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Another Day in the Trenches

I was QA at an Indie Game Company that didn’t last long enough to put its foot in the industry door. Sadly it has also been my only experience in the Testing World to date, as I got a nice job in the local Barnes and Nobles where the conditions are nowhere near as bad. However during my time at the company I met three people that almost killed my love for testing all together.

The first candidate I like to call Vacant, because his presence was almost never noticed. That could be because IF he showed up, he was the least contributing member. The company was hiring very… Well, randomly. Anything from seasoned testers and developers to complete rookies to worked period. Vacant, was one of them. Of the days we spent crunching, he found ways to slip out for hours unnoticed, and when he was here, sleep or laze off to where he had to do little work. When confronted, he would claim it wasn’t a lack of work, but that his “team” was hindering him or wouldn’t let him help, and generally our boss would move him around. When he was moved to my team (We were multiplayer, and as of now there would be 5 of us) he decided to just sleep in the corner while we were busy bug-hunting. Even then, when there was little excuse for his lack of productivity, he would convince the boss that we wouldn’t let him play our reindeer games, which he believed since multiplayer for the game featured 4 slots, not 5. Somehow, the same excuse worked when one of us missed a day for a funeral, and Vacant had plenty of room to join in.

The second I call Biff, and he was our group’s Team Leader. He was alright for my first couple months of working, but then things started to get… Interesting, is a word. He used to just pat us on the back, and tell us what we needed to do. Come month 4 and he had evolved to light-arm punches, and a bit more of an intimidation factor to get us to do our job. When one of us tried to laze off, he put them into a head lock and pretty much said if he didn’t get his work done by the end of the day he was going to beat the snot out of him. What increased this was when we hired Anya, a lovely girl who was helping in another tester group. Anya and I would often spend our lunches together, and when this happened, Biff’s punches became more bruising and his threats to me more serious. When it became a rumor that Anya and I had began dating, it turned from bruise educing punches to shoves, and intimidation turned to him BREATHING down my neck and barking at me like a dog. Finally, the breaking point came when I couldn’t repro a bug in the game where hitting a certain enemy three times in a row with a certain attack would basically make the model of the creature bug out in ways I can’ find words for, he tackled me to the ground and just yelled at me. When I reported this to HR, the boss gave him a simple talking to, a three day suspension, and then didn’t pay me for the time I had to spend getting checked out at the doctor.

Speaking of, case 3: Da Boss: Why the fancy title? Because that’s ALL he was. A boss. And by that I mean, he was just there to claim everything was his, sign off of things, and then ignore all the problems unless it threatened him personally. There would be days we would miss work because our office was basically a rented apartment building which only he had the key for. So if he didn’t feel like coming in, then no one worked OR got paid for it because HE said none of us came to work that day. If any problems came up, he’d push it to whatever team lead was available, and if the problem was with a team lead, he’d just send them home for a couple days which rarely solved the problem.

One day our utilities were shut down, and not only did it cost us a weeks pay to get it all put back on, he then docked us another week of pay for not working that week (Save for team leads, whom by the way were all personal friends of his, even Biff.) The final straw came during the winter, when Da Boss told everyone he would be gone for a couple weeks as he was heading out of town for the winter. One of the other testers, in a stroke of genius, asked,

Tester: “So who are you giving the key to then?”
Boss: “What? No one.”
Tester: “Then how do you expect us to work when you have the only key?”
Boss: “You’re going to come in and do you job of course.”
Tester: “How!? The place will be locked and only you have a key.”
Boss: “That’s not my fucking problem!”

Not the accurate quote, but close enough. It went on until that tester was fired on the spot, then smart old me opened my mouth to ask him what’s funding this trip. You can guess his answer. I, Anya, and about 10 other testers walked out. The company closed a couple months later due to a lack of funding.

Now, as stated, I work a decent job at Barnes and Nobles, with a lovely fiancé named Anya who is still in QA with another Indie Company with intelligent Team leads and a boss that actually pays her.


The Trenches - Support-fu

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Support-fu

The worst job I ever had paid well and had good hours - but it was set up so that it was impossible to do a good job. Somehow that can just crush the life out of you.

I was first-level support in a massive organisation that had a lot of custom, in-house software. The folk in charge of spending money, however, were very comfortable with cutting all funding once the application was in beta. If there were work-arounds, it wasn’t a bug.

One example: we had field officers who could be an eight hour drive away from the office for weeks at a time. One of their critical applications had a “change password” button that wasn’t necessary - the application read your password from your login. All the button did was to lock your entire account, and the only way to unlock the account was to take the computer back to the office. Eight hours away…

We couldn’t afford to fix the button. We couldn’t even afford to take it off or put a warning on it.

My team supported these bug-ridden applications, but we didn’t have access to them, and consequently had NEVER SEEN them. They wouldn’t even give us screenshots, and there was no way we’d be able to remote into users’ accounts. We developed a massive tree of possible faults, with questions and sub-questions to force the users to correctly describe the problems (one actual entry: ‘if they continue to insist that there’s no error code, ask them to read the entire error message. The number they read at the end, after the words “error code”, is the error code’). We had vague, hand-drawn pirate maps of what we thought the UIs looked like.

My job consisted largely of apologizing. Any time we could actually solve something, it was cause for great celebration and immortality in our solutions database. Mostly we just stuck to the 5 R’s of support: retry -> restart -> reinstall -> reimage -> run.

But once, I was able to give direct support. Someone in my own building had a problem with her account logon: as she started typing her password the field filled up all the way. There was nothing for that issue in our vast stock of errors, so I said I’d be right over. Leaving the IT dungeon and going up into the heady space of “corporate” (my god, they have PLANTS!) I found the right desk. Ten seconds later, I’d fixed the problem.

When I got back, I wrote it up in our database of errors:

Password field filling up with stars: ask user to check if their magazine is resting on their space bar.


The Trenches - Awkward.

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Awkward.

One day, about two weeks in, after lunch, leads and managers are storming in and out of the office. After maybe half an hour of stomping about, one of the leads, decidedly one of the friendlier, more engaging ones, comes in, and shouts for our attention. We all stop and stare. “Someone smeared SHIT, ALL OVER the bathroom. The cleaning lady is in TEARS.” A few people snicker and are stared down into oblivion. The rest of us are silent, in horror, probably all imagining the scene. The rest of that day was pretty awkward.


The Trenches - My Very Short QA Career

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My Very Short QA Career

I had a yearly summer gig at one of the three big telecom companies in Canada, but it always started two months after Spring exams. One year I decided it’d be neat to work in video game testing while I waited for the other job. Hell, maybe I’d even stick around game testing instead. I applied and quickly got into a major QA lab (as opposed to in-house testing) with offices all over Canada and the States.

My first day was also about 100 other people’s first day. We were all crammed into a room without windows, just cafeteria benches. Names were called out, people were taken away to various teams. I met a few people, never to see them again. After two hours or so of awkward small talk in the stuffy cave, I’m called to my new home.

I pass rows of testers hunched over their screens or reclining casually, controllers in hand, talking and laughing. These people seem like they’re having a good time. I even recognize some games as I’m rushed by. I could be playing one of those! What could I have been put on? I’m excited!

Basketball. I got fucking basketball. Broken-ass, pre-alpha BASKETBALL.

So when I applied to this place I filled out a survey. What kind of games I like to play, what kind of games I’m good at, what kind of games I don’t like. All of my answers very clearly indicated that I’m not a fan of sports games, that I don’t know how to play sports games, I have no interest in them. “Put this guy on basketball!”

I talk to my lead, ask if I can get a different assignment, even though I liked my team. “Look, I can’t switch you. Maybe you’ll find bugs others can’t BECAUSE you don’t know the game. You’ll look at it from a different perspective.” Horseshit. I’m less likely to notice bugs because I don’t know the rules. Entire objects necessary to the sport could be missing and I wouldn’t notice.

So I go talk to the manager. “Look, I can’t switch you. If I switch you, everyone’s going to want to switch. I’m sorry.” “Alright, if I can’t get switched, I’ve gotta quit. I clearly indicated my gaming tastes on my application. I’m useless on this game. And playing a broken game of a sport I have no interest in is not a job, it’s misery. I understand your position, but certainly you can see mine, too. So, I guess I’m resigning?” This is about 4 hours into my new job, and the ballsiest move I’d made, or had to make, up to this point in my working life.

And it fucking worked.

So I get put in a new office down the hall, on Simpsons Wii. Fine, whatever. It’s also pre-alpha, broken as hell, but I KNOW that Marge’s hair shouldn’t look like that. I can actually recognize that it’s broken.

This office is a bit more cramped, and there aren’t enough test Wiis in the office, so we partner up on one console (the game, at least at the time, was single player). My partner (happily) plays and finds bugs, I chat with my neighbours till he finds a bug, we reproduce it, I write it up.


The Trenches - I Built That, You’re Going To Jail

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I Built That, You’re Going To Jail

Back in early 2007 I was hired at a start-up in the Pacific Northwest. One of the big reasons I got hired was my gaming background, although the company had built a CRM product; it was just moving to a new “Game Design” influenced interface.  I was to be the first in the new Analytics Department. The company had a wonderful culture; everyone was involved, the product was something we were actually proud of, the 100-odd people there became like an extended family. I even got to make up my own job title after 6 months.

After a year I was working directly for the CEO and CFO, building all of the projection models for a start-up company that was nearing profitability. In less than 12 months, assuming nothing happened, we would be in the black. Big companies were looking at purchasing us. It came to pass that my financial projections model needed to published, so I cleaned it up and made it “Presentation Ready” for the CEO. A few minor tweaks later and he told me it was the most important thing I’d done yet.

One of those “minor” changes was an adjustment to our starting revenue flow. At the time I didn’t question it, assuming there was revenue I had missed somewhere. When I mentioned this to my brother over lunch (he worked in the area) he too thought it weird, but not alarming.

Seven days later, the CEO didn’t come in to the office. Neither did the CFO. Instead, a member of the Board came in around 11:30 to inform everyone that both of them had “…resigned effective immediately.” At lunch, a reporter called one of our staff to ask if they had a comment on the arrest of our CEO and CFO by the FBI for wire fraud for lying to investors. Three days later none of us had jobs and the company had declared bankruptcy.

During the court proceedings the model I had created was used as evidence of lying to investors about revenue flow. That “minor” change I’d made at the CEO’s instruction? Apparently he’d been doing things like that for years to get more investor money. The model I’d built was too easy to read though and gave the investors the first clue something wasn’t right.

I’ve never felt such conflicting emotions of pride and horror in doing a good job.


The Trenches - A Preorder by Any Other Name

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A Preorder by Any Other Name

I worked for a large video-rental business for six years as a store manager and was there when they decided to aggressively jump into the video game presale model.

Apparently, deciding DVD rentals weren’t going to vault the company back into the massive profits they used to enjoy, someone in corporate happened to stroll into a GameStop one day, decided they were printing money, and wanted to jump in while the water was warm.

We didn’t slowly transition from DVD rentals to game presales. We jumped in mid-race, declared ourselves the prime competitor to GameStop, and decided not only would we presale the crap out of God of War 3, but we’d beat every other company in total units ordered. The mandate came down to get that sweet presale money or find another job. They didn’t care how you did it, they didn’t care how many customers you alienated, they just wanted the preorder.

Our district manager was operating three conference calls a week, all focusing on God of War presales. All you had to do was get the customer to put down $5 and reserve the game. We were instructed to get that money by any means necessary, including promising to refund it later if they changed their minds. If we didn’t reach the astronomical number the company was shooting for we were told to start sending out resumes.

Of course, this resulted in harassing the poor customer who just wanted to rent Two if By Sea into ordering a game they didn’t even have a system to play. When the big release day came every store ended up with a massive number of units that they couldn’t deliver because the customers all wanted to cancel their preorder and get their money back.

A company wide investigation was done to determine why we had to eat these games like week old pizza, and the district managers were told to either find a good explanation or find another company to work for.

No surprise, the top four presale stores were called and the store managers fired for “presale fraud.” Up until this point I had been proud of being the top store in the district for sales. That pride had to keep my warm on the unemployment line.


The Trenches - 3rd Place Gets the Gold

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3rd Place Gets the Gold

After giving 2 years of my life to a certain “fruit” computer company, not only did one promotion open up in the department I wanted to get into, but two! Having the best sales record, best customer satisfaction score, and experience already training for the position, everybody thought one of the openings would be mine. People in the department were already congratulating me, planning on integrating me in as soon as possible.

So when the manager summoned me to his office, coworkers were literally giving me high fives on the way in. The manager started off by listing all of the accomplishments and great service I’ve given to the place. He shook my hand and said “thank you”.

Then he said I didn’t get the job.

Neither did the second most qualified person apparently. “If we lose you both, then your department will lose our two best employees!” he cheerfully stated. The job was going to the 3rd and 4th best people.

I followed up by asking why I should be motivated to work hard if all I have to be is 3rd best. His response? “Because we know that you’ll still continue to do a kick ass job for us.”

So I quit the next day. I ended up having a beer with the 2nd best guy a few months later. He ended up just not giving a shit anymore and his numbers plummeted.

But nothing made me happier to hear that the 2 guys who were promoted were so bad for the job, they royally screwed up the entire department enough to get the manager demoted and transferred to the worst store in the district.


The Trenches - Re: The Wall

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Re: The Wall

I also started in QA at this company, working on a game that takes place on a red planet… and a fighting game whose franchise (sadly) was acquired a few years back by the UFC.

We called it death row because that room was a long rectangular testing area which had a path running right down the middle of it, dividing the room into two halves of cubicles. We’ll call this room “Sector 2.”

On one side, this path lead into the front room, off of which was the kitchen, main entrance, another testing area, and the QA management offices.  We’ll call this “Sector 1”.

On the opposite side, this path connected to another room which housed the supervisor cubes, some lead cubes, and offices for others.. We’ll call this “Sector 3.”  Sector 3 in turn connected to another testing area.. and then another, like a chain of rooms.

Well, what would happen is management would always walk from Sector 1, through Sector 2, and into Sector 3 to visit leads, supes, etc (and vice-versa).  Rarely would they venture off into the wastelands of Sectors 4 and 5.  Now sectors 4 and 5….those are the areas you really wanted to test in.  Those were the testlands.  Nothing but testers.. far away from management. We had our own laws… our own way of life… we lived.. we laughed… we played…

Anyway….. so, what I didn’t tell you about Sector 2 was… that path down the middle.. the one that divided the room in half?  The one that management would stroll down as they crossed from Sector 1 to their final destination in Sector 3?  Yeah, that path had shallow tester cubes lining it up and down, both sides, with their backs open to the pathway.  Actually, if you moved your chair out the slightest, you would *block* the pathway.

THAT… was “Death Row.”  You did not want to sit on Death Row.  The guards constantly strolled past.  There was no escape.  You were always being watched.  You never knew if, or when, you would get a pardon and move to a better sector.

Everyone did time on death row.

I did my time on Death Row.

I did my time in the Bridge.

And I did my time in the Gulag
(OH The Gulag…. there is a great story here in the horrors of testing BTW… and how management treats testers like cattle…it even involves the fire marshall.  That may be my next submission to you guys.)

Despite the names of these places, and the way we were treated, I do have fond memories of working there…
the people I worked with… *some* of the titles I worked on… team dinner happy hours at the local eateries when working hellish overtime…

But I left, vowing never to return.

The building that housed death row went away.

The company moved to a new location down the road.

They were recently liquidated, and people will speak their name no more.

I shed no tears.


The Trenches - What’s your security clearance?

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What’s your security clearance?

In the mid-90s I was working my first real computer job, tech support for a company that made software for producing GUIs, primarily for UNIX and VMS (look it up, kids) systems.  Our largest customers were various branches of the US Government, ranging from the utterly innocuous (census, bureau of land management, etc) to the CIA, NSA and other less-well known branches.  (Fun facts: When asked whom they work for, CIA employees just say “The Federal Government”, whereas NSA employees say “the Department of Defense”, and When you call someone at the NSA, they answer the phone by just saying the last 4 digits of their phone number you just called).

Anyway, something we were constantly running into was the need to see the code that people were having trouble with, but often being told that they were unable to share the code with us unless we had security clearance (We did not.)  Normally this just meant a quick and easy way to close a ticket—Can’t show us the code? Well, then, we really can’t help you, sir.  Case closed.

However, one day my colleague (I’ll just call him Mike) had a call from someone at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, which was one of other big customers.  He was having a problem with the code being output by the GUI-builder, and was under some huge deadline.  He was absolutely desperate, and so the typical exchange of Security Clearance? No? Can’t help you! was broken by the caller saying “ok, look, fine, I’m going to send you the code, but you CANNOT tell anyone, and you need to delete it immediately after finishing with it.  Or ELSE.”

Fair enough. Mike gets the guy to send the code in, he opens it and it’s some sort of GUI to be used for tracking submarines/ships/missiles/torpedoes, etc.  Mike finds the problem with the code, fixes it, and sends it back to the dude at the NUWC. However, Mike then decides that this is too interesting to just delete, and instead goes about writing a back-end to turn it into a war-game, which the rest of us in Tech Support (not-knowing it’s origin) start playing obsessively on the server in-between calls for a couple of weeks, before finally one of the bosses thinks to inquire as to where Mike got the game.  He tells them he wrote it, and then tells them the story of where he got the front-end.  Everyone in the room falls silent as the boss’s face goes first pale, pale white, and then beet red.  Everyone in Tech Support except for Mike got sent home for the afternoon, and when we came back the next day, the game was gone from the server, and Mike was gone from his cube.


The Trenches - It’s all a blur

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It’s all a blur

My tale involves a large company that sold a market leading flight simulation game. A new version had been released and I was working in the call centre that provided support for it. I got a call from an elderly gentleman who was very annoyed at the new version. He explained at length that he had played the previous version of the game and had flown all over the world.

From looking at his call history I remembered taking a call from him before, when he was complaining that a particular airport had four runways in the game when in reality it had two. He had been there, in the flesh and had seen only two runways. I had looked the airport up on the internet and discovered the airport had only just finished the two new runways before the game was released.

This game attracted a particular kind of gamer.

The reason for his annoyance this time was that the new versions graphics were awful. The screen was blurry and the colours were all wrong. I started with the display drivers, they were fine. I checked his monitor settings, all good. We un-installed and re-installed the game. No difference.

Nothing I tried seemed to fix it. He grew more and more irate, declaring that he had flown in World War 2 and how could we sell a game that was worse than the previous version?

I was about to give up and escalate it when there was silence on the other end of the line.

“Sir, are you still there?”

“Um.. I’m terribly sorry, young man, but I appear to be wearing the wrong glasses…”


The Trenches - Done

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Done

The one testing job I had was at a multinational company working on a ported Japanese game featuring their star characters. It was a dream project to be on because not only was the game incredibly fun but there were enough varied tasks that if one thing became monotonous, you could always work on something else. The development team in Japan promptly responded to our bugs and always replied with courtesy and respect, even for the most trivial of issues. However, because this was a port, the game had to be completely translated. And I wish I could say that the in house translators were as nice as the developers.

By the time I got to the project only a few menus and other miscellaneous features were still in translation. Anything that was stylized graphical text had to be made by hand. This unfortunately included the message that was displayed when the player beat the game. When we got the build that translated it, I found to my dismay that the “Thanks for playing!” message had been erroneously translated to “Done.”

Naturally I was aghast. I knew enough Japanese to know that this was not even remotely correct, and upon confirming that it was not a placeholder, filed it as a bug. My supervisor told me that he wasn’t going to accept it because the translators wouldn’t even read it. He told me if I felt strongly enough about it I should talk to them directly. Big mistake.

