“Meet the…” is a new series of articles where Past the Pixels will look at different roles within the games development industry, straight from the mouths of those working in it. First is Dynamo Games’ Senior Tester and Production Assistant, Richard Wood.
Games tester, getting paid to do what most of us spend so much of our lives doing sounds like an awesome job. This is the part where normally you read “well it’s not”, except for Richard Wood at Dynamo Games, it’s his dream job and he’s having a blast.
“My education is a bit unusual. I studied Business Studies and Marketing, graduating with an Upper Second Class Honors degree,” Richard said.
“Before applying to go to University I had no real idea what I wanted to do, I always had an interest in games and film but in truth I couldn’t have told you then what I would be doing in the future.”
While his education was not an ideal grounding for a job in the industry, Richard still feels it was useful: “the basics it taught me, report writing, public speaking, creating short, mid and long term goals are all embedded in what I do day to day, this has definitely given me an edge over others when applying for jobs, but what they didn’t teach me was how to use management tools. It sounds so odd, but I was never taught how to use Excel or Microsoft Project, two programs that I *must* use every day.”
After university Richard landed his first role in the industry in 2009, at Crackdown developers Realtime Worlds. “I started off as a QA Tester; this was at a time when the company was really increasing its QA department. When I started we had a team of roughly 15 testers working 9am-5pm, on the day the RTW doors closed we had a team of 50 testers working two shifts, covering 7am – 10pm.
“Starting off at Realtime was amazing; I think the thing that caught me most off-guard was the people, my fellow testers. Everyone was so welcoming and generally enthusiastic about what they were doing, you read all these stories about testing being dull and repetitive, and that is part of it, but if you walked into the Realtime Worlds QA room all you’d hear was laughter and noise.”
While enjoying the QA tester job, Richard admits to always having had his eye on a bigger role within the company: “I knew I had to stand out from the crowd if I was ever to get promoted. I decided to tackle this in two ways; firstly I decided to gather the opinions of the QA team on various points, best weapons, favorite vehicles and a host of others. I then stored all this information, generating graphs to show this data, for example what weapons we (we representing the average end user) used most often, from here this information could be presented to the design team to perhaps pinpoint balancing issues, if one weapon was used by 90% of the QA room we knew there was a problem. This was possibly one of the greatest things I did to learn more about the product and the overall development process, I had to gather a lot of data from my fellow testers and then process it for the QA Leads and anyone else who needed to see it, it was a lot of work but well worth it.
“If I had to pass on any real advice to those looking to shine within a large team it would be to simply go the extra mile. Realtime Worlds was blessed with some outstanding testers, some of whom were snapped up by great companies such as CCP Games and Jagex the minute RTW went under.”
His role as QA tester did throw up some monotonous tasks, but even then there was some hilarity amongst the boredom. He recalls one particular moment that will live with him forever: “I’m actually going to cheat and give some of the funnier monotonous tasks, after all no one wants to hear about how I matched all the shoes to all the jeans in APB!” he laughs.
“I remember for whatever reason we realized that if you attempted to get into a car (as a passenger) and the driver takes off you’d get stuck in this ‘auto-run’ mode, basically you’d just keep chasing this car and couldn’t stop yourself. The only problem was you had to time it down to the exact second, myself and another tester must have spent an hour trying to get the exact timing down, I’d drive off too early and we’d have to re-start, he’d press the action key too quickly and end up in the car before I’d even started, it doesn’t sound that monotonous but it was so bloody simple, there was no way it should have taken us that long. To make matters worse when we eventually did get it to happen I forgot to record it in FRAPS and so the cycle started again!”
After having secured his role at RTW and being trusted to go with the media team to events such as PAX East, Richard had the rug pulled from under him with the unexpected closure of the studio after the failure of MMO shooter, APB. Having lost his first job in the industry just continued the learning process:
“I think the two main things I’ve learnt in terms of games development and also how I’ll work in the future sound really obvious, but passion for what you’re making and also communicating with those around you is so important,” Richard said.
He added: “In terms of communication I just think it underpins everything, we had moments at RTW when there was a complete breakdown in communication, and I mean people would just not speak to one another. I remember one incident where we required some really important work done to our servers by the team in our American offices, I can’t remember exactly what happened but everyone in the UK was ready and waiting to start the work, everything ground to a halt, the only problem was the guy in the States who we needed had gone out for pancakes! It was crazy, I laugh about it to this day but I’ve never seen our Live Production team angrier! That’s something I hope I can avoid from here on out, clear lines of communication are just so important.”
Now working for Dynamo Games on titles like Championship Manager Legends, Richard has noticed a considerable difference in working for a small development studio:
“I think the biggest change I’ve noticed in regards to my daily duties is the impact I can have on the product and company. At Realtime my opinion was one of many and my workload could be picked up by someone else if I slipped behind, but at Dynamo that’s not the case. We’re such a growing team and everyone really needs to give 100% or the end product just won’t be as good as it could have been,” he said.
As for the future? Richard says he can’t be drawn on that just yet: “This is one of those really tough questions that I do ask myself a lot. In truth from my experience I think it’s perhaps a mistake to pigeonhole yourself long term. The industry is changing quite rapidly at the moment and having set in stone long term goals may turn out to be a mistake, the job you do today may be ten times more complicated, or simply gone, in a few years.”