Playable Worlds’ lead QA engineer on the industry’s problematic ‘godlike status’ for devs

    
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No screenshots yet, obviously.

Playable Worlds, the outfit headed up by MMO designer Raph Koster and promising both a sandbox MMORPG and the metaverse, has a developer profile up this week that gives insight into both the industry and the MMO company itself, specifically when it comes to QA. Lead Quality Assurance Engineer Davina Armstrong explains that she’s been working in tech for 25 years and is damn good at her job “breaking people’s code,” but the industry has traditionally disrespected the QA role – to its detriment. Part of that is down to the QA pipeline, whereby lower-skilled developers who aren’t trained for QA are nevertheless shunted into the role. But part of it’s just plain sexism and elitism.

“In the tech industry, though not at Playable Worlds, QA is generally regarded as second class and treated as such,” she says. “I’ve also come to realize that sexism has played into this a great deal. A major challenge in every job I’ve had except this one has been earning the respect of the developers. At previous companies, they’ve always assumed that I’m an idiot and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve always had to prove myself to every developer that I ever worked with, starting over again from scratch.”

That doesn’t appear to have been an issue with Playable Worlds, however.

“A couple of things that really sold me on Playable Worlds was bringing QA in so early in the process. I’ve never seen that happen on a project. Also, that as the QA Lead I am at the same level as the other leads, like the client lead and the server lead. This just showed me that Playable Worlds has a lot of respect for QA. I haven’t had to prove myself over and over again, people assume I know how to do my job, and for the most part, they just let me do it. […] I’d say the industry is responsible for the lack of respect for QA – the industry prioritizes the developer above everyone else, raises them to a godlike status. They have the privilege of looking down on QA. They have the privilege of arguing with QA, and they have the privilege of almost always being sided with, which then further reduces QA in peoples’ estimation. But then companies like Playable Worlds who say ‘Yay, QA!’, more companies are doing that. That’s fantastic.”

Armstrong admits she’s not much of a gamer personally and is in QA for the thrill of the hunt for bugs, but maybe that’s precisely why she has such a clear-eyed view of the “rockstar dev” problem and its impact on game development.

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Neurotic

Even in non-gaming sectors, developers can have more or less of a superiority complex going on. I work in technical documentation for business software, and some of the engineering POs can be very bossy and short-sighted about the docs. Which is crazy, because we’re helping them look good at the end of the day – same with QA.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

Good for Playable Worlds. I once worked in a group where the Dev VP called the QA team “monkeys” and wouldn’t let any of them, manager included, in his meetings. I moved on before that disaster came to fruition.

As with any role on any team, if you think it isn’t valuable it is usually because you haven’t had the right person fill it. You find your good QA people and you put them in situations where they can ask awkward and impertinent questions as early on in the process as possible both so they can plan and so you can get their feedback. Many times I’ve seen an unstated assumption picked out by a QA person in a room full of devs and the light bulb go on over their heads when they realized they hadn’t taken something into account, all because the QA person was trying to work out the ways to test a feature they were discussing.

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PanagiotisLial1

If we want to be fair, partially QA was replaced by gamers who were thrust into that role through “early access” trends but as we all see it hasnt been working. (or does work in a financial aspect, as they make players to pay in order to QA early content instead paying professional to QA)

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Oof. At best… at best unpaid volunteers are load testing. In other words does the system crumble when you have a bunch of people doing random things?

Very rarely are they given an “Andon Cord” even for critical functional bugs.

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PanagiotisLial1

The thing is, its often used as an excuse to avoid hiring QA employees and of course gamers will just want to game, and they may find some bugs, they arent QAing professionally. On top of it many companies monetize it as early access so they think they dodged the QA cost while making money, and its often why games release in a mess

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Anstalt

I’ve been a developer (not in games) and have also worked in QA (within games), so I’ve definitely seen both sides of the arguement.

From my point of view, I can totally agree that QA don’t get the respect they deserve. Testing is hugely important and it is virtually impossible to test your own code, so you need someone else to do it.

The QA team are also often more avid gamers. When I worked in QA, 100% of the QA team were gamers, whereas only 50% or less of the dev team were. However, we were never used for our knowledge of gaming and any feedback we gave on whether the game was fun or not was ignored. We were only ever used for technical testing. It was extremely frustrating being able to spot problems with design and yet not be able to do anything about it.

With all that said, working in QA is ridiculously easy in comparison to being a developer. So, I can understand why the devs may let that go to their heads and end up quite arrogant about it. With such a skills shortage when it comes to developers, it is only natural that they feel important, but given the geeky nature of their jobs, that feeling of importance may be quite new to them. Games Studios don’t seem to have worked out how to deal with that yet.

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Peregrine Falcon

I’ve often wondered if that’s how it works.

Nerd with no friends goes to college, gets a degree in games theory and/or computer science, goes to work at a video game company, becomes a rock star. Suddenly everyone likes him and he (or she) doesn’t know how to deal with it and then they become an arrogant &$@$!

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Anstalt

It’s not about having (or not having) friends, it is about power and influence.

The old saying of “power corrupts” is absolutely true.

If your first taste of power and influence comes when you are young (e.g. being captain of the rugby team, or on the cheerleader squad) then you have plenty of people around you to bring you back to earth. Once you enter the real world, life will probably shit on you at some point and teach you some humility.

But, if you don’t have those experiences young, if they come when you are late 20s or in your 30s, there are less people to bring you back to earth. Your Mum isn’t gonna punish you for being an arrogant bastard! You are very much relying on your colleagues and leaders within your business to put you in your place. But, when those very people have told you how valuable you are and how hard to replace you are, it just increases the temptation to push your limits.

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Peregrine Falcon

You said basically the same thing I did, just with different words.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

> However, we were never used for our knowledge of gaming and any feedback we gave on whether the game was fun or not was ignored. We were only ever used for technical testing. It was extremely frustrating being able to spot problems with design and yet not be able to do anything about it.

Not surprised. Even if they use all the Agile buzzwords (we do sprints!) they’re still hugely Waterfall. Once the design is done there’s no going back. Not without some serious paying player blowback.

> With all that said, working in QA is ridiculously easy in comparison to being a developer.

I’m gonna call BS on that. QA is tedious and requires meticulous attention to detail. In many cases the QA folks need to be expert diagnosticians to reproduce the bug. That’s a skill many developers never seem to quite grasp.

A good QA person is worth their weight in gold. I as a developer with 30 years experience have the utmost respect for QA folk. Sadly I’ve worked for some firms with crap upper management that treated them as if they were disposable… in a sector where we had to adhere to regulatory compliance.

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Dobablo

“However, we were never used for our knowledge of gaming and any feedback we gave on whether the game was fun or not was ignored.”