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

The Power of Three

Joe Lyons, VP of Business Development, discusses adding value to meetings by inviting a third party.  

The power of three is a concept I’ve seen in many contexts, and I want to share how I’ve incorporated it into my management and sales process with tangible results.

If you’re unfamiliar with the power of three, it’s an idea built around the fact that people naturally gravitate to groups of three. From the Three Bears to the Three Musketeers, from Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion to Thomas Jefferson’s three inalienable rights, the power of three appears continually in our lives.

I made it a part of my management style when a former director added a third person to our 1-on-1 meetings. Including a third person added value by bringing new perspectives while keeping the group small enough that everyone was engaged. It led to us asking better questions and enabled us to probe into what people were thinking about and working on. Plus, an extra mind keeps people honest about what comes out of the meeting. Everyone is on the same page.

Expanding Your 1-on-1s

The value of 1-on-1 meetings is well documented. But in my experience, adding the third person—let’s call it a 1-on-1-on-1—has noticeably changed the value to my employees. They like the format, and gain more insight and holistic understanding. It’s a big improvement if your 1-on-1s have become too routine or rote. Whether I include someone from a different department, a peer, or another executive, the conversations take on a different dynamic. When there’s a third person involved, it even forces me to think differently about the conversation so I can take advantage of that person’s perspective and expertise.

The Power of Three in Action

When I saw the value of the power of three for my team, I wanted to bring the same results to my meetings with clients, and found that creating interdependencies between three stakeholders can help drive business.

Here’s an example: I was working with a client that had a back-to-school deadline and wanted to launch an initiative in August. Unfortunately, Legal said it would take 12 months for them to sign off on everything. I saw no way to meet the deadline on our own, so I asked the client if there was anyone else we could work with to meet the launch deadline. As it turned out, they had a managed service provider that we had already been working with. Boom, we got the deal done by working a pass-through with the MSP. The addition of the third party—the power of three—allowed the client to close the deal. We all benefited.

Here’s another: I was discussing a deal with a prospect that sells IoT solutions to other companies, providing them a service. Because my service ran on Amazon Web Services, and the device that the customer sells is driven through amazon.com, the power of three popped into my head. Not only did I have a better chance of closing that deal, but everyone was interdependent on each other: The prospective customer is selling its product on Amazon, my service was running on AWS, and Amazon wins on both fronts if they do the deal. Presenting this thinking to Amazon, they bit—hard—saying they’d never seen anyone do a deal this way before. It was this outside-the-box thinking that led to a win – for everyone involved.

A New Approach to Sales?

Businesses—at least the smart ones—understand the importance of interdependencies. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. While you may not be able to group three entities together in all of your deals—in some instances it just won’t make sense—there are likely a few opportunities where a three-company partnership will be beneficial for all parties.

Great salespeople understand the importance of switching things up from time to time and trying new tactics. Roll the dice on the power of three, be patient, and see what happens. Chances are you’ll love the results.

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

The Power of Three

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

Recap of 17th Annual Women in Gaming Luncheon at GDC

women in gaming - GDC

VMC had the pleasure of attending the 17th Annual Women in Gaming luncheon held during GDC 2017. Sponsored by Team Xbox, the theme for the event was “Be You.”  Emceed by Erin “Aureylian” Wayne (Lead Community Manager at Twitch, single mom, and gamer,) attendees enjoyed a range of engaging tech leaders sharing their career experiences in our industry:

  • Mariebeth Aquino, Founder at 360opportunity
  • Dr. Kelli Dunlap, Psychologist & Game Designer
  • Maureen Fan, CEO & Co-Founder of Baobab Studios
  • Elizabeth Maler, CEO of Accidental Queens
  • Jenny Xu, MIT Student, owner of JCSoft Inc

The crowd response revealed how many of the stories were very relatable to the attendees, including tales of imposter syndrome, sexist culture, and feeling outnumbered or out of place. Amid all of the nods and claps, it was encouraging that these stories were being told at a Women in Gaming event – and the 17th annual occurrence. It was great to see Jenny Xu giving a shout out to Kate Edwards, Executive Director of the IGDA, for encouraging her in game design. It’s inspiring to see innovative leaders supporting other leaders.

What’s interesting about hearing such stories is that the data clearly underscores the value of women in senior management roles in the tech industry. In a study by Dezsö and Ross of 1,500 U.S. firms in the S&P, female representation in top management improved financial performance for organizations where innovation is a key piece of the business strategy. Gallup has found that companies with more diverse teams (including more women) have a 22% lower turnover rate. Moreover, organizations with more inclusive cultures also have an easier time with recruiting.

