12 Secrets of Video Game Testers

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iStock

Video game testers are an essential part of making sure that products in the $91 billion gaming industry are as bug-free as possible before (and even after) they hit shelves. Testers, who may work for game studios, publishers, or console companies, find glitches and report them to the game’s developers. We spoke to a few testers to find out what the job really entails, from the insanely long hours and lack of job security to the reason they need to embrace imperfection.

1. THEY ANSWER TO MANY NAMES.

Companies use a variety of titles to refer to video game testers: testers, game testers, or the slightly more elaborate Quality Assurance (QA) testers. Testers who also write computer code to automate parts of the testing process are called Software Development Engineers in Test (SDETs). The title “play tester,” however, refers to an entirely different job, as Jason W. Bay, the author of Land a Job as a Video Game Tester, tells Mental Floss. “That’s when a game company brings in non-employees for a few hours to try a game that's under development and give their feedback to the designers,” he says. “It’s more like what standard software companies call usability testing.”

2. IT'S NOT NECESSARILY FUN.

If testing video games seems like a fun, easy job, think again. In reality, testers need huge doses of patience and diligence to deal with the repetitive and often tedious nature of the job. “Testers spend most of their time testing the game long before it’s finished, and long before it starts to become a fun experience,” Bay says. “Even after the game is developed enough to start being fun, the testing assignments often aren’t fun at all,” he explains.

Testers may have to walk their character around a forest, for example, to look for any trees that have missing textures. They then record the coordinates in a spreadsheet so an artist can fix them later. “It’s mind-numbing work and can take days to accomplish,” Bay says. Additionally, most game testers don’t get to choose the games they work on, so they may be working for months on a game they don’t like. And if the game crashes in a specific spot due to a programming error, testers have to start the game over to try to recreate the steps that led to the crash.

3. THEY OFTEN WORK INSANELY LONG HOURS.

Because video game companies adhere to tight release schedules, game testers are usually extremely busy in the months leading up to a game’s release. Bayaar Lo-Borjiged, a former QA Tester who’s now the CEO of Skull Fire Games, tells Mental Floss that late hours and terrible diets are very common, especially during crunch time. “It is not uncommon to work from 9 a.m. to 9 a.m. the next day,” he says. Besides sitting in front of screens all day (and night), many game testers suffer from sleep deprivation. They may chug caffeine and eat junky convenience foods to stay awake and endure the stress. “I hated crunch time so much. During crunch time you have no life, even less so than before,” Lo-Borjiged says.

4. THEY DON’T NEED ANY SPECIALIZED EDUCATION.

Although some game testers have college degrees or certificates in fields such as computer science, software testing, or game design, most testing jobs don’t require any higher education background. Besides having knowledge of how to play video games, game testers only need good vision, fast reflexes, and suitable writing skills. Because game testing is an entry-level job, most game testers start their video game industry careers in testing but hope to eventually work their way up to more advanced software development or design roles.

5. THEIR JOB SECURITY ISN’T GREAT …

“The biggest thing about being a game tester is that there is no job security at all,” Lo-Borjiged says. “As a game tester you are expendable. At any point in time for any reason whatsoever [your employer] can replace you.” Many game testers work as contract-to-hires, meaning that a company will only hire them as a full-time employee after a few months of satisfactory work performance. And a large pool of young and eager aspiring game testers means that companies often fire workers or choose not to hire them as full-time employees. So many game testers work at multiple video game companies throughout a calendar year, moving to a new company once a project ends.

6. … AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR PROMOTION ARE LIMITED.

Although Lo-Borjiged worked his way up from game testing to UI design, his experience is not common. “A lot of people will probably work as a game tester their entire careers,” he says. “To work your way out of testing you really, really have to stand out and that is hard given how many other testers there can be from company to company.” After several years of working in testing, some game testers take on more responsibilities (and a higher salary) as testing leads or managers, become game designers or producers, or decide to leave the video game industry altogether.

7. THEY’RE AN UNUSUALLY TIGHT-KNIT GROUP.

The long hours and office politics make it easy for game testers to befriend one another and create a tight-knit community. “Testing groups are often separated from the rest of the game development team both physically and socially, and frankly the dev teams often treat them like second-class citizens,” Bay says. “That shared sense of feeling like outsiders can build a strong camaraderie.”