Apparently being a translator meant that you were above the common rank and file and as such, could not be questioned in the slightest. I’m still not sure how they managed to fit their egos into their cubicles. To point out their mistakes was a sin.

Luckily, I told enough people on the project about the “Done.” that someone in upper management caught wind of it and they were forced to re-translate it to a much more appropriate “The End.” It wasn’t much, but I feel like it was my major contribution to the gaming populous.


The Trenches - One Item rules it all

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One Item rules it all

Recently, Its been my task to acquire all available items in the game.

At first, it was not all bad… Until they released an update.

This particular update was not really pleasant because there was one item that can only be obtained by chance in a lottery game.

Easy, right? Nah.

With my sanity still intact, I asked the dev what are the chances of getting it and they said “oh, about 0.18%”.

With a bad poker face I said “Okay.”

Throughout the rest of the shift like a maniac, going back and forth through the lottery tapping away with all the energy I can muster up just to obtain one item and still no luck.

Finally my boss, who’d been watching my ordeal, understood my position and told me that its alright if I can’t get it since we were on a one day build.

I consider myself lucky that I wasn’t stuck with the other team who had to get all 1000+ items which are all randomly generated all in one day.


The Trenches - The Good Life

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The Good Life

I started working for a video game company a few months ago as a Game Master. I’m the guy who talks to you in-game, listens to your gripes about how stuff is bugged or broken, and then honestly tries to help you out.

Unfortunately, more often than not, you’re AFK, not online, left me a message saying to contact you on another character, appalled that it took me more than 5 minutes to get to you, or you simply feel the need to rage at me about how you pay my salary and I should give you back the bag of items you accidentally destroyed even though the game asked you “Are you sure you want to do that?”.

Honestly though? It doesn’t bother me. I love my job. I get paid $14 an hour to essentially hang out with my friends, listen to music, and talk about video games. I have an awesome boss, great coworkers, and the coolest looking office any man has ever worked in.

I worked retail for years. I hated it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else except working in the gaming industry now that I’ve worked here.

To everyone who’s had a bad experience as a tester, artist, designer, etc., just because one company treated you like crap doesn’t mean they all will. Hang in there.

Keep flying and stay shiny.


The Trenches - QA Tester Jobs are much like Mother Russia

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QA Tester Jobs are much like Mother Russia

I went into game testing with a mindset of “It’s a job, you’re not going to be having much fun”. My first week was a bit intimidating, but I got to sit down, and it was easy to just talk to the person next to me while I play a laughably broken game.

Around a month in, I didn’t really recognize half of the people I was working with anymore. Worried for my job security, I confided in a regular tester more senior than myself and was told “As long as you drop bugs, you don’t really have anything to worry about”. I calmed down and got over the gruesomely competitive nature of minimum wage bug testing, as there was never a shortage of people who did nothing to make you look better.

Crunch time rolls in. “You can come in on saturday if you want” became “Come in on sunday” in our now 11 hour a day week schedules. We were at least making time and a half, but I very often would find myself going home to collapse immediately, and waking up to get ready for another day for an entire week. We were being asked some very rough things for minimum wage, yet newcomers were still joining in on to such a haphazard environment.  You would see people come and go in the span of days in this circus.

I was inevitably let go for falling asleep on the job (largely because the only person who could make decent coffee was also let go), but some events stood out which numbed my reaction. I was talking to a salaried QA lead about how we were trading our souls for time and a half. He laughed and explained to me how you don’t get time and a half on salary. I was making more money than he was. Shortly following that was a weekly meeting. Weekly meetings would occur when we were far behind our bug count quote (which by the way, happened every week), and occasionally, we would be asked to raise our hands if we were around for over X amount of months. I found myself among a very small number of people in the 5 month marker, but I’m not sure why this would be motivating. The people who had only been there for a week could already name at least one person who had been there for less time than they had, yet were already gone.


The Trenches - How to make a game bug free.

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How to make a game bug free.

Working as QA on a large title for a sugar-daddy publisher that had very deep pockets, but knew next to nothing about a proper game production schedule and would force ridiculous milestones on the studio. For most of the project, most of the studio had been working solid 70-80 hour weeks, and QA was working 60-72 hour weeks. Depending on how hectic things were, we were working 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week. This went on for 6 months by the time I left.

We were coming up on a major milestone where our publisher wanted us reporting zero bugs, like a beta. The game was far, far away from being able to do this. So two higher-ups in the studio, like elves in the night, went into the database and started deleting entire swaths of bugs from the database. The next day the bug database was considerably lighter, and the two higher-ups sent out a celebratory email that we were reporting zero bugs, and we were all given cookies.

The problem is we were reporting zero bugs on a game where we still couldn’t play all the way through the base story line from start to finish without using debug commands or cheats, and without coming across a major blocker or the game crashing. The next day the two higher-ups actually PLAYED the game, then came back and tore our QA manager a new one about how bad the game was, and how DARE the bug database lack these 3,000 bugs they had just found while playing through the game. QA manager turned around, yelled at QA for making him look bad, and made us all stay until the wee hours of the morning doing a full level-by-level sweep of the game to re-bug all of these issues while he went home at 6.

I quit. From what I’ve heard, this sort of nonsense is still going on.


The Trenches - Read the Titles

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Read the Titles

Two years ago,  I got a job at a small mobile development studio that’s focus was supposed to be “simple, innovative games”.  While taking my tour of the studio, all I could think was, “Whoa, this place is incredible!  It’s like every other studio I hear or read about with a never-ending flow of drinks and snacks, break rooms with huge TV’s, and even a gym for employees to get healthy in.  There’s even a few masseuses on staff that will give you massages once a week.  What isn’t there to love?”

Turns out it was the focus of the studio executives focus to keep the employees as happy as little hamsters in a cage so they wouldn’t question why they were ripping other popular games ideas.  These games would then be priced cheaper and have a similar enough name that enough unsuspecting people would buy and download it before realizing it wasn’t the game they were originally looking for.  This might not seem like a big deal, but cashing in on a well known games popularity can net millions of dollars just like that.

In one of my first assignments, I was given a budget of $10000, and told to create new iTunes accounts, one at a time, buy one of the studios just released games, and rate it five stars with some ambiguous glowing praise.  While I morally despised this, I needed a job and desperately wanted to work in the industry.  After a while, I started to get creative with the names I used (think Seymour Butts, but more dirty).  It became a soul sucking job, but hey, I was in it for the perks.

There’s really no point to this story, other than to warn you to read the titles of what you’re buying carefully, as someone is always trying to profit from the popularity of someone else.


The Trenches - The Game Is You

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The Game Is You

I tested at a company in their 3rd Party Team, which meant we tested any game for the PS3 that wasn’t developed by company itself, i.e. everything. We basically tested two new games everyday, which was pretty cool, because it never became tedious.

Same couldn’t be said about 2nd Party Team, who tested all PS3 media that weren’t games, i.e. music, videos, etc. For about two months, 2nd party had to test an external webcam, which meant they had to sit in front of it and watch the feed of themselves on a TV off to the side to check for hangups.

One top of that they COULDN’T DO ANYTHING. They couldn’t surf the net, they couldn’t play any portable games, they couldn’t even read a book. All they could do is sit there, talk to each other, and watch a fucking feed of themselves sitting there FOR 2 MONTHS STRAIGHT.

When they were put on another project, one guy literally had to go into the bathroom and cry in utter relief of it all.


The Trenches - Marsh gas reflected from Venus

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Marsh gas reflected from Venus

This is more a tale from the trenches of technical support.

I used to work for a big company, one of the largest providers of PC’s in my country, on their premium rate technical support line. Shortly after the company bought out an Internet Service Provider (back in the days of dialup), we started getting calls from customers that were completely unable to get access to the internet. We discovered this to be due to a virus on the computer that was blocking access, but could not find details of this virus anywhere, it seemed to be particular to our machines. We contacted the software escalation team, and were told ‘Factory restore them’. But the problem did not go away. Eventually, the problem was so rife our team got one customer to send in their computer to us.

We discovered the ‘virus’ did not block all access to the internet. If you tried through the company’s own ISP, it worked fine. We also discovered that the ‘virus’ was part of the preloaded software our company put on every machine we built and sold.

We filed a full report on the issue…and two days later our department was visited by some large employees in dark suits, who ‘politely’ informed us we had never seen or interacted with any piece of software that behaved as a virus, had never written any report on such a piece of software, and if we told any ‘lies’ about such a thing, we would be fired for gross misconduct.

A day later the company sent out a ‘BIOS patch’ to all it’s customers that erased all evidence of the ‘virus’ we had investigated.

Thankfully, that company no longer exists.


The Trenches - Short and Succinct

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Short and Succinct

E3 has come and gone. Our game won multiple Game of Show nominations and awards, thanks in part to a solid month of 80 hour work weeks by the test team. We poured our evenings and weekends into ensuring every nook and cranny of our demo was polished to a fine sheen. So naturally, a celebration seemed fitting for when the production team came back to the studio hoisting our awards like the Lombardi Trophy.

That was until our morale was crushed with one short-sighted sentence, wrapped in an email and tossed our direction like picked away bones to vultures:

“Unless you have explicit approval, the test will be skipping morale events moving forward.”


The Trenches - Pen and Paper Pirates

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Pen and Paper Pirates

When I was in community college a group of friends were impressed by my ability at data entry, copying large swaths from hard copy pen and paper rule books to electronic format for private use in campaigns. They approached me and offered me a chance to work on an RPG they were developing, and I eagerly jumped at the chance. Without having yet signed a contract I did some preliminary work to show that I could produce, and in turn was promised that there would be a contract forthcoming.

This was, of course, in my indiscreet youth and I fully accept it was my mistake to work without a contract but these were friends and why would friends ever lead you wrong? (More on this later) So when the weeks turned to months I had reached a peak: I couldn’t produce more work without input, nor could they it seemed give me more input without work. And this while they were starting to take pre orders presumably in cash. I confided in one of my associates about my doubts in the success of the product. I know now this is also unprofessional behavior, but at the time I was deeply concerned because my eye was on that fat writing credit.

I was never formally informed I was let go until weeks later when I got pushy about why my e-mails and phone calls weren’t being received. Still, knowing I had not a leg to stand on, I decided to be a champ and let them have what I had produced. I wished them luck and moved on to still higher education, eventually going to the state campus. Fast Forward to this year. The head of the company was in a car accident and while he was crashing on a friend’s couch he proceeded to clean the poor guy out of food and money before being thrown out. This entrepreneur then spread disinformation and lies about my friend for no clear reason other than because he could. The RPG supposedly going to be on Kickstarter soon, but somehow I’m glad I’m not working for a thief and liar.

I now work for a small press RPG company with proven product lines under contract.


The Trenches - Profanity at the office

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Profanity at the office

Long ago I was a designer at a now-defunct PC game developer. We had a brilliant idea: use voice control to enhance a fantasy RPG. We figured that if you could just *tell* the NPC party members what to do (“Heal me!”) it would revolutionize the whole genre, leading to piles of money, world domination, etc. etc.

This was long before Kinect, Siri, or any other voice recognition systems were common. We cobbled together a demo, and after we tweaked the speech parameters it worked surprisingly well. The speech recognition got it right almost all the time, and it really did immerse you in the game, provided you were willing to talk to your computer.

Emboldened by our newfound success, we began crafting a real demo for publishers. Wouldn’t it be funny, we thought, if there was an Easter Egg in the demo. If you yelled in frustration at the screen we should recognize swear words and make something funny happen. (I think we settled on a spell that launched a chicken around your head that fired eggs at the enemy.) But with the demo deadline approaching, and the team crunching to make the world look beautiful, who was going to implement the Easter Egg? It turned out that duty fell to our summer programming intern, I’ll call her Sarah).

Sarah was a sweet, quiet, and slightly shy programming intern from a nearby college and immediately began digging into the problem. For the rest of the week from the programming pit we we heard her soft voice, unnaturally loud for now, interspersed with bouts of frantic typing, attempting to implement the
Easter Egg:

“FUCK!” ... “FUCK!” .... “FUCK!” ...

type type type.

“SHIT!” ... “SHIT!” ... “SHIT!” ...

We were all amused because we couldn’t tell whether she was having a problem with the feature or whether it was working as intended.


The Trenches - Plotting Along

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Plotting Along

Some friends of a friend were attempting to create an indie game. It was going to be a dating sim/shooter combo in which you attempt to woo an angel while demons try to kill you and her. But they needed someone to write the dialogue trees and script out the cut scenes. Since I was an aspiring writer, I was brought in on back-end pay, where any money I got was from royalties. I just wanted some experience so I went for it.

The plot was simple. You’re on a movie date, monster attacks, then some secret agents show up after you win to explain the what’s going on while acting all mysterious. After coming up with some ideas, I sent them the first draft, feeling confident in my work. And it turns out I was right - they loved the date and the cut scene. Only problem was, they now wanted to have the agents be the ones you fight.

Okay, simple enough. I rewrote the scene and sent it in. But now there was a problem. I had apparently made the agents ‘Too antagonistic.’ The whole point was the player was going to question whose side they were on and that they couldn’t be the ones who attacked the player or the angel. I asked them how to make the agents more ambiguous but they just said “Come up with something.” I gave some suggestions and they were all shot down because each one made the encounter the fault of either the player or the agents.

Eventually, I gave up and just resent them the first draft. They said it was perfect, they loved it and I never heard from them again.


The Trenches - Undiscovered Country

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Undiscovered Country

This tale is part QA and part Game Support, the two overlap more than most would. I worked for a well known company with an extremely well known AAA title. New content was coming out and part of this was a series of quests to end all quests. There were flashbacks, shape-shifting, new weapons and swimming! All kinds of cool mechanics for the players to use. Dev sang its praises for weeks and weeks! This is awesome, new, exciting, different, and creative and about nine other suitable adjectives.

QA got a hold of it and it was abhorrent. This shit doesn’t work. It will never work. At least not with any scripting known to man. I saw build after build after build and it all ended the same way. Dev didn’t care. There were town hall meetings specifically about these few bits of content. We begged and pleaded and Dev still didn’t care. Come hell or high water, this is going live.

And it did. And it broke. Hard. When I say hard I mean this could and did severely impede a player’s gaming experience for days, sometimes WEEKS. Players screamed about it and they were right to do so. This content wasn’t ready, it wasn’t on the same street as ready. Game Support had excel sheets and console commands and all manner of tools to try and put a band-aid on things.

It never was fixed. Players just stopped doing those quests. Through an internal forum, an open letter was sent to Dev from both QA and Game Support. The following is the basic idea:

“Dear Dev,
XXXX is pretty cool. This content is more than cool. It’s awesome, new, exciting, different, and creative. Let’s never do this fucking shit again. XOXO, Everybody”

We never did get a reply.


The Trenches - I’m Not Working That Job!

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I’m Not Working That Job!

When I graduated high school all I wanted to do was work in the gaming industry. This was a time when EA was a company people were proud to work for and WoW had no connection with Activision. All-in-all this was the last time I would ever think about wanting to work for a big company.

I wanted to be an illustrator. I wanted to be the guy who shaped the look of the game before the game was a game. So I did what any young artist would do: I applied to a prestigious school with no money, got in, was told I had too much money, and opted for a two year art degree at a local college while I saved up to go to the nice art college.

While there one of my teachers asked an old student of his to come and give a lecture on his post-graduation activities. He had graduated with his generic art degree and, like I had planned on, moved on to a prestigious art school and then worked his way into the industry.

He told us the generics: working through his two year school, working full time to pay for the next school, and what it was like to graduate with a degree in sequential art, graphic design, and a minor in something-or-another.

After the generics he told us the first thing he did was apply for a job in the industry and that turned out to be a QA or game tester. This was in 2006 before that shitty gameshow that glorified game testing like it was a guaranteed door into making the games themselves.

He said right from the get-go he worked from early in the morning to midnight. This didn’t sound so bad to me, playing games for 14-16 hours straight? I did that anyway on the weekends. He did it every day. He didn’t get days off.

Eventually they had him on a schedule where it would be less restful to go home to sleep and come back than it would be just to bunk at his desk. So he did. With everyone else.

This was his home for months. He would eat there, drink there, bathe there, he rarely went home. He said the smell from everyone around him was nauseating. People would bring in hot plates and cook different foods or order out from ethnic delivery places. The smell, he told us, was enough to make you vomit.

He did this for a couple of years while shopping his portfolio around to different dev studios before finally landing a job as a character designer for one of them. The stress didn’t end there though.

Apparently he was expected to compete with his fellow artists for the position he was hired for. If you ask any artist of any medium what is the best way to stay sharp and keep getting better and they will tell you to just keep drawing/playing/recording etc and that’s just what he did. He would go to work and draw and draw and draw, come home late, set up in his tiny kitchen and draw and draw and draw, then come in to work with little or no sleep and keep doing the same thing all the while being told that everyone else was up for his job so he better not screw up or stop outshining everyone on his team.

I’ve never worked at a dev studio but I did work QA for Nameless Cell Phone Company and the bosses constantly told us if we didn’t keep our stats just right, if they fell by one number, we would be fired and replaced in as much time as it took to walk us out the door. That was stressful but all I had to do was talk to people on the phone and make sure their over-privileged twelve-year-olds could text their friends. He had to meet the demands of everyone in the studio working on the title he was on while basically racing with his design teammates.

One day he had a stroke due to his lifestyle of 100% stress, little to no sleep, and unhealthy eating.

All of that work, all of that stress, just to end up in the hospital and the one thing he worried about was losing his job titles to someone else because he was missing work and therefore out of the competition.

All of the crap he went through just to end up in the hospital had me off of the path to working in a studio. I know full well his experience was probably not common. If it was the mortality rate for artists in the industry would be enough that a simple Google search of “game designers dead from stress” would turn up a list of names that grew every few months.

I do know that he left the industry and does screen-printing now. He might not be super successful but he’s alive and happy. I’ll take that over having my name attached to a AAA title of critically acclaimed game any day.


The Trenches - Bonus Season!

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Bonus Season!

No one expects bonus season to be a season of equality and good will, of course, but this tale from my brother who was working as a senior programmer for a company now well known for producing a racing game with spectacular slow-motion crashes.

Called in for a meeting by his manager he was told that the bonus pot was particularly small this year, but the pain was being shared by everyone, and everyone on the team was getting the same small percentage bonus. Boo, he thought, but I suppose everyone else is in the same boat.

Until the idiot manager decided that he would email his bonus-sharing spreadsheet to the entire company, and not just to _his_ boss, revealing to everyone that he was taking the majority of his team’s bonus for himself, and giving his underlings a share of the rest. Presumably he thought he deserved it and they didn’t.

Result: Team minus at least one programmer, manager told to be more careful with emails. That’s right, he kept the money (but not his integrity).


The Trenches - Don’t put that there!

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Don’t put that there!

I had a short run at in-house QA at a fairly large games publisher.

We were working on multiplayer testing, so each desk had several different cables, all different colours, connecting you to all sorts of different internet connection types.

Part of our induction speech:

“Red (ADSL) and blue (Cable) to consoles and gaming PC’s, and yellow (internal network) to work PC’s. If you plug anything into the wrong place, clear your desk and leave.”

One of the guys who was employed alongside me was yellow-blue colourblind.

He didn’t last very long.


The Trenches - We Don’t Like That Color

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We Don’t Like That Color

Five days before a major project was set to go live I finally received a list of what was needed (that had been requested for a month). I created a mock-up and presented it to the people who needed to sign off on it, who gave me the good to go.

