Like many of my gamer buddies out there, I’ve dreamed of sitting in an office all day long and getting paid to play through the early phases of game development as a tester. When I found out this job existed, I day dreamed about rolling in to work with my Square-Enix leather jacket or in the BioWare logo-emblazoned company car I just got as compensation for my new job title. Folks talk about finding a job that you can get passionate about. They talk about finding a job that doesn’t really feel like one. Something you can wake up each morning and feel awesome about. Heck, my wife couldn’t possibly get irritated with me for playing video games anymore because that’s what I GET PAID TO DO! My goal was to seek out such a position and make all my dreams come true.
Well, the bubble quickly burst. In trying to seek out ways to get into the industry, I went to every website imaginable to find an ‘in’. I checked out subscription sites that promised “access to employers and insight into how to land a game testing job at home!” These sounded fantastic but possibly to good to be true. But hey, I’m an optimist.
After paying a minimal fee to get this “insider information” from a website that promised a “money-back guarantee” for their worldly insights into the testing profession, I discovered that what I was paying for was some basic strategies with how to find jobs and how to tweak your resume to seem more appealing to game companies. Talk about a RIP-OFF! Let’s just say I got pissed and demanded my money for the service not meeting my expectations. I’m convinced that the “in-home game tester jobs” don’t really exist at this point. Well, there’s the first huge brick wall.
You’re Telling Me I’m Overqualified?
Next, I decided to do researches on the profession and requirements for qualified tester and found out that the really good, full-time testing jobs did require more understanding of programming, ability to work with programmers and designers, and a very keen understanding of problem solving and critical thinking around software development. Positions like this are called “Quality Assurance Specialists” as a general categorical title). This is a ton of work, and for many testers, gaming does actually become more work than play. They often lose some of the nostalgia that the general public has because we don’t have to replay the same section of a level 40 bazillion times just trying to find bugs. However, I still believed that this was the job for me and I would only gain a greater appreciation for the craft. I just needed more education.
I started thinking that maybe I could take some at-home courses and just get a B.A. in Programming/Game Development to help my chances. I’d love the classes, and I have all the general education out of the way already. In theory, that was a good idea, but not as easy as I thought. I actually did a phone interview with an admissions officer for a well-known institution for game development. Once he found out I already had a B.A. in biology/computer science and an M.A. in educational administration, he was stumped as to why I was even looking into this. For the passion baby! The passion! In thinking out my plan, the reality was I’d have to take 3 years of online classes to fulfill the requirements. Hmm, not really feasible. Wall number two.
I Just want to game for a living
I gave all that up and just started looking up job openings for publishers/producers in the Northern California area. I had created a modified resume to send to any testing related job I could find, and emphasized my abilities I knew would get looked at. Most of these inquiries got me in touch with temp agencies for positions that required relocation and/or a yearly contract that would only net about 18K a year. I’m pretty sure they wife wouldn’t be thrilled about that. “Hey honey, guess what!? I’m going to take a tremendous pay cut to go test video games!”
Yeah, uh, I don’t think so. I decided to send information out about myself and joined publishers’ websites that send information about jobs that open up or future one-time testing opportunities. I got a lot of great information, but nothing that really worked. There were a few browser-based game companies that sent me information for beta testing and working as a part-time product tester, but is just didn’t fit with what I was looking for.
Success, Sort Of
Then, it happened. I got an email one day that said I had been added to the list of potential participants in one-time testing opportunities with a San Francisco area company. Did my efforts pay off? This company sends out notices to folks that are on the list serve for potential participation in private, small group testing of titles in development. Now, there are a few hitches in that it’s a 2-hour drive and they give short notice of when they need people, but I stuck with it and finally had an opportunity to participate this past winter. And let me tell you, it was freaking fun as all get out for me.
Because of disclosure reasons, I can’t talk about the project I was working, but I can tell you that for me, it was worth the drive to SF. I mentioned before that for later stages of game development, publishers look for input from gamers without creating full-time positions for it. They rely on small groups and beta testing as cheap alternatives to get the same kind of data I’m assuming they were getting from career positions. Yes, the number crunching, problem solving QA postions who work with programmers are out there, but this is a great way to get involved in the process at a casual level.
I receieved a free, current title (from that specific publisher) of my choosing for any game system I want as compensation for the work that I did that day. From a business side, it cost the company a minimal amount for the game, and they got 2-3 hours of work from me with a 3-4 hour total drive. That’s a heck of an efficient business model. Financially, I probably lost more money testing than I got compensated, but it’s the experience that was the true thrill and reward for me. I got to see the development of a title a full year before 99.9% of gamers in the world. Watching E3 this past week had a whole new meaning for me; I actually had input on the future of gaming and on a title that I’m positive will be a tremendous hit in the coming years.
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The Cinema Source (Image)
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