Earlier today on the Gamasutra Twitch channel, we got to check out the still-in-development narrative space train simulator Sunless Skies, a successor to Failbetter Games' 2015 title Sunless Sea. Joining us was QA tester Lesleyann White, who came by to share some insight about the company's production practices, and what other developers can learn from them.
For developers looking to reduce crunch in their workflow, or interested in building stronger bonds between QA testers and design/development teams, it's a conversation definitely worth watching.
As usual, we've ensured you can watch our full conversation with White up above in a handy video embedded for your convenience, but in case you're trotting off to the black void of outer space as we speak, here are a few key takeaways from our conversation.
Software vs. games, less bugs, less crunch
Part of our conversation with White included discussion of her transition from working at Jagex to the medical software development field, where White says she learned a lot about how teams can work on schedule to deliver functional products that literally can't afford to fail (or people die).
According to White, this reinforced her notion that crunch at game companies is partly a product of improper planning, which is why when she returned to the games industry, she sought out companies like Failbetter (which endeavors to make games without crunching) for employment, in order to maintain her work/life balance and overall mental health. White's thoughts if nothing else, suggest that changes for the better at certain game companies could help attract strong talent from adjacent fields used to less strenuous working conditions.
Waterfall vs Agile (and what you can learn from them)
We quizzed White about her thoughts about how game companies can improve life for their QA testers, and she was able to make a helpful analogy based on her time in both Waterfall and Agile production environments. During her time at Jagex, she says she first worked using a Waterfall-styled production method where content was developed by developers several months in advance, and QA only was able to test it after a lot of work was done already.
By contrast, when Jagex switched to an Agile workflow, White found being embedded with a handful of designers and artists in a small team helped her eliminate more problems before they surfaced, thanks to her experience with the game and knowledge of other bugs in the system. White doesn't necessarily consider this an endorsement of Agile vs any other production workflow, but rather an example of what good changes can occur when QA gets to work hand-in-hand with the core development team, rather than, say, in another building altogether.
Just breathe, it's only Early Access
Though Sunless Skies is Failbetter's second jaunt through the choppy waters of Early Access, it's White's first, which means she's learning a lot about the process in a very hands-on environment. As a self-described fixer, she says developers hoping to work on Early Access games need to remind themselves to breathe once in a while and that when bugs pour in, just say "It's okay, it's Early Access."
White credits her Failbetter colleagues for helping her work to internalize this thought process, but says this mindset is more than just rethinking in-the-moment panic. When Early Access users report bugs, it's important to put them in context of the larger development plan, since a reactive mindset might lead to more time spent fixing bugs in early builds rather then developing new content and marching toward launch. With some grumbling about the way Early Access was named (she prefers GOG's "Games in Development" moniker), she says players are mostly understanding of these facts since they're mostly aware they've signed up for an admittedly "early" experience.
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