Video game QA testing may be low on the game development totem pole, just above “personal projects” you’d never think about including in your resume. But used correctly, both can carry you a long way towards becoming a game programmer, story line creator, or graphics designer.
It’s all about broader experience inventory and growth through progress.
It would seem fairly obvious. Look at anyone in college working towards a career in a high paying field like medicine, and what do you see them doing? That’s right, working at any job in a hospital, clinic, or private practice environment (a relevant environment) which they can find. They know even a role only loosely related to the one they aspire towards in their chosen field serves as a stepping stone towards more relevant positions once the opportunity becomes available.
As is the case in medicine, software development is a industry made up of many narrow roles. If you’re only focused on “qualifying for your desired role”, you may end up short changing yourself in two ways. First, by not recognizing applicable experience you’ve already obtained through non-professional work and personal hobbies. Second, by overlooking potential resume building opportunities while limiting yourself only to the ones not available to you SA Gaming.
Let’s look at the first problem: “not recognizing applicable experience you’ve already obtained”.
I don’t see this problem a lot in sales and marketing, regardless if it’s computer entertainment sales, advertisement sales, or used car sales. In fact, newer “greener” aspiring sales reps often need to learn a page from aspiring software developers about “Never put anything in your portfolio that someone wouldn’t pay you for”. Where the aspiring gaming professional falls short is recognizing what actually counts as valuable to those they present their resumes and portfolios to. They’ll often include what they consider “real job experience”, such as “Manager at Macy’s”, or “Audits and Accounting at Wells Fargo” (neither of which has anything to do with game or software development); but avoid including things like “my dorm mate and I wrote “Squares vs Circles” (an iPhone app) for fun while we were in college, it got 500,000 downloads within a month of release” (so what you are saying is, you wrote, developed, tested, and published popular and successful software on your own for fun?)
It’s as if those aspiring to game development roles almost seem to have an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the kinds of experiences relevant to the gaming field. While considering any work they think of as “from a real company” with “a real paycheck attached” automatically more important. The thing is: the person looking over your resume doesn’t care about any of that. They’re not your dad who thinks you should get a “real job”, or your mom who worries about you’re “spending too much time on the internet”, they are people looking for someone with experience that has to do with games. Don’t discount experience because it was “just a personal project”. If you want to be hired in the area of game development you need to show how you have already performed successfully in game development. Whether or not you got paid, and regardless whether or not it resembles what you or your peers think of as “a real company”, “real work”, or “real professional”. What matters is that it was developing a game, and you completed the project as defined – or better. That’s what people want to hear about.
Now take a look at the second problem: “overlooking potential resume building opportunities while limiting yourself only to the ones not available to you”.
This one is a little trickier, because it requires a balancing act. You see, another important thing to remember is “Build your portfolio around a single focus”. I’m not going into detail about that here, as it mostly goes beyond the scope of this article. But, it needs to be mentioned as it’s the other end of the spectrum in so far as: on one level, you don’t want to overlook potential resume building opportunities, but at the same time, you don’t want to build a portfolio of non-relevant experience and garbage either.
The best way to look at it is, if you have an opportunity to work in a position which is highly relevant to your desired role in gaming – say for example story line creator – by all means favor that work over work that’s less closely related. But when such positions are scarce or highly competitive, don’t overlook opportunity to work in any game development role – even if it falls outside the scope of the game development area you ultimately aspire towards.
The reality is, jobs in game development are places where many come – but few may enter. There simply aren’t enough positions to fill in any one role for everyone who applies at the door. And even experience outside the role you aspire towards can help you as it gives you familiarity, exposure to a variety of technology, and broader experience with the roles of others you might have to later work with.
The lowly and relatively low paying Video Game Tester Jobs.
Compared to other gaming industry roles, video game QA tester is the lowest paying. According to The Game Developers 12th Annual Salary Survey (conducted in 2013), freelance and temporary assignment video game QA testers, with less than 3 years’ experience, earn an average of $22,000/yr., roughly equivalent to $10/hr. – assuming a 40 hour work week. This is because of the much lower amount of education needed to enter video game QA testing.
