Meet Bill Schneider, Video Game QA Tester
Of all the jobs in the game industry, testing video games might be the one that gamers around the world dream about most. Today we’re talking with a guy who’s not only tested games on just about every platform, but he’s also turned the job into a rich and rewarding career.
Bill Schneider has worked as a game tester for over a decade, and you can see his name in the credits of over 40 shipped titles – everything from Harry Potter to The Sims, and from Bejeweled to Assassin’s creed. Let’s find out how his career has taken him from a front-line game tester, to a manager and leader of entire testing teams at major game studios.
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What do you do each day as a Video Game Tester?
The most generalized overview of my daily responsibilities would be “I nitpick and bug the heck out of games in development with the intent to make them better.”
Actually, in my current job as a Game QA Lead, I coordinate with the production and development teams to organize, plan, and supervise testing efforts on a specific title from start to finish… and beyond. (Live Operations).
How did you start your game testing career?
It’s a long, sordid tale full of high aspirations and broken dreams… but to be perfectly honest, I sort of fell into it.
I graduated college with the intent of being a Network Administrator, but the timing couldn’t have been worse as the “dot-com bubble” had recently burst and tech companies were in major hiring freezes.
Unable to land a job in my chosen career, I made ends meet by doing temporary administrative work at various places when a friend contacted me about a full-time testing job at a 3rd-party game development studio where he worked. Having been a long-time gamer, I gave it a shot and, as luck would have it, was hired within an hour of the interview. Since that day, I’ve been in QA as a tester, lead, or manager and never looked back.
What do you like most about being a Game Tester?
I really enjoy participating in the overall collaborative effort of making games. Each day I work with groups of individual contributors, development leads, and product owners. We all share information with each other, constantly look for ways to streamline process, remove obstacles, and ultimately try to make the best game possible.
The success of a game isn’t really up to us, but the idea of putting forth our best efforts to create something in a medium we all enjoy, can be incredibly fulfilling.
What’s your least favorite part?
The least favorite aspect of my job is reminding people outside our discipline that testing and quality assurance is an integral part of the development process.
As QA is often not physically located with development teams, it’s important to me they are viewed as part of it. Testers are thoughtful and talented sources of information and contributors of ideas and effort; their presence should be included in team or company meetings and events, but they tend to be overlooked or forgotten (whether accidentally or otherwise).
What aspects of the Game Tester job might surprise people?
Being a game tester doesn’t mean we just sit around getting paid to play games all day – it’s not the best (or easiest) job in the world. The reality is this: Testers play games all day that are unfinished, unbalanced, often incredibly broken. We’ll play the same broken game over and over every day, sometimes overnight and on weekends for months – and possibly even years, depending on the game.
It can be incredibly tedious work that requires a lot of commitment and attention to detail. People who land their first testing job are often surprised by how challenging the position can be. The majority of our time is spent repeatedly testing certain features, systems, and small-to-moderate chunks of actual gameplay. Sometimes, we don’t get to play the entire game until the nearly the end of the development cycle.
Also, while the terms are often used interchangeably, there is an actual difference between “testing” and “quality assurance:”
- Testing is about producing quantifiable results by running test passes on features and systems, focusing on bug counts, trends, and burndown rates to make the game as “bug-free” as possible by the end of the testing cycle.
- Quality Assurance centers on user experience and satisfaction, usually through gameplay audits (or “playtests”), competitive analysis, balance testing, or other aspects that may affect the intended audience’s overall enjoyment of a game.
What does it take to succeed as a Game Tester?
As mentioned previously, discipline and attention to detail is important. Basic knowledge of technical writing is helpful, as the bugs we write need to be easily understood, detailed, and precise, yet brief.
I would also encourage those who are creative, tinkerers, and naturally curious to try their hand at testing, as “outside the box” thinking and people who like finding out how things work and solving problems would be successful testers. I’ve also found that patience and a good sense of humor goes a long way in this job.
Surprisingly, you don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to be a good tester – some of the best I’ve worked with were casual gamers.
What advice would you give to somebody thinking about a career testing games?
Look for testing job opportunities during the summer months. Game studios may need some short-term QA help during that time as they gear up for the holiday push. Not only will you gain some hands-on experience, it’s a chance to see if testing is a good career path for you. There are some good online resources like forums and LinkedIn communities you can check out. Also, talk to any friends or acquaintances that have worked in the industry.
Take some professional/business writing and communication classes, which I believe to be valuable in any career, but will serve you well in QA. If you’re looking to move beyond the tester role and into management or another discipline, I strongly recommend earning a Bachelor’s Degree, as it has become heavily considered by recruiters and hiring managers.
Any books you’d recommend to learn more about testing games?
There are books that focus more on gaming, but learning about the fundamentals, concepts and application of testing provides a strong foundation that can be carried over to any type of software testing. I always recommend these ones:
Land a Job as a Video Game Tester
by Jason W. Bay
[Editor’s note:] Also see the interview with Bill in the most complete guide to learning how to test games and get a job as a Game Tester, Land a Job as a Video Game Tester. It will teach you the basics of game testing, and walk you through the process of applying/interviewing/accepting game tester jobs. It has everything you need to know to get a job testing games.
Lessons Learned in Software Testing: A Context-Driven Approach
by Cem Kaner
The world’s leading software testing experts lend you their wisdom and years of experience to help you avoid the most common mistakes in testing software.
Testing Computer Software
by Cem Kaner
This book will teach you how to test computer software under real-world conditions.
Software Testing and Continuous Improvement
by William E. Lewis
This book provides a continuous quality framework for the software testing process within traditionally structured and unstructured environments.
You can reach Bill via his LinkedIn page. If you liked his interview, please say thanks by sharing it with friends.