Gamers and Testers - Episode 3

career, testing, quality, and interview
a screenshot from World in Conflict videogame from 2007
World in Conflict, 2007

This is the third of (what I still hope) will be an ongoing series of posts where I ask a guest some usual and unusual questions focused a lot on what it is or was the experience of being a videogames tester. You can read the first episode here and the second one here.

My guest for this post is Ionut Caravan, who is currently working as a Senior Development Tester at Massive Entertainment, which is the studio behind my (as well as a few of my family members) all-time favorite game, World in Conflict.

Ionut has been in the video games industry working as a technical tester for about 9 years, and nowadays you’ll find him working in some of Massive’s latest projects, like The Division 2, and among many other things, he’s focused on testing Embedded UI in games, and also Performance testing, data interpretation and coordinating Quality Control (QC) teams who test games from a Performance perspective.

He was also super kind enough to answer my questions, and unlike the Half Life series, thanks to Ionut I’ve finally managed to finish Episode 3 :-)

1. I and my brother spent long hours playing games like World in Conflict, and we would often discuss and dream, what would it be like to create experiences like those. What was “The Game” that made you want to join the gaming industry?

I would say the closest thing I played that made me want to join the Industry was KOTOR 1.

2. What was one preconceived idea you had before working as a tester for games, or more broadly, working in the industry, that turned out different once you started working in the industry?

On this one, I did not have any preconceived ideas, somehow the whole “you play games the entire day” sounded a bit too good to be true, so I entered the business expecting what I got: “banging your head against the walls” for the first 6 months.

3. What’s one thing you like the most and one thing you like the least about being a tester?

The most I would say I have the freedom to experiment with different techniques, after reaching a certain experience you no longer have a Default Stage you need to look at, and the testing efforts become more exploratory and I love that.

One thing I dislike on the other hand is the skepticism we get sometimes from the higher positions, although this is changing nowadays after a few “I told you so” scenarios. And this sometimes happens despite some of us have not only a vast gaming experience but sometimes even more complementing experience on the side. For example, myself, I help with esport events in different games.

4. Across all industries, a lot of times testers may carry a somewhat of an emotional charge with them, feeling responsible for bugs not found in time or for problems that are sometimes too late to fix. Would you say you feel this to a deeper extent because the products you test are something that people love and look up to as an art form?

First 5 years I did have some moments “I F%$#ING TOLD THEM IT WILL BE A PROBLEM”, after which, the feeling goes down a bit. You kind of get chewed by the “machine” a bit and you learn to let go and focus on trying to push those things to get fixed in the next patch.

5. Often when I’m testing, sometimes at the end of the day I feel I can no longer look at another screen. Are you still able to enjoy videogames alone or with friends, taking into account you test them “all-day” as part of your work?

Here I’m a bit lucky since I’m a technical tester, it means towards the end of the project I am focused more on directing the main QC team, as well as focused on automation and handling optimizations. So I do get tired, yes, but of seeing tools like Visual Studio or Perforce or JIRA all day :)

That said, it means when I get home, depending on the day, I still play an hour or two to relax, games like Dota 2, or maybe some World of Warcraft.

6. On a few occasions when playing with friends and family, I find myself stopping to think about how I could see if the game breaks under certain conditions. Have you ever had one of those moments where a friend is telling you “Hey we’re playing, stop testing” that you can share?

When playing with someone else, no, I usually am tied up in coordinating. When playing alone I, for example, broke my Mass Effect save files a few times by falling through the world.

7. What is one thing you can think of broadly that would greatly improve the lives of testers in the gaming industry?

Two things I would say: Automation in testing and DNA performance gathering.

For some tasks like trying to find holes in the game maps or Memory Leaks and streaming problems, some of the searches are a pain, because you can’t do any action on your own to rush it, it’s a typical case where you just need to play for hours sometimes. So in that sense, having client bots that do that and then leaving the tester free to look for game-breaking/balance bugs is both a time and money saver.

As for the DNA performance gathering, it’s always good to have a hotspot map of where the low FPS seem to occur (sections where the game will visually lag), on the development area side.

8. What would be your main advice for anyone interested to be a part of the gaming industry in the testing craft?

This is going to sound ominous, but: Decide what you want to do.

In the gaming industry, the testing career stops at one point, and then you need to decide if you want to move into some complex Quality Assurance Engineering topics or even something like Data analysis. Aiming for the future job will allow you to focus on the skills needed to get there.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be a jack of all trades, but specialized testers are always a welcomed sight.

Thank you Ionut 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!