Itâ??s safe to say that making quality software has always been a paramount priority for the games industry.

Quality Control

Having been involved in testing many things in many industries, games are certainly the hardest I have come across. But what’s most obvious to me is that when it comes to QA we need to make sure that both the overall ‘quality’ of the game and the usual process of debugging via ‘assurance’ is dealt with. Assurance shouldn’t be about ‘bug detection’ but more about ‘bug prevention’.

To some, quality is about removing bugs and to others it is about gameplay experience. As a QA function, we need to support both. We shouldn’t lose focus in bug finding and smart testing processes and obviously need to stay on top of the certification needs of the platforms, but as we get better at this, games teams will be keen to utilise us more around the qualitative side of the products.

However, QA still has – and this is in any organisation, in any industry – a bit of a ‘perception’ problem, often seen as the bottom of the pile. Traditionally in the games industry, the mix of people in QA consists of some career testing folk, some people looking for temporary work and a large amount of ‘industry hopefuls’ who are looking for a way on up to the wider development and production world. This does foster a perception that QA is not important and is full of people who don’t know what they are talking about; just providing a games coverage service and putting a tick in a box.

And this has a habit of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy – why hire the best designers in the industry, develop the best code, use the cream of the development industry and the latest production techniques and practices, but then Quality Assure the products using students and temporary staff?

Instead, designers should stop looking at testing as their poor cousin. Quality is an important facet of our products and needs to be taken seriously throughout the whole design, development and production lifecycle. QA can offer lots of skills and understanding in these areas, as testers tend to be gamers with a wide repertoire of experiences, as well as having bug finding skills. Having people ‘focused’ on quality (both qualitative and quantitative) from the start allows the creative people to concentrate on being creative,
knowing that someone is ‘watching their backs’ from a quality perspective.

We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that quality is everyone’s responsibility, and one of the major roles of a good QA department is to keep re-enforcing that message.
A QA department may have up to 1,000 years worth of cumulative games experience, and most testers understand what works and what doesn’t. I realise it’s not feasible for producers to listen to individuals about detail, but there are ways to capitalise on the collective experience of the testing department. It is our job as QA professionals to make ourselves heard.

At the same time, there is much to be done to improve QA practices across the industry. We can work both as individual departments and as an industry to create a professional career for the people within QA. Also, standardising our processes (as much as we can – staying away from the competitive edge) would help us all to develop stronger product and allow us to create standards for which we can train our people to create a world class QA industry.

Bringing some rigour to what we do, and benchmarking our skills and abilities utilising an industry group, would benefit both the people within testing and the games teams we support. I am currently working on this concept with other industry QA leaders and intend to launch a group by the end of this year. It is imperative though that these initiatives are supported (and funded) by the studio leaders and the games teams who should rely on our support.

I am a pragmatist and I know that the road ahead for QA to face these issues will be tough. Developing these ideas has been done before. In my past experiences in the more ‘traditional’ testing arenas like banking and telecoms we faced the same challenges ten to 15 years ago and to a certain extent conquered them. We should learn from those experiences and not go through the same pain again.

[img :98]Chris Ambler has been in the testing industry for over 20 years, and is currently QA director of Electronic
Arts Europe and a member of the EA World Wide QA Council. In his previous roles Chris has managed and consulted on many testing projects across fields as diverse as defence, finance, telecoms and government.

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