Innovation

Five skills you need when applying and interviewing for a video game tester job

While the role of game tester may seem like an easy way to start a career in video game development, but it's not that simple. Being good at playing video games doesn't guarantee you'll be a good video game tester.

The electronic gaming industry is expected to grow past $20 billion in annual revenue by the year 2020. That is just in the United States alone—worldwide revenue could easily reach twice as much or more. In November 2017, Activision Blizzard said its video game Call of Duty WWII had surpassed more than $500 million in revenue worldwide in the first weekend of release, topping popular theatrical box office openings Thor: Ragnarok and Wonder Woman combined. Obviously, video games are big business.

So it's understandable why there is growing interest in finding career paths within the electronic gaming industry. Companies in this market need talented artists, musicians, writers, programmers, producers, IT administrators, and a multitude of other professionals and technicians. For college or high-school graduates looking to start a career in the video game industry, game tester (sometimes called a quality assurance or QA tester) is one of more accessible entry-level jobs. However, video game testing isn't all fun and games.

SEE: Hiring kit: Game tester (Tech Pro Research)

Working not playing

If you're under 25, you probably have experience playing video games—so what could seem more natural than getting a full-time job testing video games? But earning a living as a game tester requires more skill than being able to beat the last boss on your favorite role-playing game. Successful game testing, worthy of a steady salary, requires a specific set of skills that not every gamer possesses. If you want to impress a prospective employer in the video gaming industry, you'd better be able to demonstrate you have what it takes to not only play a game, but to actually work a game.

Make no mistake about it: Game testing is work. A game tester always enters a game with a specific purpose in mind—testing for a defined problem or examining the way one polygon interacts with another polygon. In many ways, a game tester approaches a game in the same way an editor approaches a book. This requires an entirely different approach to gaming.

Be prepared

If you think you have what it takes to get a video game tester job, you'll need to demonstrate those skills to potential employers. You will likely be asked interview questions that touch on one or more of these talents, so be prepared with an appropriate answer that separates you from the rest of the candidates.

1. Know the company, know the games

The gaming entertainment industry is composed of publishers, developers, and producers, all interacting with each other in various, often complicated, ways. To stand out, know the company you're applying with backwards and forwards. Know the developers, animators, artists, and producers. Know what genre of game they've made in the past and what games they have on the market now. You should also have a good idea of the games they're currently developing.

2. Establish your credentials

If you've ever beta tested a game, now is the time to highlight it. Beta tester is not the same as game tester, but it is a close cousin and will help demonstrate that you have approached a game as an editor and not just as a player, at least once. If you have ever edited or collaborated on the school newspaper, a term paper, or anything that shows you can objectively observe, critique, and troubleshoot, you should highlight that experience as well.

SEE: Getting started with drone photography (free TechRepublic PDF)

3. Emphasize affinity for details

Many job descriptions ask for candidates who are "detail oriented"—but the characteristic is vital to a game tester. Everything that happens in a game world is a potential bug or problem. Everything. Something as seemingly simple as a character's breathing has to be exactly right or the game's immersive experience could be lost. A game tester must know what a game should look like and be able to convey when and why the game they're testing does not.

If you've noticed a small but significant detail that worked well in a game produced by the company you're applying with, point it out. You could also explain why you liked it in comparison to another game that did not execute the same feature as well. The more knowledge of general game development you can demonstrate the better.

4. Demonstrate problem-solving skills

It is not enough for a game tester to identify a bug or problem; it is also important to offer a solution, or at least a pathway to a solution. This is another situation where having experience with beta testing comes in handy, and experience with programming or software development of any kind can be game changing (pardon the pun). If you reported a bug during your beta testing, tell the interviewer what you found and what solution you suggested—don't hide your successes.

If you've never been a beta tester, highlight other circumstance where you found and then solved a problem. In this situation, it would be best to mention an occasion that saved time, hassle, and/or money.

5. Be able to keep a secret

Being a game tester, by definition, means working on a game that is not publicly available. In some cases, the game may even be a closely held secret. Successful game tester candidates must demonstrate the ability to keep a secret and honor non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

I offer a personal anecdote to illustrate. In the 1990s, I was a contract game tester for Activision and we were working on a top-secret project involving the Star Trek franchise. Someone on the team posted an alpha version of the game online in violation of the NDA. Activision responded by firing everyone involved. The company cut their losses and cancelled the project completely.

If an interviewer asks you a question about keeping secrets, the best response may be: "I can't discuss that, it's under NDA."

SEE: 10 lessons from video gaming that have helped my career (TechRepublic)

Read the job description

Perhaps there is no other more important thing to do when applying for a game tester position than to read the job description. Prospective employers will outline specifically what they are looking for in a candidate and you should tailor your application and interview preparation to meet those needs as best you can.

Game testing is a great way to enter a career in the video gaming industry, but people who want to be game testers must demonstrate an affinity for the work that goes beyond just years of playing games. Testing a game requires a completely different approach, a completely different mindset, and the ability to apply a tester's keen eye.

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About Mark Kaelin

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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