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Game Testing vs. Application Testing: the Ultimate Fight

Sounds nice, huh? Getting paid to play games! Or surfing the web and having fun with all those applications. If you’ve ever considered a career in the testing industry, I can tell you one thing - appearances can be deceiving. I’ve been in both game testing and app testing roles. Sit down, get comfy, and I’ll show you around a little bit.

Getting started

Me no speak Americano?

If you really wanna start your adventure with quality assurance or software testing, first you need to know a little bit about the pre-employment phase - the interview and the requirements. In almost every QA department in Warsaw (where I got my experience) the most important factor was the level of spoken and written English. Usually 50-80% of the interview is through English. The IT industry is multinational - programmers must understand what they need to fix. Also, the client often likes to get a sneak peek at the project. However, if you’re reading this article without Google Translate, I suspect that we’ve got that one pretty much covered.

Watch your step!

The second big thing is perceptiveness. Your most important task will be to find imperfections and errors (known as bugs), so no company will hire a person who won’t notice red paint on the tip of their nose. Examples of perceptiveness tests are:

  • spotting bugs in screenshots or movies of games or apps,
  • a manual with mistakes such as misplaced letters for you to find,
  • accurately describing an example bug,

and yes, everything’s in English.

It’s a little bit harder when you’re trying to become an application tester. Requirements can vary greatly between companies, so they may want a new tester to know the basics of programming or databases, be familiar with testing terminology (e.g. naming different kinds of tests) or be able to perform automated tests. Most employers prefer to hire people with the ISTQB certificate, which is gained through exams. It requires some advanced testing skills.

What about game testers? Well… Usually it’s about two things mentioned before: the ability to speak English and perceptiveness. Things like automated testing or the ISTQB certificate for app testing are welcome but not necessary. In some cases, you may benefit from the knowledge of computer games and their history. And sometimes your interview may contain some surprising elements, like... playing on the console. As an element of the interview, to be clear.

Let’s get down to work

Here we are, after all the interviews, at work. Now, what can we expect?

QA specialists of both types do quite similar jobs. The main differences are the test subjects and how the job is done. In both cases, the main responsibility is to report bugs - using the app or playing the game and reporting anything found. You may work according to so-called test cases (lists of things to be done exactly as described to check the software functionality) or do whatever you please within an app/game.

The second task is regression. When a programmer claims that a bug is fixed, the tester must make sure that it is fixed properly. Also, both kinds of testers use bug trackers for reporting bugs. Developers also have access to bug trackers, so they can see what’s going wrong in the app/game, fix the problem and inform the tester that the problem is solved.

What’s different, then?

How many testers, how many projects?

Let’s start with quantity. There are typically fewer app testers than game testers. During app testing, there are only a few testers per project, usually only one or two. In games testing, especially in bigger projects commissioned by industry giants, there can be dozens of testers on one project. The largest QA team I’ve ever encountered was about fifty people. Of course, there are also projects that only have two or three testers, but these are very rare.

Another quantity related difference is the number of projects. In app testing, it is normal that a tester must cope with several projects at the same time. In game testing, there is no possibility of one tester dealing with more than one project at a time.

Where are all my people?

This difference leads us to the next one - teamwork. At Netguru, app testers work closely with programmers and project managers and often contact clients. In many cases, game testers know programmers only via the bug tracker and seldom have any other contact with them, usually only when something about a reported bug is not clear. Project managers? For most game testers, these people are as mythical as unicorns.

However, during game testing there are more opportunities to work in a team. Especially when it comes to testing multiplayer modes. Game testers also make use of being in big teams - when a bug caught during testing happens only once to someone and they’re not really sure why, usually a whole team tries to reproduce it.

Now something about technicalities. Remember the requirements? Databases, programming, automated tests? You’re gonna use some of each during app testing. If you choose game testing, you won’t have to worry about those. The only thing from the list that may come in handy during game testing is automated tests, but that’s a rarity.

Matters of size

The projects themselves differ when it comes to size and complexity. App testers usually work on their projects from the very beginning to the point when the project enters the maintenance period. Basically until the application’s production is finished, it’s on the market and the only job left is maintaining its stability and releasing patches if any new bugs are found.

As a game tester, you’ll experience projects of various sizes. Sometimes it will be involvement in the whole production cycle of the game, starting from early alpha, and finishing with the final version and patches - the same as in app testing. But it also happens quite often that the test team is required only for selected parts of the production. It can be a release version, early alpha, some projects I’ve encountered were about testing only the newest patch or expansion set.

We’re all living in America?

Another thing is the flexibility of work. On a scale from 1 to America, app testers are usually on the stars-and-stripes side when it comes to freedom of establishing workflows. When it comes to software development, most employers use modern methodologies - ideas, or even philosophies, which outline the workflows, teams’ responsibilities, and hierarchies. Modern methodologies allow more liberty to testers and programmers in order to improve their creativity.

But from my experience, such freedom of choice is not really the case in game testing. The workflow is established by your supervisors. Everyone is given a set of tasks and your job is to… get things done. The tasks are usually repetitive - game programmers tend to create a new builds (version) of the game every day, which means that the most important features need to be tested with every build. Yes, you got me right: every single day.

However, changes may turn out to be massive. It’s not unusual for a game to be so utterly redesigned that it looks like a completely different product overnight. The QA team must react quickly to sudden requests from the client. In contrast to app testing, where there is little or no hierarchy at all - the games testing hierarchy is rather strong and stiff.

Summary

As you can see, app testing is much more demanding and requires more skills, but in exchange offers a lot in return. Flexibility in workflow with multiple projects can easily make the job more interesting than it may initially seem. Big responsibilities and duties can pay off in terms of personal development while close cooperation with programmers and experience in automated testing might even lead you to a career in programming.

What about games testing? It can be a very pleasant job for computer games enthusiasts. The responsibilities and duties are less challenging, as are the entry barriers. You don’t need to worry about automated tests, specific languages, and certificates. And, contrary to popular opinion, working as a games tester will not kill your passion for the games.

So? Which one is for you?

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