I was then informed that they would not be able to give me a specific list of requests because they didn’t know what they were actually going to use until the day of. Which meant I had to create and render out the entire list, 88 animated elements. Which I did, spending the better part of three days living at work to do so.

The day before they were set to go live one of the higher ups comes to look at them and decides “You know, I don’t actually like that font colour that’s used in all the animations. How hard would it be to change?”

“It’s impossible.”

“Well can you change it?”

“Can you give me a list of which of the 88 elements you plan to use so I can focus on those?”

“Well we don’t know what we’re going to need until the day of.”

Cue spending a frantic 24 hours attempting to crank out as many of them as I possibly could. I cut the times down, dropped the resolutions left, right and center, but somehow I managed to push out all 88.

The big night arrives.

They used four of them.

Once.


The Trenches - Don’t bother testing, we’re not going to fix it.

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Don’t bother testing, we’re not going to fix it.

In 2009, I was working at a very small software company that made a game to teach children how to play piano. I had been hired to head up their support department and found out quickly that the department consisted solely of me. On the bright side, support issues were limited, and I found myself with a large amount of free time, and used it to find bugs in the software.

This proved to be a bad decision as I soon discovered that the software was originally coded for Windows 98, and had never been upgraded or patched as the years rolled by because we had stopped paying our programmers. While my list started out with some minor graphical glitches and small play errors, it soon escalated to the point where I could break every facet of the software with a few quick keystrokes.

This included “upgrading” the software to our ultra-deluxe, $400 version by changing a registry key. The software also proved unstable on Windows XP, and with the release of Vista just around the corner, I was tasked with finding ways to fix compatibility issues. They asked me to get a beta copy of the OS, so I could start testing that as well. Since we still were not paying our software developers, there would be no patches or updates. They simply wanted me to have a head start on what our customers would be facing.

During this, they hired a “Creative Consultant”  to revitalize the company and start bringing in more revenue. A meeting with the core members of the company was called, and they sat next to my desk and began discussing proposals. The first proposal was to bring our software and keyboard peripheral to the PS2, and how they could have a version out in stores in about a year. This was generally viewed as a good idea. I had to inform them that the PS3 had been out for over two years, and PS2 development wasn’t a good idea. He then suggested the Gamecube, as that was more family oriented. I suggested the Wii, and explained that the Gamecube was no longer manufactured. The idea was tabled.

The consultant continued to work for the company for several more months, at the tune of ten thousand dollars a month, and ultimately produced nothing. Meanwhile, I went six weeks without being paid.

Finally, a new software development house was brought on board, and a joint deal with one of the largest “family-oriented” companies in the world, featuring one of their biggest stars was on the table. We had new software, and new keyboards, and I was tapped again to test them, and report my findings.

While the software was much better, having an entirely new code base developed for an at least semi-recent operating system, the hardware bundled with it was the cheapest, flimsiest manufacturing possible. The early production units arrived with broken keys, malfunctioning speakers, and broken ports. When I tested the one unit that wasn’t broken, I found that it contained buttons and features from an earlier version of the software that were no longer used, and if pressed, crashed the program. When I reported these findings, I was told that these units were the final spec, and would not be changed.

So, we went from having crippled, broken software with semi-decent hardware to semi decent software, with crippled, broken hardware. Isn’t progress great?

Oh, and this was all developed out of our pocket, and the deal eventually fell through. Shortly afterward, I helped hire and train my own replacement.


The Trenches - The Price to Pay

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The Price to Pay

I had just graduated college and one of my favorite game companies just happened to have an opening in my field of study. For little more than kicks and giggles I decided to apply, sent them my resume, and really didn’t expect much after that.

After a couple weeks, a few emails, a phone interview and some hastily made flight plans, I was out visiting the company - meeting folks, getting the grand tour,  still slightly in shock that it was all happening. Some strange stuff happened on my tour though, for one, it was an interview, so I was wearing a suit. Apparently this was a faux pas as the HR people started to snicker and make fun of me for wearing a suit as I was leaving the room after meeting them. I also met the CEO, which he seemed very annoyed that the person who was giving me the tour interrupted him to introduce me. I mean, I understand CEO’s are busy people, but I have met several, and none were as, well “douchey” (for lack of a better term) as this guy.

Anyways, the interview ended, it went well and I was given the job offer a day or so later. I was super excited until I read it. I would be taking a pay cut from my current job, and I would pretty much have to pay my relocation expenses (I was told the whole time that the company has a relocation program, but was never given details until in the job offer - it was a joke). I tried countering with a slightly higher salary and more compensation for relocation.

If I had been surprised by the offer, I wasn’t even close to being prepared for their response.

They claimed to be offended and hurt that they would go through the trouble to fly me out to tour the offices and interview, and that they had done so much and how dare would I dare ask for a higher salary. The person that would have been my direct supervisor said that they were personally hurt by my actions and that I was no longer being considered for the position.

The experience left such a bad taste in my mouth that I haven’t supported the company since. It saddens me because I love their products, but knowing the kind of people that work there, I just can’t support it. I have other gamer friends who love the company and buy everything they can from them, but whenever something from that company comes up in discussion when I’m around, I have to shake my head and walk away.


The Trenches - A Step in the Wrong Direction

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A Step in the Wrong Direction

So, for a company working as a business consulting and management business, the place I worked wasn’t very good at managing their own business.

I’m a developer, while I’d love to be a games developer, I’m employed to create daft video playing apps for tablets or 10 second kids games for other touchscreens.

Last year I made the most profitable single product we’ve ever sold, an application to be used in the showroom of the most prestigious and one of the wealthiest car manufacturers, and boy howdy were we paid well for it.

When I say we, I mean the company, I’m surprisingly low paid for a dev, at just £1 (yes, I’m British) above minimum wage. But hey, a job’s a job, and I’ve got bills.

So, a couple months back a different car dealership asked us to develop an app for them. I could have easily done this, seeing as I had most of the code assets from previous projects, my completing this project would probably have cost the company less than a £200. That cheap.

I walk in on Tuesday (due to other commitments I can’t work mondays) only to find out that due to “time constraints” they paid an outsourced developer three frakin grand (£3000!) to make this ridiculously simple app.

Then they made me QA it. I should mention, we have a QA person, she literally LOVES what she does, and was more disappointed than I was about the situation, as she didn’t get to QA it.

So, my company paid almost 3 grand too much for a product, and of course the outsourced dev takes a month to do the project, when I would have taken a day or two. Then, when the app was given to us, it was terrible, buggy and barely worked.

We tried contacting the dev - he disappeared completely.

I was still forced to QA it, even though we didn’t have the source, and had no way to correct it.


The Trenches - Only Good Enough To Steal

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Only Good Enough To Steal

I started my career in the industry at a very well known AAA developer as a tester on the first release of what became a major franchise.  I was on year long contracts.  My goal was to eventually get a permanent position in Design.

Things were progressing well, on my second contract I was a part of a section of QA devoted specifically to Design feedback.  I got to sit in on Design and Writing meetings and give feedback which often made it into the game.

In one such meeting we were reviewing a pivotal scene in the game.  A scene meant to really expose a layer of one of the main characters.  I very politely and diplomatically offered what I felt was a very creative suggestion on how the scene could be altered.  It was a pretty substantial change, admittedly, but I felt I was very respectful in my suggestion.  Some studios don’t encourage QA to give Design suggestions, but the section of QA I was in, that was literally my job.

The Lead Writer completely tore me apart in front of the entire meeting room filled with Designers and Writers, the department I was trying to get into.  He claimed it was a horrible idea and completely amateur, that it went against the feel of the scene, that I clearly had no knack for story structure, etc, etc.  I was pretty crushed by the ordeal, not to mention humiliated.  I had been very humble in my suggestion, and had taken polite rejection fine many times before, but this Lead Designer was malicious, and seemed to enjoy publicly tearing me down.

Not long after that I got a permanent job at a different studio on the other side of the country.  I very quickly made it into the Design department where I’m climbing fast, and love where I work and what I do.  I’m happy to say the negative event didn’t deter me from my goal.

Oh, and a year later, when the game came out…  I got my free copy mailed to me for working on it, and played through it to see how it had come along since I left the project.  When I reached the scene in the game that I had suggested the change for, you guessed it, my suggestion was there.  Scene for scene, line for line.


The Trenches - Dehumanization

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Dehumanization

I spent almost a year working for a Double-A video game company about five years ago.  I just want to share the slow decline in human rights that the Quality Assurance department suffered during that time.

When I first joined the department we were set up on one of the floors of a nicely modern three story office building.  The area was not a part of the expansive, impressive, and cheerful home office of the Double A company, but rented space a few miles down the road.  The building was nice, well lit, and everyone had a cubical where they could pin up a poster to make you feel like you had some space of your own.  The paint, curving walls, and central air made the entire place feel warm a cozy… except for the one large room nicknamed “Death Row” because it had no air, lights, and was so filled with the support team of a flagship RTS that the body heat and computer thermal byproduct made the entire room a horrible sweat shop.  Aside from that, wonderful space, and plenty of parking.

Except the building owners hated us and would only allow the QA department to enter and exit from the rear entrance.  And the fact that less than a month into my employment the lease was ended after years of QA being housed there (no one knew who broke the lease) and we were moved into a much smaller two story building across the street from the main headquarters.  The entire first floor was almost all administration staff and their administration stuff.  The second floor consisted of two giant rooms, PC testing in one, and Console testing in the other.  Since we had the same number of people in far less space, we all lost our cubicles and the ability to personalize our workspace, and were reduced to having to sit almost shoulder to
shoulder in an elementary school cafeteria style workplace, PCs sitting where a lunch tray would sit.

To this day I cannot tell you what color the walls in that new space was, because the lighting was complete crap.  Little light was shed by the fluorescent lights, and every window was covered with dimming plastic.  That’s a horrible environment to be testing a game for twelve hours a day, (my record work week was 84 hours) and made it tortuous to stay awake when the only thing you are suppose to do is play two levels in Campaign mode consisting of “Set up a defensive line, and now wait for 30 minutes to see if the game crashes.”  And you could easily strain your eyes reading the printed out bug lists that had to be checked every few days while testing the new builds.

The move wasn’t all bad, except that the new building had no parking and we had to petition for a month to be allowed to use the headquarters’s parking lot, because now we could head across the street and use the employee’s cafeteria during our lunch hour.  New menu every day, and walking through an actual workplace helped brighten your day!  Look!  they have personalized cubicles and proper lighting!

Then QA was told that they are having their lunch hour changed because the home office doesn’t like eating in the same room as them.  So our lunch break was forced to occur an hour earlier.  Not so bad for me, since I typically get hungry sooner than other folks, but most of QA stopped using the cafeteria at all, though even in the heyday, I never saw more than 10 of us in the large cafeteria at a time.  Lunch quickly became lonely for me.

But being a company employee, even just a Temp Worker like 95% of QA, had it’s upsides.  We got the company discount on video games. Company employees could buy their own games for about a quarter of the price sometimes, just write a check for the amount as part of the order and you can pick up your game next week as part of a bulk drop off.  At least that’s how it went before a single person had a check bounce four months into my employment when the guy ordered a game. The week after, all of QA was told that we had to present cash money, no checks or credit cards, when we asked for a game.  Lots of people griped about it, but I was working 7 days a week and didn’t have the energy to care.

Besides, I’d already bought the only two games the company had made that I wanted already.

And yes, we worked 7 days a week.  According to state law, a company could not work a person every single day of the month though.  Every employee had to have at least four days off per month.  One employee I spoke to, she told me with cheerful acceptance of her schedule that she’d routinely worked shifts of 27 days in a row, finish the month with four days off, start the next month with four days off, and then work the entirety of the next month without a break.  Yes, it was legal.  While I was working full weeks constantly, it never got that bad for me, though I routinely got overtime pay that would make a man’s eyes stretch, especially on holidays like the 4th of July!

That ended about 8 months in, when the parent company sent a decree that a woman from admin on the first floor called us in by sections to deliver to us.  There would no longer be any holiday pay for QA.  We would still have to work on holidays, but we would only get normal rates for doing so.  The emotions of people in that room with families living hand to mouth ran high, and the person tasked with delivering the news nearly broke out weeping before we were sent back to our machines.

Two months after that, I had just been transferred from a just released Diablo 2 clone’s expansion pack that bored me to tears and nearly gave me carpal tunnel over to working a world exploring FPS.

God, I was so happy.  I was so happy that when we were assigned to test and give feedback on 20 man multiplayer systems I used my voice to communicate with my fellow testers instead of using in game chat. That was a fatal mistake, as I was fired the very next Friday for undisclosed reasons.  The timing was pretty obvious, though.  But everyone who knew me at QA was surprised, as I was one of the more professional workers and never caused problems.

But you know, my getting fired at that time was just moving my fate forward by six weeks.  That particular company would only hire people as Temp workers for 12 month contracts at a time, allowing them to fire anyone on a whim without any backlash.  The company also had a policy that they would NEVER hire anyone a second time in QA.  So even if you are the best bug hunter the company had ever seen, you’re done for good after 12 months.  Bye-bye, no take backs.

The company counts on the fact that there is a never ending supply of local young people who are not only capable workers, but willing to work crap hours while being treated like sub-human laborers, denied any personal space and all contact with people outside your immediate department inside a dim and overcrowded room with shifts starting at eight a.m. and ending at midnight.

The saddest part is that they’re right.


The Trenches - Hole in the World

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Hole in the World

Sometime in 2011 I was lucky enough to receive an invite to a closed beta of a major MMO.  Now, I’m no tester, I’m just an IT guy with a love of games.  That said I felt it my job to report any major bugs I found along the way, not because I thought real testers hadn’t found it but more out of respect for being allowed in a closed beta.  After all if I’m going to be granted access to free stuff I might as well be helpful.

While there I found a number of bugs that have since been fixed, the biggest one hasn’t, you see, it’s probably still there.

A group of us were testing out one of the very first dungeons new player will experience.  Just after a fairly easy but fun boss fight there is a ramp that goes down to the next area.  Being flushed with victory my companions launched themselves in jump attacks at the enemy rushing toward us up the ramp- and promptly disappeared.  Luckily the two of us who did not “jump” were able to dispatch our foes, but the others had managed to fly through the ramp and down out of the world.  Naturally we reported the issue while they tried getting unstuck, climbing walls and anything else they could think of to get out.  They hadn’t died so simply “releasing” wouldn’t work. Eventually they had to use the emergency “teleport” button that took them to a pre-determined spawn point away from the dungeon.  They then made the long trek to and through the dungeon back to us.  I know we weren’t the only ones this happened to either.  Lots of random people I grouped with knew about this bug too and warning about it became common place throughout beta.

Fast forward 6-9 months.  I am once again going through the dungeon this time in a fully patched and live version.  I “jump” at my on coming foes and promptly fly through the world, before splattering unceremoniously at the bottom of the game world, shocked that such an obvious problem hadn’t been resolved after so long.

I haven’t tried again recently but to my knowledge you can still find this problem.  The “fix” that seems to be applied is that you now die at the bottom.


The Trenches - Credit Where it’s Due

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Credit Where it’s Due

Towards the start of my career in the industry, I helped wrap up a US-developed game based on a famous Japanese cultural icon. It was being published by a well-known company that had long left the console scene and has since, struggled on its own. Anyhow they didn’t seem keen on the idea of crediting the developers on the end game credits sequence.

From what I understand, our company owner refused to hand over the final build until that was remedied. It was - Every developer was listed in name only, without any job title, meanwhile the publisher’s own credits were extended to include not only their job titles, but as well as special thanks to their families and pets.

Nice, huh?

In the end, we still worked with them on two other projects, and to no one’s surprise, we still had issues with them…


The Trenches - Cellblock 2350

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Cellblock 2350

In the early 2000s, a AAA video game company that is not Rockstar decided to try and capture the same kind of magic in a free roaming crime based video game series that they own. The idea was to try and make the game as close to life in the blood splattered morally grey area of living as real as possible.  A very admirable goal, I would say.  But instead of consulting social workers, criminologists, or even police officers who have patrolled those places, the company decided to consult actual ex-convicts who lived in the specific area that was the subject matter of the game in question.

I’m sorry, did I say “Consult?”  I meant, “Hire.”

That’s right.  The company decided to hire a couple dozen ex-cons to work on the game.  Not in development, or level editing, or even as script reviewers.  The company decided to place all of these convicted felons in their testing department, pretty much the one and only place in a publisher’s hierarchy where you get no say in the game.

Now at this time, this AAA company had just expanded their Testing department to occupy an entire floor of a new high rise office building (who’s address number was 2350) directly across the street from their main office.  The AAA company was very proud of this, and intended to rent out more floors to further expand the corporation and increase the number of projects they can develop at one time in the near future.  The testing department was recently settled into this location when the ex-cons were dropped on them.  The change in the workplace was nearly instantaneous.

The office went from subdued efficiency to loud, crass, stinky, and inefficient.  The ex-cons to a man did as little work as possible and were uncooperative with the actual employees.  Within a week, the restroom on that floor began to degenerate into something a long haul trucker would shun in disgust.  The doors were torn off the stalls. Faucets and toilets were intentionally broken.  Graffiti was scratched in, markered in, and spray painted over all of the walls. There was fecal stains on every surface inside the stalls, including the ceilings.  My friend made a point of telling me that he jumped the elevator down to the lobby every time he needed to use a bathroom.

The toilet was also the place to go for illegal activities.  Drug dealing went on in there, as well as drug usage.  And one GUY was even arrested for PROSTITUTION in that MEN’S ROOM.

The best part of the story to me, and I just love this, is that the AAA company in question had an outdoor fitness center, an open air gym, in their front lawn area for their desk slaves to keep healthy. This gym was located in direct view from the company president’s office in the middle center of the home office building.  Every time there was a break, that gym was filled with the ex-cons pumping iron like they were still in the prison yard, in direct view out of the company president’s window.  I just can’t even comprehend what made the company president decide to forge on with this plan after seeing that sight three or four times a day.

But the company did hold fast to the idea of having criminals work on their crime game.  And as a result, before the game was even released on the market, their business was permanently evicted from the new high rise.


The Trenches - It’s a Sabotage

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It’s a Sabotage

One game inside my company was being made by a new and very promising studio it had acquired in the old Soviet Block countries.  The brass was really looking forward to them working out when they invested in the studio, and their big game project was ambitious and well designed.  The long and short is an Eastern European post nuclear disaster wasteland First-Person quest driven exploration and survival shooter.

Sounds like Fallout 3, right?  But this game was designed and even released long before FO3 ever hit the shelves.  It was something that could have swept the market and become a smash hit, especially since it would have been easy for the localization for Europe and Russia because of the studio’s location.  The guys that tested the game sang of it’s potential, but more often they lamented it’s situation.

You see, the management had a few people they wanted to “dispose of.”

The big brass in the company decided to place people they didn’t like in charge of the new, small, and suddenly under-funded studio and then blame them when the new builds still retained Alpha version bugs and flaws.  Every person placed in charge of handling the unfortunate game was held responsible for a lack of progress when they were being actively undermined by their own bosses.

About three guys got discredited this way, the game itself getting older and inching closer to completion during this entire process. With three months until the promised release date, they were suddenly given funding, a new manager that was not being targeted by the higher ups, and a team of forty full time testers, a size only found on flagship projects inside the company.  But it was too late.  All the bugs that had been in the game since it’s Alpha build were present, and there was only enough time for surface polish and handling the “Game Breaker” bugs, and then the game was forced out the door.

I just now went and checked the old game’s Meta-score, and each review says basically the same thing.

“Great atmosphere, great writing, and immersive.  But the bugs kill the fun, so go find something else to play if you can.”

