Cheat Mode by Dan Jacobs is a recently released book about getting into and surviving the games industry. Written by an industry veteran, this book contains interviews with industry professionals who make games every day.From programmers to designers, journalists to community Managers, it offers advice from staff working at companies including BioWare, Codemasters, Rockstar and more.
The Train2Game Blog recently caught up with Cheat Mode author and experienced QA Tester Dan Jacobs to discuss his book, getting into the industry, what makes a good QA Tester and more.
In part one of our huge three part interview, Jacobs discusses his inspiration for writing the book, his involvement on the Train2Game forum, and how he broke into the games industry.
First of all, can you tell us about your book, Cheat Mode, and your inspiration for writing it?
I did a Eurogamer podcast a couple of years ago, and I was chatting to a friend who used to test for me and we were discussing and dispelling the myths like ‘how could QA miss this bug’ and in the podcast I mentioned that we probably didn’t miss the bug but the developers didn’t have the time or money to fix it being the key difference on that little myth.
He said ‘you should write a book,’ so I thought about the idea for awhile and what possible format it could take and it kind of just grew from there. It’s part my knowledge of from ten years in video games, and part interviews with friends I’ve made over the years about what they do and how they feel about the industry, as well as interviews with Blitz Games and some of the lovely folk down there and just a bit of advice and resources that I know of that perhaps those wanting to get into the industry don’t know.
Tell us a bit about yourself, who you are, your username on the Train2Game forum, and you’re involvement with posting there?
I’m Darklights on the forum, which is also my gamer tag and is awesome! I initially joined because I thought it’d be a good way of getting into the student mindset. These are the target audience, these are the people who would be reading the book, let’s find out the stuff they don’t know or what they want to know about working the industry.
So, at the same time as doing that, I can’t help myself if there’s a question about QA, I feel the need to answer, or if there’s a question about game development, I feel the need to answer that. In the same way, there are also a lot of students there who just want help improving their show reel and want a leg-up over the competition.
You mentioned you have ten years experience in the industry, how did you start, and how did you get to where you are now?
I didn’t really get on well with education, I didn’t really have much of an education and I ended up in the classic experience of ‘no work experience, you’re not getting a job,’ so the only place that would take me on was telephone sales.
So, I spent many years doing double glazing on the phone; bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, I probably did it. I had a friend, we went to college together, and we’d met working at one of these companies. I’d helped get her work in the past, and she gave me a calling saying ‘hey, I’m temping at a video game company, they need some testers for Christmas, and I thought you’d be interested’
Of course, being a hardcore gamer I was like “Yes! Where do I sign up?” But obviously I was worried that I had no experience in video games and surely everyone who likes gaming is applying. She said “I spoke to a guy who tests there currently, and he just applied with a list of all the games he’s completed.” So, I did the same and in the interview I just tore their ears apart saying how much I liked games and how much I wanted to do the job, and I landed it.
I remember my first “crunch” evening; we had to stay on so we stayed on until about 5a.m. and the build never arrived, so I went home on the proviso that I’d sleep during the day and come back to test the build at night. I woke up three days later with absolutely no idea what was going on! Really concerned that I’d lost my job, but my boss was really cool about it and that was really my first experience of crunch. Thankfully, I got a lot better at handling it after that!
So, I tested there for a couple of months, helping with their Christmas releases, but then I had to leave because the contract was over. They told me they’d really like me to come back some time, which was brilliant, and I went off and got another sales job, actually, this was a videos on demand service.
They were paying me 20k a year, then I was there for a couple of weeks before Empire called me up and asked ‘how would you like to work for us, for two weeks, on minimum wage?’ and I said no, because I was more interested in having a secure job at the time. So, I worked at this company for one and a half to two years before thinking ‘hang on a second, why am I not doing something I enjoy and love?’
So I started working on getting back into the games industry, and I applied to a strange advert that was very mysterious in that it said we need games testers, but we can’t tell you why or for what. So, I thought I’ll have some of that and applied, and landed a job testing for the new Microsoft console, the Xbox!
I started there as a functional tester, then was moved up to evaluation after a couple of weeks, which was the best job I’ve ever had. Literally, play the game for two weeks, say if I like it and why and then you’re supervisor would write a report because you’re only a tester and couldn’t possibly write a report! So literally, my job was to play games, not even to find bugs. Then I did a bit of standards work before Microsoft moved the office, so I had to leave.
Since then I’ve moved around a bit, I’ve worked at EA, I’ve worked for well, Microsoft, SEGA I did a stint at. I’ve worked for Kuju, Climax, DC Studios, Argonauts, and I did a bit of Sky TV games for awhile too.
As usual, leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum. Part 2 of our interview with Veteren QA Tester Dan Jacobs is here.