How to Test Games—10 Tips for QA Video Game Testers

5 November, 2021

Being a successful QA tester isn’t necessarily as easy as you may think. Luckily, QA tester Bartek gave a talk full of useful QA tips you can use at work at Digital Dragons and we’ve turned that talk into an easy-to-read article so you can get the best of the talk. If you’re just starting your career in this field and want a boost on your first day of the job, our tips for QA video game testers is the perfect read for you!

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Without further ado, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of Bartek’s insider knowhow for newbie QA video game testers looking for advice.

My experience in game dev started at a vocational school, when I attended a local IT event that had been organized by the school. I met the CEO of Teyon there, a video game publisher, and I asked them for an internship—they gave me one! That internship was my first job as a QA game tester. After that, I moved on to a few other companies and even created games in Unity for the Multimedia Center in Wawel Castle (Poland) as well, so I’ve built quite a portfolio.

I’m also currently a student majoring in IT and econometrics, with a specialization in computer game design, at the College of Economics and Computer Science in Kraków.

For my job at All in! Games, I test video games for PC and consoles. We test their functionality, so FQAs (functional quality assurance) and CQAs (compliance testing, meaning verifying if a game is compliant with the technical requirements of platform holders before it lands on a console). 

10 Tips for QA video game testers

How to become a great QA game tester? Here are 10 rules of testing I follow and recommend.

1) Create a good repro

A repro, or reproduction, is recreating the steps that cause a certain issue. For example, the second level doesn’t start after finishing the first one. So we need to launch the build that has this issue, finish the first level, and make a note that the second level doesn’t start—those are our repro steps for this issue. Sometimes issues are so complicated they take more than ten steps to recreate. It’s important to find the direct cause of the issue, which  may not be as obvious as we think; that’s why a thorough investigation is crucial.

At All in! Games, there are many QA video game testers and we change the games we test quite often. When you work for a developer, you test one game or just a few. When working for a video game publisher, you get information about what you’re going to test the morning of. From my experience, I know that playing one game over and over is exhausting, every day it’s the same thing, but with a video game publisher, the projects change. This means that other testers, not to mention the developers, may not be able to reproduce some of the bugs you did. A clear repro is necessary and will help anyone else quickly replicate and find the problem.

2) If something worked before, that doesn’t mean it will work now

QA testers often succumb to confirmation bias. This happens when you assume that something worked in the previous build, so it must work now, no need to double check. That’s a mistake. Major mechanics like to clash with other major mechanics. If a new build introduces something new, enables a new mechanic, it often creates new bugs for the earlier mechanic we had already checked, so regression testing is needed to see how new changes affect the previous elements of the game. When you get a new build, I recommend testing all the most recent changes and the areas they affect from a previous build. 

3) If you don’t know something, just ask

When you’re a new employee, you’re not familiar with how a project works yet. New things you notice in games are often either a bug or a feature. If you’re not sure which is which, don’t hesitate to ask other employees or the developers—they have knowledge to share. 

If something isn’t included in a game’s documentation, you have to ask about it. Don’t be afraid of asking questions—if you don’t ask, it’s a dead end and you’re pretty much a Schrödinger’s tester. 

4) Record everything and look for patterns

I’ve come up with this rule after some not-so-good reproductions. Recording is useful because you’ll already have both a video of the bugs and all the repro steps for other people to see. After watching the recording, you can reproduce the steps, look for patterns, check alternative scenarios, and congratulations! You found a bug! Okay, maybe it’s not a reason to celebrate, but it’s still better than having the players find it.

You don’t have free space on your drive? Make space—it’s very much worth it. It’s best to record everything and check for a bug a few times—and I recommend checking several times, since some bugs aren’t 100% reproducible for various reasons. That’s why it’s important to investigate and narrow the possibilities down to the actual reason why a bug occured. Recording will help you with that process. In addition, recording may allow you to check what you can skip—maybe there’s no need to reach the same checkpoint 10 times. It’s also worth mentioning that recordings and screenshots are useful to include in bug reports, so you should be collecting them along the way anyway.