Even so, the game got an 80% rating and additional DLC.  But I just can’t help but feel that if those guys in charge hadn’t have been petty assholes to each other then this game would have been the one to define a genre in place of Fallout 3.  Instead, they pissed their money away and hamstrung a promising studio for their own personal vendettas.

Bet they would’ve acted different had they known how much money Bethesda would make.


The Trenches - Worst. QA Manager. Ever.

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Worst. QA Manager. Ever.

So I was hired as a night shift QA tester at a company a few years ago and we had a night shift manager (let’s call him Tim) was pretty much the worst manager ever. Here are some of the things he did:

- When I started, Tim was the one who trained me up on how to write and enter bugs into the system. He was a pedantic asshole who constantly checked every bug that went in for spelling and grammar mistakes, which is fair enough, but he would go further to embarrass the person who made the mistakes in front of the team. The funny thing was, he was a complete country bogan and he kept using the word (if you could call it that) “youse” as in “youse guys better do this right.”

- We once had a test machine which red ringed which was taken taken away to get repaired which meant that the person who usually used that machine couldn’t do any work. My colleague that usually used that machine just tested on a different console and game. When the producer came in and asked why there was a lack of bugs from my colleague, Tim basically pushed him out in front of a bus and told the producer that my colleague did testing on another game that he wasn’t told to do for a week. My colleague was one of the few who got let go a couple of weeks later

- A job opportunity came up within the company for an Asset Manager position. Basically everyone in nightshift applied. Tim basically told everyone to give up because he would bad mouth all of us so that he would get the job. We applied anyway, found out he got the job, then found out that he really did give us all bad reviews when our review process came up. Oh also, Tim never got a review in the 3 years he was there when everyone else had one every year.

- Let me paint you the scene. Crunch time. 4th consecutive weekend working. Saturday morning 9:00PM (we had finished our last shift earlier at 2:00PM). The usual slug at the start of the day, regressions, regressions and more regressions. Everyone already thought it was weird that it was the 2IC who opened the doors for us to start work. Tim strolls in at lunch time, telling us all that he was horribly hung over. First thing he tells us to do is to go to lunch. When we get back, he’s nowhere to be found. Turns out he told the 2IC that he would be in his car sleeping off his hangover. By that point we were all pretty pissed off.

Later that afternoon, the CEO of the company stops by to thank us all for working so hard (the CEO was a pretty nice dude) and notices that Tim is missing from the room. He asks where he is and before anyone can respond the 2IC covers for him instantly. CEO thanks us all again and then leaves. WTF’s all round.

At the end of the day: Fuck you Tim you wanker.

But to everyone else on that night shift team you guys were awesome and it was great working with you all. If it wasn’t for “youse” guys I’m sure one of us would have stabbed Tim repeatedly with a blunt spoon and buried him under the building.


The Trenches - You get what you pay for.

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You get what you pay for.

This Tale From the Trench may make me sound like a douche, though it’s not meant to degrade testers in any way. I’ve been in QA for the last 6+ years so I am a tester by trade. I know what it’s like out there. Hate me if you want, but here’s my story.

I come from a quality assurance background testing all manner of things; hardware, software, firmware, mobile apps, I’ve even static tested electronics with what is essentially a giant taser (which is kind of awesome).  I thought all of that background would help me get into a decent testing position in the gaming industry, which was one of my passions.

HR at the company I sent my information to went ape shit over my resume.  I had barely closed my email after submitting the thing before they scheduled a phone interview (I was moving states and trying to set up a job for after the move).  They told me they rarely get anyone with this kind of experience and they want me to come in for an in-person interview the second I get into town.

The in-person interview went as I expected; they were drooling over the opportunity to have a tester of my skillset on the team.  There was only one hitch they half mumbled at the end of the interview:

“How does nine dollars an hour sound?”

Let me put this into perspective.  I was 25, had a wife and was trying to do adult things like buy a house and plan a family.  My starting salary for an entry-level position in testing at the non-game publisher I started QA for was more than double that.

Long story short, I declined but ran into issues finding other employment so called back to accept later with a few guidelines. Since the pay was only 9 bucks an hour and they could “do nothing” to change it, I wanted to work more than 8 hours a day.  This thrilled them immensely.  I also wanted weekends off, which they begrudgingly gave. I started work the next week.

The end of our 2-day training period, myself and another tester were given a Gold release of one of their most popular titles, a first-person shooter that I won’t name.  Our task was to simply find a single defect that had not been logged in their system against this game.  We had 2 hours to accomplish this.  I found 4 defects in the first 10 minutes.  Literally the second test I performed caused an issue.  My colleague found none over the 2-hour stretch.  In fact, I went ahead and just gave him one of the 3 I hadn’t bothered writing up in the last 15 minutes he had.

Here’s where you may think I’m being a dick.  The following evening when I started testing proper.  I quickly found the caliber of my fellow testers to be…less than stellar.  These were kids in their late teens, living in their parents’ basements for the summer, whose sole qualifications were liking games.  They had no idea about testing methodologies, they had no idea how to be thorough or even to actually TEST.  They simply pushed buttons, watched the results, and raised any issues they maybe encountered.  This in itself is not bad (this is referred to as ad hoc testing, by the way), but you will not find everything that way.

I tested circles around them.  I liked them, don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t cocky about it, I simply did my job as usual.  The studio began to complain about money, about not finding all the issues or seeing them and not knowing how to recreate them later, what anyone who tests outside the game industry knows is the basics of testing anything; find, replicate, report.  They weren’t testers, they were just kids playing games.

Needless to say, I had a meeting with management that did not end well.  I did not mean to come off condescending and egotistical.  I simply come from a world where this is in no way an efficient way to test. But even the people I talked to in management were not testers by trade, they came from testing games and didn’t know how (quote, unquote) real testing was done.  My work spoke for itself, they did not want to let me go even after what they saw as blatant insubordination, but the damage was done.  I knew that this game, and all games to come, would simply go out sub-par due to inefficient testing.  I left the company (for a handful of other logistic reasons like money and hours, not just this).

So let me end this with an open call to all testing managers in the game industry: kids that play games will help you find issues, there’s no doubt about it.  Some of them are quite good at what they do.  But without having at least some person who truly knows HOW to test, you are going to have the same issues with testers that you always do. And anyone who does testing as a career knows, 9 bucks an hour just isn’t going to cut it.  If you really want to make a better return on your investments, spend a little more for better people and just have less of them.  I guarantee you, someone who really knows testing will be worth 3 kids that just like games.

Let me also say this to testers who are disenchanted after their experiences in the game industry: If you really do like testing, there are plenty of opportunities out there in the testing world that don’t make you work 16-hour days, work through meals, and sleep under your desks.  And they pay enough for you to actually afford things like groceries and rent.

In short: you get what you pay for.


The Trenches - That’s All Well and Good, But…

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That’s All Well and Good, But…

Like so many people, I love games and dreamed of joining the game development industry.

In college I studied programming, gained experience building games and apps for Flash and on the iPhone, and applied for game development internships and jobs. After several false starts where entry-level game dev jobs were downsized out from under me, I ended up as an insurance salesman; it was kind of depressing!

However, insurance sales provided a stable income. One day I realized that I could probably live off of my savings for about one year while I tried to find a job as a game developer. After the thought hit me I could not shake it! If I couldn’t get a game development position, I could probably go back into sales later.

I moved to Seattle, where the game industry seemed healthier, then spent most of my time applying to jobs and creating simple games for my portfolio. I emphasized these games in my applications, but for a long time I did not receive many callbacks. I purchased StarCraft II and began playing it to keep my spirits up. I became reasonably good, winning a small amateur tournament.

Out of the blue I received a strange email from a headhunter. She told me that, sure, I could program and I had built a few games, and that was nice, but could I play StarCraft II at a high level? I wanted to know if she was joking.

I came in for an interview, defeated a few members of the design team, and talked for a while about the current state of StarCraft II’s competitive multiplayer balance. They hired me and I spent the last thoroughly enjoyable year as a member of that design team.

“So, how have you liked the year that you’ve been here in Seattle?” recently asked the supervisor who had hired me.

“Two years. I spent a year building and publishing little Flash and iPhone games out of my apartment. That was at the top of my resume!”

“...Really? Oh. I hadn’t ever noticed that. How funny!”

Clearly, I had been approaching the job hunt all wrong. Please excuse me while I update my resume.

Experienced princess rescuer, reliable zombocalypse survivor, avid prophesied hero…


The Trenches - The Age of Fear

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The Age of Fear

I work for a low-profile, West Coast game studio that has been around for over a decade. I wasn’t there when it started, but my time served there has been pretty significant. While the place has many infamous stories, the topic I bring to you today is about how management had a habit of becoming irrationally paranoid of the individuals they let go. Here’s my recollection of their actual concerns (and these are all individual incidents mind you).

Fear that said ex-employee would somehow:
- Shoot up the office
- Fight them in the parking lot
- Shoot up the office (again)
- Move explosives into the basement
- Consume a child (wtf?)
- Burn the studio down
- Sabotage the servers
- Crash a birthday party and make a scene
- Recruit ex-co-workers when they got better jobs elsewhere (OK, that did happen) :)

It should also be mentioned that the ones they canned made no threats or showed signs of aggression upon their termination; each individual just went off to greener pastures, some in completely non-game fields. So there you have it, 10+ years in business with zero incidents. Makes you wonder if management felt guilty, perhaps that all those layoffs were unjust?

Hmm.


The Trenches - The Awesome Highly Professional Methodology

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The Awesome Highly Professional Methodology

Back when there was a shortage of programmers, I chose for my next contracting assignment a firm that advertised its rigorous, highly professional methodology that enabled rapid development with high reliability due to its great system. I really wanted to learn a better way of doing things, and was willing to learn from anybody.

First day there: No hint about a methodology. Indeed, my workstation didn’t have the tools to build the software I was ostensibly working on.

Next day: Same. I asked about the methodology and tools, and was assured it would all come through after a small team reorganization.

Months later: Still no methodology. All we had was a list of features to implement, given to us by a couple of analysts who handle all interactions with the clients. The “testing methodology” consisted of a short Word document with a table of 10 things that an analyst wanted tested, in no particular order.

I figured, what the heck, we had to start testing so I suggested to the team lead that we needed a more detailed test plan. He said, OK, write it. I thought WTF? But OK, this was a chance to grow and learn.

First thing, since a table in a word document wasn’t going to be an efficient way to list dozens or hundreds of things to do, I moved the table of things to test to a real spreadsheet and systematically added stuff to test, columns for conditions precedent and all that good stuff.

I guess that offended the kid who’d written the document because she complained to the lead and he told me I was wasting my time.

I figured when we were assigned a few testers I’d let them decide, but as it turned out, it really was wasted time because they never got around to assigning testers - just one guy who really resented having to sit down and go through functions.

They burned through the budget building the thing without anything left over for serious testing (which suggests something about the Methodology) but I guess the unit testing was enough to persuade the client to accept delivery. Hey, maybe THAT’s the Methodology!

At the Delivery Day Dinner, the client (who I’d never met) reacted to meeting me with, “Oh, you’re the guy who’s responsible for this being late!” which I took as a clue. Needless to say, this barely tested product seems to have vanished from sight but not before I disappeared from that contracting firm.


The Trenches - “Good for your career”

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“Good for your career”

The head of the department liked weed. He knew I knew a guy (don’t smoke myself, friend of former roommate), and asked me one day to leave in the middle of the afternoon (during crunch) to go and hook him up. I didn’t want to, but he said it would “be good for my career”.

When I hesitated, he threatened to fire me (temps could be fired for any reason), and then offered to pay me a finder’s fee. I didn’t feel I had much of a choice, and caved.

The next week I was brought into HR, and was asked to explain my unapproved absence from the week before. I looked at the department head who was glaring at me. I told them I went home because I needed some medicine for my stomach and came back when I felt better. That’s when they told me people believed I went out and got drunk, then they told me I was being fired for misconduct, with no evidence.

That night I was sitting at home still going WTF and the department head texted me asking for more weed. I blocked his number. This was a few years ago. Today I have a good design job at a nice company and look back at that time and can’t believe what I put up with.

I found out recently the department head was later fired for coming to work while seriously stoned.


The Trenches - Short But Sweet.

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Short But Sweet.

I started testing on the 360, but after some time was given a PS3 to test on with no cords to hook it up. I asked my lead where to find PS3 cords, but he told me to stay on the 360 for the rest of the week, and he would get them for me.

That Friday I was fired for not testing on PS3. I told them I was waiting on cords from my lead who told me to stay 360 until he found them for me. They told me there was an entire cabinet full of cords in the other room, and I should have gotten them myself, but now it was too late.

I heard later from a friend still there that the lead got drunk at a party and admitted it was his fault I was fired, but wouldn’t help me get my job back.


The Trenches - Gamestop, Hell in a shopping mall.

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Gamestop, Hell in a shopping mall.

I used to work in Television- eight years in Production, then one year the home office sells our station to a local business that managed to scrape together $60,000,000 to buy the station.

After that I was jobless,  I was listed as having “Quit,” so no unemployment benefits.

My friend was the manager at a Gamestop, and he saw that I was having trouble and offered me a job.  “It won’t be many hours but any extra that come up are yours.”  True to his word, any extra hours that came up were mine…. up to the corporate mandated maximum (at the time) of 28 hours per week.

I knew it wasn’t the best, but I needed the work,  so for two years I worked there and saw the steady push for more power-up memberships despite the fact that our numbers didn’t show it was possible.

After the first year I got a 1/2 percent raise. 3 cents.

That AMAZINGLY generous raise put my hourly at $6.78. Did I mention I was making three times that just over a year before?

I bit my tongue and kept plugging along while trying to find another job, it was the later half of 2006, and the job market was non-existent.

Another year passes, and my boss/buddy tells me he’s put me in not only for a raise that would add $2 an hour, but a promotion to a key position and more hours.

My raise was turned down by the DM,  I got 3 cents again.  My promotion was also turned down as they were eliminating the key position I was being offered not a week before.

Our store took a blow when the DM stomped through and fired two employees whom we had working 4 hours per week.  They were our reservists - during the holidays or when one of the regulars were sick, they were called.

So if you got sick, the store gets screwed, and your co-worker/friend had to work a double and caught shit for it for going over hours.
   
As time goes on, I find out that the DM gave NO ONE in the district a raise beyond 10 cents, and that stores all over the district had lost people. We later learned that the DM was promised anything from the raise budget and 10% of anything she could shave from the pay pool as her yearly bonus. We got screwed so she could get a fat bonus.

When the crew found out about this my buddy put in his two weeks, as did everyone but me. I couldn’t afford to.

“You don’t want to work for her or anyone she puts into this place man, believe me,” my boss/buddy told me. I believed him but I needed the job.

On the 14th day from the crew’s two weeks, he worked the close shift with me. We were SLAMMED. Easily 300 trades that day. The back counter was PACKED. Best day of business the store had seen that quarter.

As we locked up, he had me vacuum and straighten while he handled the bank.

He then organized the guts on the counter, made sure the pricing tags were with them. Then he called me over.

“You’re fired.” he told me and marked me as no longer working for Gamestop in the system.

I was stunned.  He then handed me a slip of paper with the phone number to set up my unemployment benefits.

He clocked out and hit the lights.

“Not that I care at this point but what about the guts?” I asked, standing by the door waiting to be let out.

“Store’s clean, everything is in order, we just didn’t put it away,” he said and added, “Besides, we don’t work here anymore.”

It was kind of a dick move, but in all honesty the filing would have put me over hours, and he was to be out on time on his last day by order of the DM.

The next day I slept in a bit then called unemployment, request for benefits denied. In the two years I worked for Gamestop, I had not earned enough money to qualify for unemployment.

My friends kind final act was for naught.

Just a word of advice,  NEVER work for Gamestop.


The Trenches - No, the Real Gaming Expert

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No, the Real Gaming Expert

I worked as the media supervisor at a large electronics corporation. Being “media,” gaming naturally fell under my control and, being a “gamer”, this was my favorite place to go and help customers. I played a wide variety of games from Pokemon on my DS lite to lengthy online matches of Halo with all my retail buddies.

Oh, and did I mention I’m a girl?

People seemed to get hung up on that fact a lot. Generally it involves a surprised look or comment of “You play COD? Can you talk to my girlfriend?” but nothing too bad. One time in particular though always stands out in my mind when people ask me to share a unique story of my gaming retail experience.

It was the holiday season and we were packed (of course). I was traveling from aisle to aisle making suggestions to relatives and significant others as to what to get their loved ones for their gaming
consoles. I approach one middle aged gentleman and ask him if there was anything he needed.

“Yes,” He replies, giving me a quick once over. “I have two 16 year old sons and I need help picking out a video game for them.”

“Oh, that’s great. There are a lot of really great titles that came out this year that I’m sure they’ll love.”

He seems genuinely confused at this point and states. “I don’t think you understand. They are 16 year old boys. They don’t play the games you play.”

I see exactly where this is going and merely smile. “Oh, no, I’m the gaming expert here. I actually play a wide variety of different titles, mostly FPS’s and RPG’s. I’m sure we can find something to suit your sons.”

The man stares at me for a moment and then turns around to grab the nearest guy he can find, who happens to be one of my employees walking past the aisle we were in.

“Excuse me sir, can you lead me to your gaming expert?” The gentleman asks.

My employee looks at him quizzically and then looks at me. He then says, “sure, no problem, right this way.” He leads the gentleman out one side of the aisle we were standing in around to the side, ending up directly in front of me.

“This is Quinn, our media supervisor and gaming expert. She is probably one of the most hardcore players I’ve ever met and knows more about video games than anyone else in the store. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

That is why I worked there. Despite all the bulls**t on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis I had to put up with, I had over fifty brothers who had my back. Whether it was cheering me on during a Halo “killing spree” or politely telling a guy he was being a dick, they were always there for me. It’s why I have hope for the gaming industry. If every guy just had a sister to relate to, I’m pretty sure we would end up with more awesome big brothers and less trolls.


The Trenches - Finish him!

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Finish him!

I worked for a my first software company in the late 80s into the early 90s, and we were bought up by a “giant”. We were located in the Seattle area, they were down in San Francisco, and it was a very interesting relationship to stay connected (this was the dark ages before the Internets…!). Over time, our group was downsized bit by bit until the original group of around of 100 (devs & testers) was reduced to about 10 testers. They had us working as a rogue testing group - spot checking the work that the teams in SF were doing. It felt a bit dirty because we knew we were working behind the scenes for higher up manager types who wanted to know if their teams were finding all the bugs.

Then something interesting happened….

Managers came and went, and we were shuffled between a few of them, and eventually we realized that the last person we were working for was gone…. but no one new had gotten to us to let us know what we should be working on next. So, after a few boring days we hooked up a Nintendo to a giant TV, rearranged our cubicles, brought in a couple couches, and played Mortal Kombat (the original one) until we heard what to work on next.

We waited for 6 MONTHS while playing that game all day long.

We’d show up each day on time, play MK, and then go to lunch, come back, play MK, then head home at the end of a full day. We wanted to be there in case anyone tried to call or email us, but no one ever did. We didn’t know who to call about what we should be doing, because the person we last worked for wasn’t there anymore.

Our paychecks kept rolling in, and over time, one by one, guys on the team found jobs at other companies – because they were getting bored of just playing Mortal Kombat all day long. In the end, there were 3 of us left, and we got a call from headquarters letting us know that they were going to give us a “re-deployment package” and let us all go. It was an extremely generous deal, and I used it to put a down payment on my first house.


