Sunday, 20 February 2011
This is a guest post from our friends at playWISE.Obliterating hordes of goblins with mana bombs, spike blockades and lightning towers is serious business.
Just ask Marc Singer, 21-year-old quality assurance lead for Gainesville, Fla., game studio Trendy Entertainment. He’s currently working 60 hours a week to squash the bugs and iron out the glitches in Trendy’s latest title, “Dungeon Defenders,” through a process known as playtesting.
It’s Singer’s job to play video games and report to the development team any problems he finds, but he initially had a hard time convincing his parents that he had an actual job at all.
“They go, ‘That’s not a real job. You need to get a real job. You can’t play video games all your life like you did through high school and middle school,’” Singer said.
Singer’s parents aren’t the only ones who’ve had the notion that playtesting is a less-than-professional job. It’s hard not to simply imagine leisurely days in the office filled with relaxation and lounging in front of a 50-inch television while pressing a few buttons.
Reality television game show “The Tester,” created by Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., even offers a playtesting job as top prize for contestants, glorifying the position as the ultimate dream job for any gamer.
However, Singer happened to come upon the job on his own accord. Once he was able to show his contract and salary to his parents, they seemed to warm up to the idea of him eradicating castles of countless baddies for a living.
“They quietly slow down and go, ‘OK. OK. So, you have a legitimate job now. We support this,’” Singer said.
Not everyone is so easily convinced. Amy Gross, third-grade teacher at Shady Hill Elementary School in Ocala, Fla., said she would not be happy to find out that her 2-year-old son’s ambition in life was to play video games.
“Truthfully, I don’t even think of it as a job,” Gross said. “I could see that being a waste of potential; I do think you need intelligent people to do it. That intelligence, if you think about it, could be utilized in so many other aspects.”
Gross mentioned that she thought of video games as more of a time-waster than anything else, and that people who test games are likely in a phase of their life that they’ll have to eventually grow out of to start their true career.
“I don’t think it’s anything that exercises your mind or furthers your intelligence or promotes any kind of physical well-being or anything like that or promotes socializing skills or anything like that,” Gross said.
For Singer, however, socializing plays an important role in ensuring that games are bug-free. After finding a computer-controlled ogre that’s supposed to be chasing him but is instead running a wall-hugging marathon, Singer has to be able to replicate that same exact glitch again so he can report back to the development team what exactly went wrong for them to fix it.
“Being able to communicate with your other teammates is essential to the testing process,” Singer said.
Gross did concede to not knowing a whole lot about the process of testing or developing games, but from her point of view, she sees playtesting as a way for gamers to have fun and get away with not doing any hard work.
Marc Singer and Josh Javaheri playtesting their company’s latest video game inside a small office located in downtown Gainesville’s Sun Center business complex.
Stories from Singer’s coworker, Joshua Javaheri, paint a different picture. He mentioned having to work late on Christmas Eve to meet deadlines and to make certain there were no new bugs in the program.
Javaheri also mentioned that “Dungeon Defenders” is on multiple platforms, including mobile phones like the Android and iPhone. Due to another late playtesting session, the majority of the team, other than Trendy CEO Agapitus “Augi” Lye, was actually working in the offices during the launch party for the game’s Android release.
“Augi was at our launch party with random people having a good time,” Javaheri recalled. “Apparently there was a cake.”
Singer said even though he is playing games, it can still be a tiresome process, especially when some playtesting sessions run for 12 hours or longer. If there’s an important deadline to meet — like when the team was preparing to demonstrate their game at large gaming conference Electronic Entertainment Expo — forget about sleeping.
“We finished just in the nick of time to have everyone fly out around six or seven in the morning, and it was pretty exciting to do that,” Singer said.
Trendy CEO Lye said that playtesting can be extremely grueling and even tedious at times, but it’s still an integral part of creating any intensive software project like “Dungeon Defenders.”
“It is an absolutely crucial part of video game development,” Lye said. “It sort of brings the feedback loop back to the developers for refining their game.”
According to Singer, that process is not only rewarding because he knows it will make the play experiences better for the thousands of people who purchase the game, but it also gives him the opportunity to personally shape elements of the game and leave his fingerprint on the project.
There was a level in “Dungeon Defenders” that Singer enjoyed so much that he told the programmers to consider turning it into a full game mode rather than just one level. In about a week, his idea was a reality within the game.
“Someone just shouting out a suggestion and having it implemented into the game just based off your own thoughts is really what’s the most rewarding part,” Singer said.
However, Lye may express the importance of playtesters best with his eloquently stated observance of their impact on game development.
“Without them, games would suck.”
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