Gamers and testers, Episode 2
This is the second of (what I hope) will be an ongoing series of posts where I ask an invited guest some usual and unusual questions focused a lot on what is or was the experience of being a videogames tester. You can read the first entry here.
My guest today is Susan Paula Holman, currently working as a Senior Producer at Avalanche Studios, a studio known for working on the upcoming games Just Cause 4 and Rage 2.
Susan has extensive experience in roles of Test Leadership and Test Management and started her career as a Tester, having performed testing efforts on some of my all-time favourite games, including: Battlefield 2, Lord of the rings: Battle for Middle Earth and Need for Speed Underground 2.
She kindly responded to my questions and has a big hope someone finds the inspiration to join the industry and understands the importance and value of a role within testing.
1. What are your favourite games of all time, that you had to test?
If I was pressed to name a few especially enjoyable ones - probably Burnout 3 (great soundtrack, really fun scoring mechanics), Timesplitters 3 (good story to play through, multiplayer was chaotic and fun), and Battlefield 2 (big maps, a lot of playstyle options, great multiplayer action). I enjoyed being assigned big coverage areas, like 100% trophies/platinum playthroughs. It gave me a lot of time going through each part of the game, getting to know all the mechanics and how they worked together along a linear path. I’d say there were no games I didn’t enjoy testing, as each one had its own challenge, difficulty and each one arrived on site in a different state of “finished”.
2. Me and my brother were very fond of Battlefield 2 and love playing together Battlefield games to this day. Did you (or do you still) have this sort of experiences with family or friends, or “testing games all day” in a way set you off of playing them outside work?
Playing games all day together? Sure. My husband and I both work in the games industry and both get stuck into playing games all day, sometimes together but most often, we have our own agendas for gaming days. I like to stay hands on with playing the games I’m working on - it helps with staying on top of my team’s features in the bigger context and give better feedback on progress, usability, and what experience focus on next. I also work with really fun games to play, which is always a bonus!
3. What’s one thing that you liked the most about testing in the gaming industry? And one thing you liked the least?
Working as a test analyst for a little over a year, I was involved in quite a vast number of different projects - I had the opportunity to learn a lot in a short timeframe. I needed to pick up a lot of “on the job” skills and I was given responsibilities outside of testing. I came out well versed in the mechanics of very different types of games, hardware, admin, submission processes, database management and how to organise large, flexible teams. What I liked least was the lack of options and career possibilities within QA at the time. There wasn’t much opportunity or emphasis on development within the testing role. This is no longer relevant, and testing is a varied discipline with many available paths to develop within.
4. What would you say was one of your biggest challenges as a Test Lead, that you now would have overcome today in a different way?
A big challenge was working with remote development teams on a project, but all test communication was done indirectly - you sent reports to your managers and they relayed relevant critical information back and forth. The turnaround times from question to reply could be lengthy. Having core testers working within feature teams was something I aimed to, and did, implement when managing development QA teams. Being able to directly ask or answer a question can go a long way towards establishing trust and confidence.
5. What is one thing that you at that time (as a tester or test lead) would have liked to see improved in the testing craft inside the gaming industry?
It is a super long time ago now, and I think everything I would’ve wished for at the time has already either changed completely (more roles/long term career options within QA, stronger automation tools, permanent roles, more access to dev teams, less management layers to work through, respect and autonomy) or in the process of evolving and changing. It’s very exciting to see how much variety is on offer within the testing field!
6. What was it like to transition from a Testing/Test leadership role to a Senior Producer role?
I’m more involved with feature development than personnel development. Working as a manager, I was responsible for both establishing the department’s processes, guidelines, and workflows, as well as being directly involved in developing each team member along their career path. In a production capacity, this development focus is aimed towards the project/IP/content and features.
7. What would be your main advice for anyone that is interested to be a part of the gaming industry in the testing craft, be it as a tester (even one who also does code)/test lead?
Go for it! Be ready to learn, and absorb everything you can about how things work inside and outside of your department, and don’t shy away from challenges. Seek out experts in different disciplines - ask questions, listen to them and learn from them. Know when to zoom out and get the bigger picture, and when to drill down into the details. Being able to switch between these 2 perspectives quickly can go a long way towards helping your problem-solving skills!
8. Did you take learnings with you from testing that somehow you still apply today?
- Everything is subject to change.
- You will be challenged to gracefully adapt to varying levels of change daily.
- Bugs will happen - you can’t always predict them, or how players will encounter them.
Thank you Susan for the time you invested to answer these questions, and thank you, the reader, also for your time reading this post. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
Feel free to reach out to me with comments, ideas and suggestions via any of my social media, or my email, which you can find in my Github account. Until next time, take care!