A Dante-esque excursion through the inferno that is game testing


If you read some of the claims it’s easy to be one of the elite few who are paid $80, even $100 an hour, playing video games, check for bugs and while away your time in the heaven of  a digital universe.

The story often portrayed is that as an independent contractor you get to check out all the games before release – console freely supplied of course – and make a fortune in the process.

Game testing is certainly needed

Only 20 per cent of released video games ever make sizable profit according to analysis outfit Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR) in November of 2008.

However, the gaming industry is projected to grow to a $68 billion business by 2012 states PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Entertainment and Media Outlook report for 2008.

The acquisition of Massive by Microsoft and Sony’s recent deal with IGA Worldwide—will lead to a 16.7 percent annual growth rate for in-game advertising, as profits are posited to rise from $1 billion in 2007 to $2.3 billion in 2012. It’s likely that more companies will begin to take the plunge, too, as profits continue to soar. In-game advertising is here to stay, whether gamers like it or not” states ars technical.com

Computer Game

In the networked environment of gaming bad news spreads rapidly. So does outright exaggerations.

Gaming sites have repeated alleged employee claims that consoles have failure rates, as high as 30%, while the companies claim 3-5%.

“Squaretrade, a company that specializes in providing warranty support to purchasers of electronic goods from various manufacturers, claims 16% of Xbox 360s experience a hardware failure within six to ten months after a warranty purchase” wrote Mike Smith on videogames.yahoo.com.

Computer programmers are a different breed to gamers. That’s why gamers are needed to find the bugs and errors a programmer will miss.

Usually people wanting to hire you will be for a company that is known, like Microsoft and Ubisoft.

The Microsoft website invites people to apply for game testing and while itmentions international testing, clearly notes  that the majority of its testing is done in the greater Puget Sound area. No reference is made to off site work.

Think about it – what company is likely to hand over a free an unreleased console and just hope you don’t let the opposition pirate the technology. Video gaming technology is a billion dollar industry and testers of unreleased games work under strict security conditions.

On the 21st July of this year Aerotek Professional Services advertises for game testers for Nintendo. The jobs were described as contract Information Technology Jobs at $10 per hour.

“All Game Testing is done ONSITE at Nintendo-any applicants must be able to commute to the job site located in REDMOND, WA before being eligible to move forward with the screening process.

Position is not available outside of the job site in Redmond, WA. No at-home or online testing opportunities are offered” writes Aerotek.

This is a partial job description for a supervisor in a game testing facility inc a six months contract at $23 an hour:

“$23/Hr [Not flexible]

Client is looking for someone with 5-8 years of VIDEO GAME TESTING at that rate but candidates must have at least 3 years recent video game testing experience including test planning, execution, debug, etc. – NOT just execution”

“QA Game Play Tester is responsible for test planning, development and execution for assigned product components and/or sub-systems. Testing is focused at the “Black Box” level through test automation when possible. Scope of testing includes functional, boundary conditions, performance, code coverage analysis, race conditions and memory leaks. …” The description then goes onto describe other supervisory and Q & A skills required for the position.

Does this suggest there are hundreds of jobs paying 80 to 100 an hour out there for a game addict?

Game or Real Life?

Game or Real Life?

A Dante-esque excursion through the inferno that is game testing

As far back as 2000  game tester  By Joel Strauch  described  the ‘Dante-esque excursion through the inferno that is game testing” in gamepro.com

The article quoted  Zenon Thornton, the QA manager for Cavedog Entertainment,

“Imagine playing a game eight hours a day for six months” said Mr. Thornton.

“Now imagine that the game has no sound, tons of unfinished art, and crashes every 10 minutes-and you have to write up a detailed report every time it does” said. He said.

Are recent times better?

“If the main qualification for this job is a love of games, there will never be a shortage of readily available workers” wrote Karla Starr in the Seattle Weekly in 2007.

She describes her experience of working as a contract employee.

As she found out if you receive a call telling you of a shift the next morning, you come and hope someone else hasn’t taken it before you. When she has a shift there are no score just whether the game will hold the shift without stalling.

“The end of my first full day of testing is also the end of the first time I’ve played video games for eight straight hours, by far my longest-ever stretch. The last two hours, I feel nauseous. Severely so. When I get up to leave, I nearly fall over from dizziness and a massive headache” said Karla Starr.

On another day she describes turning on the console on six different ways—by the main power button, by the remote control, by the controller (wireless and wired), and by pressing the eject button on the remote and the console—10 times each. In each case we start the stopwatch and record two measurements: how long it takes the console’s green lights to go on, and how long for the TV screen to be fully booted up and ready for play. The process was repeated on about a hundred machines.

“People think it’s going to be this thrill ride and you’ll have to play this fun video game all day long. It’s really hard telling people, nine times out of 10, you’re going to hate the #%##% game you’re working on because it’s going to be busted 90 percent of the time”, asid Darci Morales, a producer  and team overseer at Surreal, in Karla Starrs article.

“People were there because they thought it was going to be this great job, but you were always threatened with the prospect of losing your job at any minute.’

“Apparently, it’s not unusual at Nintendo, because they had a whole system for it that was ready to go. They had all the breaks planned out, they had all the food ready for 2 a.m., the Krispy Kreme doughnuts ready for 5 a.m. Within the first three hours, everyone is so freaked out, drinking tons of Red Bull. Everyone completely overdoes it. People have, like, grocery bags full of candy. By hour four, you have people puking in the bathroom. But it doesn’t matter what your strategy is….This is the end of the project cycle! So what does this mean? You do the 24-hour shift, and you’re fired.”

–          Sean Day in the Seattle Weekly.

After a game ships, people lose their jobs. That’s just how it is.

“I think the (video game) industry in general, they want addicts,” said Dr. Hilarie Cash, founder of Redmond’s Internet/Computer Addiction Services.

“It is to their economic benefit to have people really hooked on their games. That there happens to be a pool of addicts out there who will work for peanuts, like methadone treatment, is to their advantage,” she says.

Chances are a game tester is working close to the minimum wage.

The American Medical Association even considered including video game addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As early as 1979 British e-Learning academic Nicholas Rushby suggested in his book, An Introduction to Educational Computing, that people can be addicted to computers and suffer withdrawal symptoms.

So you want to be a game tester and dream of working at home in front of your console sipping a soda?

Sadly it is claimed 90% of cases you find a poorly designed site, perhaps designed by someone who loves games but does not know how to market offering you a database that has outdated contact information. Many of these fly-by –night sites don’t respond to requests for a refund and sometimes the company that the site claims to link to is nonexistent.


So are there a good 10% of sites offering legitimate at home work?

The challenge in knowing the good from the bad is that for every complaint you find, there will be someone claiming they are making money from the site . Most of the reviews are usually nothing more than press releases by people who are advertising for an affiliate income.

In checking whois.com I could not find public information about GamerTestingGround.com, GameTesterGuide.net, Vidgametesters.com, only4gamers.com and ELITEGameTester.com. I could not find a physical address for these companies.

I will revise the above material as more information becomes available.

I would love to write a good news story about the industry. So if there is a good service offering at home game testing let me know.

What is your experience? Do you know any genuine game testers who can tell us their side of the story?

One response to “A Dante-esque excursion through the inferno that is game testing

  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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