I’m Just Going To Rant A Bit

I don’t talk about my day job in any specifics too frequently, but I test software for a living. Techincally software and hardware, but I focus mainly on software and the proprietary hardware said software runs on. I’ve done electrical testing, mechanical testing, software testing, and, my personal favorite, destructive testing. While the specifics vary from project to project, each type of testing is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. As of this writing, I’ve been in the industry for almost eight years and have pretty much reached a point where I have the skills required to tackle just about any project.

What all of this means is that I have a pretty good grasp of the testing effort that goes into software production and, as part of keeping up on the industry I work in, I have a pretty good idea of what testing all software, except the most proprietary and niche stuff, will look like. So when I say the testing and release for most triple AAA games is bullshit, I mean it and you can trust, at least a little bit, that I know what I’m talking about.

I mean, have you ever looked at the credits for a game and noticed how few QA and testers (the job name changes from company to company since there’s nothing to really enforce consistency across the various industries that employ software testers) there are in comparison to developers? In my industry, it is pretty much required to have at least one tester to every one or two software developers. The best bet is to have a one-to-one ratio since it can otherwise force testers to work extra hours to make up the difference or to cut corners in order to finish on the required deadline. Because let me tell you, testing is the first thing to be given less time to work when there’s a looming deadline and the developers need more time to work.

It is the easiest to do that in industries where no one’s life is at stake. I work for a company that produces a lot of different types of software and products that use that software, so while my testing has to be done with the thought in mind that the worst case scenario can involve bodily harm or even death, that’s not really a concern for most of my coworkers. Which is why my team has three testers to work with four and a half (one outside consultant who works part time) developers. We’re a bit short staffed, since those three testers are also responsible for working with the electrical and mechanical engineers as well as the software developers, but we just need a fourth person to keep up with the work that needs doing and maintaining records, test equipment, etc. We’re not falling behind (yet).

So when you see a dozen or so testers at the end of a video game’s credits, following a few hundred software developers, I think you can start to see why so new games seem to be getting buggier and buggier as time goes on.

Like most problems, this one is also multi-faceted. Developers who have the opportunity to rest do better work. Developers allowed to work on a single piece of the project, start to finish, do better work. The current methods of just throwing more bodies at problems and expecting the work to get done faster ignores the limits of human consciousness and just how much time gets wasted by bringining someone up to speed so they can peck away at a problem for a day or two before it gets handed off to someone else.

Not every studio does that, of course, or else the industry probably would have collapsed by now. But as work gets spread out and testing employees get cut infavor of customer betas or alphas and the work of actual testing is placed on the shoulders of people who preordered the game and have no knowledge of how the software works (or how testing should happen), quality goes down. More and more games, as a result of pre-sales, are putting testing work on their customers and trying to frame getting people to pay them to work on the game as an incentive or bonus for paying sometimes years ahead of the game’s release (and who knows how long after that it’ll be actually playable).

As someone who works in the industry, I find the practice abhorrent and kind of insulting. It takes a lot of work and skill to be good at finding, investigating, writing up bugs. I spend 40-50 hours a week doing that, most months, and now it is not only culturally acceptable for companies to expect me to pay for the privilege to do that for their games, but I get people telling me that they’d make great software testers just because they’ve played a lot of games on Steam prior to their actual release. I’ve even had a few tell me my job isn’t demanding or tiring because it must be so easy since anyone can do it.

Saying anyone can test software is like saying anyone can write. Sure, that is technically true, but there’s a pretty wide gulf of practice, experience, and skill between testing and doing it professionally. And if you rely on people who have no professional skills to do all your testing, your product is going to fall apart the instant it reaches a wider audience. Turning game pre-orders into Betas and Alphas is one of the worst things to happen to my industry, let alone my hobby, and I’m so sick of 2-4 weeks of bugs followed by 1-2 months of patching all the things fixing those bugs fucked up becoming the industry norm.

