QA has come a long way in recent years, but with issues around representation, automation and underappreciation, have things come far enough?
For many in the games industry, a job in quality assurance represents the first rung on the development ladder. It was one this humble correspondent was about to step on when his head was turned by an offer to join the staff of a leading games magazine instead. In the 25 years since that fateful decision, he’s often wondered if he made the right choice. Now, having heard from seven dedicated and passionate QA professionals, he realises he probably did and that the games he might have had a hand in were all the better for someone else’s being there instead.
We’ve checked in with seven top QA professionals to see where things stand. For our last interviwee in our series on this topic, we’ve got Adam Rush, QA partnership manager at Keywords Studios.
Leaving aside matters of personal taste, critical acclaim and popularity, and wearing only your QA hat, which game – other than your own – has impressed you the most over the last 12 months?
2022 has been a year of critically acclaimed titles so it’s hard to choose. I think in terms of quality and fun – the games that kept me coming back – I would choose both Vampire Survivors and Cult of the Lamb. You got me, I’m a rogue-like fan! Both games played clean, had amazing art and were just great fun overall.
What’s been the biggest challenge that QA teams have had to face in recent years?
QA, the craft, is often seen as a stepping stone into some other facet of video game development. It’s increasingly hard to keep great talent in QA because people don’t see a career there – and the expertise and knowledge of good QA practices are then diminished as great talent moves into other sectors of the games industry. Companies should treat their QA production teams as important as they do any other department, putting resources behind these teams to not only reward their fantastic work, but also incentivise them to stay on.
QA teams have always been frontline combatants when it comes to crunch. How far along are we from the c-word falling out of use?
This is a term I’ve seen less and less over the years, and I would like to think that it’s due to better development timelines and less chaos as companies build better policies. Either way, I hope that video game crunch becomes a thing of the past – like using VCRs to record bug videos!
Unionisation has recently become a hot topic? How has that come about and do you foresee increased levels of unionisation across the industry – in QA especially – as inevitable?
It’s hard to see where unionisation in the games industry is going at this early stage, but for now the best thing to do is value your people, strive to be a good employer and have an ongoing dialogue throughout.
What is your favourite commercially-available tool that you discovered or made use of this year?
There is nothing better in my opinion than a well built JIRA dashboard with a proper workflow. While there are many tools that are available, JIRA is the one that rings true for me.
How embedded are AI/automated tools in today’s QA environment and how have they made things better, or perhaps worse?
While I’d say there is still quite a bit of manual QA performed, many custom engines and tools exist that do make life a lot easier. Need to know if all areas of a map have been checked? Build an automated heatmap. Need to ensure that a build is stable immediately after it’s cooked? Build an AI that can play the game and run those BVTs/smoke checks, ensuring you can deploy a clean build to the studio.
There is still a huge manual component, of course. Many defects created by automation need to be checked by humans to ensure validity and be properly vetted. Automation essentially frees up more time for humans to focus on the quality of a game, reducing mundane and sometimes meaningless tasks so we can really pay attention to making a project shine.
One of our Keywords Studios, Mighty Games, does just this. Mighty Games has developed its own platform which utilizes AI technology to automatically test code, detect bugs and report errors. This allows the studio to run thousands of hours of automated testing on a daily basis, removing all the drudgery so humans can get to the more intricate work. It’s a cohesive structure with both people and robots.
What other challenges do you see on the horizon for QA and how can teams and individuals best be prepared to meet them?
All companies that build tools and software, not just those in games, should work towards creating a more robust career roadmap for their Quality Assurance divisions. I think that starts with enshrining in any organization that quality is everyone’s job. Without smart, competent humans who are passionate about quality – it’s going to be an even greater challenge to keep up with technical advancements.
Given the rise of so many GaaS titles, along with the speed at which the players are wanting adjustments / fixes on titles that are live, we may also see more of a transition from standard QA to Live Ops focused teams. These QA specialists work to ensure the most seamless experience for players and keep them engaged in real time, when escaped defects are found or game imbalance is reported.
Are you optimistic about the future of QA? Why?
Absolutely! As games continue to grow in scope and additional advancements are made in technology – such as AI, Engine Development, Machine Learning and more – there will be a continued demand for QA professionals to ensure the quality that players expect.