January 24, 2005

What Do I Want?

Last week, I was asked what drives me. To be honest, I wasn't sure. I'm one of those people who is most successful at things that I don't take seriously. If I'm doing it for fun, I succeed. Otherwise, I fail. It's as simple as that. However, while fun motivates me, it doesn't drive me. So, I spent most of the weekend trying to figure out what drives me, at least what drives me to test, and I think I figured it out.

I want to elevate testing to be the fourth "name" gaming discipline.

I should probably explain. There are currently three "name" gaming disciplines, disciplines where having a name associated with a product will cause or deny a sale: concept, coding and content.

"Concept" refers to the game concept and design. When you hear that Sid Meier is associated with a product, you know what you're getting. Same with Will Wright, Warren Spector and Peter Molyneux. Studio names also apply to this. For example, when you hear that Cyan Studios is making a product, you're expecting a rich world with obscure puzzles.

"Coding" refers to the game engine itself. When you hear that John Carmack is working on a product, you expect a groundbreaking engine.

"Content" refers to the level design, art direction, music, etc. Ritual has several "name" players when it comes to levels; Tommy Tallarico is gaining stature in the industry after the "knock-out-of-the-park" musical numbers in "The Bard's Tale;" the Penny Arcade crew and Scott Kurtz are now selling boxes by including game-specific comics along with the product.

I'm hoping to raise "Quality" up to name status eventually. I want it so that people know the names of the people who work on products. I want people to look at my products and say, "I know that this product will work." I want people to say, "Hey, Randy Pagulayan was the Usability guy on this product, so I can expect a game that I can play without reading the manual."

Unfortunately, this will require a bit of a sea change in the way a few things are handled in the gaming industry.

1) The Test Lead will have to be assigned from day one of design (not of concept), and follow the product to completion. The Test Lead needs to know the product inside and out, and having someone from QA there early on can help point out potential issues in the product.

2) Testing time must become sacred. Right now, if a developer slips on a milestone, publishers are all too eager to say, "Hey, we'll just snip a little time off of the testing at the end," rather than slip the schedule or scale back on the product. Unfortunately, that leads to substandard quality on products. If you short-change testing, you short-change your customers. By the way, forcing your testers to work unpaid overtime to make up for the schedule shift is not going to help. I don't know of any tester who is effective when they work over 60 hours a week.

3) Testing must be able to stop a title from shipping if the quality bar has not been met, and it must be testing, not marketing, that sets the quality bar.

It's a lofty goal, and I realize that it may be years before we get there...but I can dream, can't I?

No comments: