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How to Become a Video Game Tester

video game tester
Credit: Dikiiy/Shutterstock

Think testing new products is all fun and games? Think again. As the popularity and complexity of video games continues to increase in the United States, there's a need for dedicated, detail-oriented video game testers.

Game testers fill the same rule as other quality assurance (QA) software developers: They ensure that games meet the requirements and standards that the game company and designers defined when envisioning the game.

There is more to becoming a game tester than simply enjoying games. To give you a clearer picture of what the job entails, we've detailed what testers really do, where they usually work and how much money they typically earn. [Related: How Playing Video Games Can Help Your Career]

Video games have only been around for a few decades, but the demand for quality control of products goes back much further. Quality control testers repeatedly test products or prototypes before they go on sale to the public. They check for flaws and suggest improvements to the products they test.

Video game testers are quality control personnel who work specifically on games to check for issues in programming, such as program glitches, broken applications or nonfunctioning visual effects. However, QA testers look for more than glitches. Part of a tester's job is making sure that the game functions the way it was designed to. Even if an application doesn't break, it might not work the way the designers said it should.

Testers often play the same levels of a game many times consecutively and cross-check it with a detailed plan that tells them how the game is supposed to function. When they find errors or areas where the game deviates from the design, testers report them to the development team.

Video game testers typically work for video game development studios. These studios might be owned by major game publishers like Electronic Arts (EA), Nintendo or Sony, or by independent game publishers.

However, it's not just the major studios and platforms. In addition to consoles and PC games, mobile games need testers, and even casino game companies have testing teams to make sure games like slots and video poker operate properly and to specifications.

Working conditions for video game testers vary depending on where they work and how many hours they are expected to test consecutively. Some testers work part time or on a contract basis and may even be able to work from home. However, full-time employment of video game testers is not uncommon, particularly for those with experience in the field.

According to Glassdoor, the average median wage for full-time video game testers is around $73,000 a year. However, most entry-level testing positions pay less than this, and salary varies greatly depending on experience and location.

While the East and West Coasts have traditionally been the most active for video game companies, that has been changing. For instance, Austin, Texas, has seen an increase in video game companies moving offices there, with companies like EA and Zynga having locations in the city.

The demand for testers is dependent on the health of the gaming industry around the world. Unfortunately, the demand for testers is currently on a slide, with Indeed finding open QA roles down 36 percent from 2017 to 2018.

However, the game industry is cyclical, depending on factors like console release schedules, holidays, and events that can lead to developers hiring many testers and then laying them off when the industry slows. Moving between studios is common, however, so once you've started your career, you may move from company to company as different games are developed.

In addition to traditional game testing, those interested in the field should consider other game-related technologies as possible job opportunities. We've already mentioned mobile gaming and casinos, but with the recent adoption of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), testers will have new areas to break into and new skills to learn. [Related: How to Get a Job in Virtual or Augmented Reality]

"Honestly, in my experience, anyone can get into games QA," said Aaron Millikan, QA analyst III for Everi Games. "To succeed, you need a lot of love for video games, as working on them will slowly drain it away. You have to love the process of breaking something down into how it's built to be able to find potential spots for it to break, even if the project as a whole is uninteresting."

Just as in every field, the requirements for becoming a video game tester depend on the position for which you apply. Some game developers prefer to hire testers as quality control personnel and create entry-level jobs to this effect.

However, other employers wish to employ testers who have a higher understanding of programming and software development. In particular, organizations that have moved to automated testing will look for QA testers with these skills. No matter how much automated testing is done, however, there is always a need for testers to spend time with games.

Study.com offers the following advice to those who wish to pursue a career as a video game tester:

  1. Hone your skills as a video game player. Almost every game developer is looking to hire someone who is both talented and passionate about gaming. Familiarize yourself with gaming terminology and trends. It may be helpful to join a social media network devoted to gaming or start a blog on the subject. You should also seek to be well-rounded in the kinds of games you can play. You might already be an expert at certain genres, but give new games a shot as well.
     
  2. Get technical training. Though not all employers require a college degree for entry-level game-testing positions, it's not a bad idea to expand your career options by obtaining a degree in computer programming, software development or graphic design. Well-rounded job applicants will have an easier time climbing the corporate ladder and might have a more fruitful career in the gaming industry.
     
  3. Gain some technical experience by learning how to write a bug report, participating in public beta tastes of games, and interning at gaming companies. The more experience you can add to your resume, the better.
     

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Peterson.

Dawn Kuczwara

Dawn Kuczwara is a freelance writer and marketing consultant specializing in small to mid-sized technology firms. With close to 20 years of experience in IT and another 10 in digital marketing, she has the background to help technology companies get the attention of their ideal clients.

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