In the realm of “dream jobs,” getting paid to play video games all day may seem as far-fetched as becoming an astronaut or a Men In Black agent. But landing a gig as a professional video game tester isn’t nearly as out of reach as you’d expect. The gaming industry, which this year is predicted to rake in nearly $160 billion, is rapidly expanding (set to surpass $200 billion in revenue by 2023) which means that there are more openings in the field than ever before. Video game testing is one of the best ways to break into the biz and earn a not half-bad living while you’re at it. According to Glassdoor, the average base salary of a games tester is around $55K a year – with room for growth.
- Step 1: Understand The Job
- Step 2: Play Video Games!
- Step 3: Study Up
- Step 4: Hone Your Skills
- Step 5: Research Companies
- Step 6: Look for Listings
- Step 7: Land The Job
Like any career, it requires knowledge, passion, plenty of studying, and a dedication to getting into the field. Don’t know where to start? Read on for our step-by-step guide, along with advice from real gaming professionals.
Before you start daydreaming, it’s important to understand what video game testers (known in the industry as QA, or Quality Assurance, testers) really do. For the record, they don’t actually just play around all day. The job is about finding and documenting bugs in software that’s usually under construction and perhaps not “playable” in the sense that you’re used to as a consumer. It also involves troubleshooting, testing functionality, analyzing data content, and rating the performance of games.
“A big misconception that I see new testers have and a lot of Game companies perpetuate is that ‘wow you get to play games for a living’ and it’s not that easy,” says Kristen Dealy, a senior QA Tester at Activision Blizzard (whose opinions are her own and do not reflect Activision). “We don’t play games for fun but to break them. Every day testers are running through every aspect of the game to make sure it is functional. It’s a lot of doing the same thing every day. Then if you do find a bug you have to be able to deduce the exact steps and then document it for the developers to fix.”
According to Jonas Kopka, a QA Lead at Kolibri Games, based in Berlin, QA testers “spend a lot of time manually testing our game so we know it inside out, but at least as much time is spent preparing test maps to find and cover all the edge cases… Another similar amount of time is spent in meetings to plan our sprints, iterate over our workflows and processes, and align and decide on the actual implementations.”
You’ve probably got this part covered if you’re interested in a career as a games tester, but it’s worth pointing out that, like any profession, some general knowledge can be a big help when you’re starting out. While “a longtime passion” isn’t quite required, says Remy Ripple, a general software QA tester who has previously done QA testing at Activision, “definitely having some kind of knowledge in games helps. The games I tested were never the kind I’d sit down and play myself, like first-person shooters, so I was at a little bit of a handicap at first, but having general knowledge about them helped.” For a leg up, it would be useful to start playing the types of games you usually don’t have in your rotation to broaden your range of experience; if you’re used to first-person shooters, for example, try switching it up to a story-driven RPG. Here’s your excuse to splurge on more titles and spend even more time with your console!
While you don’t necessarily need a formal education in gaming to land a job as a QA tester, having a grip on the technical side of things is an obvious plus and a degree always helps, especially in a field this competitive (sorry, but you’re probably not the only one reading this article right now). If you’re entering or are still in school, look into college courses centering on digital media, programming, or software design and development.
Dealy, for example, studied Game Design and Development-Art with a concentration in 2D Art, while Ripple has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. “I majored in Web and Multimedia (basically a catch-all for digital media studies),” he says. “Since I already had an interest in games and making games, breaking into the industry especially from a mainly art/design perspective can be hard so games QA was a nice adjacent position to what I wanted.”
For gaming hopefuls who have long since graduated, all hope is hardly lost. There are plenty of online degree or certificate courses to help you add some extra oomph to your resume. Gaming Industry Career Guide has a searchable map of related program offerings in your area.
From an entry-level standpoint, QA testing is a great way to get started in the gaming industry, and since it serves as an intersection of so many disciplines, Kopka assures that “any extra skill or experience you have from other areas can be applied in one way or another to QA, so never stop learning!”
Speaking of skills, which kinds are video game companies looking for in QA testers specifically? Well, you might be surprised. Kopka, for one, cites three main skill requirements for any successful game tester:
Communication: “We work on a 40 person game team and very closely with devs, designers, product managers. There’s no time for vagueness and misunderstandings.” Written communication skills are also valued, as testers must be able to describe the route to a glitch clearly and concisely to developers.
Teamwork: “We have no place for big egos, it’s about delivering an awesome experience for our players, and that only works if we all pull together.”
Puzzling: “Deconstructing a feature into its parts and finding in which ways you can fit them together is essential to find all the interesting ways it might break.”
The role also requires a sharp eye for detail – after all, a big part of your job would be to pick up even the smallest bugs – along with plenty of patience and a tolerance for repetition (you’ll likely be required to repeat actions many, many times).
