How has the proliferation of downloadable content changed practices within the QA industry?

In focus: Testing DLC

Testology’s Harrison Baker looks at how processes are evolving – or aren’t…

Technology has an influence on many of the world’s leading industries, its advances sending progressive shockwaves through all of the entertainment sectors. However, the video games industry carries the burden of a technological expectancy: consumers demand not just creative innovations, but also those with technological foundations.

In the past few years these technological improvements have been more closely associated with accessibility and casual gaming. In addition, the internet has become an invaluable component of the console market, with stores offering affordable gaming and, perhaps most significantly, downloadable content.

The generation of the ‘downloader’ has been transformed into an intrinsic part of the gaming experience (with downloadable iPhone applications and games rejuvenating the mobile market), an awareness of which has been capitalised on by development studios and publishers.

Downloadable content has been a rising star for the ‘post release’ sales opportunity. This has rippling effects through the development process: when games are released they typically still have unrestricted scope for further content – bringing into question the term ‘content complete’ – extending the role of QA departments.

Testology has worked on many titles that exploit the potential of DLC –most notably Sony’s LittleBigPlanet – combining a sweeping range of content, from customisation packages to levels and features. Being a relatively new implementation of the development cycle, DLC presented itself as a new challenge.

Perhaps one of the most significant considerations of DLC is time. DLC extends the development process, so the priority is always to ensure fluent implementation into a released and working title. It’s important not to disregard the processes that you utilised during the ‘pre-shipping’ period. The testing day goes on as normal with DLC being treated like any other new feature.
Further, it’s important that our teams thoroughly test all areas and features of the game when DLC is introduced. Even though the game has been rigorously tested ‘pre-DLC’, we need to ensure that these new features have no affect on the successful functioning of other aspects of the game.

However, the acquisition of DLC also needs to be acknowledged: if you want to ensure complete functionality, it’s important to actually acquire DLC as the consumer would. QA is not only focused on the in-game functionality, but the downloadable functionality, and so this process of download and installation becomes intrinsic to the daily routine of a QA department.

Think of DLC like this: it is a new game feature that needs to be treated as such. When amending a test plan document, DLC is incorporated as naturally as possible. There needs to be a relationship between old and new; the content is not viewed separately.

One of the main obligations of a successful QA team is to smoothly translate testing processes between multiple products, formats and acquisition methods, and DLC is no different. It is fundamental to assess any differences – for example the downloading process – and then apply existing, proven testing methods to ensure quality for clients.

The approach outlined for advances in DLC is also applicable to changes in format and platform. The iPhone, social networking sites and browser-based games have redesigned the concept and possibilities of mobile and casual gaming. The scales of these games is much more modest, meaning the dedication of test time to these types of projects is more sporadic and fragmented.

It seems that the industry is ever changing, but with stable and adaptable processes, QA can function with the same focus it always has. DLC and games on a smaller scale can be scrupulously tested in the same way as the traditional video game.

Products and projects may become more complicated because of modifications such as DLC, but these are only complications, not a call for process redesign.

The technological world evolves in an extremely progressive way, but QA seems to handle these changes more than adequately. The video games industry does love to change, but it seems the QA process doesn’t need to change as significantly to ensure the same level of service.

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