The Tester

Sony is putting the finishing touches on their new reality television show.

To summarize, they held video auditions for gamers who want to work in the industry. That, in theory, sounds like a noble endeavor. Most gamers, at least in my experience, would absolutely love to work in the industry. However, that’s only because they don’t actually know what the job is about. They have vague ideas of what it is like to develop a game. Only hints and heresay about crunch times, low pay, poor management, and sub-standard work environments. And even those that do know, belittle the issues plaguing the industry by coining the phrase “but you get to work on games!” Unfortunately, that doesn’t justify the harsh realities of the game industry and working in it.

But nonetheless, here is The Tester. Where a group of hand-picked so-called gamers are going to compete (in some fashion) for the prestigious award of being a game tester for Sony Platform. For those of you that don’t know what Sony Platform is, I will try to explain it. In a company as large as Sony, you have multiple game teams operating at one time and they all need varying levels of support. The same is true for Microsoft. Each team needs support in everything from development to QA to web development, etc. Platform is the in-house division of programmers, web developers, and QA that are there to help these teams during the times they need help most with things outside the standard development schedule (website, login QA, server QA, etc). In smaller companies, contract workers provide this quick supplementation of workforce. However, contractors typically cost more (higher wages) and don’t have the specialized knowledge of your proprietary development tools and practices. Platform does and because they have this first-hand knowledge and specialization, they are an infinitely better resource than contractors.

The Platform group is, in essence, a team of programmers, web developers, and QA that are on perpetual “stand by” to assist any and all of the game development teams that need it.

So, that’s what Sony Platform is (sort of, at least that’s how most “Platform” groups work in most software companies – I can’t speak for the details of Sony specifically, only the general workings of most companies). Now, the funny thing about this whole competition is actually the prize. $5,000 and a QA job. Now, don’t get me wrong, the $5000 prize is actually kind of nice. I mean, who wouldn’t want $5,000?

But a QA position? That’s laughable. If you read the descriptions about the contestants, almost all of them currently have jobs – some of them pretty decent paying jobs at that. Most QA positions in the industry are minimum wage. We’re talking like $8-10 per hour – in California. Additionally, QA positions are not that difficult to get in the industry. The hard-to-acquire positions are actually on the development teams – designer, artist, and programmer. If you live near a development studio or publisher, chances are they have available QA positions open – right now, as I’m typing this.

And, despite what David Jaffe is spouting on the website, QA positions are not good means of advancement in the industry. It is possible, yes. But so is becoming an astronaut by getting hired to mop the floors at NASA. QA has changed a lot in 15 years and most of the big-wigs in the industry fail to see the shift. In the past (1990s), we (the industry) farmed our designers, programmers, and artists out of the talented people working in QA. It was the gateway into the development positions. However, since the industry has expanded and training in the skills a developer needs became more readily available (Game Colleges) there is little to no reason to farm from QA anymore.

Most of the trained individuals are starting directly into development positions. And there are enough out-of-work developers to cherry pick talented, experienced individuals from the unemployment line. On top of that, QA typically has a high turn over rate, low pay, and long hours. It is far from the “dream job” that many delusional gamers and even more delusional industry professionals make it out to be. QA has become the place you go when you want to work in the industry, but aren’t skilled enough or experienced enough to land a position in development. I don’t mean to bad mouth QA, they are a vital component to the development process. But the times have changed and QA is no longer the best way (or even a decent way) to become a game developer. Advancement is extremely limited to only the best of the best of QA (think along the lines of maybe the top 5% get hired as full time developers).

Many companies will also string QA along with “apprenticeship” positions. An apprenticeship position is when you become an apprentice to a game developer. You get to be on the development team. However, you are lower than intern on the totem pole. You get zero input and are limited to mainly doing the grunt work no one else wants to do. It is usually not a fun job, by any means. But hey, you’re on the development team now right? Wrong. You will still be listed (usually also credited) and paid as QA. That means they (the company)  get a junior designer (typically a $40,000 a year position) for $8 an hour.

And after the game launches, remember that full-time position you were hoping for? Well, guess what? Back to QA you go (for 95% of you).

Based on this, my opinion as a developer is something close to “LOL“. I love fast food as much as the next guy, but I’m not going to give up my day job to compete to run the fry machine. If I’m in a competition like this I want my own franchise, or in this case – a development position.

As a developer, it is gut-wrenchingly depressing to see just how little our customers know about the inner workings of the industry to which they dedicate large portions of their life. And this ignorance actually hurts developers. These starry-eyed, ignorant, 20-something game fans are so over-eager to work in games that companies use that against the developers. They’ll point to something like this show, The Tester, and say “See, we have people lining up to compete for the crappiest job on the team! So if you don’t like the pay, the working conditions, the massive crunches, the enormous executive bonuses and pay raises, the fear-mongering of threatened layoffs, and the complete absence of proper employee protections – well, you can just quit. Because we’ve got all these young guys willing to do your job, for half your pay, and like it!”

But that’s another post for another time . . .

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That pretty much confirms what I suspected about the industry. What happened to Pandemic and other studios is another telling sign. Is the game done? Ok, you’re all fired.

  2. I was actually lucky enough to NOT land a QA position way back in the day at Turbine (I was interviewing for a DDO position when the game was in alpha, and I told them during the interview that instancing is a bad idea, wonder why I did not get the job). To this day I’m glad I never got sucked in, even though I still play ‘make-believe dev’ in my head/blog all the time.

