Tarek Nijmeh, global QA director at PTW 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. Next up is Tarek Nijmeh, global QA director at PTW.

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?

Elden Ring, developed by FromSoftware, is known for its challenging gameplay. However, what is often overlooked is how difficult it can be to test such an intricate game in a short space of time. It’s the kind of game that would make even the most veteran testers sweat. The QA team must test all the weapons, armor, abilities, and items to ensure there are minimal bugs present. But that’s not all. All these items must be used in all possible combinations (and there are many) to ensure that they are balanced and fun to use. Additionally, all equipment must be visually checked for glitches, breaks in animation, and audio issues. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine doing all of this multiple times a month, every month, while testing everything else like quests, levels, and NPCs from early development to gold. It is quite impressive how they managed to do it so well, considering the time it’s been in development.

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

The rise of online and multiplayer features and cross-compatibility has added new dimensions of complexity to the testing process. This requires QA teams to not only test the game itself, but also the underlying network infrastructure and online services. Another challenge for QA teams is the growing expectation for games to be bug-free and highly polished at launch. This can be tricky for QA, especially considering the fast-paced nature of the industry and the pressure to release games quickly and frequently.

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?

Good question! But the answer isn’t simple. It really depends on the kind of a studio. Some studios understand that QA is indeed part of development, so they focus on polish and quality. The same studios would allocate a sufficient budget and time needed for test-driven development. Which means QA can create and deploy more tools or invest in QA vendors, like PTW, to streamline the testing process and minimize or eliminate the need for crunch. Some studios, however, may still underestimate the time and resources needed for QA due to lack of planning or experience, leading to a stressful pre/post-release cycle, also known as crunch.

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?

Unions have always been a topic of discussion, but collective bargaining is gaining traction in all consumer industries. However, no one organization has stepped up to provide a clear path forward for unionization for the entire video games industry.

What is your favourite commercially-available tool that you discovered or made use of this year?

Even with all its UI issues, I still really enjoy working with Jira.

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

AI/automated tools are not nearly as embedded as they should be, in my opinion. However, we are making significant progress compared to a few years ago. Previously, the focus was on adding automation to the backend, but recently, more and more automation tools are used to test front-end mechanics and UI. I think automation, machine learning, and AI are crucial to the success of QA, especially as games become increasingly complex. When utilized properly, they can significantly reduce the time required for testing, provide consistent results, and decrease the monotony of certain tasks.

What other challenges do you see on the horizon for QA and how can teams and individuals best be prepared to meet them?

I think some of the persistent challenges we face today in QA, such as lack of detailed requirements, design documents, limited resources, and insufficient time for testing due to poor planning or cost-cutting, will continue. Any seasoned QA will tell you they’ve experienced one if not all these challenges. My advice would be to invest in project management training, as there’s a lot of overlap between project management and managing a daily QA workload. This can be very valuable when communicating with the team as it will help the individual paint a more complete picture when raising flags. Another program worth looking into is ISTQB. Additionally, I think that the biggest challenge on the horizon for QA is going to be testing AI-driven NPCs, quests, and level design. That’s a whole different beast, and we’ll need AI-driven automation to handle it.

Are you optimistic about the future of QA? Why?

Absolutely! I have been fortunate to witness the evolution of QA from what it was 25 years ago to what it is now. We’ve gone from writing bugs on paper to having automation test and identify them for us. Just thinking about the future of QA, we can expect AI-driven testing and servers using machine learning to identify and test edge cases that no one thought of before. Additionally, as games continue to improve, gamers are also evolving and becoming more demanding, leading to a shift in software development practices. Studios are starting to invest more in QA talent and automation tools to meet these expectations. I am eager to see how QA will continue to evolve and adapt to these changes.

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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