The Trenches - Superman’s Useless Morning Jog

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Superman’s Useless Morning Jog

A few years ago, I was a Game Master for a fairly popular MMO. One of the benefits of this job was our ability to play on GM accounts that had access to special commands that could make our characters invisible, invincible, able to take on the appearance of any model in the game, adjust our size.

However, with great power comes great responsibility or at least insane oversight. These accounts were watched over carefully and we were advised to stay invisible any time we used these characters on a live server and to only actually play the characters on the test server where our shenanigans could not have rippling effects on the game’s economy or possibly be overseen by players.

The downside to this is that it absolutely ruined the “normal” game for me. I had somehow found my way into a job that allowed me to literally play an MMO all day long should I want to do so, but the GM tools destroyed all desire I had to actually play it. Once you are given an account that can make that special rare sword appear in a few keystrokes, suddenly forming parties with real players and running a dungeon that only has a small chance of dropping it becomes a ridiculously arduous task for a marginal reward.

You might be thinking, “Well, just play in the test server,” but even that becomes dull after you have god-mode. The game’s verisimilitude is destroyed when you can one-shot kill a world boss. When there is no challenge and there is no reward, you are no longer gaming. It becomes an empty task like Superman going for a light morning jog.

There are a few jokes to make with these types of tools to amuse yourself and other GMs like porting other GMs into deep, deep holes that contain nothing but fire. However, these pranks were really all just permutations of the same joke where we slightly inconvenienced another god for the minute it took them to laugh and type a slash command to restore themselves to immortality.

Maybe the Greeks had it right. Maybe there is a pantheon of narcissistic immortals that invented us and mortality to bring consequence to their squabbles. If so, they had it right. I have no doubt the GM tools would be endlessly entertaining had we permission to unleash them on the foolish, mortal players.


The Trenches - Missed Opportunity

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Missed Opportunity

I graduated college with an engineering degree in the midst of the recent recession. No one was hiring, and after four months I was getting a little desperate. A friend made iPhone games at a small startup which had recently come out with a hit game. He said they didn’t have anyone doing in house testing for them and were looking to hire someone part time with a possible fulltime position down the road. I jumped at the opportunity. The interview went great, I got along well with all six guys that worked there, and they said I could start whenever.

The week before I was to start, I got a fulltime offer from a real engineering company. I was torn. Do I work part time as a tester for a startup company that may never make a hit game again, or do I take the fulltime gig doing what I had actually gone to school for? I took the fulltime engineering job.

The startup was understanding, and I kept in touch with my friend. They hired someone as a part time tester, and within 3 months he was full time. Within a year they had discovered the magic of in-app purchases, and the company expanded like crazy. As of now the guy they hired instead of me is in charge of 3 fulltime testers, has his own office, and plays iPhone games all day while I sit in a cubicle staring at a monitor as my soul slowly drains out of me. How I wish I had taken that opportunity.


The Trenches - Magics of Rockets

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Magics of Rockets

Let me set you the scene for how my first title in QA was shaping up. We had about twenty people in a bay doing multiplayer testing on a AAA title. After a few months of us doing this, they moved us to different bays and expanded our team because the game was falling behind (surprise!) and we couldn’t test fast enough (they felt).

Most of us were not pleased about that as about three fourths of our bugs were coming back with large “working as intended” notes. Those of you have worked in the industry doing QA know that is dev speak for “die in a fire” so we were a little miffed about them adding more people to the title.

Fast forward a month and we are on day 30 of what will become 45 days of “voluntarily” overtime at 12 hours a day in an attempt to find a version of the game that won’t have the fans of the franchise screaming for blood in the streets outside the design studio. By this time anyone that has worked those hours can tell you tempers get short and ideas get crazy.

This is when I found the issue with the autolock with the RPG. You see, simply by pointing the screen (this was a third person shooter title) and jumping the way you were running you would ensure that the rocket would find a nice cozy home in the target’s chest. Since his seemed broken I wrote up the bug and submitted it to be sent to our devs and was greeted by our lead a few minutes later who wanted me to show him why I thought it was an issue. I then proceeded to go through about three games with nearly no deaths before he gave a heavy sigh with the words “They’re not going to like this.” before he went to send the bug in.

Can anyone guess what the dev response was? That’s right. “Working as intended, this is not a bug.”

They then patched it within three weeks of the title launching after the forums exploded about how broken it was.

So do us all a favor, if you are a dev and your testers submit something that seems to be broken don’t give them the knee jerk reaction of saying it’s not a bug. Actually look into the issue and see if it might be something that needs fixing.


The Trenches - Pucker Up

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Pucker Up

It’s quite obvious that QA can be an egregious environment. Racking up over 2,000 hours of test time in less than six months will wear down anyone’s sanity. As testers, we always made sure to keep that among ourselves, and not to let it affect our testing or bug writing. At the dev studio however, there were apparently no such rules.

Enter Jason. This rather eccentric audio dev began telling fantastic tales on our bug comments. Every audio bug was apparently fixed by him reaching into the netherverse and fighting off a rabid unicorn or three headed pigeon to fix a bit of audio jittering.

We were fascinated by his stories, and would often climb through the bug database looking for his comments. That’s when I found the anus pucker bug. A specific monster in the game had a very slight delay when shooting at enemies, and he described it at thus:

“The anus pucker thing doesn’t make a noise right away when firing its anus pucker discharge at enemies” This went on for paragraphs, describing in detail about how the anus pucker would sometimes misfire, and that the anus pucker should fire correctly.

That bug was printed out more times than I can recall. It was even taped to the side of my monitor for those times when our sanity was wearing. Nothing like a good anus pucker to pick you up when you’re down.


The Trenches - The elephant in the room.

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The elephant in the room.

I worked at a fairly large company that would seasonally hire in large volumes of temporary extra customer support staff. During one such period I was graced with a position in their phone and email support teams.

A few hundred of us temp staff worked there for several months, but as the customer contacts started to diminish, the company started their ‘Wind Down’. Every week a group of 10-20 people was escorted past my desk to the Office and told that some of them would not have jobs the following week. After a couple of these parades I made a comment in my team’s local chat room to the tune of “Ah, nothing cheers you up in the morning like the smiling faces of a group of us temps being sent on a death march to the Office.”

Immediately all conversations in the chat died. One of my managers finally broke the silence and said “That was out of line, man. This is a terrible situation and could do without your jokes”. I responded that I, as one of the temp staff with the axe above my neck, was in a good position to understand what they were going through. None the less I apologized as I could see that my choice of humour was a bit coarse. The rest of the chat chimed in to say that I shouldn’t make comments like that again.

Eventually another of my managers came back from lunch and read over the chat logs and promptly called me over for a meeting.

She said that she’d read over my exchange. I quickly mentioned that I understood that it was a sensitive issue and that I’d stop making jokes about it. She then said “Yes, jokes are one thing, but actually we don’t like to talk about the Wind Down at all here. You see, it’s not just hard on you - we’ve all become friends here so it’s hard on us to see you leave as well. It’s a depressing issue, so we just don’t talk about it.” Her utterly cheerful smile never wavered once.

I tested the water occasionally by bringing up the waves of firings in the chat in the following days, but every time my comments were unceremoniously ignored.

A few days later I cleaned out my desk.


The Trenches - While the Publisher may be evil, the QA Department is AWESOME!

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While the Publisher may be evil, the QA Department is AWESOME!

Note: This is not technically a “war story”, but still very much worth telling.

Between the Summer of 2006 and the Fall of 2007, I worked for the “sports game” division of a MAJOR Video Game publishing company, that as a whole, is consider to be one of (is not THE) most evil, corrupt, and responsible for ruining any game and/or franchise they touch.

But, here’s the twist: I absolutely fucking LOVED the job.

This story is not about how much they suck… it’s about how much the the people who work there are kickass fucking awesome!

This is a story of my tie with them, or at least… the highlights. :)

First, the hiring process IS INTENSE. They give you a phone interview first, which is easy to pass, as long as you’re not a psycho or a douche (though apparently people manage to fuck this part up).

Then they get the top ~20ish people into a room, and tell you what to expect during your time there, which surprisingly enough includes a guy who -actually says- something to the equivalent of: “While we do not condone Prejudicial/bigoted speech, it may still happen, so if you don’t have tough skin for that sort of thing, this job may not be the place for you.”

Now, that statement wasn’t meant to discourage any person of any race/creed/gender/orientation/etc. from sticking around, he was just stating a simple fact that on the testing for, sometime people can be crude. The general idea was that since they couldn’t patrol everyone every minute of everyday, you had to take personal responsibility to “know your audience”. Again, a very smart, common sense, approach.

When I first got hired, I was sent to a building -across the street- where I (and another girl that was hired on the same day) were told to play a game that the company had already RELEASED… why? Because they we’re making the 3rd game, and wanted to make sure me and this other girl (who was in the same hiring class I was in), I spent 2 days working on this before one of the Senior Leads from the QA department came over and told both of us to follow him.

When went down the stairs, back across the street, entered the -main- QA Building, and were given our assignments, she was given the “Major movie license game that had been scrapped after a YEAR of working on it and restarted from scratch with 6 more months to go before the DVD release which was to coincide with the release of the game.”

However, I was lucky! My first project was a “European version of Baseball” game, and I kinda liked it I got to work of the PC version of the game, and got to tweak Windows settings in order to screw the game over in weird and complicated ways. I even got a free copy of the game! (Note: we got free copies of any game that our names appeared in the credits, and in order to get into the credits you had to work on the game -officially- for at least 2 weeks).

Over the course of the next year I work on some MAJOR titles, some lesser titles, got moved to a specialty team that was considered THE hardest team to get into and learn from, became “first officer” of a team (3rd in line under the Senior lead and the Team Lead), and genuinely enjoyed my time there. In fact if it wasn’t for other opportunities that came to be, I would still be working there to this day.

But, here’s the best part: (and the point of my whole story).

The QA PARTIES.

You see several times a year the QA Department would use their left over budget and throw parties for it’s team members.

KEG PARTIES.

That’s right, we’d come into work one day, clock in, GET PAID, and proceed to eat, and GET DRUNK!!!

I kid you not.

Our -bosses- would be grillin’ various meats outside, there would be KEGS (plural) for you to drink from, a cotton candy machines (which made a HUGE mess that had to be scraped off the wall), video game competitions, the whole bit… it was epic!

My best memory of this time is in fact, having myself, a buddy of mine, the 1st officer from project I was working on at the time, and an actual developer for the same game we were working on, all sitting around in a conference room, finishing off the last “foamy bits” of beer out of the bottom of a keg” (i.e.: floating the keg). And here’s the most important thing, everybody felt like a TEAM, the idea of “devs vs QA”, and “the company thinks of us as robots instead of human beings” ... all of that? It went right out the window… They made sure we had fun, and more importantly, that made sure we were SAFE: They paid for ANY and ALL cab rides people may of needed in order they made it home safely, and a lot of times, it was the leads and developers themselves driving people home.

Moral of the story: Sometimes, even the “Worst Company of the Year”, really does care about it’s employees, and isn’t as bad as people actually believe it to be. :)


The Trenches - Math

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Math

I used to work at the major game/pawn/retailer shop, and I learned something interesting about the way they operate.  A metric quite common among retailers is the ‘shrink rate.’  I’m not sure how other stores calculate it, but at Gamestop it’s something like this:

(money made on stuff sold / (money lost on stuff (lost | stolen | handed out) *100)) = shrinkrate

Think of the ramifications of that.  If your store does well, you can give stuff away and it’s all gravy.  Given that every store loses track of a few things here and there, if your store stagnates, you obviously have thieves on your staff.

I worked as a ‘game adviser’ in a store in a mall that had been undergoing renovations for what seemed like years and there were two other much larger stores within about a mile radius.  We didn’t sell very much outside of Christmas.  I recall a dry spell where the weekly equation frequently read somewhere in the ballpark of (500/(50*100)). This would give us the rate of 10%.

The funny thing is what happens with this information.  The immediate assumption with a high shrink rate, is that someone on staff is stealing from the store.  It wasn’t too long before they brought in a regional inventory control manager to interrogate the staff, calling everyone’s character into question, and generally trying to weed out the thug.  However, the only people who weren’t clean, and/or attending the local Baptist university were the managers.

After scouring the staff, they decided the only thing worth mentioning was that the assistant manager (the only person who gave a shit) had used his discount card for customers, which he bought and paid for, to help make some sales.  Interestingly enough, since he was a pretty good salesman, the amount he wound up saving people was disproportionate to the store’s total volume.

They fired him.

I have a real job now, and I just went back a few weeks ago to visit. The store has been replaced by a local clothing retailer.


The Trenches - Schedule Coordination

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Schedule Coordination

There’s this stigma in the video game industry that QA is always the lowest rung on the ladder.  Whatever happens, everyone else’s skills and time are more valuable than yours.  If a programmer or artists makes a mistake or misreads a bug, it’s up to the tester to admit fault and ask roundabout questions in an attempt to lead that programmer or artist to the solution you’ve already figured out, because nobody can afford to have the ego of a highly-trained programmer/artist bruised by a tester.

So I was working QA at a AAA developer on the latest entry in one of gaming’s most popular adventure franchises of the time.  We had already been in crunch for several months, working anywhere from 10-16 hours a day 7 days a week nonstop to meet our title’s ship date and were on what we had been told was our last Saturday that would be sacrificed to finish the project.

Because it was the last few days before final code lock the head of QA had given us a little speech that night about how we needed one big push to finish it up that night and would need to stay so late that it would be early by the time we left, but one of the foreign SKU’s still needed to be tested we would have to come in the following morning as well.  Because of this, everyone was given the option of leaving then or staying until everything was done.  A few people left then, with 1 or 2 more an hour later and a handful sent home within the next hour when they passed out in their chairs.  By the time we finished and those of us that had stayed the whole time left, it had been roughly a 21 hour shift that ended just after 6am.  We had to be back by 11am that same morning (Sunday) to get the final disc for the foreign SKU tested.

Five hours and 3 red bulls later I was back at my desk, wasting time on the finished local SKU while we waited for the foreign disc.  It was 3pm when the programmer in charge of making the discs entered QA to tell our head that he had gotten in about an hour ago and just started making the discs.  Disbelief collided with exhaustion, causing my head to drop straight on to my desk.  The audible “THUD!” this created caused the room to go quiet just in time for my next words to be clearly audible: “You JUST NOW started making the discs?  We’ve been here for 5 hours!”  The programmer and QA department head, who were standing directly to either side of me, stared at me in silence for an eternity of seconds before moving on to the plan for testing those discs.  I’m not sure if my obvious exhaustion excused me or they just decided I had a point, but no one ever said anything to me about it and, a few months later, I finally unclenched. The foreign SKU discs didn’t have any issues and we went home 2 hours later.


The Trenches - Test Lead

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Test Lead

Many years ago I was a test lead on the certification team for the original XBOX. Every game that went out had to have a certain amount of regular game-play by a team of testers to be released. This was the classical tester dilemma, yes you get to play games all day, but you don’t get to pick what you play.

For one week my team was playing “Kabuki Warriors”. This title remains one of the worst games in history. Graphics were comically bad, combat was so simple that you could close your eyes and repeatedly press the A button for 1/2 hour and have beaten the entire game. Within 2 hours my team was crawling the walls, bemoaning the fact that they knew they would be playing this game 40 hours a day for a week.  My favorite point was when a tester took a bug form (bugs had to be written out long-hand on a form and handed to the “lead” for entry) and made a pirate hat out of it, saying “I’m a pirate!” every time he won a game.

One day, one of the other teams got a new game in, Silent Hill 2. Everyone had heard about it and that team was loving playing it; everyone but one tester. Within a few hours of playing it, he started getting motion sickness, and halfway through the day, he said he had enough and needed to be moved to another team. Immediately every person on my team begged to be his replacement, anything to get out of this bad-game hell they were in. Rounds of Ro-Sham-Bo were thrown and one of our testers got the honor of switching over to “the new cool game”.

For 15 minutes… because that was all he could play before running to the bathroom and almost losing his Ramen and Mountain Dew. That day, we rotated through no less than 4 testers until finally we found one that could manage to play it all day. We tried different monitors, moving the testers around the lab, everything we could think of, but it was clear, for my team, this was the game equivalent of the vomit-comet.


The Trenches - Happy Little Trees

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Happy Little Trees

I’ve been working in the Software Test Industry for numerous years, and been witness to the some of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in humanity because of such. That said it was during the first six weeks of my tenure at a very large and well known game studio that I witnessed what I like to call my “Thrice Trumped” stories of raising the bar.

The first happened during my very first week at the company. On my lunch break I had the misfortune of entering the bathroom to see what appeared to be a murder scene. Blood coated the floor, the walls and was splashed all along the stall walls. Rumor has it that someone just had a serious nose bleed and never cleaned up after themselves. Which would explain why they were missing the next day, and a new fresh faced worker was in his place.

The second and third happened during my last week there, and had the convenience of happening on the same day. The morning starts off with a hallway covered in vomit, someone had not made it the door, and much like the first incident they didn’t bother to try and clean up their mess. A meeting was called to discuss hygiene and appropriate handling of incidents of that nature. A crime most foul indeed, but nowhere near what greeted us all later that afternoon.

Happy Little Trees. That’s the only way to accurately explain the poo-artistry that coated the bathroom walls. Someone had spread fecal matter all over the bathroom walls and created a scene the likes of which Bob Ross would have been proud of. There was a valley with a stream with trees that overlooked it and pea nutty clouds in the sky. A true master’s work in the medium, I’m sure.

I put in my resignation later that afternoon and never looked back.


The Trenches - Saving Private Armchair

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Saving Private Armchair

I could write a series of harrowing stories about game QA, but much of what I would write has been said in some terrific stories elsewhere on this site. So I will instead share a different tale, a tale about a team of testers and their chairs.

It was a few years back whilst working on a large FPS franchise on the PS3 that this story takes place, and it centers around four of the finest testers to walk the hallowed halls of games development.

It had been a hard slog of working 6 months on this cherished first party title, from its early bug heavy days in alpha, to the gradual wind-down as we neared Gold master. The team had lost any joy from shooting nameless AI, and had been posted back to a level which they had seen a million times before.

As their self-appointed leader (with no pay increase or acknowledgement), I rallied my band of testers for what we hoped would be the last push. We had become such a close knit set of friends and there were few things I didn’t know about these guys. Some of them I have no doubt I wouldn’t have liked or associated with out in the real world, but in here they were my brothers.

About mid-day on a sunny English summer day one of the testers, a bright young thing with a talent for breaking games, decided that he wasn’t going to settle for C class bugs; he was going to escape the level. The rest of us laughed it off and a few bets were placed that he couldn’t do it; we had tested this level to death and it was tight. It was nice to see he still had spirit after these long months but it would have been sweeter to win that bet.

One hour later, he was out.

He had stumbled upon something we had previously over-looked, that the armchair in this level had physics, but was indestructible. Using his standard issue Pistol he was able to maneuver the chair next to the wall before making a leap of faith above the invisible collision. Now, most people would just report this and move on, not this fellow, he decided that he was going to find every single place this chair could let him escape and report each and every instance, just to wind up the devs.

He wasn’t alone, the next two days the whole team spent finding places to escape using the chair, storing the bugs ready for the haul of bugs to be reported all at once. This in itself would have amused us greatly,  but the meme had grown, and instead of the chair featuring in just the bugs where it was needed, we placed it in screenshots, videos and repro steps for every bug. If an enemy AI was killed and his model was broken, we would place the chair next to his body with a gun strewn on its cloth surface, if we saw a distant section of level which was textured incorrectly we would shoot the chair over before taking the screenie. That single chair ended up in over 50 bugs from crashes to z-fighting textures, I cannot imagine what the devs must have thought when they saw such an insignificant piece of scenery in every bug.

