[GW2] Assuring Quality – QA at ArenaNet

Discussion in 'Guild Wars 2' started by Aspira, Feb 15, 2011.

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    Aspira Admin Officer

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    By Yamen O'Donnell February 14th, 2011

    Hi, I’m Jerramen “Yamen” O’Donnell, a member of ArenaNet’s Quality Assurance (QA) department. As a longtimeGuild Wars player, I was lucky enough to join the company just in time for the big unveiling of the Guild Wars 2demo at gamescom last year. During my time here, I’ve been really impressed with how ArenaNet incorporates QA as an integrated part of the development process, and I’d like to share with you what we’re doing to make sureGuild Wars 2 is the best game it can possibly be.

    You may have read about working as a game tester, or maybe you know someone who works in QA at a game studio. Perhaps you’ve been told that QA is a dream job where testers get paid to drink soda and play video games all day. Alternatively, you may have heard that QA work consists of long hours of mind-numbing grunt work, or that QA testers are easily replaceable drones who don’t contribute to the actual development of a title. The truth is that across the industry there are companies where these descriptions aren’t far from reality.

    ArenaNet is different, though.

    QA members here are given a lot of responsibility and a lot of respect. We are a company that strives for excellence—not just in the titles we produce, but also in how we develop those titles. So it’s only natural to fill our workplace with people who want to work hard and then let them. This passion for quality extends throughout every department at ArenaNet, including QA. At ArenaNet, we genuinely are “Quality Assurance” not just “Functional Assurance.”

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    To build incredible online worlds, ArenaNet starts by hiring incredible people. You’ve seen some of the breathtaking work our artists have produced, and you’ve undoubtedly heard the groundbreaking ideas our designers have incorporated into Guild Wars 2. Well, even though QA isn’t responsible for making art or designing game systems, ArenaNet ensures that our team members are the best in the industry. (Although, I should point out that a lot of our designers, programmers, and other staff got their start in the QA department.) QA team members come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and each person brings a unique set of skills and talents to the table. Some are programmers, some are designers, and some are even editors. This broad range of skills allows us to support the company above and beyond simple bug hunting.

    QA is also one of the biggest departments at ArenaNet. Because of our iterative design process, we embed QA members in almost every production team. We have a team responsible for testing each and every one of the hundreds of dynamic events. Another team combs over each map, making sure no seam goes uncovered and no gap goes unfilled. We even have a “mercenary” team, which helps any team or department facing a particularly large workload.

    Beyond that, individual QA members serve on ArenaNet’s strike teams. These strike teams, who are assembled from several departments, focus on one specific aspect of the game: crafting, PvP, story, and other cool things that I can’t tell you about yet. By concentrating our efforts like this, we’re able to provide insightful, well-informed feedback that we couldn’t give otherwise.

    Of course, QA here extends beyond Guild Wars 2. Naturally, there is an original Guild Wars QA team that works tirelessly to make sure that each new costume, story arc, and holiday goes off without a hitch. There’s also a QA team dedicated to producing tools that make the development process easier and faster.

    That brings me to my next point: ArenaNet QA does a lot more than find bugs. Starting off, I was in awe of the legendary designers and developers that make up the staff here. So, I took it with a grain of salt when my team lead explained that writing feedback was an important part of my job. I thought, “There’s no way these awesome people want to hear my opinion.”

    I couldn’t have been more wrong. In order to maintain a firm understanding of how the game plays in its current state, ArenaNet frequently calls upon QA to play certain parts of the game and write up our thoughts and opinions, both as testers and as players. This helps the other teams get a ground-level perspective of what they’re working on, and lets QA express concerns beyond the limited scope of bug reports. What’s more, the other developers really take our feedback to heart. I can’t count the number of times a critique raised in QA has kicked off large, decision-making discussions throughout the company.

    That’s not to say we don’t write bugs. As fun as it is to work in QA at ArenaNet, it’s also a lot of work. There’s a lot going into Guild Wars 2, and we test all of it. Since we use an iterative development process, we test some things dozens of times before they are marked “done.” In addition to our usual battery of test cases, we also pay attention to how each piece fits into the game as a whole, how it affects other aspects of the game, and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not what we’re looking at is fun.

    To do that, we make a point of doing a lot of black-box testing. This means playing the game without any developer commands or cheats, with the same limitations that players have. By playing this way, we get a strong grasp of how the game plays, and where it needs improvement. Looking at the bigger picture allows us to find the tedious parts of the leveling curve, the plot holes, and other snags that are hard to see when we focus on just one component. We even regularly gather the whole company to spend an entire day just playing the game together and talking about it. Doing this gives everyone a chance to see their work in the context of the larger project. It also lets us see how the game plays when there are hundreds of players running around a map.

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    Why put in all this effort? Because we care. This is probably the most significant value of our QA department: we’re all invested in the success of Guild Wars 2, and not just financially. We truly want Guild Wars 2 to be the best game you’ve ever played. Even when we’re testing the “Pump House” event chain for the hundredth time, or scouring a map for texture seams again, there’s a pervasive attitude of optimism. We all care for the game personally, and it shows. Truthfully, when you spend as much time as we do in Guild Wars 2, it’s hard not to be excited!

    Personally, I most enjoy watching our game grow. In the short time I’ve been with the company, Guild Wars 2 has grown by leaps and bounds. Every time a new feature gets implemented or a new boss gets hooked up, the Guild Wars fan in me jumps for joy. I was awestruck with how fun the game was when I first got my hands on it last year, and since then it has only gotten better. I would be excited to tell you about the adventures and experiences I’ve had in the world of Tyria—believe me, they’re amazing and plentiful. But I’m most excited to know that the work we’re doing now will make your own adventures and experiences even better.
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    Specter Veteran BOON

    Damn, i should send in my resumé :S

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