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Game testing, a subset of game development, is a software testing process for quality control of video games. The primary function of game testing is the discovery and documentation of software defects (aka bugs). Interactive entertainment software testing is a highly technical field requiring computing expertise, analytic competence, critical evaluation skills, and endurance. In recent years the field of game testing has come under fire for being excessively strenuous and unrewarding, both financially and emotionally.
In the early days of computer and video games, the developer was in charge of all the testing. No more than one or two testers were required due to the limited scope of the games. In some cases, the programmers could handle all the testing.
As games become more complex, a larger pool of QA resources, called "Quality Assessment" or "Quality Assurance" is necessary. Most publishers employ a large QA staff for testing various games from different developers. Despite the large QA infrastructure most publishers have, many developers retain a small group of testers to provide on-the-spot QA.
Now most game developers rely on their highly technical and game savvy testers to find glitches and 'bugs' in either the programming code or graphic layers. Game testers usually have a background playing a variety of different games on a multitude of platforms. They must be able to notate and reference any problems they find in detailed reports, meet deadlines with assignments and have the skill level to complete the game titles on their most difficult settings. Most of the time the position of game tester is a highly stressful and competitive position with little pay yet is highly sought after for it serves as a doorway into a rapidly growing industry.
A common misconception is that all game testers enjoy alpha or beta version of the game and report occasionally found bugs. In contrast, game testing is highly focused on finding bugs using established and often tedious methodologies before alpha version.
Quality assurance is a critical component in game development, though the video game industry does not have a standard methodology. Instead developers and publishers have their own methods. Small developers do not have QA staff; however, large companies may employ QA teams full-time. High-profile commercial games are professionally and efficiently tested by publisher QA department.
Testing starts as soon as first code is written and increases as the game progresses towards completion. The main QA team will monitor the game from its first submission to the QA until as late as post-production. Early in the game development process the testing team is small and focuses on daily feedback for new code. As the game approaches alpha stage, more team members are employed and test plan is written. Sometimes features that are not bugs are reported as bugs and sometimes programming team fails to fix issues first time around. A good bug-reporting system may help the programmers work efficiently. As the projects enters beta stage, the testing team will have clear assignments for each day. Tester feedback may determine final decisions of exclusion or inclusion of final features. Introducing previously uninvolved testers with fresh perspective may help identify new bugs. At this point the lead tester communicates with the producer and department heads daily. If the developer has an external publisher, then coordination with publisher's QA team starts. For console games, a build for console company QA team is sent. Beta testing may involve volunteers, for example, if the game is multiplayer.
Testers receive scheduled uniquely identifiable game builds from the developers. The game is play-tested and testers note any uncovered errors. These may range from bugs to art glitches to logic errors and level bugs. Testing requires creative gameplay to discover often subtle bugs. Some bugs are easy to document, but many require detailed description so a developer can replicate or find the bug. Testers implement concurrency control to avoid logging bugs multiple times. Many video game companies separate technical requirement testing from functionality testing altogether since a different testing skillset is required.
If a video game development enters crunch time before a deadline, the game-test team is required to test late-added features and content without delay. During this period staff from other departments may contribute to the testing—especially in multiplayer games.
Most companies rank bugs according to an estimate of their severity:
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