I do know this though; for two days in that summer we were no longer a four man team, we were five. Our comfy friend was there with us through fire fights and broken gameplay, and more than that; he helped us escape the game.

On the third day, he was MIA.

RIP Private Armchair


The Trenches - Fowl play

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Fowl play

A few years ago I was working as a tester on a AAA title that you’ll all have heard of, when I ran into one of the most amusing and bewildering bugs I have ever experienced. After around 20 minutes of play, all projectiles in the game would turn into chickens. Your guns would fire chickens, the enemy guns would fire chickens, and tanks would fire chickens as shells.

Whilst this was initially rather amusing, it was obviously not intended behaviour. Furthermore, it wouldn’t reproduce on any other computer but my testing station. I filed a bug, and was instructed by one of the devs to re-install the game. I did so, but the problem persisted. Several other suggested solutions failed to work, too. By this point, my ability to test the game was rather diminished.

A couple of days later, a developer showed up in the testing department along with the project manager. I walked them through the bug, and after we all stopped laughing we set out to find a solution. During a re-install, the developer spotted something strange. My installation image was on a shared network drive, but it was not the usual one. I’d had my machine set up by the testing manager, so I had no idea that anything was amiss. They switched to the correct image and the bug disappeared.

I was later informed by the developer that the image I was using was an unofficial build on a developer’s machine, which had had some of the copy protection code removed. The computer also had a BitTorrent client installed, seeding an ISO of the build on a popular torrent site, months before the game was due for release. Thankfully, in this case, our office internet connection had horrendously poor upload performance and we managed to kill it and fire the developer before the whole file was leaked.

The “feature” still exists in the release and, from what I’ve read, plagued most people who downloaded the first pirate releases.


The Trenches - We wouldn’t want to confuse anybody, would we?

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We wouldn’t want to confuse anybody, would we?

Now, focus testing is a great tool for a developer. It gives them an invaluable opportunity to see first-hand how their game is perceived by actual people; how they respond to the controls, the game mechanics and the overall presentation. It’s an insight that testers sometimes can’t contribute since they have grown so accustomed to the game that they have a hard time seeing it from the eyes of a new player. Focus testing can help fix balancing issues and make the game and interface a lot more intuitive.

Or it could give you carte blanche to completely maim the game due to fears that people won’t “get it”.

I was working on an American Football game that was based entirely around motion controls. The game was already a heavily simplified facsimile of the sport since you could only pass the ball, perform kick offs and move left/right or jump to dodge tackles. The game wasn’t fantastic but the dodge mechanic worked pretty well and it was a pretty exhilarating experience to manage to dodge every single defender and score a touchdown. There was even an achievement specifically for doing this.

One day we all get an email about a new build which explains that there has been some changes to the game. Readers familiar with this site can probably guess what these changes entailed.

Yes.

Dodging had been scrapped as some participants of the focus testing had found it to be “too confusing”. Bear in mind that this was before any tutorials or UI had been implemented and that focus testing is largely done without giving any help or suggestions to the tester. Oh, and that this was a sport whose rules are almost entirely unknown outside the US developed and tested by a British company. Instead of adding one line of text to the game they decided that scrapping the main feature of the game entirely was the preferable course of action.

In the end dodging was never put back in or replaced which made the game little more than a throwing simulator. Come release day every single review pointed out the lack of dodging as an odd exclusion since it had been heavily touted as a major feature during the game’s many convention appearances.

And naturally; some time later I was fired.


The Trenches - ...Finding bugs in a game on Interview didn’t get me the job….

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...Finding bugs in a game on Interview didn’t get me the job….

Many years ago I applied and received an Interview for a testing position for a very prestigious games company based in Portsmouth. FANTASTIC!

With my CV and a Thermos of tea I drove down that morning to attend the interview. I chatted to the receptionist and was politely asked to find a seat and wait for the interviewer.

She arrived, introduced herself and gave me the tour of the office (which was very nice). We went to her office and the interview commenced. Everything seemed to be going well, my CV went down a treat, I was articulate and I felt I gave a good account of myself.

The next part of the interview was to test a driving game yet to be released. I sat down with my pad (a paper one - it was 2003) and spent the allotted time finding frame rate drops and I even managed to crash the game completely (considering I was only given 5 minutes I thought that was pretty good going). The test ended and I handed over my notes. “Well” she said reading my notes “You appear to have found about 15 bugs that our testers haven’t even found yet” I replied modestly “Oh? Really, well I’m sure they would have found them eventually.”

I left the building feeling very pleased with myself, Good Interview - check, Games Test - check…

I drove home….

The next day I received a phone call from the developer. “Unfortunately we will not be able to offer you the job. This is in part due to your experience. We feel we cannot offer you suitable wages.” The job went to a snotty nosed kid who was probably being paid in peanut M&M’s….

In the last year I have started my own games company and hope that if I reach the heady heights of being able to employ staff I will employ them on ability and experience and not that they are cheap… well unless they are really good and really cheap as well of course. :)


The Trenches - The ultimate multitasking task

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The ultimate multitasking task

The project I was on was shaping up to be a pretty good game. It was an FPS “adventure” game that used a time control gimmick. We had our usual quota of bugs but the real fun began when multiplayer online testing started.

This game supported 8 player teams, with several maps to choose from and about 5 different characters on each faction to play. That meant there were plenty of iterations to go through in order to test the weapons, special abilities, and spawn points of every map. The only problem was that our team had about 15 people split between the 360 and PS3. In order to facilitate the full online team testing we had a workstation set up with eight 360s, an HD monitor, and a switchbox.

Then came time for us to run test sweeps. Everyone dreaded getting stuck on the online testing workstation because that meant you had to handle 8 controllers by yourself and constantly switch the monitor between all the boxes. This would usually involve an elaborate mess of cords and papers spread all over the desk, and trying to keep track of which controller went with which switchbox input was a pain in the ass! Oh and don’t forget the all-important “automated tester tool”.

One game mechanic was that characters could not stand idle for more than 2 minutes or they would be kicked from an online game. This meant that all characters had to be moving around in some fashion. The logistics of handling 8 controllers was a mess, but with a few “automated tester tools” it could be managed. This was basically a rubber band wrapped around the movement and aim control sticks.

As testing progressed I actually got used to running a few of the multiplayer sessions. Setting up multiple stations (with rubber bands on controllers), shouting commands across the room to the other team, filling out a whole worksheet meant for 8 people. Tearing down the workstation at the end of the day was not so bad. We even got to where we could make an entire multiplayer sweep in about 4 hours. But no one dreaded the words “new build” more than the guy who had to hop on the PS3 multiplayer station (very similar to the 360 setup) and win 100 games to get the achievement. That person had to run their games solo.


The Trenches - Test isn’t all bad… honest!

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Test isn’t all bad… honest!

While I love hearing everyone’s tales from the world of games test, and can often relate, it does still shock me at times as to just how bad some people have it. Clearly people are being taken advantage of, and Test’s value isn’t being recognized at some companies around the world.

For me, it’s different.

I HAVE worked for one of the biggest publishers, and sometimes it was a bit rubbish. We got let go at the end of projects, no matter how much effort we put in. We crunched a lot, and we always felt undervalued. But my tale isn’t about that company.

I now work for one of the other big publishers, and I absolutely love it. I think the main difference between us and the rest of the world is that we are a relatively new division of that publisher, and we are made up of people who have worked at the other big publishers, and didn’t like the way they did things. So we made testing better. We used to be the ones in those entry level jobs, we’ve experienced the crappy end of the stick - now we’re lucky enough to have the right people in management positions that are giving us the freedom to advance the company in the right ways. We don’t have zero hour contracts, we try to keep people on based on performance, and there are opportunities for even entry level testers to gain a lot of experience and apply for higher level positions as they develop themselves. We’re expanding all the time, gaining more work and more staff, and developing great relationships with developers.

I just wanted to tell everyone who reads these tales and thinks how terrible test is and that it must be escaped, that test isn’t bad across the board. There are companies out there that are great to work at, even some of the biggest publishers. I work in games test and I love my job. I work with people passionate about games and testing, and I get to work with some of the biggest developers and on some of the top titles. If you work in test, you have a great skill, and you can be rewarded if you develop and find the right company - or maybe you can make changes from within.

Hopefully my tale adds a bit of balance to those tales full of hilariously horrible situations, and encourages people to value test as a career. I don’t think I’d ditch this Test department for any of the developers I’ve worked with. Man, do I have some horror stories about them…

;)


The Trenches - The Legend of “El Pistolero”

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The Legend of “El Pistolero”

I worked on an FPS that was a console launch release for a major software group that has since gone on to produce a very successful franchise based on that original title.

One of my co-workers (and good friends) had the exact kind of analytical mind that seemed to be able to discern ill-thought-out design features that could be exploited—not exactly “bugs” in the traditional sense, but just playability problems. He had been assigned to QA another launch release this company was working on, but that one having been completed, he was drafted to help with our crunch time.

He discovered that the same weapon damage values that were being used for the single-player campaign were also being used for the multiplayer. The problem was that in order to make the initial levels where you were only armed with a pistol playable, the damage and rate of fire for it had to be set a certain way. These settings meant that if you had a quick enough trigger finger, in multiplayer the starting pistol was the most powerful weapon in the game.

His submission of this fact was met with disbelief by the programming team, who proceeded to challenge him to a series of multiplayer matches in all battle modes, to prove him wrong. One by one, they stepped up—and one by one, “El Pistolero” gunned them down. Again, and again.

In the end, the programmers were forced to choose between either retooling the entire level balance of the single player campaign mere weeks before release, or…well..shipping it.

To their credit, they at least adjusted the fire animations of all the other weapons, and re-engineered the sounds for them, so it was more satisfying to use those instead—the average gamer would be so impressed by the light show on the advanced weapons, they’d never stop to consider just sticking with the pistol.

But to this day I can’t pick up another FPS without recalling the legend of “El Pistolero”—and at least once promising myself to play a round without picking up or using any other weapons.


The Trenches - I guess he wouldn’t need the $5 scratch protection.

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I guess he wouldn’t need the $5 scratch protection.

Back before movie and game rental stores became all but extinct, I worked for five and a half years at one of the major chains. Let’s call it, “BlotBluster” video.

What made this job in particular so interesting is the neighborhood that my store was located. It was known throughout the city for being a compilation of hipsters and ultra trendy folk along with prostitutes, drug dealers and some degree of gang activity. At some point I had heard that a few drug dealers in the area were starting to take movies and games as payment for cash, which was probably a better deal than what we offered for trades. Needless to say, it made for some interesting customers.

One day, a few seconds after opening the store, my first customer saunters in. I greeted him with my usual, keener-teenager-with-a-new-job “Hello, how are you today? Can I help you find anything?”

Completely ignoring me, he made his way straight our display rack, which I had just filled with empty cases of a new game that had just come out that day.

I walked around the counter and approached him, then I realized he was in the process of shoving as many of these empty cases as he could into his jacket. Being sixteen at the time, and slightly awkward, the only thing that came out of my mouth was “Uhhhhhh…”

To which he responded with pulling a switchblade out of his pocket, saying “Don’t try and stop me.”

“Okay.” I said.

Then he left, with around 15 empty video game cases.

I was torn between either laughing, or locking myself in the back room of the store until my manager came back from the bank.


The Trenches - Timewasting with a side of insult

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Timewasting with a side of insult

I was working at a 200+ person game studio. We were getting towards the end of a big release when our team were called out for a mandatory presentation. This didn’t worry us, since this company didn’t make a habit of mass layoffs – firing staff for two weeks every year then rehiring them to keep our wages down, yes, but that’s another story.

We shuffle into the big meeting room and are treated to a presentation from one of the lead designers about the upcoming royalties plan. Basic gist was that employees would earn shares in projects as they worked on them, which would equal a certain (small) royalty payment as long as they were still with the company. Doesn’t sound terrible, right? Then he mentioned that the royalty plan was not applicable to QA staff, as they were technically contract workers.
Did I mention I worked in the QA department?

Did I also mention that, at the point he said this, his ENTIRE audience was QA staff?

Obviously having realized that his time was being utterly wasted (we had bug quotas to meet, you know) one of my co-workers asked what incentives would be in place for QA workers. Lead designer responds: “Well you guys are in QA, you should be doing everything you can to get out of there anyway.”

Not only had he wasted our time (attendance was mandatory), but he essentially told us our department didn’t matter and we were wasting our time there as well. So with our time wasted and insult slung, he just carried on with the rest of his presentation.

To end on a happier note, by this time I had accepted an actual development job with another company and was only working my notice period. Looking back, that might’ve been a perfect time for hurling abuse at the guy…


The Trenches - Must be an indie game.

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Must be an indie game.

I worked for a major PC manufacturer, testing games and media applications on the top tier desktop and portable PCs.

I was given a stack of games to test on the new gaming PC, which was designed to rival AlienWare’s products.

One of the games worked fine at normal settings, but if you cranked it up (which the PC should have been able to handle) it would hard lock the box.

I reproduced it for the developer and his initial response was, “Well, most people probably play at the default settings anyway.”

“Not when they pay a couple of grand for a gaming PC,” I insisted.

This kind of argument went back and forth for a while, before he saw a different way out.

“I doubt anyone will see this. It’s just one game, and I’ve never heard of it before. Maybe not many people will play it.”

The game in question was the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Thankfully, marketing heard about the issue and declared we could not launch the product without full support for Oblivion. Not sure what happened to the developer after that, but I didn’t see him working on the gaming side anymore.


The Trenches - Of course I wasn’t doing my job…

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Of course I wasn’t doing my job…

I applied to one of my favorite RPG companies and got a job testing a game people were very excited to play. We were the localization team.

The first week of the job, the parent company didn’t have the English translation. So we played the game with vague handwritten guides telling us what to do. This should have been my first clue that things were not going to go well.

The second week the team got the English version of the game and I got my assignments. Test two portions of the game.  Excited, I rushed to the first of my parts of the game to test, and it was a mess. Happily, I logged the errors. Only to be told that they knew about this problem and it wouldn’t be fixed for a few more versions and not to bother logging the bugs.

So I rushed again to my other assignment.  Only to find out that the game crashed and I wouldn’t be able to get to the epilogue (my other task) for a few more versions.  Again, I was told it was a known problem and not to bother with it.

For four weeks I logged problems on the game that had nothing to do with my assignment. At the end of the 4th week we were all given evaluations. I was told that I was doing the “best I could with a bad situation” and they promised to “have a working version by next week.”

Week 5 rolls around and on Wednesday I’m finally given a working version of the game.  I once again rush to my assignments. At the end of the day they called me and the other guy working with me into the office and fired us for “low productivity.”


The Trenches - Anonymous

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Anonymous

I worked at a major publisher of PC games about 10 years ago. I was thrilled to be working on the latest iteration of a marque RPG franchise. There were complications, however, because the dev team was working half way around the world, and we were receiving nightly builds via FedEx.

This is back when a good 30-40 hours was the norm in an RPG. This lead management to assign each of us 3 levels to test over and over each day. We would use cheat codes to level up and then run our levels as many times as we could in a 16 hour day.

We were killing bugs left and right and the game was looking very good. We came in one morning to find out the game had gone gold. I mentioned for not the first time that no one had actually played the game from start to finish yet. They finally assign me to do that, and half way through the game, at the point where you transition between one set of levels and the next was a bug that corrupted your auto-saves, losing you all progress since your last manual save.

I replicated it, recorded it, and brought it straight to the lead producer. He thanked me for my hard work assured me that he would put it at the top of the list. Two days later he had retired, the bug was gone from the system and we were on a new project.


The Trenches - The Great Divide

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The Great Divide

A few years back I was climbing the ladder in one of the support departments for a huge PC developer. The release and overwhelming success had caused their support teams to balloon in size, growing so fast that the company almost couldn’t handle it. When I started, there were less than a dozen people in the department, a year later there were 50, and a year later 150. And we were the “small” support team.

We fit nicely into the office we had when I first arrived, then we were cramped, then we were putting desks in closets, then we rented another building and the whole process started over. Within six months of moving into the new building, our break room had to be converted into more desk space.

Obviously, most of the people who signed up had dreams of ascending to the ranks of the developers, although few had any actual development skills and even fewer really understood what game developers do. When it became clear that doing time in support did not guarantee a free pass into dev, murmurs of discontent started to surface. Faced with literally thousands of employees trying to bridge the gap, upper management decided to implement a program which would educate the support staff on the responsibilities of each different developer position and what qualifications were expected of an applicant. Their aim was two-fold: to inform their naive support crews about the necessary qualifications and to farm a small amount of talent.

To this end, they scheduled a series of brief seminars given by senior developers, and established strict criteria to attend. Only support staff who had been with the company for an entire year (which eliminated 90% of the candidates) and had good performance reviews would be permitted to go.

I signed up for a lecture featuring a senior producer and the company’s lead producer. There were about forty support employees crowded into a small room as the presenters went through a short description of the role and responsibilities of an associate producer. It was nothing unexpected. At the end, they offered to answer questions.

An eager hand shot up from the front row. “What is the best thing we can do to improve our chances of being hired?”

The lead producer thought for a second, then replied, “Make games of your own. Or mods. As a matter of fact, I’d rather hire someone who spends all day working on their own game than someone who works an unrelated job.”

Silence. “You mean I should quit?” the hopeful support staffer asked, incredulous.

“Well, if I have the choice between someone who talks to our customers all day and someone who sits in their room making maps, its no contest. Even if you have a portfolio, you just aren’t going to have the same amount of time that an un-distracted candidate has to develop his skills.”

Nobody asked another question. They were too shaken by the idea that we were further from getting a job at a game company because we already worked there.


The Trenches - It’s better that you DON’T know.

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It’s better that you DON’T know.

At a small independent developer studio I worked at, one of my tasks was to pretty much single-handedly port our PS2/Xbox game engine to support the PSP. This included not only rendering, etc., but also enabling our tools to output compatible data formats since it was all one codebase. I was pretty much the only engineer working on this particular project most of the way through, and I was given 4 months to do it.

There was a small problem in getting started on it, though. I was given a devkit and a small subset of the documentation—but no compiler. Meaning that for the first 70 days, I had no ability to even test any code, and for that matter, all the documentation I had was only hardware documentation and little to no API documentation, so I had no clue where to even begin. Eventually, they filled out the paperwork, and I was able to get setup and everything, but of course the 4 month deadline hadn’t shifted to account for the 70 days with hardware and no software.

So that meant I had to go into a private crunch of sorts, working on weekends, etc, and although I was making progress, things were behaving very curiously with network failures, and I was still getting a whip to my back. This culminated in a 28 day continuous stretch at the office where I did not go home at all, eventually getting some basic runtime going where I could play a small section of a separate Xbox/PS2 game running on the PSP.  But with 1 week to go, they proceed to tell me—“hey, we wanted a whole port of the game running because we were going to license the tech out to other companies…  oh, and one of them is coming to visit on Friday.”

Me: You couldn’t have told me this sooner?
CEO: Well, but then you’d know.
Me: Yeah! Shouldn’t I know the gravity of what it is I’m working on??
CEO: No. It’s better you don’t, so that you can be separated from company affairs. If all goes well on Friday, we’ll probably lay you off anyway.

It went well.


The Trenches - Dog Days

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Dog Days

I was working QA for a small company that does a lot of licensed properties, the kind that people who have young children are all too familiar with. We often had long days of parsing random doc tables of first grade math problems, with the execs at the licensee always giving us fun bugs like “that line in the car doesn’t look like the right shade of red” or “equations aren’t appearing at a random enough interval, it needs to be more random.”

