What are the downsides of a job testing video games?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Ahkanu who asks, “I’ve come upon a lot of upsetting articles about the game testing jobs that are out there. They state how badly people get treated at work, are shown low respect, and have their contracts terminated or not extended for unacceptable reasons. How many of these negative views of the business are true, and can you give me an honest answer about the bad side of the life of a game tester?”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why some game testing jobs are great, and why others are kinda terrible
  • How you can specifically avoid the drawbacks that other testers have to deal with every day
  • Why game testing is a rewarding job and a great way to start your career in games

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

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Hello, everyone out there. Welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide podcast. This is episode number 23. I’m Jason W. Bay from gameindustrycareerguide.com, and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games.

This week’s question is from Ahkanu, who left a comment on a blog post to ask this: “I’ve come upon a lot of upsetting articles about game-testing jobs that are out there. They say how badly people get treated at work, are shown low respect, and have their contracts terminated or not extended for unacceptable reasons. How many of these negative views of the business are true? And can you give me an honest answer about the bad side of the life of a game tester?”

Excellent question, Ahkanu, because most people think of video game testing as being an awesome job. You get to play video games all day, right? But if you’ve ever known anybody who has had a job testing games, or if you read some of the articles online that were written by ex-game testers, often times you will get a different picture. There are definitely some horror stories out there. So, is game-testing the ultimate, awesome dream job? Or is it kind of a nightmare?

Obviously, the answer falls somewhere in between. It really depends on what company you’re working for and how well the game project, overall, is being run and managed. I started my game career as a tester, and I can tell you that I had some great projects that were a lot of fun and made me very proud of my work. I also had some that were terribly mismanaged, and I had to work with some game developers that were, honestly, kind of jerks. So those projects were not very fun.

One reason that a job as a game tester might be difficult or unpleasant is if the game studio in question has a poor work-life balance, and requires the testers to do a lot of crunch time, which is over-time. I talked in-depth about the work-life balance in the game industry in episode number 3 of this podcast. So, you can go back and listen to episode number 3 for a full discussion of crunch time. But, in short, some game companies have good management and they’re well run. Some companies are not quite so well run.

When a game company is mismanaged, it can lead to a lot of crunch time, especially for the testing team. Because even if the game team works late to make a new build, the testing team might be required to work even later to test the build before it gets released. When I was a tester, there were times when I would work a full eight-hour day and then go home. But then I’d have to come back into the studio later on and work for several hours at night in order to test a new build of a game before they sent it for approval the next morning. That was not fun.

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If you don’t want to work a lot of overtime, you can try to avoid working for those poorly managed companies. You just have to do your research before you take the job and find out what work is like at that company. You could also ask people during the job interview. You can ask them how often they crunch, how many hours of overtime are typically required. You could also look for anonymous employee reviews about the company on glassdoor.com. Just be sure to take them with a grain of salt because a lot of those reviews are left by disgruntled employees. They tend to be overly negative but it’s good information to get.

Ahkanu also asks about respect. Are game testers treated with the same level of respect as others on the game team? Again, it’s a tricky question because it depends on the company and on the team. At some companies I would say that, no, game testers are not shown as much respect as other members of the game team. Why is that? I think one reason is that game testers are often hired on as contractors rather than as full-time employees. And that’s because game testers are sometimes treated as seasonal workers. For example, when a game is getting close to being finished, a studio might hire several more testers, maybe six, or twelve, or twenty, depending on how big the game is, to help ship the game. But then, after the game ships, those testers might not be needed anymore so their contracts don’t get renewed, and they have to leave and get a job at a different company.

The problem with that from a respect standpoint, is that people on game team that work full time, they know that the testers might not be working there for long. And so, they might not put much effort into getting to know the testers and making them feel like they’re part of the team. It’s kind of, like, the red shirts on Star Trek. It’s hard to get emotionally invested in somebody that might not be around for very long. So, if you get a job as a tester on a contract or as temporary work, you might need to work a little harder to make friends with people on the game team. Don’t wait for them to reach out to you. Try talking to them during breaks, on lunchtime, or at after-work events. Don’t forget, your primary team is the other testers. Enjoy their company and don’t sweat it if the developers on the game team take a while to warm up to you.

Okay, the last thing I want to mention to address Ahkanu’s question, is to mention that it’s important to understand that game testers are not paid as well as other jobs on the game team. And that could make you feel like you aren’t as valued, or that your work isn’t as valued as others in the game studio.

Why aren’t testers paid as highly? It’s because game testers usually don’t have as much education or as much experience as some other jobs on the game team. In fact, most testing jobs don’t require a college degree and they don’t require any special experience. Compare that to a game programmer or artist who might be required to have a four-year degree before they’ll even be considered for an entry-level job. Jobs that need more experience also get more pay, that’s just the way it works. So, testers with less formal education, they just aren’t paid as much.

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The upside for testers is that it’s easier to get a job testing with no education. You can find all the information about the salary ranges for game testers and the other game jobs at gameindustrycareerguide.com/salary.

So, if game testers sometimes have to work more hours, they sometimes get less respect from the game team, and they generally aren’t paid as much as the other developers, then why in the world would anybody want to become a game tester? Well, I discuss this in-depth in my book called “Land a Job as a Video Game Tester.”

Overall, game testing is great because you get to participate in the collaborate effort of making a video game. Every day, you might work with highly talented artists, programmers, and designers, and you get to make the greatest game you can make. It can be really rewarding and super fun to watch a developing game go from literally nothing, all the way to a finished product that people play and have fun with. You get to know that you played a key role in that game’s success.

Another reason is that being a game tester is an excellent way to get your foot in the door of the game industry and start your career as a game maker. It’s how I started my decade-plus career making games, and it’s how many of my friends also started their game-making careers. I even know several people who stayed in their jobs as game testers and, years later, they’ve now built it into a rewarding career to support their lives and their families, while doing work that they love testing games.

I think you’ll find that the pros outweigh the cons by a landslide. Even after a rough day, you’ll always be able to remind yourself that you spent the day doing what you loved. The icing on the cake is, of course, that you get paid to do it.

Okay, that’s a good discussion of the pros and cons of being a video game tester. If you’re at all interested in testing games as a career, I highly recommend that you read my book, “Land a Job as a Video Game Tester.” You’ll get the real-world info on how to start a career testing games. All the way from learning the basics (if you don’t know anything at all yet), to writing your resume and applying for jobs, all the way to negotiating your job offers. You can get it as a digital book on Kindle, Nook, or whatever, or you can order a print copy. Just search for it on amazon.com or go to gameindustrycareerguide.com/tester.

Thanks to Ahkanu for this question, and thank you for hanging out with me today while you walk, run, exercise, commute, or whatever you’re doing right now. If you have your own question you’d like me to answer on this podcast, stop by the website and send me an email or leave a comment. I’ll answer it on a future episode.

For more information and inspiration on getting a job and growing your career making video games, visit me at gameindustrycareerguide.com. I’m Jason W. Bay. I’ll see you next week, right here, on the Game Industry Career Guide podcast.

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Making games for a living is an incredibly rewarding career, but it’s hard to break in unless you have insider knowledge. This book levels the playing field.

READ: Start Your Video Game Career

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One comment on “What are the downsides of a job testing video games?
  1. Hy Nguyen says:

    Great work! Since I found out that gaming is my passion, this website is the most helpful website that I found! It provides very detailed information that I would want to read to get a career about gaming.

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