By: Kendra Nelson
Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to test games for a living? I decided to follow a quality assurance (QA) tester, Paul Nelson, for a day at his workplace Navigator Games — the studio that brought the legendary mobile game Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast to life.
Paul meets me outside a skyscraper in the heart of downtown Vancouver. We cross through glass doors, where an eclectic mix of business suits and casual T-shirted men and women mingle in the front lobby. The elevator lets us off at a floor with futuresque white walls and we walk towards glass doors with a blue tint, then abruptly turn right down another hallway. We finally arrive at the door where video game startup Navigator Games is located.
The room is an open concept, with desks and computers of about 25 team members in order of job title. Paul sits me down at his desk in the procession of four other QA testers. Multiple cell phones and other devices litter his desk. He boots up a Samsung S5 and hands it to me, “Here, start playing.”
I begin with the tutorial, as I’m unfamiliar with the game. I secretly wonder if Paul is merely offering to entertain me as he works, but then he boots up another phone and starts tapping the screen in play.
Paul Nelson landed in Vancouver eight years ago, after leaving all his close friends behind to pursue a career in the gaming industry. He began class at the Art Institute of Vancouver and made lifelong friends who have helped each other in this precarious industry. If one was unemployed, the others would keep them in the loop with their experiences and encouraged them to move forward in their career. They became a gamer family unit, often sharing new releases together and other smaller, little-known games, with five of them living under the same roof.
Paul’s been in the industry for nearly six years, starting out at Electronic Arts as a tester. After working corporate, he began working for the startup Roadhouse. After establishing Eddie and other Iron Maiden characters in the mobile game business, Roadhouse went bankrupt (despite the game’s success) due to their app publisher withdrawing from the business. However, they were able to maintain most of the same members of the original team while working on the game with Nodding Frog, a UK company, which is now taken care of by Navigator Games.
Suddenly my game freezes and I can no longer tap anything. “See, that is a bug right there,” Paul points out. He pulls open a program called Jira and begins to write up a detailed report of where the bug is and how to reproduce it. He then sends the bug to a specific team member who can rectify the issue. The whole process reminds me of the scientific method, which is followed meticulously in order to reproduce results in a lab.
“I receive a number of issues that are deemed solved, and I have to go back and double check to assure the game is flowing seamlessly now,” Paul explains, as he links previous bugs with newfound ones.
“It’s almost like detective work in finding the reason why a bug exists.”
On Fridays, the team unwinds with a beer from the main fridge that’s situated next to the coffee and tea station. While being a game tester is not ‘all fun and games,’ it certainly comes close.
Quick questions with Paul
In the past, Paul has taken programs such as game art and design. He specializes in game design, level design, work on 3D programs, coming up with ideas for gameplay, and how to build a proper level with flow. He also does scripting to make events happen, particle effects (which brings the environment to life), documentation of level layouts, and what the product is going to be.
Here are a few questions I asked him:
Tell me about your experience being able to see Iron Maiden live in association with the game.
“I received free tickets to the Iron Maiden concert: some people even got box seats. It was a pretty good show with mascots on stage, and Eddie, who is the main character of the game.”
Are there any other perks to being a QA tester?
“Being in the industry is good and it’s cool to be able to play games before they come out for the public. I’m not in a coal mine; it’s clean work. I work with great people and the latest technology while solving problems. It’s fun.”
Are the hours consistent or are you working overtime in busy periods?
“Hours are consistent, working nine to five with some rare overtime hours in crunch time. Crunch time is generally right before we release a build, which is an updated version of the game, or before the initial release of a game. It is all subject to how often the game is updated. The more complicated the features we implement, the longer it takes to get it out there.”
Overall, my day at Navigator Games offered a realistic glimpse into an average day as a QA tester at a gaming company. I felt more like a investigator than a gamer, as I helped sift through levels to discover new bugs. I enjoyed that the environment was fairly relaxed, and we were able to take a lunch break at the local pub and meet with friends from other gaming companies. It really felt like work and play were intertwined, despite the reported ‘demoralized’ feeling from exclusively dealing with discrepancies in the game. If you can pay close attention to detail, learn multiple programs, and most of all, play games, then this job might be for you!
Editor’s note: Paul Nelson is the writer’s brother.