However, this story isn’t about bugs (though I could go on). This story is about our VP of Technology and the President’s dog.

Our President liked to bring in his dog to the office. The dog would run around the cubes, beg at desks for treats or attention. Being a development studio, things would get busy and sometimes the dog wouldn’t get to go out for a walk on time and would have an accident on the carpet. The President would always be quick to clean it up - I think we actually budgeted for carpet cleaner - so no one was overly upset about it, though we did joke about “working conditions.”

One day, while we were in crunch-mode, the dog hadn’t been able to get outside at all and ended up taking a huge dump right outside the entrance to the programmer’s pit. I guess no one really noticed until the VP of Tech walked by and noticed. What he did next is something I will never forget: he went to the kitchen and got a large, stainless steel bowl. He then proceeded use the bowl to cover the pile of poop and walked away.

It was about 2 or 3 hours before a coder emerged and found what I can safely assume is the worst surprise ever.

QA began use the phrase “put a bowl over it” for bugs that weren’t alpha or beta blockers.

The dog now gets regular walks.


The Trenches - Why don’t you go work out over there. Waaaaaaaaay over there…

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Why don’t you go work out over there. Waaaaaaaaay over there…

We were testing games in what was essentially a basement while the developers were up on the second floor. Between us and them sat an entire floor of offices filled with people related to, but not directly involved in, the development process to, I guess, act as a buffer between QA and Development.

Well, down in QA there is only five of us including me, and no two of us are alike. It’s like a floor full of sitcom stereotype personalities if said show was about misery and suffering broken by the occasional interesting conversation…

So I guess you could say working in QA was kind of like a sitcom.

Anyway, one of our testers had earned himself the name “Crazy-fingers” due to his inability to avoid pressing buttons as fast as humanly possible, despite the developers’, and occasional management insistence that our rates of rapid button mashing was completely, and totally out of the realm of realism. Basically, “No-one will ever actually jam on those buttons like that in the field, so stop doing it.”

As you can well imagine, the moment said individual turned his/her back, Crazy-fingers would immediately begin to do what he did best to a set of canned laughter. This would usually illicit a well-timed roll-of-the-eyes from our QA manager, and result in a hilarious crash-bug of some sort less than a minute later.

These bugs would usually make our lead programmer stomp down the stairs to confront Crazy-fingers about the legitimacy of said bug report as the developers on the second floor usually couldn’t reproduce the issue, and he would challenge Crazy-fingers to reproduce it for him while he watched.

Insert canned Oooohs.

After successfully reproducing the bug for our lead dev we would treat Crazy-fingers to a round of high-fives (not really) before the true punch-line of the episode hit: Our lead developer would go into the workout room, and start working on the punching bag.

We could regularly hear him working off the stress through two closed fire doors, and three walls.

If he worked out five days a week, we knew we were doing our jobs.

Still scary as hell to listen to him go though…


The Trenches - False Pretenses or The Ol’ Bait and Switch

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False Pretenses or The Ol’ Bait and Switch

I had been laid off from my previous job, looking to raise my standings in the game industry with no luck. After 3 months of fruitless searching I decided to fold and take contract work, the first time I had taken contract work as a tester, and work for a start up who has managed to be extremely profitable. I’m thinking great, the hours will be reasonable, the pay will be good and the people will be friendly! Boy was I in for a treat.

The first thing my new direct lead said to me was, “I didn’t know you are starting today.” This was followed by me getting thrown an iphone and getting told to familiarize myself with the games that have been shipped. Sadly, games that are meant to be played over MONTHS instead of days tend to be hard to grasp in the short day that I had, and sadly my first 8 hours on the job were wasted. Suddenly, I had permissions, equipment, and was gently (thrown down the stairs) nudged in the direction of being useful for my new team. The rest of the first week went relatively smoothly, although meetings frequently showed foreboding of crunch time to come.

The second week came, went and suddenly in week three fires broke out everywhere! Something needed to be sent out the very next day and everything was broken. I trudged along, kept my head down and worked the 12 hours days and parts of the weekends because I figured this was not going to be a permanent situation. My superiors even assured me of it when I was asked directly! Well, in a way they were right it wasn’t permanent. After we had finished crunching and I put in a 70 hour week I was gleefully informed that the QA team was getting fractured in half, and to save me from being burnt out I was given the cushy 1pm to 9 pm shift.

It was good to know that promised hours and recently signed contracts were thrown out because QA got paid over time and someone in accounting just couldn’t accept it.


The Trenches - Moon and Stars

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Moon and Stars

In 2007, I was working for a company that had then recently acquired the license to operate a certain MMO in a certain part of the Asia region. As newly hires, we were all worked up because the company who granted us the license (after some from what I heard were fierce but enthusiastic negotiations) was well known and respected.

We had such high hopes and we were so ever optimistic. As the tone of my story may suggest, that in fact did not last. That point of view did a 180 degree reversal and stuck there.

We weren’t meeting the required number of concurrent users (CCU) we promised. Execs were baffled, there was a lot of tedious and ego shrinking management committee meetings to which sometimes underlings
like myself were required to attend.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was being asked questions linked to low CCU’s and when given the honest to goodness truth, getting berated at it for it. Even if it wasn’t our fault.

To make the long story short, all that angst that was pointed to us at operations actually rightfully belongs to marketing and management themselves. It became clear and even years after the fact, the truth remained clear. They overpromised impossible CCU numbers from that region without considering technological barriers of would be customers and underdelivered overblown expectations to the company that granted the license.

They didn’t account for cultural differences and language barriers that turned off some of the player base. (HINT: Not all Southeast Asian countries speak English, and not all of them speak Chinese. So what happens when you get a demographic that cannot communicate to each other but instead stick to their own language?)

Furthermore, these are developing countries, not first world class. The technical requirements of the game far exceed the standard specs of what you would normally see, and high end gaming specs are not the norm. It’s there and available, but not a lot own that range of requirements. In addition, some of these countries had low internet reliability (high lag) and some even less internet penetration (at least as of 2007).

Lastly, my company partnered with an overseas firm to handle the marketing to those countries with Chinese as the main language. Smart on paper, not so smart in reality. These firms overseas had their own brand of MMOs operating in the same region as well. They are OUR competitors. Would you trust a competitor to FAIRLY represent and advertise your product in those regions just because you can’t speak Chinese?

But no of course not. Blame the rank and file of CSR’s for pulling unpaid overtime for not reaching a mark that was impossible to reach to begin with and not marketing who clearly did not do enough marketing research and activities, and certainly not top management who promised the moon and the stars but knew not how to build a spaceship.


The Trenches - Um, Because That’s My Job?

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Um, Because That’s My Job?

Back when the Mac SE was a kick’n machine, I had a job in tech support. I loved that job. I got paid to talk on the phone, pretend I was smart, and play with hardware and software. And I got paid well, too.

Score.

One of the titles I supported was a flight simulator for the Macintosh, just one of several Mac titles. Most of the titles weren’t games, but this sim was popular.

Often times we would get a pilot on the phone with some elaborate problem. Rather than keep them on hold while I flew around (usually badly), I would take their number and call them back when I figured it out.

So there I am one day flying the Lear Jet all over the place looking for a navigation bug or something like that. I feel someone behind me watching, but I didn’t turn around. I didn’t want to have to start over. Flying the jet in full manual mode took a bit of concentration. I did this for about a half an hour. Eventually the person leaves.

The next day I get called into the director of support’s office. She is sitting there with some other woman I don’t know.

This can’t be good.

The woman I don’t know was some big-wig from finance or something like that, who came over to see what tech support was spending all their money on. She proceeds to lay out her claim: I was playing games at work on company time, not answering the phones.

The director then lets into me how this was really unprofessional and starts talking about trust between the employee and employer.  And that’s when it hit me. These two women were going to fire me.

Why, the director asked, were you playing games on the company time?

Um, because that’s my job?

What?

It’s my job. I support that game. It’s our game.

Silence.

Could you have, um, taken phone calls while doing that?

No. I’m following company policy in in reporting all game bugs, and I was trying to figure out that problem during my scheduled down time.

Silence.

At this point the finance woman turns red. And both of them are sitting there looking, well, stupid.

Uh, I need to get back to the phone queue. It’s just me and Janis on right now. Was there something else you wanted to talk about?

No. Thank you.

When I got back to my desk, Janis was glaring at me for leaving her alone in the queue. During a lull I tell her the story and she cackles. She thinks it’s funnier than hell.

This proves a point about women, Janis says. You need to marry a geek girl. Stay away from those finance bossy types.

Wise words, Janis. Wise words.


The Trenches - An Employee with an Expiration Date

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An Employee with an Expiration Date

I was hired for a small game development company to do several different jobs.  I eventually found myself developing interfaces and design for the actual games.  To be honest, it was a great job, but they offered me $10,000 less than I wanted coming in.  I negotiated with them.

I agreed to take the pay they offered if, after a year of service, they gave me a bonus of $10,000 and a raise for my yearly salary to be where I wanted.  They agreed.  Of course they did.

Over the year I saw a number of things that made me wish I’d added a few more circumstances to that agreement.  People being let go when they give two weeks even though they’re needed, mass groups let go only to hire another group that do the exact same job a few weeks later and so on.  It was clear that the company regarded its employees as just something to be used and then thrown away.  I guess that comes from an industry that has so many young people wanting in, they can pay nothing and not care at all about the people they hire.

In any case, a year was almost up when I had my review.  In my review they praised my work so much that I got a 5K raise!  I was delighted. Then right before I left the review, my boss said “what’s this bonus agreement?”

I explained and he just grunted.  The day of my one year anniversary I was sad to see there was no card on my desk.  It was the practice of the company to leave a little happy anniversary card if you were there for a year.  I went the day without anyone saying anything.  The next day my boss came storming in demanding to know where I was on a project that wasn’t due for two weeks.  I showed him I was on target and there were no worries.

He then said that I should be further along and said I would miss the deadline.  There was no evidence of that.  He insisted that I should be to a certain point and told me to get out of his office.  I went back to my desk and began working.  I worked through lunch and past that evening, but I got to the point he said I should be.  Just as I was about to leave, one of the producers came by and asked to see me. I walked in to see the HR lady.  I knew this meant death.  I was fired for not meeting a deadline.  A deadline still two weeks away.

At the end the HR lady told me that I wouldn’t get my bonus since tomorrow would be a year.  I told her yesterday would be a year and showed her where she was wrong on my paperwork.  Her face went white. She still insisted I wouldn’t get my bonus.

She also gave me a choice, either I could quit or I would get fired. If I quit they’d give a good reference, if I got fired, they wouldn’t. Of course, if I quit, I wouldn’t be able to take unemployment.  I let them fire me.

I hired a lawyer and let it be known that I did so.  Two days later they called and let me know that I was getting my bonus.

Several times they would come back to me asking where certain files were or how to fix something.  I always helped but eventually I asked for them to start giving me good a reference since I’m still open to helping when they called.  They no longer call.

It’s sad.  It was a great place to work… as long as you were needed.


The Trenches - Lost in translation

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Lost in translation

I worked for a game company for almost 3 years, and when their first game was released in german, they oddly hired a Korean linguist … to localize the game into German.

When I had the first chance to check the game, I was shocked by the results and asked if they really intended to release the game in this state.

They were surprised by my reaction and asked “What’s so bad about it? When we put it through Google translate, it totally makes sense.”

The situation was really going downhill, and I couldn’t find words to describe the quality of the product. We were only 4 weeks away from Closed Beta, and I saw myself already hiding under a rock. I tried to get a good example from the game to show the state and severity of the translation, and I stumbled over this gem in the tutorial.

The player would see a little penguin with a brown cap and his mouth looked a little bit like a moustache. The speech bubble said “Möchtest du den Führer sehen? - (Would you like to see the guide?) Technically, the translation was correct, and the word “Führer” was correct in terms of a dictionary but, the combination of a penguin wearing a brown cap and moustache of a certain dictator in Germany around the 1940’s wasn’t really something i wanted to endorse in a game for 12 year old kids.

The possible options to choose from were “Yes,” “No,” or “Only at special occasions” and I was like “Seriously, special occasions? Like what? Reich Crystal Night?”

With that I went to the CEO and explained him that if this gets released, we can bury the game without going into the beta and move on to the next title.

He asked me what could be done, and I said that I would be willing to localize the game if i get the complete text. He agreed and within 4 weeks, I managed together with 3 friends to localize the whole game with almost 500.000 words into proper German.

I spent almost the full 4 weeks in the office and slept either in my chair, the couch, or not at all. In the end, the original localization person received money for the chaos she had been caused with her pseudo-German linguistic skills, and I had just received my regular salary.

We had a very tough week until the first maintenance arrived to implement the new translation. We did another 3 revisions for typos and strings which didn’t fit properly but we pulled it off.

Even today, I stumble across screenshots from that time and think, “Somehow … I miss that time in my life.” It was a nightmare, but I think it was the only time I’ve ever been fully in control about a project.

To release my anger at the time of the translation, I had rewritten some conversations in the game to express the horrors of the whole mess. 5 clowns in the middle of a city were talking about the madness of localizing and their side effects.


The Trenches - It Gets Better

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It Gets Better

I’ve heard horror stories about game testers throughout my short career. When I started to work at my current company as a game designer, I was surprised to discover that here, at least, they remain stories.

Here, testers are on the same level as everyone else. When a team gets formed to work on a project, it invariably involves one, sometimes two dedicated testers. Since we’re constantly moving from desk to desk so that a project’s team is sitting together, that means the tester on a team is usually within talking distance from programmers and designers.

Our quality assurance guys and gals are a tremendous help in rooting out bugs and they’re usually those who know their way around our bug tracking software the most. When they have comments about the design, we listen. And just like game design, art and programming, QA has its own department head and hierarchy so that testers have superiors they can rely on when they need help.

When it comes to advancement, the sky’s the limit. A number of my QA friends have taken positions as game designers, project managers and even business developers. And for those who want to stay in QA, that’s perfectly alright - it’s as noble a field as any here.

If you’re working at a company where QA gets the short end of the stick, please take heart: it gets better. There are companies out there that will treat you with the respect you deserve.


The Trenches - Subject: The building is on fire; please evacuate.

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Subject: The building is on fire; please evacuate.

One summer, myself and a couple hundred others were working on a AAA title in our dimly lit, stinky basement.  This basement was also known as QA.

The basement was constantly overlooked by the custodial staff.  I’m not sure this was intentional or not, but we were seriously lacking in regular trash bin changes, vacuuming, and overall cleanliness.  Oh, and we also were short on a few fire alarms…okay we didn’t have any fire alarms.

The testers in the basement were all console testers and did not have regular access to a computer.  They would occasionally get up to write bugs, but for the most part, you are pretty unaware as to what’s in your email until lunch or break time.

Due to the secrecy of the project I was on, my team was located in a locked room.  So here we are, in a dark, dirty basement, with no alarms and no real communication with the outside world.  Cell phones didn’t even work.

So, one day, we hear a big commotion outside the door.  We get up to see what’s going on, and before I can reach the handle, the door explodes open with one of my co-workers saying,

“The building’s on fire!  It has been for a while and no one’s told us!”

Oh, but we all did receive an emergency email to our rarely looked at accounts.  By the time we reached the outdoors, the entire building had already been evacuated.


The Trenches - Initiation

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Initiation

I’m a relatively new tester, but today I ran into a standard testing miracle for the first time—the developer’s bug-neutralizing superpowers.

I had come across a rather quirky bug that the developer could not replicate. When he came to my workstation for me to show the bug to him, everything worked like a charm.

I feel like I’ve passed some sort of testing initiation now. It’s like the job is telling me that it finally accepts me as legitimate and has begun to embarrass me accordingly.


The Trenches - Last minute game changers

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Last minute game changers

My first QA job was working on the sequel to an original XBOX launch title, I was brought on for the last push before cert submission.  The game was a 3rd person fantasy RPG which involved a lot of ranged spell casting.  The player could also choose to do melee attacks, but since they melee combat was awful and mostly ineffectual, people avoided using it.

While playing through the game on the night before submission, I found a crash.  One of the enemies in the game was an archer riding on the back of a giant frog.  The archer would fire at the player, the player would fire back at the archer and usually kill it without much trouble.  If the player wandered into melee range of the frog, (which nobody had done, since they had much more powerful spells,) it would raise up on its hind legs and swat at the player, resulting in a crash 100% of the time.

Solution?  Delete the Frog/Archer units from the game.  Other enemies were not added to compensate for the missing Frog/Archers, and I believe the Frog/Archers were left in the manual.


The Trenches - I’m not Schumacher

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I’m not Schumacher

I’m a Motorsport fan. There’s no denying that. Formula 1, Le mans, touring cars, the lot.

Anyway. There came an opportunity to test a big name racing game, so I leapt at the chance. Why not? I love racing games, I love watching racing; it seemed perfect. I applied and got employed, yay!

Each of us working there was assigned one track and one car each (there were a lot of us), two cars if we were ‘lucky’.

It took 2 months to comprehensibly cover every square pixel of Silverstone. every camber, every barrier at every speed we could. Six years on, I still dream about it. I can’t watch the British Gran Prix anymore. One of my deepest passions ruined. I had to move because I used to live 20 miles away from the track.

It hurt. It hurt bad.


The Trenches - The good ol’ switcheroo trick.

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The good ol’ switcheroo trick.

There are 2 kinds of show stoppers when you’re close to release.

First, there’s the ones that you don’t want the public to see. Then there are the ones the console manufacturers don’t want to see.

They’re pretty hardcore sometimes on finding crashes in places people will never go. And by that, I mean that no one will eject their disc and reinsert it while mashing the home/guide/PSN button… during the logo videos.

So we had a crash in our game, it occurred if the player did something no one would ever do on purpose. And it only occurred on the default multiplayer map! We thought that no one would ever get this crash and because it was impossible to fix we considered leaving it there, but we were worried about the console manufacturer…

So… We put that particular map last instead of first. They didn’t find it. Better that than to cut a map out of 6 huh?


The Trenches - 115 hours a week, still paid hourly

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115 hours a week, still paid hourly

Back in the Oughts I was working QA for a big publisher who had a number of PS2/Xbox/PC games in the pipe.  A good number of us were conscripted to move down to SoCal for a couple of months working on a
game.  Everyone got their own Extended Stay hotel room complete with continental breakfast.  The soda machine’s Pepsi didn’t have the proper amount of fizz, but it worked perfectly for whatever random ham
and cheese and onion omelette and hash browns you wanted that day.

That part was okay.  Plus I had my PS2 plugged into the hotel room’s TV and ruined Jak 3.

But there was also work.  And that work took place in a scarily small room clearly not designed to hold the amount of electronics that were in those four walls.  20 people in a 20x10 room, each with an Xbox, PS2, and PC.  In Southern California.  In July.  And we had to build our own fan.

Yes, we had one fan.  And it was pointed out of the room,  If Jesus was an electrician, he would have fainted if he saw this setup.

And if that wasn’t enough, we regularly showed up at work at 8 in the morning and didn’t leave until 2 the morning.  There is a concept of “Drop Dead Time” where you are given 8 hours plus travel time plus 30 minutes to clean the filth out of your various holes.  That whole concept went out the window at some point.

The Apex of this entire endeavor leads up to near the Publish Ready date.  QA gets paid per hour, and this final week, we worked One Hundred and Fifteen Hours.  Let me break that down quickly One standard human week equal 178 Hours.  Subtracting 8 hours for sleep, that equals one (1) hour of not working time.  You have to force a beer down to keep up with this schedule, let alone four to cleanse your mental palate.

