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.
All of the studios you’ve worked for then, are they all places you’ve been able to contact for advice on getting into the industry for putting into Cheat Mode?
I didn’t really contact companies, too much legal red tape and hoops to jump through, so I just spoke to contacts I have in each discipline from the various years. So, if you look at the interviews, 90% of them are with people I’ve worked with at one company or another and the other 10% are friends of those people.
So, tell us a bit about some of the individuals you’ve spoken to in the writing of Cheat Mode.
Well, the people themselves are absolutely every person you will never have heard of in your life. These are the great unsung, these are the people that I’ve lived, breathed and died a project with, these are the people I’ve watched the sun rise over the office with, shared many a crap takeaway with and made games with. So, there is absolutely no one anyone would have heard of, but these guys are the real industry.
It’s great hearing from the Sid Meier’s of the world and the known people, but it’s very much a case of these guys are the real guys doing the real jobs every day, and if anyone can give you a realistic idea of what their job is actually like, it’s going to be these guys. Some of them have a phenomenal amount of experience. I’ve done video games for twelve years, and I’m considered a veteran, but some of these guys have a phenomenal amount of knowledge and experience about making video games.
So, what you’re saying is games QA testers are massively important to the industry, it wouldn’t function without these people.
Testing is interesting, there are very few companies that see QA as anything other than a hurdle to get past. It’s the companies, the Valve’s of the world who actually listen to their QA team, who actually pop in and ask ‘is this fun?’ These are the companies that make the real, successful games because they utilise and appreciate the experience and the gaming knowledge that I tester has, rather than see it as the people they need to get past to have their game completed, they use it as a tool to improve their games.
What do you think actually makes a good QA Tester?
A good QA Tester has to communicate clearly, concisely and well all the time, and has to keep that level consistent. They have to have an explorative nature, because I can hire anyone to play a game, but hiring someone to break a game is a subtle but key difference. If all they do is just play the game, they’re not going to find the problems. When you release a piece of software, you end up with millions and millions of possibilities from every position that character is in, and we need to test those possibilities.
In recent years, since games can now be patched through online updates, games seem to be being released without thorough testing. Fallout: New Vegas comes to mind.
It’s been an interesting shift internally, because it used to be a case of that we as a department would come up with a list of ‘we have to fix these key issues, then we can release.’ Now, we watch those issues get shifted from the ‘we’re going to fix this list’ to the ‘day one patch list,’ and it’s become almost a reliance of the industry to be able to patch on day one. So you will go through submissions, submissions will find the bugs that they can’t release with, you assure the console company that you’ll fix it in a day one patch and the game goes out.
In a way it’s painful as a QA tester band because you want the best quality product, and ultimately there still are people who don’t have internet connections, who don’t , who don’t get those day one patches and the quality of their game suffers from that.
With the internet being so vocal when they’re frustrated about something with a game, do you think that’s going to change?
Well, gaming’s an interesting pastime, it has one of the most vocal, angry possible fan bases you can have. At the end of the day, it’s great that people have opinions and care about this property so much, but I was watching that whole BioWare debacle take place. It’s interesting working in video games and having such a vocal audience.
Part 1 of our interview with Veteren QA Tester Dan Jacobs is here, while Part 3 will be published shortly.