Why video game tester job programs which make some people thousands of dollars leave others with a bad experience. And what determines when these programs are, and are not, right for you.
First, let’s look at hunting for a traditional job.
Take a step back and look at ways to seek traditional employment. There are different ways to look for work when searching for any job whether it be a secretary, sales representative, or plumber.
One way is do it yourself. Search on your own for job openings, write your own resumes, and visit each location (at the expense of gasoline or public transportation) to apply and attend interviews. At the end of the process you keep your full paycheck, pay no one else anything to get a job, and owe nothing to anyone once you have a job. This is the traditional way to obtain employment, and in many situations it’s still the best method today. One consideration if you collect unemployment benefits from a previous job, doing at least some of your job searching this way may be a requirement of the law where you live in order to not lose your unemployment benefits before finding a new job.
Another is work with a staffing agency or temporary employment agency. In this approach, they attempt to find employment for you from among hundreds of potential jobs. They may conduct your only interview or a small number of interviews, from which they gather the information needed to find the best matches for you among all the jobs in their database. They may also offer assistance in writing a master resume for their use, or a set of resumes from which they can select the best for each kind of job to submit to multiple companies.
Some agencies pay you, while charging the company needing workers both what you are owed and additional money to cover their fees. In this scenario, the agency is charging the business needing staff for providing workers as well as human resource management and other administrative services.
Alternatively, placement agencies and organizations which service freelancers may charge the job seeker: either a one-time fee per successful placement, or regular membership fees. One-time fees are more common among agencies providing permanent job placement, while membership fees are more common among providers of freelance work.
For example, freelance truckers can subscribe to services which give them access to hundreds of available shipping contracts they can select from. In this example, the agency aggregates and presents as many available contracts as possible to truckers for a fee; and leaves it up to the truckers to accept offers which best meet their personal, scheduling, and financial goals. Taxi drivers may have a similar arrangement with a dispatch agency which charges a regular fee for use of a branded name, the service of forwarding call-in customers to drivers, and possibly use of a vehicle specially equipped to serve as a taxi. Drivers in turn keep the money they collect from their passengers.
How are jobs as a video game tester different?
The answer is, they are not any different.
With game tester jobs your options are the same.
You can do it yourself. Using your own experience, education, and training you can seek employment entirely on your own for free. You can search for opportunities using your own effort just as with any other kind of job. Directly contacting companies like Blizzard, EA Software, Konami, Riot sa gaming and others on your own will only cost you in your own time and resources. All you need to do is compete directly with other possibly more experienced game testers; some of whom may already understand what hiring managers will be looking for, be familiar with these companies, and have a broader set of experiences to build their resumes and portfolios from. You won’t have to pay anyone to compete directly against other applicants who may be able to respond faster, with more powerful qualifications, and a better idea of what matters and what doesn’t to perspective employers.
Or, you could work with a video game tester job program. This arrangement works similar to the arrangement with staffing companies and freelance agencies for more traditional jobs.
In some arrangements, membership for the person seeking work is free. When this is the case, the game development company needing games tested is paying the company running the program to provide testers from a pool of applicants. You may, or may not, receive the same payment as when you work directly for the game development company. In either case, if your membership is free it’s because the game development company pays money to the program in addition to the money you receive. In exchange, the company operating the program handles human resources or other tasks – such as screening potential applicants and only selecting those they feel are best suited to the interests of the game development company. These companies do not charge you, because they charge the game development company and that’s who they work for – not you.
Other arrangements more closely resemble freelance agencies for taxi drivers, truckers, message specialists, beauticians, and so on. You pay a membership fee and in exchange you receive services, the most basic of which include making available to you as many jobs as you can qualify for. Others may include: helping you develop and present your resume, matching you with the best contracts, and managing your portfolio for you. You pay them, either a monthly fee or a percentage of what you make, and they are working for you – not the gaming company.
So, why are video game tester job programs great programs for some but not for others?
And, how do I know when such a program is right for me?
The main reason is mismatching between the game tester’s goals and objectives vs. a program’s services and benefits.
Experienced game testers often won’t benefit from a program, but could still benefit from books or other resources which some programs come with. They should check first if they could obtain the same books and resources on their own faster, at less cost, or both. A program would only benefit the experienced game tester if paying a fee just to get these kinds of resources would cost less in time and money than going out to find the same resources on their own.
If you’re a professional game tester and feel jobs offered through these programs are a step backwards for you, but you still don’t want to search on your own (maybe you average $11/hr. but could average $35/hr. if you had help being more competitive), you could always work with traditional staffing agencies. This is best if you are trying to move from an existing full-time game tester position to a better one, or are also open to other kinds of employment. The down side is they may poorly handle video game tester jobs unless they specialize in gaming. If your qualifications are strong enough, and your portfolio stands well on its own, using a traditional staffing agency is probably still your best choice if you’re serious about moving to a better game development position from one you already have.
If you’re new to game related jobs or the job market in general, then you probably would benefit from a program. College education programs are best if you seek degree training in the field. However, college programs seldom offer job placement at the end of the program. If you’re concerned about actually obtaining a job once you get your degree, you may want to augment your college education by participating in a freelance video game tester job program during your off-time from school. Augmenting your college education with time spent participating in a freelance program is probably the best bet for someone new to game development.
Another issue is the way these programs are marketed. Matching workers with jobs for a fee is older than the United States; however the video game industry only developed since the advent of the information age. As a result, agencies which match workers with traditional work generally promote themselves by describing their benefits in a strait forward way. There is no need to convince anyone on the concept of a traditional job; they simply need to inform people on reasons they may want to use a staffing service as opposed to seeking employment on their own.
By comparison, video game tester job programs need to promote both the concept of being a video game tester and the concept of using a freelance program to do so. This is sometimes done using persuasive language combined with the best examples of potential income which (while accurate) may not reflect the average tester’s typical results. Also some websites promoting these programs are not built by the company operating the program, but instead by 3rd party internet marketers who simply build a website using the most favorable and persuasive information before moving on to another site promoting a different product. It’s not that anyone is running a “scam” per se. The video game tester job program is in the business of matching potential testers with available work, while the affiliate webmaster is in the business of building as many websites for as many products as they can earn income promoting.
What if you are not interested in college or a permanent career, you just want some easy money.
If this is the case, you need to look at the kinds of assignments you choose once you sign up for a video game tester job program. Most programs offer consumer experience (CE, UX, or UXA) assignments as well as quality assurance (QA) assignments, even if their website talks mostly about QA. However, when selecting, applying for, and accepting assignments be sure to read carefully what the assignment entails and the requirements you must meet in order to get paid. QA offers generally pay a lot more, but QA assignments are not as easy and nowhere near as fun. QA testing is very tedious, can be frustrating at times, and requires a more committed mindset. Of course, if you see a QA offer which it looks like you’d enjoy doing (and it pays enough) don’t overlook it. Just understand QA assignments are not as easy as CE, UX, and UXA assignments – especially if your mindset is easy money. The upside to QA of course is that it pays more when you do fulfill all its requirements.
Autumn Zajczerova is Head of IT/IS Research for Atlantic Magnolia Solutions. At age 8 she began “experimenting” by altering computer code in simple programs, and today Autumn has over 26 years’ experience in computers and technology. Before she began playing video games herself in 1996 at the age of 16, Autumn was creating “small, generic, 2D Graphics games” as novelties for peers who had access to computers.