Five QA Tips for Indies

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.

VMC’s expertise ensures ​the most innovative companies ​in the world deliver an excellent ​product experience to ​every customer, everywhere. Learn more at vmc.com

Five QA Tips for Indies

VMC’s EXP Lab Helps Indie Developers Grow

Independent developers are among the most creative talents in the industry, surprising audiences with fun and engaging new IPs. Many indies have a strong vision for their game or app, but they lack access to the array of knowledge required to transform their brilliant idea into a successful product.

VMC’s EXP Lab is an innovative new incubation program that gives indie developers access to a secured lab environment and information, technology, and mentoring that will enable them to focus on making great games. This program enables developers to learn from industry experts who have worked on numerous indie, mid-sized, and AAA games, including attending informational sessions aimed to help indies prepare for success.

Along with space and infrastructure in a secured lab environment at our headquarters in Redmond, EXP Lab participants will benefit from:

  • Mentorship in QA, development, and production cycles
  • Technical consultancy to meet first-party requirements on all platforms
  • Financial, Legal, PR, and Marketing expertise
  • Local community in games

Even the most talented games professionals can face game development challenges: minimal experience with thorough QA/localization testing, limited understanding of platform certification requirements, limited budgets and access to hardware, and/or insufficient information on best practices for start-to-finish development. EXP Lab is designed to fill these gaps and provide guidance for addressing a wide variety of business challenges.

VMC’s mission is to ensure the most innovative companies in the world deliver an excellent product experience to every customer, everywhere – and many of the most innovative ideas are coming from indie developers. We have a long history of supporting indies, many of which have become industry leaders, and EXP Lab continues this ongoing effort to give indie developers the tools and knowledge to grow.

VMC’s expertise ensures ​the most innovative companies ​in the world deliver an excellent ​product experience to ​every customer, everywhere. Learn more at vmc.com

VMC’s EXP Lab Helps Indie Developers Grow

The Power of Play – April 26th, 2017

One Day. One Industry. Infinite Fun.
The Power of Play Countdown Begins!

 

Join VMC at THE game industry event in the Seattle area on April 26th! Hear from Bungie, Blizzard, Xbox and more! As a sponsor of this fabulous event, we are providing a discount link for 30% off so you can join us: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/power-of-play-2017-registration-29453983658?discount=ARFGames

From the biggest companies like Xbox, Bungie, Blizzard, and Oculus to the best of the indies like Ark Survival, Oxenfree, and Darkest Dungeon, all will be at Power of Play do some sharing, learning and celebrating.

On Wednesday at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue you’ll hear top industry speakers, mingle at the award reception, and see the newest indie and VR games around.

For more information go to: www.powerofplay.us. For more information on VMC or to set up a meeting with us, please email info@vmc.com.

At Power of Play You’ll:

* Learn from some of the biggest names in the business like Xbox, Blizzard, Wizards of the Coast, Oculus just to name a few.

* Hear VR experts discuss the near-term state of the market. What will be the single most under-tapped utility in VR? What is being done to address this? Where has VR delivered above or below expectations?

* Watch the top eight finalists present in front of our industry judges as they compete for the Seattle Indie Game Competition crown and $2,500!

The Power of Play – April 26th, 2017

New Devices Drive New Approaches to QA

Kirstin Whittle (Sr. Manager, Business Development) explains how multi-platform evolution is driving new QA protocols. 

We all have so many devices now – phones, tablets, desktops, consoles, even smartwatches and VR. It means there are many ways for users to engage with games and applications. This variety allows developers to attract and build a strong user base across multiple devices, but it is also driving changes to the role of QA in the product development process.

We all know that people expect a seamless playing experience. They want to remain immersed in the game world no matter what platform they’re playing on. As the proliferation of options grows – more devices, on more platforms, with continual hardware upgrades – the complexity of the QA and production processes across multiple devices grows with it. These changes are creating the opportunity for stronger partnerships between developers and their QA partners.

More Devices, More Demand

Pundits like to predict how the emergence of one technology will be the death knell for another, but the reality is more complex.

