Visions of a QA degree in Video Games
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
I've worked in QA for almost 10 years and would say that QA is starting to be viewed as a discipline in its own right rather than a necessary evil where "kids get to play games". Within the industry, inside scrum teams, the QA'er is as valuable as anyone else in the team. In Academia, however, there hasn't been the same push to create the next generation of talented QA'ers in the same way as we see dedicated Design, Art, Programming, Audio and Production courses. There is an element of teaching quality within those courses, however, there doesn't seem to be many official courses aimed for QA in Games at university level.
"We're currently learning the Art of QA in islands across the industry with little cross pollination"
I've seen small shoots of hope appear with some outsource QA companies providing full intensive training courses to turn passionate applicants into QA testers. There are some QA courses out there however they relate more to Software Testing and lean towards becoming a developer. At conferences, it seems like the holy grail of testing is trying to attract SDETs (Software Developers Embedded in Test). In this article I'd like to explore and invite comment about what you feel a university level degree in Quality Assurance would look like, the broad principles and subjects that would be taught and what gaps in the current landscape we need to fill.
Core Testing Skills
Starting at the basics, students would learn Functionality testing and be shown the fundamentals in Bug Reporting, Bug Classification, Regression Testing, Test Sessions, Project management etc. Students would also be taught the principles of testing, learn how to balance coverage vs risk, creating effective test-plans and time management skills. Areas such as Destructive testing, performing End to End Testing and Gameplay Analysis would feature to form a basis of the course.
For QA to be effective, I feel that a low level grasp of all core video game disciplines would be essential. This would range from being able to grasp programming basics right through to being able to Animate at a basic level. I can see some students taking one of the disciplines as a specialty and could graduate as a QA'er with Level Design for example.
There would be an emphasis on the prevention of issues Vs the detection of them
The focus of these modules is to help understand the underlying construction of game assets so they can critique and tear them apart later on. Students would also be able to make better judgement calls when trying to narrow reproduction steps and better communicate with developers on the bugs they find.
Industry Philosophies and Norms
Agile and Scrum could be philosophies that are taught in this course. Industry input would lead the way here and prepare students to be able to adapt to working life in a games company. It is also an opportunity to expose the history and norms of the industry and lay the ground work in challenging areas such as unpaid overtime, 60hour+ weeks, burnout etc. There would be an emphasis on the prevention of issues vs the detection of them and an exploration into the importance of quality enhancers such as Continuous Integration, TDD etc.
This is an umbrella which subdivides the standard applications of testing. There would be modules in Functionality Testing, Compatibility Testing, Certification, Performance Testing, Design Testing, Automation Testing, QA Planning and Strategy etc. Layered within these areas we could explore some of the unique areas of PC Testing, Console Testing, Mobile Testing, VR Testing etc.
There would also be an emphasis on Leadership and project management as students would be expected to lead teams of testers as they execute their QA strategy for the game in test.
Such a degree would incorporate QA students into the Game Jam sessions. This would bring the standard and quality of games up and would give all team members a strong analogue as to what it's like in Industry by allowing for professional testing. If done correctly, the game would be suitably stable to the point that they could be released and experience the full development cycle rather than just building a demo local to the building hosting the event.
I believe that the mere forming of a course would be a huge step in making QA within Games a respected profession and not something people do to get their foot in the industry door. By skilling up and preparing the next generation of QA'ers we can move away from mere detection and reporting of issues to making a difference in preventing them. We're currently learning the Art of QA in islands across the industry with little cross pollination so let's get together and QA the QA process!