5) Test with different peripheral devices

Let me share a little story with you: Once there was a game that didn’t work with a gamepad. I started reporting it as a bug, but, just in case, I asked my coworkers to try it out on their devices. They said it worked. It turned out my gamepad was broken.

You should test programs with different devices, on different screens, in different display resolutions and other settings, because sometimes a bug may appear only in very specific conditions. It’s better to find the bug yourself than have the developers or players find it instead.

6) Be patient

Many testers quit due to lack of patience. The job is repetitive, you play the same game 6 times a day, maybe 50 times in a month, and you need to be focused the whole time. Let’s say you need to check if a certain level works, but you don’t have the developer’s console, so there’s no skipping parts of the game to get to a certain level—you need to play them all. It can sometimes be a monotonous routine, so you need to be patient and cool-headed. 

7) Report a bug as soon as you confirm it

You’ve found a critical bug, but you’re leaving work in 5 minutes and you’re super tired. In addition, it’s Friday and you’re already thinking about your plans for the weekend. “Whatever,” you think to yourself, “the developers will surely fix it. Maybe it doesn’t even matter. Why not take care of it on Monday instead?”. Wrong!

Always report bugs as soon as you confirm them. Find the cause and put it in the database, even if it takes you some time. You may forget about something later, even if it’s recorded and on your drive, out of sight and out of mind. These forgotten bugs often reappear after the release, so don’t wait.

8) Read a game’s documentation!

Some projects don’t have any documentation and don’t require it. But if there’s documentation available, read it!

Let’s say we have a game you can play for many hours and each milestone build adds new locations or levels to it. There can be new NPCs, a new map, new quests—if it’s all listed in the documentation, you can keep track of it much easier and make sure it all works as expected. You’ll also go into the game knowing what to expect 

If developers don’t see something as a mistake, you can always refer to documentation and show them the very line the issue is mentioned on. It should solve the issue by serving as a reminder or it may turn out that the files need updating, which will help everyone in the future.

In addition, documentation is very helpful when it comes to testing the requirements of platform holders. If a platform holder points out a discrepancy between a game’s documentation and the way the game behaves, you’ll have to test it all again, with a new build. 

9) Unconventional thinking is your best friend

When you play a game for the first time, you’ll play it in your own particular way. But that’s your way. Let’s say a million people buy the game—all of them will have their own ways to play and you need to test those too. A great tester should be able to leave their preferences behind and get into the minds of many players.

For example, if a game is a RTS, there will be many ways to develop your city. You can focus on the economy, you can have one town or more, but someone else may focus on the military—you need to check all potential strategies. Before you can consider your job done, you need to verify as many factors and combinations as is technically possible, and use unusual approaches to play a game, checking different extremes (boundary values).

10) Don’t forget about all the players out there

The idea of testing is to assess the quality of a game and report any issues so that developers can address them—you must check everything. Testers exist so that players can have the best possible experience of playing a game, so that they can play the game the developers wanted them to play. You experience the bugs so that they don’t have to. To an extent, part of the responsibility of players enjoying a game is on your shoulders as a tester. If you approve an unfinished game or don’t do everything you can to find bugs, you’re not being fair towards the players, and you’re a player yourself. 

Sometimes an unfinished game is released. Does it mean you failed as a tester? Not really.  This happens when somebody purposely lets a game pass testing. QA game testers know about all the bugs but, in spite of that, a final decision may be made to not address some of the less important issues. Management, the producer, or the main developer may decide that a game is good enough for release for one reason or another. It’s something that needs to be clearly communicated and agreed upon with other parties, but if you know you did everything you could to improve a game, then at least you can rest easy that you did your part for the players.

These tips have really helped me in my career and I hope you’ll find them useful as well.

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