What it’s really like to be a games tester
How great would it be to sit and play games all day and get paid for the pleasure? Sounds like a dream, right? It certainly ticked all the right boxes for me, that was until I’d spent a few days in the role, which I’ll get into a little further down.
Like any teenager, I was reliant on pocket money from my parents as I didn’t have any other income streams. So I decided to look online for a part-time job I could do on my days away from college. I’ve always had a passion for video games and remember Googling games industry jobs when Pinewood Studios popped up with a vacancy.
Testronic Labs were looking for a Video Game Tester with flexible hours for a couple of days per week — I was sold.
What did the job spec look like?
Please don’t quote me as we’re talking a few years ago now, but I remember the job spec went like this:
- Passionate about video games
- Experience with a range of platforms (Xbox, PlayStation, PC etc.)
- Excellent attention to details
- Computer literate
- Works well as part of a team
- Impeccable writing ability
- Communicates effectively
- Play a range of titles and look for any bugs or glitches
- Report bugs via an internal system to game developers
- Upon confirmation of bug fixes, replay the game to ensure issues are resolved
What you’ll get
- pay of £7.50 per hour
- Flexible shift pattern to choose from
- Join an exciting and vibrant studio
- Work is based on a zero-hour contract
It was probably a bit more in-depth than this, but you get the idea.
I remember applying for the position and getting a phone call a day later while I was at college with an invite to an interview. I was super excited, to say the least.
I arrived at Pinewood Studios, where Testronic was based, and I must admit it was exciting. Knowing that this was the place where the Bond movies were shot, and many more signature films.
I recall passing a window with Rosie and Jim puppets (a 90s children’s TV program) and realising how famous and historic this place was.
I was welcomed into Testronic for my interview. The interview was one of the most straightforward imaginable. I spoke to the hiring manager, told them about myself, and read a two-page story where I had to circle errors such as typos.
They told me there and then that I’d got the job and I could start the next day at 3 pm.
I arrived at 3 pm for the late shift, which didn’t finish until midnight. Fortunately, I only lived a 5–10 minute drive away from Pinewood.
I signed in at security and was escorted to Testronic, where they swiped a funky green-lit panel allowing me to enter. I was introduced to a team of around four other games testers before being given my first assignment.
Was I about to play the next Fifa? A new call of Duty, perhaps? No.
It was a PC game called My Boyfriend… in German. Great.
Considering that the dialogue (even the prompts) were in German, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I fluffed my way through the game on the lookout for bugs.
Within minutes of playing, I found that there were breaks in the background music and a campfire the character would float above when you walked towards it.
Bug reporting was interesting
Once I’d found some of these bugs, I needed to open an internal system where I’d report what was happening and where it appeared in the game. At times though, especially with the first game, it could take several hours for a developer to fix the bug.
I got stuck at a point in the game, which meant I couldn’t progress any further until the developer fixed the bug. This meant sitting around waiting or going for a break to pass the time.
Pinewood Studios — the ghost town
I’d been told there was an onsite cafe to get something to eat and drink, but starting at 3 pm meant everything was closed already. I couldn’t go far into the studios as security was tight, and everything was eerily quiet.
I’d assumed the cafe would have been open, so I didn’t take a packed lunch, meaning I was reliant on vending machines to get something to eat.
The internet is locked down
Due to the nature of non-disclosure on many of the games, the PCs in the studio were not hooked up to the internet. This resulted in relying on a mobile to access the web and pass the time.
I returned from a break and kept checking to see if the bug had been fixed, to no avail. All the other games were already being worked on. So I took the opportunity to meet the rest of the team.
They were all like-minded people with a passion for video games, and it was one of the guys there that helped me source the parts for my first gaming PC.
The bugs were not fixed on day one, which was pretty average, I’d been told. The clock neared midnight, and I looked forward to getting to bed. It had felt like a long day.
I’d arrived on the second day and opened up my bug reports to find the devs had fixed the bugs I’d reported. Additionally, they’d managed to source an English copy of the game, making it a little less painful.
The second day went similar to the first, except I’d brought a packed lunch, my PSP and a book to read.
I found more bugs in the game I’d worked with on day one, reported them, and sat back as the devs got to work on fixing them.
My manager at the time said that he’d be moving me onto a new game when I was next in the following week, and I also asked if I could try the early shift instead of the late.
I arrived for the 6 am shift which finished at 3 pm, and it was a completely different place. There was much more hustle and bustle, and the cafe was open to all employees.
Today, I began work on a much bigger title — MX vs ATV.
This one was on PS3, and I enjoyed playing it so much more, even though I’m not a big fan of racing game.
I think I must have received the game in a later stage as there were hardly any bugs to report.
Being on the early shift, I met a new team of people, which was great as they were a different mix to the other team (not that the other team was awesome too).
The day went similar again, apart from performing a soak test.
I found the soak test quite interesting. It involved pausing the game and leaving it in that state for 24 hours.
When I went back on day four, the game was in the same state I had left it in. The idea was to check if the game crashed when you unpaused the game — which it didn’t. This was marked as a pass.
The rest of the day went on to be similar to the others, and I must admit I got bored very quickly.
The problem with zero-hour game testing contracts
I was in the games tester role for around two-three weeks, but because I was on a zero-hour contract, this meant that they didn’t need me if work dried up — which it did within the first month.
This was ok as I’d landed another job in the meantime, but it might have been more challenging if I was reliant on the money.
Would I recommend a games tester role?
Things are little different four years on from when I tested games, but the concept is likely much the same.
If you are given a terrible game, you have to stick with it as the studio is contracted to check the provided games work correctly.
I do not have any gripes with Testronic whatsoever. Although I did not enjoy the role, someone else may have loved it. I appreciated the experience.
Bigger game studios need testers to check their games before they are released to the public. Games studios aim to avoid the backlash like that of Cyberpunk’s launch, which was criticised for having so many bugs.
Avoid zero-hour contracts at all costs unless you aren’t reliant on the income. Games testing is a good way of making some easy money for a part-time role, although the hours may be unsociable, which doesn’t suit every lifestyle!