(whoops, where did the game world go? an error not the iPad version of Dead Space caused the world to disappear)
How to split your time when testing video games.
Nobody can ever have enough time to test a video game. You never find every bug when testing. Video Game testing is often seen as a merely a budget drain on the video game development process, so generally speaking a minimal amount of time is allotted to testing. Managers often begrudge dedicated testers because it robs budget from development. For this reason dedicated video game testing must be well time managed. So, given a set amount of time and a tight deadline, how should one test a piece of software or video game?
I came across the question "you must work on the same level of a game during a week. How do you proceed in order to complete the work?" as part an aptitude test for a video game testing job.
The question is essentially about organisation, initiative and particularly about time management. Here is a simplified description of three phases of video game testing time management. Please note that where you work may have many more parts to testing which focus on specific areas of the video game, like conforming to company procedures or first party rules and restrictions.
But for reasons of simplification, let's break video game testing time management into three phases:
- Phase one: Normal user behaviour.
- Phase two: Go nuts.
- Phase three: Break it.
Before you start testing any video game in a specific time frame, you need to have a clear idea of your objectives. No, I'm not talking about "looking for bugs" that's a given. I'm talking about what parts of the game you need to test. In the above example the objective is given: one game level. Your time management will revolve around that and you should budget the time to complete those objectives as follows:
Phase one: Mimic a normal user experience.
Start testing following the normal steps a user would take to do the same. Ultimately software is a coded program for a user to allow them to achieve a specific task (in the case of video games, having fun!). So if we care primarily about the user, then it makes sense that you should mimic the users experience to find the bugs they are likely to encounter and ensure the user can use the software as intended. Although you are mostly following a normal user experience you can try a couple or weird things if you get the chance but always make sure you always vigilant and ensure you have enough time to complete your objectives in the manor required. Phase one MUST be completed.
So; the answer to "How much time should you spend in testing normal user behaviour in a video game?" is: "as long as it takes".
Phase two: Adapt phase one to include a more broader ranger of user actions.
Phase two only starts when you have completed the objectives that you prepared before you began in the way a normal user would (phase one). After that phase two is simply the same as phase one but extended to allow for a broader range of possible user actions. It should take up the majority of the rest of the time.U sers will do all sorts of crazy things when playing a video game, so testing all the crazy things they might do while playing can be time consuming. Be mindfully of the time you have left so that you balance your testing to allow you to test in most of the areas the user will encounter based on your objectives.
So; the answer to "How much of the rest of the available video game testing time should be spent on looking for less likely but still reasonable bugs a user might encounter?" is: "most of the rest of the time you have left"
Phase three: Destructive testing.
Destructive testing is the last phase and only takes place after the other phases have been satisfactorily tested, which, in an ideal world, should be always. During this part of testing you have one goal: Break the game. Seriously. Cause it to crash. Play with cables to see what happens if the game suddenly looses network connection or power. Try to find an exploit or force an error. Break the software (not the hardware!) any way you can.
So; the answer to "How much time should be spent trying to break the game?" is: "the last little bit" (allow a bit more on consoles where ejecting disks and disconnecting cable may cause issues.
Good luck and happy video game testing!
::You may also like: How to write up good video games concerns (report a bug)