Sunday, August 5, 2012

How To Get a Job As A Video Game Tester

In all of my years of professional experience, probably the one job I get asked most about is my time as a Video Game Tester for SEGA of America. I spent several years with SEGA, and people, especially children, are always fascinated by the opportunity to make good money by doing what they love, namely playing games! Here is some advice for those looking to obtain one of these highly-desired positions.

For those looking to get a foot in the door of the Video Game Industry in any capacity, there is no more tried and truer method than the Video Game Tester position. This job brings you into the fold of the development world where you can see how the games are made, make vital contacts, and get critical game company experience on your resume. I cannot tell you how many people I have worked with who used this entry-level opening to springboard into positions in programming, game production, design, marketing, etc. Plus, there are worse ways to make anywhere from $10-15 dollars an hour (starting pay) than playing games for a living!

First of all, you need to be in a geographically feasible location to get one of these positions. Quite simply, there are not a lot of major cities in the United States that have a hotbed of gaming development. Fortunately, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where we have numerous development firms and testing opportunities with major players such as SEGA, Electronic Arts, Sony of America, Namco, and more. Seattle, Washington is another prime location as companies such as Microsoft call it home. So if you truly want to get a shot, you'll have to consider relocation.

One of the most compelling arguments against making such a move is that the great majority of companies hire Tester candidates as temporary employees. If you live in a city with a game company that employs testers, you will want to contact the HR Manager to see what firm they use for their temporary staffing needs. They can generally direct you to the people who screen the initial crop of candidates, then present them directly to the company. Due to the seasonal aspect of the industry, there can be times of great need where firms will hire boatloads of people, and slower times, when they have to let a number of people go, when there is not enough work to keep folks busy.

As any experienced game contractor knows, your position is never guaranteed. Perm spots are hard to attain, but it can happen. The key is being able to demonstrate your value to the company, and sadly enough, playing the social game can also be a critical factor. As a temporary employee, the uncertain stability of your job is probably the most frustrating aspect of the position. Still in most cases, companies seem to be astute at identifying the must-have talent and keeping them in the fold.

Once you have connected with a recruiting firm and been submitted directly to the gaming company, its time to prepare for the interview. One of the most important things that Test Managers look for in a new hire are effective written communication skills. As the job revolves around finding and documenting bugs, or errors, in the game, the ability to concisely relay that information to the programmers so that can fix them is vital. So expect going in that you will be taking some kind of writing test. An eye for detail is also important.

If you are the type of person that notices little things, or things that seem out of place, it definitely helps. Also, remember that while most game companies are very casual in nature, it is important to dress professionally and convey your sincere desire to have an opportunity. As you can imagine, there is a multitude of people who would like to have this type of position, so anything you can do to stand out from the pack helps. One of the nice things about interviewing for game companies is that you generally receive very quick turnaround on feedback, and in some instances can be hired almost immediately.

Working in the Video Game Industry is definitely a unique and enjoyable experience. There are many perks you will not find in normal companies. Do keep in mind though, that while the job is all games, it is not always fun. Like any position, there are monotonous aspects to it. For example, be prepared to test the same game over and over, for up to a few months at a time. That can be challenging. Also, expect going in that you may be assigned mind-numbing tasks from day-to-day such as checking that all weapons or items work as they are supposed, all walls in each level are solid, or even just proofreading game text. Finally, be prepared to work long hours as needed. When crunch time hits, and a game needs to ship, overtime can be required to get the game out the door. Still, overall, there are few positions where you can have as much fun on a day-to-day basis.

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