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Methods of Video Game Testing

Methods of Video Game Testing

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Published by Chris Walden
With the vast advances made in video game production, the practice of video game testing has evolved along with it. What was initially a job that programmers would do themselves after writing new code has become its own job due to the complexity of current games. While most developers will keep dedicated QA staff in house and hire temporary employees near crunch time, some developers will opt to hire an external company to find errors.

However, even with leaps and bounds in ensuring that the QA tests and testers are rigorous, bugs and glitches will still slip through the net. Games will frequently make use of online services to bring players patches when these issues come to light, but there needs to be a better way of finding these problems before the game goes up for sale.
With the vast advances made in video game production, the practice of video game testing has evolved along with it. What was initially a job that programmers would do themselves after writing new code has become its own job due to the complexity of current games. While most developers will keep dedicated QA staff in house and hire temporary employees near crunch time, some developers will opt to hire an external company to find errors.

However, even with leaps and bounds in ensuring that the QA tests and testers are rigorous, bugs and glitches will still slip through the net. Games will frequently make use of online services to bring players patches when these issues come to light, but there needs to be a better way of finding these problems before the game goes up for sale.

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Published by: Chris Walden on May 21, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/14/2014

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Methods of Video Game Testing
by Chris Walden08002952
Interface and Platform Development
MEng Computer Games Design
 
1 Introduction
With the vast advances made in video game production, the practice of video game testinghas evolved along with it. What was initially a job that programmers would do themselvesafter writing new code has become its own job due to the complexity of current games.While most developers will keep dedicated QA staff in house and hire temporary employeesnear crunch time, some developers will opt to hire an external company to find errors.However, even with leaps and bounds in ensuring that the QA tests and testers arerigorous, bugs and glitches will still slip through the net. Games will frequently make use of online services to bring players patches when these issues come to light, but there needs tobe a better way of finding these problems before the game goes up for sale.
2 Discussion
So how is it that companies can strengthen the testing process? Bugs are often brought tolight by players talking online in forums, or by video game journalists reporting on thematter, if the bug or glitch is significant enough. This can bring a lot of negative pressalong with it, especially if the problem relates to whether or not you can complete the game.One such bug was seen recently in Fallout: New Vegas (2010), where some playersexperienced getting stuck in buildings (Ashcraft, 2010). The game would not allow them toexit the building and continue the game, therefore rendering any progress up to this pointvoid. If players hadn't kept extra saves they would lose their entire progress, as the gameautomatically saves upon entering a building. This could happen anywhere in the game,with players losing upwards of thirty hours of play time. Most of these issues, includingsevere "s
 
ave corruption issues" were discovered just a day after the games release (Ashcraft,2010).A month after the release of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006), many newssources warned players to "beware of a save-game glitch that makes the game impossible tofinish" (Jackson, 2007). Unlike games such as Fallout: New Vegas that are released onplatforms that have the ability to download and apply patches to games post-release,Twilight Princess did not have this option. The glitch only came into effect if the playersaved and quit the game in a particular one-off area, so most people will never encounter it.However, a large number of people did encounter it, a game breaking issue that older gameswould resolve my actively replacing the game cartridge or disc. Such an example wasMineStorm (1982) on the Vectrex, which would encounter a bug that wouldn't allowprogression past level 13. Players that filed a complaint with the developer "would be sent abug-free version of the game (Minestorm/II) free of charge" (Goldberg, 2009). WhileTwilight Princess was in the public eye, no similar offer was made.Not all post-release issues are the fault of bugs and glitches, as some can be attributed todesign oversights. One such example is present in Final Fantasy X (2001) during a bossfight with a monster called 'Overdrive Sin'. The boss monster is flying and cannot beattacked via physical contact, so only ranged attacks and magic are effective (Roberts, 2003).However, due to the customisation options included in the game and being able to favoursome characters over others, the magic and range proficient characters may not be strongenough to beat this boss. There is also a save point before this boss, meaning that if anunsuspecting player were to save here and not have an adequate team, the game isessentially rendered unbeatable. There are also similar examples in both of the Baten Kaitosgames (2003, 2006).
 
 Considering the speed in which bugs and glitches are found once a game has been releasedto the general public, it is obvious that testing methods need to evolve further. To be able todo this, it is necessary to dissect the current, widely used techniques used in video gametesting.The majority of game developers will have staff dedicated to game testing, otherwise knownas members of quality assurance (Gupta, 2011). They will play the game from the earliest of builds, listing any and all issues with the game for the programmers and designers to lookat. Game effecting bugs, lockouts and other glitches are the main problems that aredocumented at this stage, but it also includes design choices. This could be related to in-game textures, level layouts or even item placement. When the game reaches the latterstages of development, the studio will either hire temporary testers to wring out anyremaining issues, or hire an independent company to take the code and play it privately(ChaYoWo, 2011). There are numerous issues with this approach. For example, testers thatsee the same game so often will start to become used to certain features, which willcontribute to a tester not seeing some glaring issues. This will largely be resolved when thetemporary testers are hired, but this can set back release dates. If the release schedule isstrict due to publisher obligations, some lesser bugs may be resolved post-release in orderto save time. There is also minimal contact with the intended audience. While a gamecannot cater for everybody, it is the gamers and fans alike that will spot important issuespost-release. Even a small team of testers comprising of fans of the genre of game they aretesting may not necessarily pick up all the issues.An increasingly popular method of testing is holding an open beta. Many popular first-person shooters, such as Battlefield and Call of Duty, will use these to smooth out gameplay issues, find bugs and also promote the game (Sterling, 2011
1
). The input of thousandsof gamers is certainly useful information, but as is expected, most gamers will participate toplay the game. There needs to be a structure in order to gauge as much data as possiblefrom those playing the game. Of course, some gamers will talk about the game in forumsand other places online, but only a small portion will. As it is, players are not required towrite feedback, so this is an area worth looking into. It is understandable that players willnot want to work through a survey, so offering them rewards for filling these in is a simpleway to tempt them into doing so.Closed-beta testing is sometimes employed, most commonly in massively multiplayer onlinegames. Developers such as NCSoft have done this when developing new expansions in orderto have experienced players give much required feedback (NCSoft, 2007). Clans of high-level players will be offered the chance to play early builds and criticise design features inorder to make the game more appealing. It's a method that caters to the existing user base,as well as help improve the game for the new players an expansion will bring in. While thedevelopers aren't obliged to follow a players advice, it can be important in case somethingthat may seem trivial is changed that the fan base themselves find valuable.In some instances, developers will look at bringing regular players into their offices in orderto get a hands on opinion and critical analysis of their new game. A popular method of doing this is by offering week-long work experience sessions. The developer Lionhead usesthis regularly as a cost-free way of getting extra input on a title, as well as having themwork in QA (Lionhead, 2011). More recently, users have been called in post-release in orderto resolve issues that are a little too complex. An example of this occurred following therelease of Uncharted 3 (2011), where some returning players complained about the gunmechanics. A select few of those finding this an issue were invited to the Naughty Dog

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