When he was working on a Harry Potter game for Windows, Bay and his fellow testers had to return to the office each night (after working a full day) to perform tests before the game was sent to the publisher. “To lift our spirits, I started bringing a 12-pack of beer each time, and that made it feel more like an evening of hanging out with friends rather than an evening of working overtime,” Bay says. “I’m still in touch with people that I tested games with 15 years ago, and some of them are life-long friends.”

8. PERFECTIONISTS NEED NOT APPLY.

If you buy a new video game and it has glitches, don’t be so quick to blame game testers. “Most games are tied to a strict release deadline, and development teams rarely have time to fix everything. Occasionally, they don't even have time to fix all of the crashes, which is one reason so many games receive several patches in the weeks immediately after they’re released,” Bay says.

Even if game testers spot and report glitches, there’s no guarantee that the development team will have the time or desire to fix the errors. And the process of fixing errors can introduce entirely new bugs to the game. Nevertheless, after a game is in stores many testers work long hours to recreate errors reported by players so the development team can fix them and release patches that players at home can download.

9. THEY MIGHT MEET THEIR GAMING HEROES.

Despite the stresses of the job, game testers do enjoy some gaming-related perks. “My favorite part of the job was the ability to see how new games were made, everything from the planning process to the early stage of development to the final finished product,” Lo-Borjiged says.

Besides getting to play games that haven’t yet been released, testers might also learn about a game’s cheat codes, Easter Eggs, and secret levels. But they generally can’t share this information with anyone else—most companies make them sign NDAs when they’re hired.

Some game testers also get to enjoy bigger perks. A huge Metal Gear fan, Lo-Borjiged had a Metal Gear shrine on his desk and got the thrill of a lifetime when Hideo Kojima, the game’s creator, visited his office one day. “I was able to meet one of gaming's biggest legends, and he saw my Metal Gear shrine. It was a great moment for me,” Lo-Borjiged says.

10. THERE WAS A REALITY SHOW DEDICATED TO THEM.

In 2010, the first season of The Tester debuted on PlayStation Network. The reality show depicted contestants competing with one another for a job as a QA game tester at Sony Entertainment. Each episode featured challenges and competitions that tested contestants’ communication skills, hand-eye coordination, and even willingness to get cockroaches dumped on their heads. The show ran for three seasons, and most contestants said it was a good opportunity to network and try to begin their gaming careers.

11. SOMETIMES THEY GET TO USE MORE UNUSUAL SKILLS.

Computer and gaming skills are vital, but some game testers get the opportunity to use less-obvious skills for their job. In 2003, Michael Larsen was hired as a game tester for Karaoke Revolution, in part due to his singing skills. “None of the testers were able to test the game at the Expert mode level. For this purpose, they needed to hire testers that could, well, really sing,” he writes on his blog. Larsen also lent his singing skills to the game when he recorded the guide vocal for “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers—players who choose to sing along to that song's guide vocal can hear his voice.

12. SOME OF THEM LOSE THEIR LOVE OF VIDEO GAMES.

Do the countless hours working on video games make game testers lose their love of gaming? Yes and no. An anonymous QA tester revealed in a Reddit AMA that game testers typically go through phases of playing games for fun and avoiding them. “Sometimes you are really excited about a game you are working on, a type of game you have never played before, so you go home and play a bunch of other similar games for research,” she writes.

During crunch times, though, most game testers have neither the time nor the desire to play games for fun, and they may get burned out on gaming. “A lot of us would still play video games in our spare time despite working on them,” Lo-Borjiged says. “I have, however, met a few people that did get burnt out and those people would leave game testing and never play another video game again.”

All photos via iStock.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

12 Secrets of Spirit Halloween Employees

Spirit Halloween stores are a sign Halloween has arrived.
Spirit Halloween stores are a sign Halloween has arrived.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When Joe Marver founded Spirit Halloween in 1983, he probably didn’t have any idea his seasonal Halloween store would eventually grow to over 1300 locations in the United States and Canada. But now, seeing a Spirit pop-up materialize in a vacant building has become as much of a Halloween tradition as pumpkin carving.

