How to be a helpful Beta tester- or, ‘QA is more work than it seems’

My dear game-playing friends,

More and more games are starting to include more public betas into their development process. Everything from the big titles to smaller projects are looking to their potential audience to help them shape and polish up their latest creation. And yes, while you might not get any credit for doing so, it’s a little bit exciting to be able to play a game months before release and to see it grow and develop and change based on what you and your fellow beta testers have said.

HOWEVER. There is more to being a ‘good’ beta tester than simply playing the game. 

What developers (and their QA department) would really really love you to do is to find bugs. And then tell them about it. But not just “It crashes sometimes” or “The audio doesn’t work”. As annoying as it seems, they’d like a liiiittle bit more detail….

Here are a few tips if you’d like to be a ‘helpful’ beta tester:

* Reproducibility is key. Yes, it’s tedious and annoying to do the same thing over and over again. But if you can say “this happens eight times out of ten” or “I tried this five times and it happened every time”, then they’ll be able to tell how serious of an issue it is.

* What exactly were you doing? It’s okay to say “this weapon doesn’t fire sometimes”, but if it only seems to happen when you’re jumping and firing at the same time, then that’s a piece of information the developers would like to know. The more detailed and specific you can be, the more they’ll value the time you put into telling them about it. 

* Don’t worry about being technical! Yes, you’ll be reporting back to people with all the technical know-how and terminology- but they don’t expect you to be able to do the same. If you’ve got the knowledge, excellent! Use it, but make sure you use it appropriately and correctly. There is a difference between a multiplayer game desynchronising between players, and a multiplayer game that is taking time to re-sync, for example. One is more of an issue than the other, and a desync can cause a whole host of other problems. 

* You won’t like everything about the game. That is pretty much a given. And a lot of developers are okay about beta testers providing suggestions for little alterations and improvements (with emphasis on the ‘little’. They’re not going to re-cast the main character’s voice just because it gets on your nerves). If you think that having a button on the main menu to check your achievements would be helpful, maybe you could suggest it. It doesn’t mean they’re going to do it! But if you phrase it politely and constructively, they’re probably more likely to read it than a demand to “change this or get rid of it, it’s rubbish”. 

* If there is a forum or database for you to log issues in, check if there is a template message/bug report that they’d like testers to follow. Something as simple as having a uniform way of laying out a bug report can make a LOT of difference as to how quickly it gets dealt with and how seriously it is taken. 

* And don’t forget- the development/production team allowed you to be on the beta. They can remove you from it too. Play nicely with your fellow testers, especially if you choose to add comments to someone else’s forum post/database entry. It’s all well and good for you to add a note saying “This happened to me, but I was doing something slightly different”, but please don’t throw your own opinions on their bug into the mix. If it’s not a bug but a design feature, the QA/production team will deal with it. 

 

‘Good’ beta testers can be a real godsend, and can find things that a whole team of QA testers could miss. The more information you can give, the more you will be valued and the more likely they are to pounce on any other bugs reported by you to get them sorted. 

So! Enjoy the next Beta you happen to find yourself on. And if you choose to be a tester who reports back on issues, I hope these tips might help you- they’ll certainly help the members of staff who have to read through all the beta tester bugs….

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~ by Tegan on August 8, 2013.

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