Which, of course, isn’t to say that user feedback or end-user testing isn’t a valuable tool in the development process. It is an incredibly valuable tool, since there’s testing that can’t even be done without end users (stress testing is a big one that frequently comes up in the video game industry), but it shouldn’t be a testing solution.

Rant over. Stop paying to do the work companies don’t want to pay people to do. Don’t preorder games. Any game scarcity at this point is manufactured thanks to digital downloads and they’re just trying to offload costs more than ever so they can throw 500 developers at a triple-A game only for it to suck until the community finds and points out all the problems to them. Nothing’s going to change so long as people keep this up.

Saturday Afternoon Musing

You even wonder how much better the environment would be doing without all the crap people mail you in order to entice you to get a credit card, take out a small loans, refinance student loans, apply to committees, or help fund organizations that somehow got your home address but not your phone number? Sure, the relative cost to the company sending the junk mail isn’t very high because paper is still pretty cheap and I’m guessing they’ve got some way to save on postage for bulk mailings because stamps are fairly cheap for inter-US mail, but that stuff has to add up eventually. The same thing applies for environmental impact. Sure, it is a lot easier to measure the impact of ten thousand sheets of paper instead of just the five that went into making the advert for a credit card with outrageous terms hidden deep inside the fine print, but it still adds up eventually. Especially when you take into account how often they send them.

Its like budgeting. Sure, finding a way to save five cents per day on something you’re paying for every day isn’t a whole lot, but that’s a dollar fifty in a month and a little over eighteen bucks a year. Over the decade I’m probably going to be paying off my student loans, that’s over one hundred eighty dollars. And that’s from a single five cents saved. Throw in the other dozen places I can do the same thing and suddenly that’s gone from one hundred eighty to almost two thousand, two hundred. One on its own doesn’t add up to much over time, but all together they do.

Given that a credit card company can send two thousand offers before it hits the magical ten thousand measurement mark, it seems like it’d take a lot of people to really make any kind of impact. But it isn’t just one per person. It’s two per person per month. Sure, the customer list is probably smaller than I think it us, but that’s twenty-four a year for me. suddenly, you only need eighty-four people to pass the measurement mark and I’m willing to bet there are at least that many people getting them in my neighborhood. Throw in the fact that I’ve got four loan companies, five credit card offers, three places I actually bank with/have loans with/had a credit card with at one point, and don’t forget all the places I have memberships that could be upgrade to include a credit card. In total, I probably get some fifty pieces of junk mail a month that I need to sort through for personal information, shred, and then dispose of, which all adds to the environmental toll. Suddenly, it’s starting to feel like I’ve dealing with ten thousand sheets of paper on my own. All without even getting into the “or current resident” crap that just goes straight into the recycling bin.

What a waste! The most frustrating part for me is that I’ve opted into the paperless option for every single one of my accounts and banks and service providers of every kind, but I still keep getting shit sent to me. It’s incredibly frustrating. I’m literally never going to do anything but dispose of this shit for me and nothing I’ve attempted to get them to stop has worked. I’m just going to keep getting this shit no matter where I go because there’s always someone new sending me junk mail as soon as I finally get one of the others to stop.

It just seems like such an inefficient, wasteful system whose only end is going to come when we all get neural uplinks and they can beam the credit card and personal loan offers directly into our brain. Except it probably won’t because junk mail also infects the internet and we still get it in our mailboxes as well. There’s no escape. We’re awash in a papery nightmare of unceasing advertisements for everything from solicitations for a local dentist’s office to a forms asking if we’d like to upgrade our credit card from platinum plan A to electrum plan B that gives us a slightly higher interested rate but also gives us an extra percent cash back on miscellaneous purchases that are almost never what we need to buy until right after the promotion has ended.

Capitalism in the US sucks a lot of the time, because people have found a way to use it that helps them succeed at the expense of either the environment or a bunch of other people, but this is a way that it sucks all of the time. It produces a ton of useless waste for no other reason than to grease the cogs of the money machine in order to turn an ever higher profit from quarter to quarter.

What a waste. I’m going to go for a walk in the sunlight now and calm down from this rant. Have a good day.