The Career Path of Quality Assurance in Gaming
There are many universal truths when it comes to developing games. However, in the age of ambitious live service, and cross-platform content, developers need a reliable quality assurance strategy more than ever. That’s why QA professionals and manual testers are in high demand and are playing a pivotal role in some of the most anticipated works in interactive entertainment.
There are a number of ways to not only break into this specialization but also a variety of paths to choose from once established.
According to a survey conducted by career database Zippia, over half of video game QA professionals hold bachelor's degrees, while another 20% hold associate degrees. So while bachelor's degrees aren’t exactly essential, it’s advised.
The good news is that there aren’t exactly strict, prerequisite majors that employers expect from QA candidates across the board. In the same study, 18% of surveyed professionals chose to focus on computer science. From there, subject-matter specialization is widely dispersed. Whether it’s graphic design, business, or even English, chances are most common majors exist in relatively equal standing when it comes to hiring in QA. It’s worth mentioning that certain tests and certifications are advised, such It certainly wouldn’t hurt for a prospective QA employee to select a major that is directly or adjacently related to their desired line of work.
Beginning as a Tester
It takes a lot more than formal education to land full-time work in QA and manual testing. While QA is an excellent entry point for a career in the video game industry, it’s still important to build up to that first position with some kind of hands-on experience. Whether it’s finding bugs with manual playthroughs or running test scripts, there are a variety of creative ways to build this skill set before officially setting a foot in the door.
Game jams are one of the best ways to gain practical experience with game development, bug fixes, project management, and other crucial skills. They’re a great way to meet like-minded people with varying levels of experience. Competing for the first-place prize in a game jam is one thing, but the main benefits of participating come down to networking, learning and practicing desired skills, and having a portfolio piece to showcase. Coming at this with a focus on addressing bugs and iterating on gameplay ideas through repeated testing is a great way to approach any game jam experience.
After earning more practical credentials, it’s time to begin the entry-level search. As previously mentioned, QA testing is a very common entry point for those looking to cement themselves in the video game industry. One thing to keep in mind is that many QA testers are contract-based, with full-time, permanent roles being a little harder to come by depending on the size of the studio. Sometimes these contract-based positions can be converted into permanent roles later on, but those kinds of decisions are somewhat rare and very circumstantial.
As for compensation, entry and junior-level employees should expect anywhere between USD25k-35k yearly, according to international gaming career source, Hitmarker.
Senior QA, Management, and Directing
As a QA professional progresses through intermediate, senior, and even director-level ranks, there will be a much larger emphasis on project management and understanding QA methodologies inside and out. “QA Director” roles tend to exist in larger studios that are taking on multiple projects at once. This position would devote most of their time to high-level organization and overseeing multiple QA teams at once.
On the other hand, a “QA Lead” can exist in a similar capacity but have a more hands-on approach within a slightly smaller-scale operation. The high-level wok pipeline planning is still there, but with a higher emphasis on direct mentorship and guidance for junior testers.
As for Senior QA testers, they tend to have similar core responsibilities as junior-level testers, but with the possibility of supervision duties and one-to-one guidance.
Transitioning Within Game Development
While QA has plenty of long-term career viability and fulfillment, it can also serve as a great launching point into other facets of game development. Testers who have a knack for implementing processes, organizing complex pipelines, and juggling the needs of multiple team members often make for excellent producers.
With a solid combination of technical education and training, design or programming could be a natural transition as well. At the end of the day, QA professionals have a wealth of options at their disposal, both within the QA stream and, with enough preparation and planning, other specialties as well.