While manufacturers and the media evangelise the latest consoles and devices, most users aren’t upgrading with every new release. People get comfortable with their preferred interface or can’t afford to upgrade as often as the manufacturers might prefer. Along with a range of platforms and devices, the QA process must contend with different generations of each.

With so many active platforms, ensuring compatibility (and backwards compatibility) for a multi-platform title requires access to a comprehensive inventory of relevant devices.

Yet for most companies, the limited frequency of need – initial launch and periodic updates – makes assembling a huge inventory of devices a very cost-prohibitive process.

Working with a reliable QA outsourcing firm that owns and maintains a full range of the latest (and not-so-latest) devices allows developers to have their products fully tested on every version of their target operating system, device, and platform.

Continuity Across Every Platform

You learn a lot while performing QA on a title – and that knowledge is crucial to the multi-platform QA and support process. Tight coordination between test teams on different platforms enables efficient cross-referencing of issues across different devices, in turn accelerating results and giving development teams more time to address bugs. This is especially valuable when deadlines are driven by release dates and marketing plans rather than development.

Here’s the bottom line: Players want a great user experience, and delivering consistent product quality across everything from smartphones and tablets to desktops and consoles requires looking at the multi-platform QA process holistically, not as individual QA projects that are specific to each device.

Rather than running the risk of end-user disappointment by limiting the scope of your QA process, it is far better to choose a partner who can expertly handle every aspect of your multi-platform release strategy, including testing and localisation across a full range of devices, console compliance, and whatever else you need.

A well-executed QA strategy is essential to maximising both the efficiency of the process and the quality of the results.

New Devices Drive New Approaches to QA

Why indie developers need to think about more than development

Kirstin Whittle (Sr. Manager, Business Development) shares her thoughts on why creativity alone isn’t enough to ensure success. 

I had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Nordic Game Conference in Malmö and was impressed with so many creative, ambitious new games.

Indie games continue to thrive in Scandinavia and Europe, and I enjoyed talking with many start-up developers along with a number of industry veterans working on new ventures, to learn about what they’re doing and where they want their games to go.

The indie arena is great for developers who want more freedom and control to create the games they want to play, and the ongoing evolution of publishing models makes it possible to develop and release games that likely never would be released by an established publisher that expects a certain return on their investment.

But as is the case for any game, creativity isn’t enough to spur a game’s success.

Prepping for success

When the primary focus is on development, global production support services may not be a key focus, but developers need to have excellence in every area of their business, including marketing, legal, QA, localisation, live game operations and community management.

Managing quality in all of these areas is essential to getting people to play and keep playing your game because a great idea won’t make a splash if it’s poorly tested or localised, or isn’t marketed to your target audience.

No one knows what the next big thing is going to be, and many indie developers aren’t prepared to scale up quickly when their game takes off. Global production support services need to be an integral part of a development plan, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for any game.

Here are a few key factors to consider:

Pick a partner, not a provider

A good partner will serve as a guardian of your IP, and will understand that your game is your baby. Many global production support companies will take on indie projects and even offer advice prior to a formal engagement because they also want to be a part of the next big thing.

Talk to support partners who you trust and who have expertise to fill the gaps in the areas your in-house team is lacking.

Get them involved early

Getting your support partners involved early enables developers to benefit
from the insights an experienced partner can provide.

This includes anticipating obstacles and pitfalls, planning for all contingencies, and having additional support specialists who are already in the loop, who know your game, and with whom you have an established rapport.

Think beyond the launch

You want to offer more than just a great game – you want to give your customers a great experience, and this may include live game operations (games-as-a-service), customer support, and various forms of community management.

While an indie game may have humble beginnings, having it become a success doesn’t mean your relationship with your global production support partners has to change.

Many developers see augmenting their staff to bring everything in-house as a sign of success, but the peaks and valleys of the production process mean the workload for different groups will ebb and flow.

Continuing to work with outsourced partners can remain the most cost-effective approach, especially partners who already know your game, have proven their value, and can continue to provide critical subject matter expertise while you maintain complete creative control of your IP.

So pick good partners and get them involved early and you’ll be ready for anything.

Why indie developers need to think about more than development