Though the testing process is vital to good game development, not all developers or publishers necessarily consider their testers to be vital employees, it seems. IGN spoke with several, recently, seeking to discover where, on the spectrum between dream and nightmare, the job truly lies.
Repetitious tasks and low compensation, the first two major issues IGN delves into, are sadly endemic to many a profession. But other issues raised by the interviewed employees don't just describe unpleasant working conditions, but occasionally dangerous ones:
For Frank, this meant mandatory overtime every day. "It got borderline illegal. It got to that point when I was so tired at three or four in the morning that I passed out a couple of times. Others did too and not anyone of us disturbed that person. We just let it go for a bit and brought each other back to life when we needed to."
Can workers in these positions agitate for change or switch employers? Not often, it seems. It's a small world and temporary employment contracts work in the employers' favor:
Reuben adds, "If management doesn't like someone, they just refuse to renew their contract, thus avoiding any hassle at all. This leads to people who start asking questions about workload and length to be branded as trouble makers and their contracts are simply not extended."
"The part that really hurts is that the industry is so small that if for some reason you are let go, most companies in your area know about it and won't hire you."
The combination of low pay, long hours, tedious tasks, and poor job security would naturally seem to drive away applicants. But particularly in recent years, unemployment has been riding high and even a crummy job can be better than no job. What's more, gaming is a very popular and competitive industry, and many workers want in. The allure of "playing games all day" will always attract new employees, even into high-turnover positions.
However, as in any other industry, some companies are better to work for than others. IGN cites organisations like Blizzard and Valve that value both the QA process and the contributions of the employees who make it work. If every publisher out there felt they had the time and money to devote more resources to testing, we'd not only have better working environments out there -- we'd probably have better games to go with.