In order to assist shoppers with Halloween costumes, decorations, and animatronic creatures, Spirit employs a small army of seasonal workers. To get a better feel for what goes into this spooky vocation, Mental Floss reached out to several current Spirit Halloween team members. Here’s what they had to say about everything from customers making a mess to the hazards of trying on a mask during this pandemic-heavy Halloween.

1. Most Spirit Halloween employees really, really love Halloween.

Why take on a seasonal job with no potential for year-round work? If you love Halloween and the macabre, it’s a dream job. “I've never once worked with an employee that didn't love Halloween,” Kota, a five-year veteran of Spirit Halloween in Kentucky, tells Mental Floss. “It's something that all employees have in common from my experience … It's a perfect place to meet people with the same interests.”

2. Spirit Halloween employees are supposed to open costume packages for customers.

Spirit Halloween employees are happy to help with your costume selection.Courtesy of Spirit Halloween

If a Spirit Halloween employee is eyeing you with a little bit of consternation, it might be because you ripped open a costume package. Owing to issues of loss prevention and hygiene—even before COVID-19 struck—Spirit’s policy is to let employees open items and then package them back up. But not every customer is willing to wait.

“Our employees are supposed to deal with opening and closing each and every package,” Kota says. “This way we don't have to worry about things coming out or going into the packages that aren't supposed to. Although we try hard to make it as easy and friendly as possible, some customers would rather do it themselves wherever they may be standing in the store.”

3. Spirit Halloween employees can’t keep astronaut helmets in stock.

Every season brings a different phenomenon to Halloween shopping. In 2018, it was the popular video game Fortnite. This year, it’s an astronaut helmet. Not the suit, just the helmet. The trend is due to the popularity of a smartphone game titled Among Us, which puts the player in the role of a space explorer.

“Despite what you might think, the suits themselves seem significantly less popular than the helmets themselves for reasons beyond my comprehension,” Derek, a Spirit Halloween employee in New Jersey for the past three years, tells Mental Floss. “It's still just a bit too early to say, but if the helmets keep shipping out at the rate they are, in-store stock will probably remain at a near-constant zero. If I'm recalling it right, all of the stores in my area currently have one helmet if any, and no more than five are being shipped to each store.”

4. Spirit Halloween employees can’t believe customers are still trying on masks.

It's probably not a good idea to try on Halloween masks this year.Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Despite newfound concerns over touching surfaces or being exposed to infectious particles, customers are still willing to try on masks in the store, even though someone else may have already been wearing it. “Ultimately the pandemic hasn't affected my store, aside from everyone needing to wear face masks while they're inside,” Jayme, a Spirit Halloween employee in Florida who’s worked there for four years, tells Mental Floss. “But people still ask to try things on and … they do still put masks on despite orange signs everywhere saying not to.”

Derek agrees. “If you've bought a mask from Spirit in any of the past seasons, there's a very high chance you're one of at least five people who’s worn that mask, and that's a conservative estimate for some of the masks. Despite the rule, I think I've seen that many people trying on [fictional creepypasta internet character] Jeff the Killer masks just in this past week.”

5. Spirit Halloween employees have seen some spooky things.

While a store full of scary costumes and props is a Halloween lover’s dream, some Spirit Halloween employees say it can also be the site of some spooky events. “An associate and I have both seen things swaying on the shelves as if someone walked by it, though nobody else is in the store,” Jayme says. “We've seen a few shadow movements as if people were hiding behind [a] corner. The funniest one [was] at closing time. One of my associates yelled ‘whoo’ and we heard a guy's voice say something in response. It totally freaked him out. It was one of our sound-activated hanging [animatronics].”

But not all employees get creeped out. “As much as I want to say that I've experienced anything creepy or paranormal, the store's about as creepy as a former Circuit City can be,” Derek says. Still, he's seen some strange things. “The lights used to turn off at the exact same time every day for about a month, there's always been the occasional inexplicable bang or creak, and some of the aisles do get messy a bit too quickly. One time, I was working at the fitting room. I sent a kid back with a previously unopened, dry Morphsuit costume [a full-body spandex outfit] and it came back warm and moist.”

