I often get asked about my time as a videogames tester, and whether or not it’s a viable career for someone thinking about getting into the videogames industry. In this post I will be sharing my experiences to hopefully shed some light on the role.
Back in 2009 I had recently finished my degree in London, and was in the middle of my job search when I came across an ad from SEGA of Europe looking to recruit Quality Assurance testers in their offices in Chiswick, west London.
Back in Chile, that would not have been an option, so I didn’t think twice about it and decided to apply.
The interview process
During my college years, I was always told that when in doubt, wear a suit and tie for interviews, as it’s generally better to overdress than underdress. And boy, was I overdressed.
I was actually the only one wearing a suit, while everyone else was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I think I remember someone actually wearing sandals on the day.
The first part of the interview process consisted of playing three different games: one on Nintendo DSi, one on XBOX 360, and one on PC (this was back on 2009, mind!). After trying each one, we were asked to write a small summary of what we thought was wrong with the game and how it could be improved.
Then, we had an one-on-one interview to discuss motivations and experience-based examples to allow the interviewer determine if we’d be a good fit.
Finally, we had a group exercise, where we were asked to plan as a 5 person group what items we would bring to a deserted island and why. This last one was very interesting, and it measured our ability to think logically, and communicate and work as part of a team.
The actual work
The contract I was offered was a zero-hour contract, meaning that I would get paid for hours actually worked, and the company had no obligation to call me in to work if there weren’t games to test.
Once work started, I got allocated one of three shifts available: the morning shift (6am to 2pm). The other two shifts were the afternoon shift (2pm to 10pm) and the night shift (10pm to 6am). I was lucky to get the morning one, as it was the closest one to a normal workday routine. Since SEGA is a Japanese company with offices all over the world, it was important that the studio had testers working 24/7 on their projects.
One of the first things I realized was that my colleagues came from many different backgrounds, ranging from professionals that were between jobs, to high school students looking to make some pocket money (the working age in the UK is 16).
There were three types of roles available at the studio: functionality tester, localization tester, and translator.
- Functionality testing: the most common of the three (and also the worst paid). As a functionality tester, your role consists on performing sanity checks (making sure the game turns on, and works with any TV resolution), following predetermined scripts while playing the game from beginning to end, and then free-playing to creatively try to break the game.
- Localization testing: since I also speak Spanish, I got the opportunity to test a few games’ localization. SEGA in Europe works in FIGS languages (French, Italian, German and Spanish), so they had testers for every language. These testers earned 1 GBP/hour more, so it was definitely worthwhile. Testing involved playing the game in the corresponding language, checking that all menus, subtitles, and audio samples made sense contextually and were grammatically correct.
- Translation: This role paid almost 2 times better than localization testing, but didn’t involve playing any games. As a translator, you’d receive the original game’s text and dialogue in a spreadsheet, and you’d have to translate before sending back to the developers, who would then copy-paste your text into the corresponding part of the game. I did not get to work as a translator, as I had no language certifications at the time (although I’d have expected my passport to do the job).
My thoughts on the experience
Overall, I really enjoyed the 6 months I spent at SEGA. I had the chance to work with great people and to get paid to actually do what I love. Not to mention the fact that I got to put my name in a couple of games I tested:
However, I do think this is more of a temporary job, rather than a long-term career. Without any managerial experience or training, it would be very difficult to move up the ranks in the Quality Assurance department as a senior tester or team lead, unless you spend some serious time there.
Most of the friends I met while I was there left a few years after I did, which is normal for this type of job. In many cases, people leave because the workload suddenly decreases, meaning you don’t get called in and as a result, you don’t get paid (due to the zero hour contract). Effectively, you are forced to quit unless you have an additional source of income. The best case scenario is if you’re a certified translator, given that you don’t work on a zero-hour contract, but you don’t get to actually play games, which kind of defeats the purpose.
My advice for anyone wanting to try this to give it a shot. Depending on the games you’re tasked with testing, it really can be as fun as you’d expect, but the unpredictability and low prospects to build a career make it a bit of a hard sell if you’re planning on making it in the world of videogames.
To be clear, this is in no way a comment deterring people from working at SEGA specifically. I really loved my time there and I think it was a great place to work. My opinion is solely focused on the role of a tester as a long term career.
In the next post I will go into the details of the games I tested, but in the meantime, feel free to leave us a comment or a question, and we’d be happy to answer them for you.
Thanks for reading and happy gaming!
I've been a gamer since the SNES days and Donkey Kong Country was the first game I ever owned.
I currently work as a management consultant, and my console of choice is the Nintendo Switch, which I carry with me during my travels.