  3. This article provides such good insight, if you can get around the “I hate my job” phrases filtered throughout. What you describe is no different from any other industry. Whether it’s a photographer, a pilot, a firefighter, a doctor, a lawyer, or any other number of “dream” jobs that are out there. Of course reality doesn’t stack up to the job requirements. Of course someone outside doesn’t know what it’s like on the inside. It’s almost as if you really want soulless, bitter, cynical people to fill the shoes at a game company. Why wouldn’t you want starry-eyed, over eager fans?! You want passion, you want new ideas, you want people just eager to get their hands in and start making changes. We all know, as adults, that it doesn’t happen. I wonder if you realize the writing shows more about your own bitterness of your dream destroyed long ago, rather than a reality check for those looking to break into the gaming industry.

    Hope that wasn’t too harsh of a criticism! It is after all a blog and of course we all ramble, vent, rage and express our personal feelings on them. It’s honestly such a great article. I’ll be looking forward to seeing your insights and more blog posts in the future.

    • “Why wouldn’t you want starry-eyed, over eager fans?!”

      Because these people are very easily manipulated and abused by management. “Passion” in this industry is just a fancy word for being overworked and underpaid and keeping your mouth shut about it. And when management can and do manipulate and abuse these individuals on the team, they attempt the same unfair, unethical, and immoral (and in some cases borderline unlawful) practices on the rest of the team. And, because of the practices of HR and the state of the industry in regards to employee rights – if you happen to be the one who speaks up about literally anything, you will be the first on the chopping block come layoff/review time, regardless of your actual performance/work ethic/quality of work/importance to the team. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but in the games industry “the grease” means fired. And the more starry-eyed, over-eager fans that continue to get hired into the games industry, the more blindly passionate employees a company has, the easier it is for them to continue these very, very poor management practices.

      Also, they tend to make horrible developers.

  4. What I’ve learned, having scored a job doing what I love, is that doing what you love as your vocation is a very, very bad idea. You’ll end up hating it. What you may have loved before (the freedom! The creativity! The pave your own way!) turns out to get crushed by the realities of deadlines and overtime, red-tape and unmanaged expectations.

    What these poor folks should do is to buckle down and train themselves. They’re not going to get to work on the Next Big Thing or anything, but trying to weasel in to the industry by wiping the drool off of someone’s chin isn’t going to get them as much respect as pushing their own boundaries and producing something.

  5. I agree with the guy at the end of the article, the one who says you can either suck it up or quit. I mean seriously, if you hate your job, feel you’re under-paid and don’t get treated the way you deserve, then why are you still working there? Employment is a voluntary contract between you and your employer; you aren’t a slave or indentured servant. If you are good enough to merit everything you think to deserve (in other words, if you provide a service that generate more revenue than what it costs to employ you) then you will get it because companies want to keep good talent; if you’re not, then get better.

    Ech, I could myself going on for a while, so as was concluded in the article, that is a post for another time…

    • That would be a great concept except for a few factors.

      1) Not everyone can just up and quit their job because they are “unhappy” with it. Most of us have bills, children, mortgages, etc. Game developers are not paid very well. We’re not super-rich superstars or anything. Most people make more than us working menial office jobs. It’s not like we’re all Bobby Kotick and can kick back on our million dollar bonuses while we find new employment.

      2) This practice is an industry-wide epidemic. It is not limited to a handful of studios, it is everywhere. Even if most of us were to quit, we’d be hard pressed to find a better situation else where in the industry.

      3) The economy. That’s really all I need to say. You can read on just about every industry news site about the massive layoffs and studio closings. Granted, most of those developers are being picked up by other studios, but the influx of unemployed developers doesn’t make it easy to find new employment. Additionally, companies are using this to manipulate and abuse their employees, threatening that if they don’t shut up about having to work 16 hour days for no additional compensation, 6 days a week, for 6 months straight – well, just look at that other studio that close down, or all your friends that got laid off – that will happen to you if you don’t put your head down and fall in line. It is about as obvious unethical business practices as you can get.

      4) The last bit, about companies wanting to keep good talent, doesn’t apply to the industry. The games industry has a very bad habit of extremely biased hiring. Every industry has it, but the games industry is very bad at it. They’ll hire friends, family and people they simply like on a personal level, over those with actual talent. Gamers don’t like to hear it, but having good talent doesn’t get you very far in this industry. Sure, it helps, you can barter for slightly higher pay. But none of that matters unless you are buddies with management. It doesn’t matter if you are the best programmer, artist, or designer in the entire company. Bob is going to get the promotion because Bob is college-buddies with the Senior Producer.

      So, yes, in theory (and most other industries) I might agree with you. But it’s obvious you don’t work in the game industry and don’t understand how it works.

  6. While I agree with much of what you say, you to imply it’s a bad thing that only 5% of QA end up in game design these days, not like the ‘good old days’.

    I agree with the offer of a QA position being somewhat cheesy, and with most of the rest of the post. But you do seem to be implying that it was better when QA gave you a fast-track to design, and I disagree that was ever a good thing. Game design teams should choose the most qualified applicants, regardless who they are and where they come from.

    But yes, fans definitely need to get a more realistic view of the industry. I wish there were some way to open more eyes out there.

    • Interesting.

      I did not intend to come off that way. I agree that acquiring “talent” out of QA was always a bad practice. I meant to say that there a lot of industry veterans (David Jaffe on The Tester, for example) that still believe that not only is it a good idea, but a practice that many developers still do.

      When that is, in fact, not the case on both accounts. There are still rare cases, but the industry in general is moving away from that practice.

  7. Thought I could link this here. As it’s relevant to your topic!

  8. lol nice stuff man.

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