Wet costumes aside, Derek won’t declare any paranormal activity just yet. “If I see a kid go flying across the store, I'll let you know.”

6. Spirit Halloween employees wish customers would stop making a huge mess.

Spirit Halloween employees like to keep stores neat.Courtesy of Spirit Halloween

Owing to the nature of pop-up stores or the excitement over the holiday, customers at Spirit Halloween stores tend to make messes. Big ones. “You could've just finished putting every mask neatly back on the racks, and half of them will be back on the floor before you've caught your breath,” Derek says. “It seems like everyone takes a little pride in the sections they helped set up and the animatronics they built, and that definitely manifests in how we feel about customers messing with those things.”

7. Spirit Halloween employees would prefer you not use the aisle as a dressing room.

Some customers like to try on outfits in the aisle instead of the dressing room, a habit that predated the current pandemic. (Spirit Halloween fitting rooms are closed this season.) Employees would still prefer you not try to dress—or undress—in the middle of the store. “It's very common to find people, mostly kids, trying on costumes in aisles,” Kota says. “We [did] have multiple fitting rooms to try to stop this from happening, but once again, people would rather do things themselves sometimes.”

8. Spirit Halloween employees move a lot of licensed animatronics.

Animatronics are a popular item at Spirit Halloween.Courtesy of Spirit Halloween

Among the most popular items in Spirit Halloween locations are the life-sized animatronics that provide a scary atmosphere for homes or parties. “Animatronics are one of our largest-selling items,” Kota says. “There's a certain group of people that love them and look forward to them annually. Some of our buyers buy them and use them for their haunted attractions. It's always nice to go to one and see a familiar face.”

While Spirit offers a number of original animatronic concepts—the Harvester of Souls being among the more popular—Kota says that customers usually gravitate toward licensed characters. “I've noticed that the most popular animatronics are our licensed ones. Pennywise [from 2017's It] and Sam [from 2007's Trick 'r Treat] have been huge sellers this year as was Michael Myers a few years ago. I've also noticed the ones that stay behind at the end of the season are almost always the swinging animatronics. I think they're interesting, but they don't sell as often as the others do.”

9. Spirit Halloween employees might sell you a used animatronic, but you need to get lucky.

Come the end of the season, Spirit Halloween locations often unload animatronics that were on display and no longer being manufactured. “Older animatronics, if I recall correctly, will stop being manufactured and then sold until it runs out,” Jayme says. “As for the displays, we do sell those at the end of the season. It's just a matter of putting your info on a waiting list.”

10. Spirit Halloween employees meet a lot of cosplayers.

Cosplayers are frequent shoppers at Spirit Halloween.Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It’s not just Halloween customers that Spirit Halloween stores service. According to Kota, cosplayers looking for that perfect accessory sometimes show up. “Spirit actually gets quite a bit of cosplayers and I personally think it's a great place to go for more specific items,” Kota says. “I'm sure we get even more cosplayers than I'm aware of since some customers like to talk about it and others don't say much about it.”

11. Spirit Halloween employees get a steep, steep discount once Halloween is over.

Between the standard employee discount and the after-Halloween fire sale available to customers, Derek says that he can go shopping in November and save a considerable amount of money. It’s one reason he keeps coming back. “It's hard to say no to an 80-percent discount during the November clearance sale,” he says. (The regular discount is 50 percent, and employees get an additional 30 percent.) “There's nothing like rewarding yourself after a busy season by spending $150 on, like, five or six things.”

12. Spirit Halloween employees sometimes get holiday shoppers.

Halloween means holiday shopping for some people.JJBers, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For some customers, a Spirit Halloween store is a perfect place to start their holiday gift shopping. “I made a friend last year with a kid who comes in weekly to see if we have anything new in yet,” Kota says. “He's maybe about 7 years old and [he] and I go around the store almost every time he comes in and talk about new things and animatronics we have. His parents then secretly go around and buy him animatronics and props as Christmas presents. It's so nice to see his love for Halloween all year round. It reminds me of myself when I was his age.”