As consumers opt for bigger games of a higher quality, the need for these products to undergo vigorous testing is stronger than ever.
This essential step of the production process, combined with huge growth in the digital, social and casual gaming sector, has resulted in a boom for some QA and localisation firms. Companies like Universally Speaking and Testology have had to expand their teams to cope. Social and mobile games gives these specialists more projects that are quicker to complete.
Meanwhile, more publishers are turning to QA firms earlier to ensure their products reach the highest possible standard.
But several challenges and debates remain. The industry is divided as to whether the localisation sector needs standardised practices. Motion controls and 3D gaming is making firms rethink their testing strategy. And with cloud gaming and Wii U around the corner, how can the sector best prepare itself for the changes ahead?
We asked several key industry figures to find out.
ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PUBLISHERS AND Q&A FIRMS
Vickie Peggs, MD, Universally Speaking: “We have noticed a shift towards early discussions with publishers. This is unfortunately still not the case with all publishers, although the signs are encouraging. With the addition of new languages, publishers are establishing contact early on to request support and advice on how to handle these. This is having a very positive effect and will hopefully extend to all games.”
Andrew Day, CEO, Keywords International: “In our experience, the relationships are improving. Publishers are more willing to partner with strategic QA vendors and share more openly scheduling information which allows for better planning and ultimately an improved QA service. It would be good to see more long term strategic deals between QA vendors and publishers and less project by project bidding.”
Stefan Seicarescu, CEO, Quantic Lab: “What we found out in the last year is that publishers are more careful when choosing their projects. Also decreasing production costs is a much more interesting challenge. For example, when buying a project, publishers now choose a much more polished game near to final milestone than in previous years. Also they avoid long production cycles and favour digital distribution.”
ON REGIONS WITH AN INCREASED DEMAND FOR LOCALISATION
Andy Robson, MD, Testology: “We’ve seen an increase from studios in San Francisco, but we haven’t really had to change the way we normally work. We are in a different time zone but that generally seems to work in the client’s favour as we are testing while they are asleep. So when they wake they have many bugs logged. We have previously worked shifts so we are working alongside our client’s time zone.”
Vickie Peggs: “Due to the sharp rise of social and casual games, we have seen an increase in titles localised into South American and Asian languages; Turkish, Arabic, Malaysian, Thai and Hindi have become standard for many of our clients. With this bigger focus in additional languages, we have had to increase our fulltime teams to accommodate this substantial boost in demand compared to this time last year.”
Alastair Harsant, VP, operations for games services, Testronic: “As Japanese games firms are becoming more Eurocentric, and as the Japanese game market percentage reduces, Testronic is being called upon to give a higher quality of localisation and proofreading for Western languages for them. Plus, larger publishers are translating games into Eastern European, Scandinavian, Turkish and Greek languages.”
ON WHETHER Q&A PRACTICES SHOULD BE STANDARDISED
Pawel Grzywaczewski, business development manager, Q-Loc: “The games industry is very creative but QA and localisation needs to be standardised. Both those processes need to be planned in very early stage of development. The more predictable those processes are, the easier it is to implement them into development plans. In localisation we expect creativity from translators, but project managers need to be as predictable as possible.”
Richard van der Giessen, president, U-TRAX: “I don’t believe in this, it feels like just a way to make money for people who like to approach games localisation and QA way too seriously. Hello, it’s game localisation guys, it’s supposed to be fun. Too much standardisation could risk killing the fun and creativity that are so essential to our trade. Also, different games, platforms, target languages and territories usually require a different approach, so standardisation can only be reached to a certain level.”
Dominik Prophete, project manager and QA lead, Anakan: “I don’t believe there is only one correct method to do things. Every project and client is different, and you have to account for that. However, it’s great to have a certain set of minimum requirements you can apply. For example, we want our localisation testers to be able to do independent text changes. If the publisher cannot give us this freedom it’s perfectly fine. However, the testing time will probably increase.”
