It's certainly a common idea within the games industry that those who start in quality assurance are headed for a career well past that one post; possibly even a career in a popular field like design or production. But can QA staff and testers make their way up the ladder in the way people think?
We talked to a number of people within the industry - two people who work in QA right now, one person who has worked in QA and moved on to become a producer, and two people with a sense of exactly what a reasonable expectation for anyone entering the field would be. Amongst the most important questions posed was whether the idea of QA being a stepping stone for better positions in the industry is an outdated one - does this happen any more, and if not, what's changed?
Firstly though, we wanted to start at the beginning: how do you get a job in QA?
Getting Your Start in QA
"QA is almost definitely the easiest department to get into, as far as game development is concerned," says Alex Ness, a producer with California-based developer Toys For Bob. "Sometimes the only requirement is that you have a pulse. Maybe not so much any more these days, but that's how I made it in."
It's not entirely a joke - QA is not a difficult field to get a start in, at least in comparison to other sectors of the games industry. There can be a lot of competition though, as Pete Hines, Bethesda Softworks' Vice President of PR and Marketing says. He notes that the company "get a lot of resumes because the background and experience can be a little broader", which can often mean that, even if it is less specific in terms of exactly what is required from a tester than it would be for a programmer or artist, it can be a lot harder to stand out from the crowd.
Of course, it varies depending on what kind of QA job you're after. Zachary Slater, who works as a Quality Assurance Engineer at a company he declines to reveal and runs the Game QA Blog comments that "if you want what most people think of as testing - pure breakage with bouts of gameplay - that is relatively easy to get".
"No real education is required for that level of QA," he says, "and it shows in the quality of testing. Assuming you are persistent and live near a publisher's QA farm house, you can get in relatively easily."
Andrew Plempel, QA Lead for Hudson Entertainment, agrees: "Most companies are always looking for a tester and their requirements are minimal so really anyone off the street can take the position," he says.
"Testing is seen as the ‘entry level' job, and obviously it is easier to get work as a tester than a director!" notes Vicky Rowley, who works in Human Resources with British developer Evolution Studios.
"However," she cautions, "it is still a highly competitive field and at Evo we scrutinize an individual's ability, attitude and skill set. People who have the attitude that getting the job is ‘easy' wont get it. Put simply you have to really want the job, rather than immediately seeing it as a stepping stone to something else. The best way is to show that you've picked up the core requirements, demonstrate your communication skills, and most importantly to know the difference between testing a game and playing one."
Slater agrees, noting that it's important to have "realistic expectations and ideas in your head about the subject at hand", adding that gaining a general knowledge of the subject and its terminology through blogs and "almost any general software testing book" will also help in convincing prospective employers that you're right for the job.
Ness believes that the best way to start in the field is to "know somebody who works in game development or publishing".
"Well," he qualifies, "you not only have to know them but usually have given them some sense of the fact that you are bright and would do a good job."
Indeed, Plempel received his start in QA this way, through a referral from a friend who was working in the field with Visual Concepts. For people that don't know anyone, he recommends "going to a company's website or looking on craigslist.org" or trying "sites that include job boards that encompass the video game industry" like Game Career Guide sister site Gamasutra.