When seeking to enter any industry, it’s important to familiarize yourself with all the major players (um, no pun intended). There are hundreds of game companies across the world, ranging from large studios to indie startups, so you’ll have to consider what you’re looking for in a potential employer. Would you prefer a work environment that’s swanky corporate or scrappy startup? Would you consider relocating? Do you want a stable work-life balance or a stable salary?
Glassdoor is an excellent resource for seeking honest, behind-the-scenes reports straight from current and past employees. To get you started, here’s an overview of some of the best-ranked video game companies to work for:
- Activision Blizzard: Based in Santa Monica, California. Known for Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo, World of Warcraft. Employees say, “Not for the faint-hearted but the strong can thrive.”
- Valve Corporation: Based in Bellevue, Washington. Known for Half-life, Portal, DOTA 2, Left 4 Dead, Steam. Employees say, “Awesome company with good perks.”
- Riot Games: Based in Los Angeles, California. Known for League of Legends. Employees say, “The best career decision I ever made.”
- Naughty Dog: Based in Santa Monica, California. Known for Uncharted, The Last of Us, Crash Bandicoot. Employees say, “Very talented team. Amazing tools. Treated well.”
- Electronic Arts Inc.: Based in Redwood City, California. Known for Battlefield, Need for Speed, The Sims, Dragon Age, Star Wars, Madden. Employees say, “Big corporate with all the pros and cons.”
- Epic Games: Based in Cary, North Carolina. Known for Fortnite, Unreal, Gears of War, Infinity Blade. Employees say, “Incredible growth opportunity.”
- Take-Two Interactive: Based in New York, New York. Known for BioShock, Borderlands, Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead, NBA 2K. Employees say, “Great culture and place to work.”
- Bungie: Based in Bellevue, Washington. Known for Halo, Destiny. Employees say, “People are great, work-life balance is challenging.”
- Nintendo: Based in Kyoto, Japan. Known for (do we even need to say this?) Mario, Zelda, Pokémon. Employees say, “Best Place EVER to work.”
- And if you happen to be interested in moving to Germany, Kopka describes Kolibri Games as a 105-person powerhouse that boasts a “very open culture where cross-team collaboration is common and appreciated.” Sounds like a stamp of approval to us.
Once you’re finally ready to dive into the actual job search, your best bet is to look for job listings on sites including Indeed, Glassdoor, and Gaming Industry Career Guide, or on the company websites themselves. Keep in mind that not all QA positions are salaried or full time. A company may hire temporary or part-time testers, meaning that you’d be paid hourly as a contract worker (on the plus side, that means the potential for lots of overtime pay).
Nevertheless, according to Ripple, “a lot of major studios have massive QA departments in the sheer number of the lowest rung QA testers,” so there tends to be plenty of openings for QA roles. And don’t be afraid to start somewhere, whether that’s an internship or a peripheral role.
In college, Dealy says she “did an internship at iDTech as an instructor where I taught kids how to 3D model and create video games [and] ended up working again at iDTech before I graduated as a Lead Instructor.” Then she found a job opening at Activision. Kopka got his start doing SEO, copywriting and localization at a startup – and now he’s the QA Lead at Kolibri!
As Ripple says, “I think anyone that wants to get into QA can find that this is actually a pretty large field with a lot of crossover between different disciplines. QA in games, in software, even in mechanical stuff are out there and anyone that likes understanding how systems work and how things fit together in even the most abstract way I think can find a place here even if it isn’t with their dream company or if QA isn’t even their end dream position.”
Another insider tip? “Get into mobile games,” says Kopka. “The market is much larger and most things are very similar compared to console and PC games.”
You’ve sent your resume out there, consistently applied to openings, and finally got called in for an interview – congrats! Here’s your chance to show off all the knowledge you’ve gleaned preparing for this role and actually land the job. So what should you expect from the interview? In addition to general questions about which games you typically play or have experience with, interviewers may ask things such as, “How do you assess the quality and difficulty of a game?”, “What techniques do you use to find all the bugs and glitches in a game?”, and “What skills do you think Video Game Testers need to be successful?” (luckily, we went over those!). You also might be given a test to assess that eye for detail we mentioned.
On a more practical level, Ripple notes that, “public transport is possible out to the office but in the interview, they usually request that you have reliable transport due to expected overtime.” Depending on where you are, that might mean having to get a car.
As for whether or not all this prep for your “dream job” is actually worth it? Well, it might not be all fun and games, but Kopka maintains that the career pays off. “There are so many amazing people working in games, and they bring so much passion to work every day. Also, working on products that just want to bring positivity and joy to the world is incredibly rewarding. It’s surreal and deeply touching seeing your game being played in the subway by a random stranger, or when your friends confess they’ve been playing for a while!”