Despite what your parents and teachers might have told you, you can make a living playing video games - and you don't have to be a professional-level player to do so.
Quality assurance testers - QA, for short - are the unsung heroes of the industry, putting games through their paces for months to catch bugs, hiccups and other annoyances before you get your hands on the title. It's not an easy job, and you'll have to make an effort to get it. But if you're looking to get into the games industry, QA is the front door.
The first step, of course, is getting the job. To do that, you'll need to answer a few questions:
1) Am I in the right city? - While the industry has spread out in recent years, there are still gaming hubs, which is where most QA testing is done. The prime locations are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Redmond, Wa., Montreal, and Austin, Texas. You need to find developers, instead of making them look for you.
2) Do I need stability? - QA testing is best suited for people who don't have families - or who are just getting started in their careers. When a game shifts, QA teams are often dismissed, which means you'll have to start looking for a new gig. The ability to move from company to company is essential - and this might sometimes mean moving cities.
3) Do I play well with others? - You'll work some long, long hours in QA. Crunch is a real thing - and toward the end of development, you can kiss your social life goodbye. The ability to work well with others, even under these brutal conditions, is critical. Working your 14th consecutive 12-hour day is a lot more stressful if someone is making waves.
4) Do I expect to get rich? - You're not gonna. The latest industry salary survey from Gamasutra found that QA testers who have been at the job for 3-6 years earn an average of $38,833. (Entry-level incomes weren't available.) QA leads, who oversee other testers, tend to earn a bit more, but still aren't exactly making bank.
5) Am I detail-oriented? - If you don't sweat the small stuff, you probably want to think about a different line of work. QA testing is all about finding mistakes. In the early stages of testing, that's easy. But as the game gets closer and closer to completion, the job becomes even more important - and you'll have to look harder for bugs and be able to recreate the conditions that cause them.
6) Am I willing to risk my favorite hobby? - You may think you love playing games, but when you're stuck testing a stinker for eight hours a day, that can put your passion to the real test. Jason Bergman, a producer at Bethesda Softworks, painted a mental picture of the life of a QA tester in a story for Time's TechLand that any prospective QA applicant should read before they decide if this is the job for them:
"You know that game you played for six hours?" he asks. "They played it for six months. Or a year. Or more. And they didn’t just play it, they absolutely devoured it. They played every level. Over and over again. They walked up to every texture and examined it. They played it in every language. They started a game and ripped the network cable out of the back to see what would happen. They checked every object from every angle. They put in a memory card (remember those?) to make sure it worked with corrupted data. They plugged four controllers in and tried playing a single player game with the third one. And that’s just for starters."
It's not the easiest of lives. In fact, it can be downright miserable at times. But if you truly love games - or are trying to break into the industry (especially the console side) - becoming a QA tester could also be the opportunity of a lifetime.
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