However, consider those “working towards a career in a high paying field like medicine”, who I described at the beginning of this article; the ones taking “any job in a hospital, clinic, or private practice environment (a relevant environment)”. They’re doing this for a few good reasons. It helps to offset college costs, gives them a chance to gain experience and familiarization within a related work environment, and the jobs they take are often the “lower paying roles” due to lower entry-level education requirements – which equates to ease of entry. High turn-over rates as people in these positions attain the qualifications to move on to their desired careers, make these jobs readily available. And those who later move on to higher positions will have previous industry relevant experience to add to their resumes if needed. If needed being the key. If they don’t need it, or feel it would distract from experience more relevant to a particular job, they can always make less mention of it or leave it out entirely.
Which bring us to the real question – why are those seeking software development careers so averse to including video game tester jobs along the way? Think back about the “inferiority complex” among “those aspiring to game development roles” which I spoke of earlier. And the corresponding “superiority complex” among those becoming “material” for higher paying, more respected roles such as graphics designer or programmer. When people think of, for example, becoming an environmental art designer, they often think of highly sophisticated technical skills, and expensive but well-worth-it college degrees – leading to well-earned and well-respected salaries. When people think of a QA tester job, they often think of someone who was lucky enough to get paid to play games.
Video game quality assurance testing is seen by many as almost a kind of “red-headed-step-child”. Some treat it the same way one might treat a cheap book promising the secret to unbelievable income sold on a poorly done website alongside thin porn, payday loans, and mesothelioma related attorney services.
The reality is – a video game tester job can provide the same things to the soon to be 3D character model designer that a clerical position with a small clinic provides to the soon to be medical technician, nurse, or doctor. Video game tester jobs are readily available, industry related, work with which you can offset other costs while in school or training for your desired role, gain experience and familiarity with the software development process, and which comes with relatively low entry requirements.
Video game QA positions require only that you have a high aptitude for basic skills applicable to any job, such as attention to detail, ability to follow instructions, diligence, and being able to write reports. Yet they provide game industry experience, familiarity, and exposure to a wider variety of related technologies. Also, while QA testing may be “low paying” compared to other development roles, it’s actually on par with many part-time jobs that aren’t even career connected which people typically take while working towards their desired career path.
The key is, don’t look at QA tester work as a job you “don’t take seriously”, consider it instead as a useful tool in a strategic plan. Consider those too good to be true offers you see promising “$4,000 a month playing games” for some small monthly fee. These offers are usually made by assignment aggregators. Assignment aggregators are companies in the business of offering a central location for freelance video game QA testers to find temporary video game QA assignments. Whether the promises of easy money come true or not, you could use those to get work (resume experience) handed to you even though you have not yet attained any work history or qualifications, in addition to some extra income. What you really want is for the assignments to serve as documented work history in QA Testing to support obtaining a regular entry-level position with a gaming company. You want to be able to say “I’ve completed projects in the gaming field”… as opposed to the other applicant who hasn’t.
From here it depends on the options available to you, and your desired career path. If you’ve already chosen a career path in another game development role, then I’d recommend NOT moving all the way from freelance to full-time QA testing – as you want to focus your efforts on obtaining a job closer to your desired role. Until you do, you may wish to simply remain a freelance tester. Despite the lower hourly pay, this will give you the greatest flexibility and control over your time. Should you decide to become a regular part-time tester with a gaming company, the pay could actually outstrip many other non-career connected part-time jobs.
If you’re still deciding when it comes to what role you want to have in game development, you may want to consider that QA testing does become more lucrative with experience – all-be-it not as quickly as in other development roles. It rises to just under $40,000/year as a full-time job with 3 years’ experience, and “maxes out” around $70,000/yr. Not as much as the $85,000/yr. you could be making as a programmer, but still fairly decent compared to other professional roles.
Video game QA testing may be the lowest paid type of work in game development. However, those aspiring for such roles as game programmer, story line creator, or graphics designer would be wise to look beyond just work related to their desired role in game development.
Autumn Zajczerova is Head of IT/IS Research for Atlantic Magnolia Solutions. She first began “tinkering” with program code at the age of 8, and now has 26 years’ experience in computers and technology. Before she began playing video games herself in 1996 at the age of 16, Autumn was creating small, “generic 2D Graphics games” as novelties for peers who had access to computers.