It has always been my belief that if you work at a video game design company then you need to know how to have fun at work, because a happy worker is a more productive worker. There might be some corporate suit and tie executives that may disagree with me but frankly they would not last too long at many video game companies, especially at the six I have worked for. – This is the third blog post in my Being in the Video Game Industry series of blogs and I will be talking about some FUN times I have had.
I’VE GOT THE POWER
For the majority of my career in the video game industry I worked in the QA (Quality Assurance) department. I started as a Tester, then worked my way up to Lead Tester and then QA Test Manager. Even though the tester doesn’t make much money and is basically the lowest member in the payment grade totem pole, some testers including yours truly, still have a sense of pride because we had the ability to pass or fail a game from ever being released. That can be a bit of a power trip when dealing with a cocky hot shot programmer who thinks his game is perfection.
I have been blessed to work with companies that value the QA of a game more than they did the sale numbers for getting a game out to the market earlier than scheduled. When I was the QA Test Manager at Absolute Entertainment, Inc. the CEO of the company, Garry Kitchen, told me straight up that I had the final word as to when the game would be good-to-go and that he would stand behind my decision 100%. Wow! I felt like Scottie on the Enterprise in Star Trek after being told by Captain Kirk that I have the Conn.
Now that I had this power I could assert myself and change how I wanted certain things to be done in regards to getting code into and out of testing. Plus I was able to develop a strong respectful working relationship with the head of Nintendo’s Lot Check, that’s their testing department. This working relationship followed me to every company I worked for and thus benefited my employers because I could get the games through the approval process with ease.
GOING TO CES AND E3
Being a tester you had some pretty cool perks. How many other jobs do you know of where you can come to work wearing the same clothes you wear when hanging out with friends? Can you wear a t-shirt, jeans, sneakers and a backwards hat at the job you work at? You can as a video game tester. There is NO need to dress up or even wear casual attire except for one occasion that you may be called upon to perform.
One of my favorite parts of being a tester is that whenever the company would go to a convention like CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas or E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles, they would always have me, the QA Test Manager, and one other tester of my choosing, to go to the conventions, all expenses paid for 3-4 days.
Why did the company take 1 or 2 testers with them? So that we could do what we do best, play and demonstrate the new and un-released games that the company was designing. We would do these demonstrations for the video game and toy store buyers that would come to our booth for meetings.
You see, the tester is the only person other than the programmer that knows how to avoid and/or work around known bugs in the software. So the tester makes a far better demonstrator for games that are not yet in the Beta Stage, which means a feature complete and relatively bug free game. Every CES and E3 I would choose one of my testers to attend and work the booth at the conventions with me.
You get to fly to Las Vegas and/or Los Angeles once a year, get put up at a nice big hotel, all expenses paid, and in most cases you get a certain amount of expense money for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Anything else you spend money on comes out of your own pocket so you can’t live high on the hog. You need to budget the money you are given and account for every penny spent by collecting receipts for everything.
You work from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM every day you are at the conventions, with an hour mid-day break to have lunch and walk around the convention to play games. After the show is over for the day, you can do whatever you wanted, as long as you were ready to go back to work at 8:30 the following morning.
Being that I always volunteered to be the driver, because the company rented a minivan for transportation, I always had the keys. So after working the show and driving everyone back to the hotel, the tester I chose to come out to the convention and myself would go out. PARTY!!!
AFTER HOURS FUN FOR THE COMPANY
I would always come up with ways to have some fun both during and after work. Then one night I decided I was going to organize a happy hour at a local microbrewery every other Friday night for my testers. Well it became such a success that I had the Human Resources person approach me and suggested that I organize it for the entire company. This is when I became known as the HHC, the Happy Hour Coordinator, and every other Friday night I was selecting a local bar and restaurant for the Happy Hour of food and lots of beer.
This became such a popular event for the company that when they would advertise on the job forums when hiring employees, they would mention bi-monthly happy hours as one of the company perks. Yes it is no secret that alcohol and video games go hand-and-hand. There were times when I knew that the QA department was going to be working late, so I would take my guys out for dinner and drinks and then return to work with a nice buzz.
It’s a fun way to not just play video games but also in designing them too. For example, the life meter in the SNES game of Home Alone are pizza slices. The programmer of that game loved pizza and one night after having much alcohol and pizza, he decided to make the life meter a pizza pie. LOL
AFTER HOURS FUN FOR THE QA DEPARTMENT
There was also another fun event that I used to organize for my testing department. It was our version of Capture the Flag. In our version we would place a red bandana within the testing department and we would split up into two teams. One team would defend the flag and the other team would be the attacking force. We always played this on a Friday night after everyone had gone home because we used the entire office space as our battle ground.
You may be wondering what we used as ammo? No we didn’t use paintballs. That would be too messy to use around hundreds of thousands of dollars of computer and development equipment. What did we use? Nerf Guns, and we had all kinds too. Nerf Darts, Nerf Bullets, Nerf Balls, we had a total of 6 different styles of Nerf Guns from single shot to hand pump to battery operated motorized fire.
Because Toys R Us was one of our biggest buyers our company would give out store credits to its employees, but not everyone would use them. I would then collect the ones not being used so me and my testers would go to Toys R Us and buy Nerf Guns and ammo with the store credits.
The way I looked at it was, why have those store credits go to waste when I could use them for the entertainment of my testers. If you would like to read a story about one such Nerf Gun Capture the Flag battle, click on the below link to an article I published at an article directory.
Do you get to have fun at your job? What sort of cool things do you get to do? There were many other fun things that I got to partake in at some of the other companies like softball games, company dinners, company night at the movies, and some of the BBQ and keg parties, but I’ll have to explain those in a separate blog post. If you have any comments on this post, please leave them below and happy gaming!