MCV speaks to Linda Lemieux, VMC's director of games QA, development, integration and QA, about the relationships that guide the quality assurance and localisation sector.
What are your thoughts on the dynamic between publishers and QA firms? What works well and what needs improving?
The relationship between publishers and QA firms is symbiotic, that can be both a great help to creating better games, as well as an agitating challenge. Publishers understand the need for QA, but look for speed and price. QA firms need to ensure quality at every step of development process. The old adage, better-faster-cheaper; pick two” applies.
From our perspective, partnering from the beginning is critical to building a better game. When QA is done in a vacuum, with very little participation from the publisher, there are generally more problems. And, often, those problems become more difficult and costly to fix. Partnering from the beginning, and throughout each step along the way, enables the QA team to better understand development goals and project goals so they can work as a part of the team, rather than the testers at the end of the process.
On a more detailed level, the relationship between publishers and QA firms works well in regards to scoping of a project. There is a fairly well established bar for quality that is consistent throughout the industry, with a standard level of acceptance and detailed statements of work. Challenges between publishers and QA firms tend to show up in a lack of standard tools, a lack of consistency for storage, and a lack of controls for versioning and multiple teams and vendors. Better industry-embraced standards can help both publishers and QA firms work together, better.
How have publisher attitudes towards the sector changed in the past year?
Given that the games industry revenue share has shifted from primarily console games leading the way in revenue generation, to the rise of mobile and casual games in both popularity and revenue generation, publishers and developers are looking toward multi-lingual titles to maintain share and revenues, especially in regards to console games. With the explosion of smartphones and mobile gaming, almost half of the growth is coming from emerging markets outside of the US and Western Europe. Localization offers an opportunity to reach into new markets, which are also some of the fastest growing markets. Publishers recognize this, and are looking to localize in order to serve these emerging markets.
Last time, 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? What are you doing to encourage publishers to bring you in earlier?
We feel there are many advantages of entering the production process as early as possible. The more we understand the concepts, goals and designs of the game, the better we can help provide QA and localization at each step of the development. By engaging early, we can help prevent development from going down a long and more costly path of rework. We can address issues in the alpha and beta stages, rather than waiting until a game is almost ready to ship before uncovering bugs that could end up as show stoppers. We have found that generally, the earlier we get involved, the more effective we can be, providing better quality assurance for a better end product.
Do you think more attention needs to be given to QA and localisation in general? Why, and how are you raising awareness of the sector?
The games industry has not yet been impacted by the scrum and agile movement, in the same way that software development has, at this point. It should be. QA is a driver for development in agile. In the games industry, we are trying to work with publishers and developers to create agile lite”, to help push quality at every step, rather than only at the end of development. The benefit can be to get rid of critical bugs along the way, rather than wait until the end to uncover and fix bugs that may cause major rework when a company is pushing against their deadlines to get their game to market.
Which regions around the world have seen increased demand for localisation or special QA needs in the last year, and how have you cater for this?
We have seen an increase in demand for localization that follows the growth of smartphone adoption, with the most new demand coming from the emerging markets. Arabic languages, Eastern European, and Nordic languages are the top three areas of growth. To meet this demand, we offer worldwide localization and translation services with native speakers, trained to provide games specific terminology and results. It is the combination of native speakers and specific training for localization and QA in games that makes the difference.
Is user-testing important in an age of 3D and motion gaming? Do you cater for this?
User testing is always relevant. It speaks to the user experience. The user experience has a recipe to be followed for success. If we're not careful to watch for this, it can be easy to get distracted by the shiny metal objects”, rather than the gameplay. Although we test on consoles, handhelds, mobile devices and computers, using all the latest peripherals and motion devices, we stay focused on the user experience and our processes for successful quality assurance.
Do you believe there is a need for standardisation in QA and localisation practises? Why/why not?
Yes, standardization is very important to QA. It requires best practices to ensure quality to the client. Although standards can and do vary from client to client, based on their specific requirements, the basics are always the same. Standardization helps ensure better, more playable games.
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?
Currently, there is more demand on our services because of the rise of digital, casual and social games. The difference is that previously we would have teams of 10 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, as they are now more responsible for games QA than when we had large teams in place.
How do you expect the sector to change in 2012?
We are going to see many more mobile and casual games. We will continue to see a decline in large, blockbuster games—fewer titles; more reliance on franchise titles. We need to adapt to using smaller teams, focused on one single language per team, for our localization efforts to become more effective and more responsive. Our talent pool is deeper than in the past. Where we used to see triple-A titles designed for hard-core gamers, we now see a large influx of smaller games, appealing to a wider range of players, from toddlers to seniors. Emerging markets are now adopting more games, because mobile is making a huge difference. The shift from console to mobile is a primary driver in the evolution of games in 2012 and beyond.