And then the game was delayed another couple months, so I had that time to hone my skills in setting people on fire via my mind.


The Trenches - Love you brother, mean it.

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Love you brother, mean it.

I don’t work in the games industry, nor am I a ‘tester’.  However, my brother is an award winning developer of non-game software.  Why am I writing, because he showed the dev vs. tester problem.  He is the dev manager on software used by large customers to control a vital business process - which I will not name.  He liked to have events at his house that he invited both family and coworkers.  He and his co-workers liked to sit around and bitch about testers and joke about how much fun it was to fire them.  Big bullies.

One Monday, before one of those parties, my boss told me I needed to implement this new system, which was the software my brother writes. Small world.

The piece of shit was so buggy it was ridiculous.  The support staff of the vendor was crap because they couldn’t get anything fixed on their side.  Event rolls around and I overheard my brother and his coworkers joking about the testers they bully, mentioning this stupid idiot that listed a bug that didn’t exist.  It was the bug we were having problems with.

I walked up and opened with, ‘Hey motherfuckers, don’t you guys test? We are production down with that fucking bug.  If you listen to that tester, we wouldn’t be in the mess you’re in.  You’re all assholes that need to be fired.’

Love you brother, mean it.

Devs take it out on testers. Customers take it out on support.


The Trenches - Mobile Hell

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Mobile Hell

The worst two months of my life in the game industry were spent at a mobile development studio in their QA lab. This was prior to smart phones, so we tested on hundreds of ancient handsets, some with screens that were literally 1 inch by 1 inch. The testers, of which I was one, worked from 9 AM to 5 PM in a giant open room filled with folding tables. We spent every minute of every day hunched over awful, miniscule cell screens testing horribly ugly games with frustrating keypad controls.

The games and applications we tested were based on money-making restaurant franchises. One of our most important clients was a certain chain known for their large breasted waitresses and chicken wings. The games were mind-numbing and horrific; imagine hours of controlling a pixelated, big-breasted, scantily clad avatar in an inner tube down a waterslide. The lab walls were plastered with garish swag from our clients. And of course, we were QA contractors (the scum of the earth) so we had no benefits and no say in the actual quality of the games.

Luckily, the pay was decent unless you were a female (unlucky me), in which you inexplicably paid $3 less an hour. This would have been a great thing to bring up to HR, except the company felt there was no reason to have an HR department.

The worst part, though? We were constantly testing games that were ready to be shipped, approving them as good to go (after days of testing, regressions, and arguing with developers), and then watching them get shelved in the company’s perpetual outbox. The outbox was filled with titles that were ready to be shipped, but because sales made so little of the company’s money, the incentive to actually release and sell a product was nonexistent.

Years after I quit, the games we had approved to ship were still sitting there, waiting for a release that would never come.

Talk about a pointless job.


The Trenches - Small devs > large devs

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Small devs > large devs

I worked for a subcontractor of one of the major platforms. If games wanted to be published on the platform, it had to go through us. During this time I decided that, as a tester, I adored the smaller developers while loathing the big ones.

We would frequently send back failure reports. The vast majority of these were “technically” failures, in that they didn’t meet the requirement but we didn’t really care (such as slight misspelling of official terms). The smaller developers were much more likely to send the game back to us with ALL these tiny bugs fixed. Not only that, they’d send us reports specifically addressing each issue, saying if it was fixed or not, and even sometimes how they did it.

The large developers, on the other hand, were more likely to pay the platform to get exempted from requirements, even serious ones which others wouldn’t be allowed to publish. They’d resubmit their games with little documentation on what they changed.

Two guesses which type the testers preferred, and the first doesn’t count.


The Trenches - Would you like a bonus with your bonus?

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Would you like a bonus with your bonus?

While working on a rather large persistent world game as QA, one of the high-ups announced that the studio would be receiving a bonus for all expansions/dlcs/re-ups and the like in an all-hands team meeting, past ones being grandfathered in even. Every head in the studio that wasn’t in sick was there. Much to our surprise they also announced that contract members would also get the bonus, and it was a % of annual salary. There was much rejoicing!

For those of you who don’t know, QA isn’t paid very well but makes it up with OT and a loss of social life, and life in general. On average a lowly QA person might make 20k a year if s/he has experience and has been with a company for a while. Most devs, contract excepted, make on average 50k+. The bonus would be a few hundred bucks for QA and upwards of 3k for everyone else. This is just to put it into perspective.

So we all go back to our desks full of glee about the joyous occasion of a studio being nice to QA! But nary a quarter of an hour had passed before the same studio head mustered all of us again for another quick announcement. Lo and behold, the entire studio was gathered just to be told that QA would not be getting the bonus, and sorry for the confusion for all.

They all smiled. They went on their business like nothing was wrong. A few even made rather negative comments towards QA. All of us were fuming, seething pissed off. Our lead was frothing. A few weeks went by and we forgot, because we are used to it after all.

The studio head announced another meeting. In it they announced that because we had done so well in the past few weeks, they doubled the bonus. Now me being of a military background I am rather fond of unabashed, brazen action. So I walked out without word. Out of the meeting and out of the building while dropping my FOB card in the meeting room. Almost all of QA, including our leads followed suit. The ones that didn’t were unceremoniously fired because the studio head came to the conclusion that QA wasn’t needed as a department.

The game went on and released an online expansion we red-lighted several times. The problems that created were so bad that no amount of rollbacks fixed the issue. Within a month the game was taken offline and the studio closed.  I found out later that the studio revoked all of the bonuses to avoid bankruptcy.


The Trenches - Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Working QA/Customer Service for a doomed MMO, we were given strict instructions to not tell friends, loved ones or even coworkers our GM handles lest we be fired on the spot.

If we should happen to use the teleport command to go to a player we knew, we were to be fired on the spot.

If we ever went visible around players, we were to be fired on the spot.

Even indicating to the outside world that we were, in fact, GMs in the game was grounds for termination.

...And a few months later, we were all fired anyway because nobody was playing.


The Trenches - Guitar Hell-o

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Guitar Hell-o

Greeting fellow soldiers!

I had the most profound privilege of working on a certain plastic musical instrument title that had numerous spin-offs and sequels (you know the one).

I remember one Summer, a handful of us were “Drafted” to a special project where the game was going to release DLC for a music album the same day as the actual music album.

Because we were working with unreleased music, we were subjected to ridiculous security measures as the band in particular is notorious for being protective of their music.

The farcical security measures included:

- A mandatory use of headphones when listening to the title OR playing with the sound muted (on a music game) for 8 hours a day.

- The inability to talk about song tracks out loud. We had to alter the names of the song titles with brief snippets of the lyrics instead, even abbreviations of the tracks would garner “stern looks” from the leads.

- And of course, no removal storage devices or burned media of any kind could enter or leave the special rooms. To ensure this was done, a security guard was HIRED to scan us with a metal detector any time we left the room, including bathroom breaks.

Early on in the project, one of the security guards even told my friend to “leave his car keys, in his car” because they “keep setting off the metal detector”. To which my friend replied “Leave my car keys, in my car? ARE YOU F#%$ing SERIOUS!?”

My friend was reprimanded for cursing out the security guard (it might even have affected his impending promotion) and was removed from the ‘special’ project.

From that day on, the security guards let us keep our car keys with us however…

Victory for the little guys!


The Trenches - A Real Go Getter.

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A Real Go Getter.

I was hired on by a company that is famous for it sports games. I was excited because fresh out of school (a school that offered art & game design) I was able to get a job in the industry that I loved so much. I tackled my game testing position with great zeal.

I was finding many bugs and felt overall very productive.This went on for a few months. My superiors called me into the office one day “We like your enthusiasm and you have an excellent bug count, we would like to move you to another game to help finish up a title that needs some work before we launch in couple months.”. I thought to myself “cool my work here is appreciated”, so I agreed and in the next couple of days I moved to the new title and started my work with a new found excitement.

After a couple of weeks of testing the online portion of the game I had come to realize that 90% of the bug had been found and cataloged, even then I found some bugs and felt I was being helpful.

One day I get called into the office and was asked ” We noticed that your bug counts have been low lately would you care to elaborate?”, I responded ” Well I have found some bugs, but you brought me in late into this games cycle and obviously there won’t be as many bugs for me to find. I will try to crank up my bug count for for you.” Then my bosses said ” Keep up the good work, we like your enthusiasm.” and sent me on my way.

The next day I get called in again ” Your bug count is not up to our standards, I’m sorry we are going to have to let you go”.

One word of advice, beware of platitudes.


The Trenches - Aimed at no one in particular

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Aimed at no one in particular

Here’s a small tidbit of advice/a mercy plea: If you have an idea for a game, or opinions on how people SHOULD be doing things in the games industry, the people working at EB Games don’t care. Please don’tshare it with them.

Especially if you’re a crazy person who comes in every day and doesn’t stop talking until you run out of things to say, regardless of circumstance, and once followed me around the entirety of Walmart talking about how cool Beast from X-Men is without even noticing that I was acting distant and actively taking evasive maneuvers around corners that I had no reason to go around otherwise.

And double especially don’t somehow get a job at the HMV right nearby and act like you’re friends with me and start up reminiscing banter when I’m trying to browse through the games or books section so often that it gets to the point that I have to stake out the store by pretending to be on my phone just outside to check and make sure you’re not working because you make me uncomfortable and I like my personal space and forced small talk is by far my biggest pet peeve!


Also you smell like uncooked ham and I hate you!!!


The Trenches - The Workbug

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The Workbug

I was an intern at an Emergency Room when this happened; someone had collapsed and his friends/coworkers had brought him in. He came in with a bad infection, and the attending doctor recommended that he take it easy and tried to get him to stay at the hospital. It turned out that the patient was a QA tester for a video game company, though he didn’t write which one, only that he worked in QA. His coworkers had left almost immediately after bringing him in, and he refused to be hospitalized because he was sure he’d be fired if he was. We were forced to allow him to leave AMA.

He was back the next week, except this time he had to be hospitalized because his respiratory bug had progressed into full-on pneumonia. He was rather distraught, and the attending told him that he was confident the company wouldn’t be so heartless that they’d fire someone for taking sick leave.

The patient got a call three days later telling him he was fired.


The Trenches - Enforced unpaid vacation!

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Enforced unpaid vacation!

The life of a contract tester can be very hard, but there are a couple of blessings:

1) We may work very long hours, but states enforce (especially California, and ESPECIALLY after the EASpouse standard of living debacle) that hourly workers must get paid overtime during extended hours.  So while the initial hourly rate is low, the end of the week paycheck can actually get kinda comfortable.

2) Sure, permanently hired employees get benefits, bonuses, and paid vacation, but usually only a couple of weeks.  They’re discouraged from taking additional vacation in case someone should come along to interview better for their job.  Contract testers can count on around a <5% chance they’ll get hired at the end of the project, and then comes around three months of sweet, sweet free time cushioned by unemployment… until hiring season comes around again and they’re picked up by a new project.

I missed getting summer vacation after I graduated from school, but now that I’m a contract tester, I can count on those long periods of fallow time to recover and ready myself for the next harrowing run to a ship date.


The Trenches - Orders of magnitude

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Orders of magnitude

The stories posted here are mostly for testing games. Games that ship without testing or without addressing issues found in testing leads to buggy games. That is, I’m sure, very frustrating for the testers and the consumers. I am a different kind of tester, I test equipment being purchased by a government, one you may be familiar with. Instead of shelling out $50 of your own hard earned bucks for a game, the government shells out $50 million hard earned bucks of other people, people you also may be familiar with. But hey, governments need stuff, so at least they test it, right?

The problems start early. For my program, they never wrote proper requirements, so no one really knows what this thing is supposed to do. After working around the clock for month, testing the equipment in an inhospitable wasteland, I have to write a test report in a couple days to meet a deadline made up by some contract weenie that has never even read, much less written, an 80 page technical document. The system literally falls apart during test and doesn’t meet a number of critical requirements, all of which is detailed in the report. The vendor and program manager (the guy that decides whether or not buy the equipment) take turns complaining about how I conducted the test, how I came to my results, and how I wasn’t being fair. After I give up a lot of ground, the equipment still end up failing miserably. So, do they say “No, we aren’t buying this crap”? Of course not, the government tells the vendor to fix everything and come back in three
months. Back to testing for me…

They put on some fresh loctite, fix a handful of the most egregious bugs, throw on an extended warranty, and my wife gets some quality alone time. I brief another test report and the take away is “wow, they really improved”. Of course, when your baseline is, it doesn’t work, it barely works seems great, I guess.

The worst part is that I am actually the customer. It’s my damn taxes going to buy this crap. If you test My Little Pony Adventures and it crashes at every turn and they ship anyways, at least you are not legally forced to buy it after it ships.


The Trenches - We’re not all monsters

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We’re not all monsters

I’m a game developer working on AAA titles, and some of the stories I’ve read here are just plain sickening.

At my company, nobody slaps food out of the hands of testers when we have catered lunches. Nobody makes them fight tooth and nail for supplies for testing the game. Their opinions are actively solicited -
at the end of the day, the responsible developer is making the call, but I know for a fact that feedback is taken into account. Nobody has been locked in a closet to work. I’ve actually heard the executive producer say variations of the phrase, “There’s a special place in Hell for people who abuse QA testers.” Hours are long for QA, but they’re long for everybody in this industry.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying that these things happen. We’ve all heard the stories and many of us have lived them. It’s also definitely true that QA is a rough job even when you’re not being actively denigrated. The hours are long, the pay isn’t good, it’s repetitive… really, it’s no more than a step or two above flipping burgers in terms of quality of life. And you know what? That sucks. It’s not hard to treat someone else like a human being.

I just wanted to point out that game devs aren’t all monsters.


The Trenches - Watch your Knees

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Watch your Knees

Imagine working QA with some of your best friends for a company that’s been your nostalgic wet dream since the late ‘80s.  Imagine that you get to work on amazing AAA titles that have franchise characters that
are world renown. Pretty good so far?

Well now, imagine watching others do that. While you are stuck inside of a windowless “cage”. Listening to people enjoy themselves while they test. Looking around you see the dismay of your fellow “cage folk” faces every time someone outside the cage says, “Oh man I can’t wait till this title gets released! It’s going to blow the minds of so many people! Who knew the franchise would come this far!”  How disheartening.

I was stuck inside of a “cage”, a wireless black hole that could not be penetrated by outside interference, testing a new piece of software for this franchise company. The software was to show demo games or video, or ads, or what ever the company wanted. Myself and a crack team of 10 others were stuck inside of this cage for weeks. The first 3 weeks were stuck waiting for the developers to get more content than a single 17 second clip. Imagine watching the same 17 second clip for 3 weeks. On an 8 hour shift. In the summer. With others playing AAA titles all around you. HATE YOURSELF YET?!

The only way to relieve ourselves of this mind-numbing boredom, depression, and anguish was to do what any good tester does. Stay awake.

How do we stay awake? By sneak-attack hitting each other in the kneecaps with the companies innovative controller.

That’s what testing does to you. You die inside. You die inside that cage. You lose your kneecaps. YOU END UP HATING SEA LIFE THANKS TO A 17 SECOND CLIP FOR THREE WEEKS.

It’s worth it though, once you get back on those AAA franchise titles. If you can stay sane through it all, it’s worth it.


The Trenches - Should have read that form more carefully.

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Should have read that form more carefully.

I spent a little over two years volunteering as a focus group tester for a very large gaming company. When you signed up with these guys they gave you an application with a little questionnaire asking what sorts of games you were interested in playtesting for them. My preferred style of gameplay involves as much gory viscera as possible, so I selected every genre where it was theoretically possible to murder a dude. Shooters, RTS, fighting games. You know, the fun stuff.

Pretty soon I got my first call to come in for a group. I was super excited. What kind of game would I get to see? Would it have guns? Swords? Epic space battles?

Nope. Turns out the only part of my application the company actually looked at was my gender. I happen to have a uterus, so I was put into a group with six or seven other young ladies and told to provide feedback on a new browser-based flash game about caring for virtual babies. It was the most vapid, idiotic pile of steaming horseshit I’ve ever had the displeasure of interacting with. For some reason the other girls were eating it up. They kept asking questions like ‘do we get to dress them up?’, ‘how do we feed them?’, ‘do they talk?’

After about twenty minutes listening to this inanity I decided to ask a few questions of my own. First, would it be possible to starve the babies? No, I was told, it would not be possible. The babies couldn’t die. Oh, then would it be possible to neglect the babies to the point of inducing a psychotic break? No, absolutely not. The babies cannot go insane. Well, would it be possible to somehow pit the babies against each other in gladiatorial combat? If I give my baby a sword, can he learn to dismember the flesh of his enemies? Is my baby large enough to wield a sub-machine gun? (The only answer I got to any of those was a horrified stare.)

About a month later I was called back to playtest another game. This time it was a tactical shooter. I broke their physics engine by filling a room with corpses. They never asked me to provide feedback about babies again.


The Trenches - Keep your head down, lest you lose it.

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Keep your head down, lest you lose it.

Game testing was my first job upon leaving college. Naturally, I was fresh-faced, and like most college students, was not truly prepared for the realities of a professional environment. I made mistakes and
suffered for them, but I also learned from them.

However, not every mistake I learned from was one of my own making. While I was working as an associate (contract) tester for a large company in the Pacific Northwest, there was another tester in the office working on another project that was the sort of guy that thrived on attention. He was loud (though not generally disruptive), was friendly to everyone, was excited to let people know when it was his birthday, that sort of thing.

Now, one of the core rules of the department was that if you were caught sleeping when you should be working, you’d be sent home. If it happened a second time, you’d be shown the door on a permanent basis. While it wasn’t too common, between the long hours, long commutes, and everything else going on in one’s personal life, it was bound to happen. And it happened to Mr. Exuberant. He was caught sleeping, and
sent home.

And then it happened a second time, which would have been sad except for the circumstances in which it happened. He was found sleeping while sitting on a toilet in the men’s room.

By the department manager.

The office was a lot quieter after that.


The Trenches - Local dialect

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Local dialect

A bit of jargon from Russian developers, to lighten the mood a bit:

“Batman” - a memory corruption bug. From: “The goddamned Batman flew in and shat into the memory!”.

“Speedy Gonzalez” - a race condition bug, when process is “too fast” in reaching a certain point of code.

“Mount becomes hungry” - a situation where some action produces bug in completely unrelated piece of code. From a bug report where player’s mount became hungry after player sold something in auction house.

“Samurai Code” (also “Tough Code”) - A true Samurai is not afraid of death, and so is this code. It never checks anything and will crash if you pass it a wrong combination of parameters.

“Guerrilla Code” - A guerrilla fighter tries to protect his comrades to the end. This code tries to cover up a serious mistake. It does not handle it correctly, but make it so you will only discover it much
later, in a different module, where all context already disappeared.

“Ninja Code” - A code added to a module owned by another programmer without notifying owner, which drastically changes module’s behavior. Bonus points for making it only execute in very special circumstances which will only come up a few weeks later.

“‘Retarded Child’ architectural pattern” - A sub-system which can’t report error and can’t correctly handle it (for example, I once worked with a database connection which didn’t have any way to access error code or description for a query, and didn’t log it, but just returned general ERROR status to you, so you could only discern nature of error by setting breakpoint inside that connection’s code, which was in another library)

“Epic game development” - A development process where a lot of important information (location of critical resources, build-in cheat codes, status of some sub-systems) never gets written down, but instead is passed by the word of mouth from developer to developer, like a folk tale. Most game development in Russia is Epic.