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The Truth about Being a Beta Tester
by Brice Morrison on 05/14/13 09:52:00 am   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Photo credit: yum9me

This article is reposted from The Game Prodigy, a blog for students and parents interested in careers in games.

Many students dream of being a "beta tester" or game tester, someone who plays games for a living. It sounds like the ultimate job, right? You’re someone who enjoys playing games, and so what could possibly be better than sitting in a comfy chair, sipping on sodas, and playing games while getting paid for it? There are hundreds of websites and advertisements out there trying to lure unsuspecting students into programs and schools to become a game tester, and there’s even a TV centered around it. It’s such easy bait that many students buy into the dream, hoping to end up in what sounds like a perfect job.

Unfortunately, as many game developers will tell you, pro beta testing or game testing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Quality Assurance, or QA as it’s called in the industry, comes with a lot of negatives that students aren’t aware of as they pursue the rosy picture in their minds. I’ve worked with a lot of great people who are game testers, and while it may be a good career for some, for most of my students that I advise it’s not a wise choice. These are a few reasons for this, and there are some better options that I tend to steer students towards instead.

The first main drawback is that the work is actually not nearly as fun as you would think; on the contrary, it’s quite tedious. Students who imagine game testing imagine it being similar to when they have their friends over to play some games – sitting around, playing a few matches here and there, and trying out the newest games when they come out. Working in QA isn’t anything like this. The primary purpose of quality assurance is to find bugs and problems in the game, such as the game crashing, glitches in the images, or incorrect behavior. In order to find these bugs, QA has to play the game over and over and over again. For example, if you were working on Call of Duty, then when the first level was ready to play, then you would play through it. Then you would play through it again. And again. You’d try to do something slightly different each time, waiting for the game to crash. You will probably end up playing the same level literally hundreds of times. This is a far cry from the rosy picture most people have of testers and has a feeling much closer to assembly line work.

The second main drawback of being in QA is low pay. Of all the careers in games covered by the Game Developer Magazine industry salary survey done every year, QA consistently ranks the lowest, at over $26,000 lower than the next lowest discipline. Even leads and experienced QA personnel aren’t paid very much. While money isn't everything, this is a huge drawback when considering which path in games.

The final drawback is that a career in QA has limited upward mobility. Some QA testers manage to move into other career paths like design or production, but most QA testers are stuck in QA the length of their career, no matter how skilled they become. It makes it very difficult to move into another discipline, and since everyone wants to be a QA tester, there isn’t much negotiating power to move to other companies as well.

So what’s a gamer to do? In my career advising sessions with students and parents, I often advise them to consider a career in QA only after considering other paths first. While I have worked with many great people in QA, if you can become a designer, artist, or engineer, then you’ll be getting paid more, enjoy greater autonomy in your work, and have better mobility in your career.

This article is reposted from The Game Prodigy, a blog for students and parents interested in careers in games. 

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Jonathan Jennings
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I have two friends who have worked in QA for two of the largest game publishers in California and one is content in his role, he is slowly rising through the ranks and is just happy to have a game industry job. I hav another friend who I consider to be a great Designer in the making who is unhappy working in another QA department because sure while he gets to work in the industry he definitely aspires to have a hand in the development process not just comment on todays bugs and issues not to mention pay like you mention .

While there is definitely a career to be found through QA ( one of my producers rose from a QA guy to a Lead producer at a large publisher over the course of 14 years) it's not an easy task and it requires a tremendous level of patience .

I definitely appreciate the honesty of this post because while the industry needs testers, people going in as testers under false assumptions is unfair for both the applicant and I would argue you potentially get lower quality QA people as well.

Brice Morrison
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Hi Jonathan, as you mention, QA can be a great career choice for some. But yes, lots of people have unrealistic expectations on what the career path is like. It is possible to move into design or production but it is definitely more difficult, you really have to stand out.

Thanks for your comment!

Aurymar Espinosa
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I was considering, given the fact that as a Video Game Graphic Deisign graduate, I'm having a hard time getting a job in my field of study, getting a job as a QA tester would be an easy way into the industry. But now I'm not so sure it's the best choice to start with.... I'm glad I read this first.

Corey Windom
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I do not think the job title, "BETA tester" is going to be around much longer. Most games have some sort of online capability, so people can access games from anywhere and there are thousands of people out there that are willing to "Beta Test" for free. Look at Elder Scrolls Online. They sent out thousands upon thousands of invites to their closed beta so now instead of having one person test the same thing over and over again they can have a bunch of people all testing it at once. Far more productive.