Marc-Andre Legault, VMC’s Test Manager for games, shares his insights on maximizing the impact of a limited QA budget.
With the rise of affordable technology and a new generation of creators working on games starting in their teens, releasing an indie game is within everyone’s reach. Unfortunately, the side effect of this incredible boom is that most indie titles struggle to stand out and sell in an overly crowded market.
In the days of Bastion, Hotline Miami, and Super Meat Boy, there was a perception that every new indie title was stronger than the last and polished to perfection. Now, with thousands of titles being released, many in a less than optimal state, some see the “indie” tag as synonymous with unpolished and unfinished games.
Impressive graphics and frames per second don’t guarantee a title’s success – it has to deliver an enjoyable experience. Consider the case with Minecraft: part of what made Minecraft an early success was that the ambitious initial release, while nowhere near what it would become, was reliably functional. No matter how good a title’s ideas are, if the functionality isn’t working as intended or the player can’t get through an area without having to deal with severe bugs, it won’t survive in a market where many titles live or die by their initial release. Even recent AAA titles have struggled to come back from their initial release states even after multiple patches were released.
This is where a good QA partner can help, ensuring that an indie release offers a satisfying experience, unencumbered by bugs. Since indie titles are usually self-financed and every dollar matters, how does a small team successfully deliver high quality while still controlling costs? The answer lies in how to work with your QA partner, targeting when and where they use their QA resources.
Here are five factors to consider for improving your QA process and maximizing its value:
- Start at the right time: don’t start so early that many of the launch features are not implemented, and not so late that some UX concerns cannot be reported and addressed.
- Strategic staffing: once QA starts, try to keep at least one tester on the project (assuming the project is Single Player only) for the duration for the more granular coverage, and bring in a bigger team on key development milestones.
- Create a good debug tool: limited QA time means making the most of time available, and having the right debug commands available can make a difference in reaching your goals.
- Create and maintain a Game Design Document: regular updates and/or detailed build notes reduce the chance of invalid issues being reported. While this is recommended for any size project, it’s crucial for a small team/budget.
- Keep a portion of your budget for post-release: one side effect of having a smaller QA team is that once the title is deployed to the general public, a higher number of out-of-path issues will be found and will need addressing.
By keeping these factors in mind, an indie team can have a good portion of the QA groundwork laid out. In an industry where indie titles are forced to fight for space in the market, good QA can be a real differentiator.
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