What will I get paid?
Game testers usually start on quite a low salary, starting at around £12,000, according to the University of Kent. According to a 2016 survey by video game information site MCV, the average salary for a game tester is £16,700. By comparison, the average salary in the UK in 2016 was £28,200.
The government says that experienced team leaders can end up earning up to £40,000.
If you’re self-employed, you may get paid by the hour or day, or a fixed amount for the project.
How can I get started?
As it’s an entry-level job, you don’t need qualifications, but work experience will help you get a job.
Consider doing game testing work experience at game company – there are lots small and large companies all over the country, and many of them offer work experience. If you impress, your work experience placement could lead to a job offer. Remember, you can record your work experience in our work experience log by signing up for a free account.
A “games quality assurance technician” apprenticeship has been developed by the government, but we couldn’t find any employers who offer it at the moment. Keep checking the government’s Find An Apprenticeship service as they will appear there when they become available.
Now you know how to become a game tester, check out our guide to other careers in the games industry.