Balancing manual and automated testing
Video games are expanding in size and scope at a rapid pace. Some of the largest names spend hundreds of millions of dollars creating ambitious titles for players to enjoy, all while ensuring stricter standards of quality and technical performance are delivered. The pressure to create bigger titles with long-term support is something that can weigh heavily on all categories of development, especially QA.
With these demands, how can QA continually scale and deliver a product on time and within budget? There are a number of tooling solutions to help, but test automation is a great place to start. If you choose to implement this into an existing test pipeline, it’s important to understand how to balance automated processes with a hands-on approach. Let’s go over which areas of testing can thrive on automation, and which ones could benefit most from a human touch.
Which game tests should you automate?
There are a variety of use cases for test automation, but each plan of attack will be unique to your team’s needs and limitations. These are just a few tests to consider when getting started.
Live service games require a steady stream of new content to keep players engaged. This means existing, unchanged content needs to be repeatedly tested to ensure functionality remains consistent. By setting up automated test scripts on existing scenes, you can run all necessary inputs and objects against a wide variety of variables and properties, ensuring that manual testers aren’t wasting countless hours on this tedious form of verification.
There are a number of ways to ensure technical performance is in top shape, but the bulk of this work can and should be automated. Whether it’s resolution, frame rate, or more particular considerations like server response time, performance tests can be run in the background while team members stay hands-on with the subjective components of the game. Performance is a much more objective facet of product quality, which are the most ideal areas to automate.
This kind of verification can fall closely under performance testing, but it’s worth giving distinct attention. Compatibility testing ensures your game runs smoothly across all targeted platforms and screen dimensions. Given that nearly half of gamers engage with content on multiple platforms, it would be in your best interest to verify across each of these parameters. Whether you’re launching on mobile, console, or PC, test automation can be set up to account for each of these characteristics, ensuring a smoother user experience for every kind of player.
There are a number of ways to inject test automation into your current pipeline. For a broader view of how the rest of the industry has been mixing manual and automated testing, take a peak at OMDIA's survey findings from a 2022 study in the video below:
Which areas of your game should be tested manually?
At the end of the day, video games are played by human beings. This means the human perspective is irreplaceable in quality assurance. But while a wide range of tests are being automated, what should your manual testers focus on?
Movement and control
There’s nothing quite like nailing down the “feel” of player-controlled characters and their non-playable counterparts. Automation can account for a number of things, but personal perspective will always differ when it comes to how the core subject of your content feels to play. Manual testers can spend the necessary time with all iterations of character movement, whether it’s basic movement or something much more involved like combat. Taking the necessary time to evolve the weightiness and speed of action can do wonders for the user experience.
Speaking of combat, manual testers can make an incredible impact in this of gameplay (if it applies to your game). Technical systems like damage output can benefit from certain automated coverage, such as rounding errors. However, even if the system is numerically sound, it still needs to feel fair and satisfying. Test automation simply can’t account for these tweaks, and can create a more polished product right at launch.
Microtransactions and real-world monetization play a significant role in modern games. Many of these menus, transactions, and other features can be covered via automated test scripts. On the other hand, many games contain in-game currencies and items that drive player progression. Much like combat, certain parts of these systems can benefit from automated coverage, but real people need to see for themselves if the loot, currency, and item values feel consistent in the game’s economy. Balancing these components effectively can be essential for player retention.
Perks of a well balanced approach to testing
Much of the immediate benefits have been laid out, as it all comes down to saving time and resources on tests that can be done efficiently with automation. The perfect blend of automation and manual coverage can have an incredible payoff in the long run.
Consider the fact that by getting more manual coverage and feedback at every phase of development, costly practices like public beta tests may no longer be necessary (or at least as lengthy and costly) for your game.
It’s also worth noting that by cutting down on hours spent repetitively manual testing, your company may keep QA talent happier and more engaged in their workplace.
A new testing mix to strive for
Test automation has a long way to go in the video game industry. While enterprise software has this down to a science, immersive experiences are slowly adopting this form of tooling. By maintaining a delicate approach to efficient automation and consistent internal feedback from testers, the quality of games should continue to rise with healthier budgets and time spent on development.