Adriano Rizzo, QA lead at Payload Studios on the state of play in QA today

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. First up is Adriano Rizzo, QA lead at Payload 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?

Ghost of Tsushima. I’m still in awe of how perfect that game feels. After so many years in QA it’s impossible to play a game for leisure and not look for bugs. Even in top AAA games you may find small areas of stretched textures, visible seams, the sort of bugs that get waived the closer you get to release. Not with GoT. I’ve played through it several times, most recently towards the end of last year, and I still don’t think I’ve spotted one. Kudos to Sucker Punch for investing so much time in their QA department and hardening the game to that level of quality.

What’s been the biggest challenge that QA teams have had to face in recent years?

I sometimes feel that Early Access has given some developers the perception that there’s no need to hire full-time testers when you can get players to do it for free. There’s no replacement for a dedicated QA embedded in the dev team – very few players can spend the time hunting accurate steps for bug reproduction, and working directly with the dev team gives you added insight into how the game works at the design and code level.

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?

We’re very fortunate here at Payload Studios that we have a no crunch policy, certainly one of the things that most attracted me to the role when I joined. Work/life balance is very important, more so in the world today. TerraTech is self-published, meaning we can work at our own pace.

Bigger companies often have deadlines and bottom lines to meet, which puts a lot of pressure on developers. It’s very rare that development of a game goes smoothly, and I think the only way for us to completely remove crunch from the industry is to accept that and factor it into planning. Game dev isn’t an exact science, it’s an art, and crunch doesn’t allow for the creativity needed to make a great game.

How embedded are AI/automated tools in today’s QA environment and how have they made things better, or perhaps worse?

Automated testing is becoming more and more a vital part of QA testing in the games industry, and it has to be due to the size of a lot of games these days. Simple tests can now be handled by the automated system and leave QA testers to focus on other trickier areas, especially in open world games where players have a lot more options in terms of gameplay. There might be a fear that this reduces the need for QA, but in reality it can help develop them into better testers and can improve their skills in more rewarding areas. In the long term there’s little doubt it can benefit the quality of the product overall.

About Richie Shoemaker

Prior to taking the editorial helm of MCV/DEVELOP Richie spent 20 years shovelling word-coal into the engines of numerous gaming magazines and websites, many of which are now lost beneath the churning waves of progress. If not already obvious, he is partial to the odd nautical metaphor.

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