On Quality Assurance and Testing
Usability Testing: Getting targeted user feedback and player responses to gameplay. Quality Assurance: Bug hunt and wider quality control. This misunderstanding stems from the bad old days, when QA was primarily bug hunting and was called "testing." These days, usability and user testing is a huge industry in its own right, and is crucial to a game's initial playability and longer term commercial viability. New platforms like smartphones and motion controllers (such as the Kinect) have brought new challenges to game developers when it comes to making gameplay intuitive and fun. Usability testing from pre-production right through to submission helps ensure that players get the best possible experience for their dollar. And it helps developers prove that they can sell their products to their target audience. Good designers embrace this side of development. So should you.
Quality Assurance is a viable way to get your foot in the door in a games company. But be aware that not all companies have a path to development from QA, so ask first! Technically, QA is not a graduate-level job, but it is increasingly being used as an internship for potential future developer talent. It's not for everybody, as hours are long, wages are minimum, and the work is extremely regimented. Think of it as doing hard time in solitary confinement. Most graduates in QA teams will have to work on their portfolios after hours. If you don't want to do this, don't take a QA job. I worked at companies where QA and Dev never mixed (except for in the smoking area out back), and at others where development teams have had their own QA members on the team right from the start of production, giving QA an immediate insight into and contribution to the development process. It could go either way, regardless of how big the company is. My advice: If you don't even get your own desk, don't expect to move up the ladder.
On Shared Spaces
All development teams I worked with have had a shared team space, which includes the team leads, managers, and producers. There are no corner offices here! Sharing workspace means that everyone can see and hear everyone else, all day. There is banter, but beware: The office is not like the internet, no matter how relaxed the office environment may feel. Do not do any of the following:
- Look at porn.
- Talk about porn.
- Bring porn in.
- Talk about anyone as if they were in porn.
- Use porn terms/slang.
- Talk about your sexual conquests (real or imagined) in shared spaces.
- Create random sexually explicit content, even in lunch breaks or overtime.
- Display nudie calendars, lad-mags or "page 3" on your desk.
- Display, discuss or admit to owning tentacle-porn action figures even if the rest of the office is littered with action figures and/or tentacles.
Many game developers find their life-partner in the office. Just think about that for a minute.
Shared spaces in development studios mean that headphones are the only way to make a quiet working environment. Be kind to the ears of all developers when it comes to your portfolio: Keep the volume at a standard level, keep it consistent and try to understand that not everyone loves Skrillex, even if he did DJ a major party at GDC this year. Be creative with portfolio accompaniment, I'm sure you have some original ideas already.
"I'm really good at ideas. That's what I want to do in the team; be the guy who has the ideas." I hear this a lot from applicants to my courses, and have to stop myself from releasing the sarcasm Kraken. So you have ideas? Join the queue. At the back. Behind the guy who can draw, the girl who can code, and the other folks who can write, plan, create, evaluate, debug, submit and deliver. They've got ideas, too-and the skills to start making them a reality!
If your game idea starts with the story and doesn't include actions, goals, or details about some of the gameplay features, it's not a game idea. When I do game design workshops in schools, I often hear enthusiastic students start their game idea by describing a protagonist and then tell me the story of what happens to him. This is because many games start with a cut scene filling in the back-story, which makes it easy to forget that gameplay comes first.
Stories in games are optional. Take Tetris: No story there. At least, no narratives as told by the developer and explored by the player through the gameplay. The tension between story and gameplay is at the core of game design. It's called ludonarrative dissonance. Now there's a phrase to bandy around at a job interview! Go read up on it, I dare you.
Basically, your ideas don't mean much unless they take some durable form outside of your head. If you don't write an idea down, it goes away. This means you need to have a pen about your person. I mean it, it's a minimum requirement. At all times. Sure, you can wave your smartphone at me and talk about how you Swype things into memos all the time, but how does that convey an image or connections between multiple ideas? A pen is just a simple tool but it is powerful because it is so versatile. You can write or draw on other things too, such as body parts, your surroundings or found objects. This helps you to incorporate existing ideas into your creative process in a way that simple text or digital notes can never do. Sooner or later all these ideas will coalesce into something real. And that, my friend, is the beginning of a portfolio.