If you’re a hardcore gamer, it’s difficult to see how testing games for a living could really be considered a ‘job’. You get to play games all day, brag to your friends that you’re testing the latest game months before they’re out, then use your insider knowledge to comprehensively beat them when it finally launches. Oh, and you pick up a paycheck at the end of the month. What’s not to like?
The only hurdle is working out how you can capture this elusive job in the first place. The games industry seems mysterious and impenetrable from the outside, not helped by the fact that jobs are very rarely advertised. And since you probably don’t know anyone who tests games for a living, it’s hard to know what it actually involves. What’s a day-in-the-life of a game tester like? What is the salary of a video game tester? And is it really as much fun as it sounds?
If you’re truly obsessed with video games, it almost certainly is as much fun as it sounds – but maybe not in the way you’d expect. This site is all about demystifying this most cryptic of careers: you’ll learn what game testing involves, how much you can earn, and how to get your first break in this multibillion dollar industry.
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Is It Really All About Playing Games?
In short, largely yes it is – but very differently from how you’re used to playing for fun. Game testing involves a highly systematic approach that allows you to isolate bugs and describe them comprehensively to the developers.
For example, it’s no good saying ‘I picked up the sword and the game froze’ – you need to go back and see if it happens every time you pick up the sword, or just when you’re carrying other items too, or just when you’re playing as a certain character. Then you need to write that down clearly as a bug report so others can replicate and fix the issue. Think of it as detailed detective work, then writing up your notes on the crime afterwards.
The testing department is often known internally as Quality Assurance (QA), which means that its role is to be responsible for the quality of the product that ends up on the shelves. And of course, there’s more to the finished product than just the gameplay: as a game beta tester, you’re also responsible for the manual, hardware specification, subtitles for in-game text, dialogue in cut-scenes, graphics, the scoring system, the music and more.
Where Can It Lead?
Whatever area of the games industry you ultimately want to get into, testing is a great way to build up your experience and impress your superiors enough to progress to loftier positions. You’ll learn about how different departments interact to solve issues, how games are marketed, how to deal with customer support issues (those angry ‘my game just crashed!’ calls at 10am from someone who’s clearly not slept), and how even minor tweaks can have huge repercussions for the playability and longevity of a game.
For someone who loves games as much as you, getting this look behind the curtain should sound like the most fascinating thing in the world – and as you learn more about different aspects of the industry, you can figure out what role would ultimately suit you best.
How Much Does It Pay?
Because the prospect of a job in game testing is so appealing, the law of supply and demand dictates that it’s not particularly well paid. It might be highly sought after, but it’s an entry level job and the pay reflects this. Companies know that even if McDonald’s pays more, thousands of gamers would still take the job in a heartbeat – so there’s little incentive to raise wages.
The average wage for a game tester is around $20,000-$30,000 per year, but at first you’re more likely to be paid an hourly rate. Around $10-12 per hour is the norm for newbies, but as you develop your skills and qualifications you can work your way up to more than $80 per hour. More important though is the potential to use the job of testing as a springboard to higher-paid, more specialized jobs within the industry – as we’ll explain later, it’s the perfect entry point regardless of which department you want to end up in.
And even if you don’t manage to graduate to being CEO one day, just remember: it may pay less than McDonald’s, but it’s sure as hell more fun than shoveling French fries down a metal funnel all day.
Finding a Job
It may be entry level, but game testing is far from a dead end – it’s a chance to wedge your foot into the door of an industry which now grosses more than the movie and music industries combined. Even if your ultimate ambition is to get into software design, programming or a related field, experience as a video game tester is a good start to your résumé and a great way to make connections on the inside of this very insular business.
For these reasons, and the sheer fact that it’s the childhood dream for so many obsessive gamers, not everyone who wants to become a game tester can get their lucky break. But with the wealth of knowledge contained in this site, you’ll be able to jump the queue and book your place in one of the world’s most lucrative – and fun – industries.