QA Spotlight: Enzyme Labs

MCV chats to Enzyme Labs president and CEO Yan Cyr about the challenges of testing 3D games, motion titles and more.

Is user-testing important in an age of 3D and motion gaming? Do you cater for this?

At Enzyme Labs we have been performing focus groups and playtests on games in development for over six years now. The many benefits of user testing during the production cycle are not limited to games that use 3D or motion gaming. We have performed user testing on all game platforms including motion gaming as we have a dedicated facility for focus groups.

The overall benefit of user testing is to do it at key times during the development cycle which ensures that the game is well balanced and maintains its entertainment value for the intended target group. At Enzyme Labs we have developed key milestones in the development process where focus groups and user testing should be performed.

Do you believe there is a need for standardisation in QA and localisation practises? Why?

I don’t think this will ever happen, and I’m not really convinced that there is a need for it. The main reason is that all publishers work differently and require some form of customised process when working with QA and localisation firms. However, at Enzyme Labs we are ISO 9001:2008 certified, our internal processes have been standardised and we continually focus on improvement.

One of the key areas for us this year is our new partnership with localisation company Binari Sonori with whom we have developed an integrated QA and localisation methodology. This makes the process of QA and localisation simpler and more efficient for publishers in addition to being much more cost efficient.

How has the rise of digital, casual and social games affected your business?Are you having to complete different projects, or have you had less demand for your services?

Actually, 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 strategies and product development to address this growing market.

The game market is getting bigger; it’s not shrinking, which is great for us. What it means is that we have an increased demand for our services but many of the projects are smaller than the traditional console game. At Enzyme we are already very well equipped to service customers in this market and have been working with them for some time now.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between publishers and QA firms?

In general, our relationship with publishers is very good. We do work with a lot of the more prominent ones as well as medium and small publishers. The key to maintaining a good relationship is always about communication and understanding customers’ needs.

What needs improving?

In general there are two things that could be improved. The first is planning on the part of publishers so we can set our production schedules and assign the best resources for any given project. This also limits overtime work which impacts the QA budget.

The second is moving QA up the production cycle to relieve stress on development teams as the go-to-market date approaches and the game is due for submission. Having QA earlier in the production cycle also helps to produce games that are defect-free which don’t require patches and fixes, or in some cases the removal of some functionality in the game if a problem can’t be corrected on time.

How have publisher attitudes towards the sector changed in the past year?

Well, this year we are finding that the production cycles seem to be later than usual, and that planning has been somewhat more difficult. This is understandable considering the recent economic environment. I think publishers are being a little more cautious than usual but their attitude has not really changed in terms of requiring good QA work on their games. Many are also realising that opting for the low cost solution isn’t always the best choice when it takes double or triple the amount of time to perform the work.

Some of the QA and localisation firms we spoke to called for publishers to bring them into the production process earlier in order to improve the service you provide. Do you agree?

Absolutely, the earlier the localisation and QA process can start in the development cycle the better it is for everybody. Developers can make adjustments to the game that are less costly than last minute changes or having a release that requires patches. Working in harmony earlier in the process also saves time, reduces budgets by decreasing overtime and puts less stress on the development team. Most importantly the game produced is of better quality.

Do you think more attention needs to be given to QA and localisation in general?

Well, it always depends on the publisher. Do they want to make great games that are commercially successful globally and develop IP’ that can be turned into franchises? Or do they simply want to make average games that are somewhat profitable with local appeal? In many cases it’s a business model choice. However, more publishers are requesting localisation and linguistic QA in languages that were not so popular even just a few years ago.

I think a lot of the localisation and demand for new languages is driven by the mobile market and the possibility to distribute games more efficiently through alternate channels, not just the store shelves.

How do you expect the sector to change in 2012?

We expect an increase in casual, mobile and digital distribution of games which means higher volumes. We also expect large publishers to enter this market and reduce the number of console titles. This will mitigate risk by having more small titles that can have commercial success.

In addition, we expect casual game developers that entered the market early and have had success to develop games that are more sophisticated and complex. I think the real game boom will happen when 4G networks are fully implemented, and smartphones and tablets will be capable of delivering a gaming experience in HD that is similar to today’s console games.

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