At VMC, this data hits close to home. In July 2016, we welcomed Juliana Su as VMC President. Ms. Su has a proven record of leadership and innovation with companies in the connected and digital space, including 13 years as COO and Global Vice President at Openet. This expertise made her the clear choice for leading our strategic expansion into IoT, streaming media, and other new areas.

It was a pleasure to see these successful women urging attendees to be themselves and be authentic. That’s not always easy in our industry, but it’s an essential aspect of how people can add value to the projects they work on.  Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” That still rings true in the game industry, because true diversity happens when everyone brings their true self to their work.

Recap of 17th Annual Women in Gaming Luncheon at GDC

Women in Gaming: An Evening of Insights at Team Xbox

Women in Gaming at Xbox

Last night VMC attended the Women in Gaming dinner, hosted by Team Xbox. It was a fantastic event and featured four Microsoft speakers on a variety of gaming topics, starting with Microsoft’s Gaming for Everyone initiative (known as G4E) and ending with a great talk on Cloud Gaming.

We were pleasantly surprised to see a gaming area where you could demo HoloLens, which was fun to watch people experience for the first time, and included an inspiring talk about HoloLens by Jasmine Lawrence of Team Xbox. Aubrey Norris also gave an engaging talk about her work running PR for the Minecraft team – a dream job – after growing up in an impoverished coal mining town in Pennsylvania. She may be thousands of miles away from that town now, but the irony that coal is one of the key resources in Minecraft wasn’t lost on anyone!

The evening ended with Anandhi Bumstead, one of the engineers who helped build Azure, discussing the work that’s being done to create a gaming platform for the cloud. Microsoft is clearly working on some really great technology, and we’re excited to see these gaming initiatives and technologies grow. Thank you team Xbox for the invite!

Women in Gaming: An Evening of Insights at Team Xbox

The Year of IoT: Key Takeaways and Trends from CES 2017

Innovation was on full display at CES, the world’s largest consumer tech show, in both the products and the presentations. Elgato had one of our favorite set-ups; it’s hard to resist their products when they’re displayed on hovering pods across the booth.

best-booth-display

It’s clear that there’s an increasing arms race to capture the mind and pocket share of the connected consumer. While the competition is heated, there is a lack of standardization as companies jockey to get market share for their respective platforms.

Here are a few key takeaways from 2017:

Amazon Dominated the Show

Amazon was everywhere. Alexa and its voice computing technology is heavily integrated into products from refrigerators (LG) to cars (BMW). From cloud computing to smart apparel, there were few categories where Amazon wasn’t represented.

IoT Connected Everything

Robots, cars, wearables—IoT connects them, just not to each other. We are still seeing this space as disjointed, with many different products that are connected but not in a holistic way. Also, how much value can one get from items that are connected to the internet as their only distinguishing factor (smart socks, smart underwear, smart hairbrush)? However, 2017 appears to be the year of the IoT.

Autonomous Car

Although NVIDIA is best known for video games, it’s gaining a reputation in the smart car/AI space. NVIDIA has forged numerous strategic partnerships with Audi, Tesla, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen to provide AI hardware, including showing off a Lincoln MKZ luxury sedan as a self-driving test vehicle at CES. NVIDIA continues to be one to watch in the autonomous/smart car space.

future-car

Predictions for 2017

 

The Cloud

Cloud Computing continues to grow. With a 25% increase YOY for the last four quarters, we see no reason why the trend will change. As a result, big data, BI and machine learning will continue to grow. AWS and Azure, its major competitor, are on target to generate over $12 billion each in 2017. A favorite quote from a post during the show was from Julie White, VP for Azure and security marketing who said the “Belief that one cloud vendor can meet all needs is simply out of touch with reality and smacks of vendor hubris”.

ArtificiaI Intelligence

With robots all over the show floor, AI had a huge presence at the show. There were robot nannies and un-manned aerial systems serving a variety of verticals. We see AI as a growing segment for 2017.

Augmented / Virtual reality

vr-mgm-lionAR/VR was a huge presence at CES once again. With so much hype over the last few years, everyone is still waiting for the killer AR/VR app. We predict that AR/VR will struggle to gain traction in 2017.

We had a great time at CES 2017, and we’re looking forward to watching today’s innovations become tomorrow’s top products. We’re also excited that VMC will continue supporting our partners to make these great products even better.

The Year of IoT: Key Takeaways and Trends from CES 2017