When I sat down to write this article I wasn't quite sure what I was going to talk about. Like most topics I write about I decided to pick a topic that bugs me. I'm just that kind of person. I find I talk about issues that I think is wrong and could be done better to much. Maybe deep down I'm a bit of a control freak and I always think I could do better then what I see being done around me. In this case my beef today is with how Quality Assurance is utilized within the development of games.
These are 5 points I believe management should utilize to get the best they can out of their QA teams.
Become A Part Of The Team
Think of QA as part of the overall creation of the title not just a support team tacked on and kept in the dark. Include QA in updates and discussions about the project . When QA is kept in the dark and locked away in another room, building, or even another country the employees will feel disconnected. Disconnected employees will not give 110% everyday. By keeping QA in the loop consistently you will get a team of individuals who not only care about the project and feel apart of it but also a team that will work to achieve the highest quality possible. Adding QA testers in the credits and giving out free copies of the game as a small gesture will increase moral far more then you could imagine. If the rest of the development team gets these little perks and QA doesn't it just adds to the disconnection they feel with the project.
Listen To Tester's Feedback
Listen to QA. The guys and gals in QA are playing your game 8+ hours a day. 5 to 7 days a week. They know the ins and outs of the game and know what feels right and what doesn't. Listen to their feedback. If something is “wrong” with the game but not necessarily a bug, QA will be the first to notice. They know what makes a game fun and enjoyable. Some times there is no need to wait for play test to find these types of issues late in development. Remember if QA still finding the gameplay fun after 8 weeks of full time testing your on the right track.
Core Teams & Specialization
Everyone is good at something different. Putting an experienced Compliance tester on audio tests is a serious mismanagement of resources. These decisions are more made by senior leads then management but sometimes even within the hiring process talents can be over looked for some time before the senior leads take notice or find out what a tester is best at. Most companies have multiple projects going on at once and this is where Core Teams come into play. Having a small core team per project with rotating non-Core Team testers gives a great balance of knowledgeable testers and fresh eyes. Just don't rotate to often or work will never get done due to testers having to take time to adjust and familiarize themselves with the project/team.
Dev Support testers can be a critical link between your QA team and the Developers. Having a few testers working along side devs to help reproduce issues can save massive amounts of time. With testers working on CNR's it frees up time for devs to do what they where hired to do. I've had the opportunity to work as a compliance dev support tester and it made the devs life so much easier when they can talk to you face to face and get the tester to reproduce a tricky bug in front of them.
Cert Testers Know Best
Believe in your cert team. This is kind of a combination of “Listen To Tester's Feedback” and “Core Teams & Specialization”. Compliance testers know if your game will have a chance to pass or fail in certification. If your getting warnings from your compliance experts then save your company some cash and continue testing compliance until QA feels it is ready. Compliance testing should be done in conjunction with all other testing of the game on at least a small to medium scale depending on the size of the project. Once the title hits beta and most game design changes are finalized increase compliance testing. Have at least a small core compliance team on hand for these later months of testing. Who will mimic testing done by the consoles your submitting to. The best way to catch as many Sony certification issues is by testing like a Sony certification tester.
Each studio utilizes their QA in different ways and some of these points might not always apply in every studio. I have also base these off my own experiences and observations I've made over the last few years working in different QA environments. If you would like to share your thoughts on how QA could better be utilized feel free to leave your comment below.