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF USER-TESTING IN THE AGE OF 3D AND MOTION GAMING
Michael Souto, business development director, LocalizeDirect: “It’s extremely important. I would suggest that testing for headaches could be right at the top. Although I’m sure there would need to be some automated non-human system for this. Otherwise, I can see a large number of claims from QA guys that have developed ailments as a result. I can imagine all the cheesy TV claims ads now:?‘Have you been injured testing 3D?games? We’re here to help!’
José Ramón Sagarna, testing manager, Localsoft: “Every time the ‘how to play’ rules change, the testing strategy should change accordingly. The Wii proved that. For example with 3D, there are test basis that need to be created to accommodate the new capabilities. Critical path instructions in 2D may not be readable in 3D. For motion controllers, non-functional characteristics such as the learning curve should be checked, too.”
Ben Weedon, manager, PlayableGames: “With any technology that’s new, and where the designer isn’t able to anticipate exactly how everyone will react to the game, the need for user testing is important. Because otherwise they’re making guesses. Testing with people who are representative of the end audience is essential, and 3D gaming is no exception. You need to ensure what you’re doing is challenging and yet fun.”
ON THE RISE OF DIGITAL, CASUAL AND SOCIAL GAMES
Yan Cyr, president and CEO, Enzyme Labs: “This trend is good news for us as there are more publishers entering the market because the cost of development and distribution is much lower than for console games. Larger publishers are also adapting their marketing strategy and product development to address this growing market. So we have seen an increased demand for our services but many of the projects are smaller than the traditional console games.”
Linda Lemieux, director, VMC: “There is more demand on our services because of this. The difference is that previously we would have teams of ten to 50 people working on a single game. Today, we have individuals working on a game. Our testers may often work by themselves in these smaller settings, and therefore have more impact on the quality assurance. So it has become even more important to hire quality team members.”
Andy Robson: “The rise of digital and casual and social games has been great for Testology, I would say over the last eight months or so this has been around 65 per cent of our revenue. What you find is that rather than have three or four big titles a week you’re getting anything from ten to 15 titles a week, from the casual and digital side. I think the triple-A sector has become very stagnant and the same ingenuity is not being experienced in new IPs.”
ON HOW THE SECTOR WILL CHANGE IN 2012
Keith Russell, VP for sales and marketing, Babel: “More casual and mobile games, fewer but bigger console titles, more focus on reducing costs and driving profit. I also see a move to game hubs, like Montreal, who have a government which actively supports the video game business with real incentives. We ourselves are currently considering moving our operational staff out there to be closer to clients.”
Pawel Grzywaczewski: “I guess that the video game industry will be getting wider and wider. A couple of years ago, games development was all about retail and making a triple-A game one day. Now you can go digital, mobile, cloud, social, browser and be successful in this field. I would expect some announcements from platform holders and maybe a surprise or two from unknown direction.”
Iris Ludolf, co-founder, Partnertrans: “Localisation and QA needs more awareness, especially in the West. Today there are still some publishers and developers that think they can translate a German game by running the text through Google Translate. I expect the price war among localisation firms to continue, but also dare to hope that publishers and developers realise that a quality localisation means higher revenues.”
THE PUBLISHER'S PERSPECTIVE
Namco Bandai Europe outsources all its QA and localisation tasks. Publishing and product support director Samuel Gatté tells us how providers can improve their services.
“They should have more senior people to handle day-to-day tasks, not only junior leads promoted to management positions after a couple of projects. Autonomy has to be better. Even if they are an external team, they must act as if they were fully part of the global team.
“Compliance linguistic teams should train on a regular basis. With new consoles and internet services related to games, suppliers need to stay sharp. Also, they should modify how localisation suppliers are dealing with testers. The turnover is high in this sector and keeping good linguistic testers is not easy.
“There should be more use of hardware manufacturer’s tools, or some internal automation tools developed to perform repetitive tasks.
“Hardware manufacturers must also better consider companies in China, India and Romania. It’s difficult for those firms to get new hardware or prototypes. Showing more security measures from these QA outsourced firms would perhaps be helpful.”