Ryan Harris has enjoyed an illustrious career to date with an impressive range of gaming giants in his portfolio including Sega and EA Criterion. Currently Ryan is the QA Manager at nDreams, a virtual reality studio, developing and publishing award winning games and experiences. We asked Ryan, some key questions about getting into the games sector.
Explain your role like I'm 5 years old
I work with Production across multiple projects to determine their Quality Assurance needs. Taking into account project scope (size, play time, number of players etc.), schedule and budgets to formulate a test schedule. The schedule then dictates and recruitment requirements for the team and whether or not we require the assistance of a third party QA vendor in addition to our internal resource.
From here I will liaise with third parties who we may be developing for (such as Oculus) and arrange external QA coverage in addition to the coverage we offer internally. This includes more planning and budgeting in addition to helping manage the external teams to ensure we’re getting the coverage and quality of work we desire.
Once we have the required number of testers available, I make sure I am on hand to both aid testing and offer assistance to my team and any of the projects we currently have in development. I’m responsible for the quality of the products we put out as a studio, so have a vested interest in ensuring everything is of the highest quality possible.
Finally, I create release testing plans and escalation processes for our released titles in conjunction with our communication team to ensure any issues raised once the game is released are dealt with quickly and efficiently.
Take us through your average day at work
Once I’m in the door and have my cup of tea at the ready I start by opening my emails and reviewing the various reports and updates from the end of the previous days testing, following up with any questions I may have. I discuss any issues with my team to ensure that they have everything they need to be able to do their job and follow up with production/design/code as necessary.
I then take the latest build of a given project and work through whatever it is I’m currently working on within that given project – My role is still quite hands on while the projects are up and running.
Throughout the day there are inevitably various meetings for different projects which can vary from a chance to discuss the current state of play, what is coming up, risks and mitigations, general direction etc.
What was your educational and career journey into your current role?
My journey to where I am now was rather haphazard actually. I completed music technology and performing arts courses at college but never progressed to university. I spent many years working in retail at various companies but eventually spent a number of years working with Virgin Megastores / Zavvi until the companies went into administration and we closed down – forcing me into unemployment.
During my time there I worked my way up to a managerial position within the company, learning a lot about people management and customer service. It was during my time unemployed that I spotted an advert for Sega who were looking for games testers in a local newspaper. I liked playing games, so I applied and the rest is history!
I have since worked for Sega, Lionhead, EA Criterion, Sharp, Microsoft and now nDreams. I worked a number of QA positions at these companies; QA tester, Senior QA tester, Test Engineer and now QA Manager.
What is the most rewarding thing about your role?
Seeing all the hard work that everyone does come together into a great final product and getting to see the positive reaction of the public once it’s been released.
What other roles do you work with the most?
Production would have the highest level of interaction, followed by Code and Design. But the embedded team here at nDreams are active participants in the development process and we work directly with all departments; Signing off stories and testing new features and functionality as it goes into the build
What's the most challenging thing about your role?
Ensuring that you keep on top of all the ins and outs of multiple projects and ensuring that each has their various needs met.
What software or digital tools do you use the most?
We principally work in the builds produced by the build machines, but we do use a number of additional bits of software to make our lives easier. Jira is our bug database at nDreams and probably the software we interact with the most.
We also make use of tools like Nvidia Shadowplay for recording footage, Handbrake for compressing it to fit as an attachment, RenderDoc for helping to assess performance and the Unreal Engine – Which we use to create bespoke test maps for issue re-creation and automated testing.
There are many other supplementary bits of software we use based on project requirements, too many to list out and explain.
What are the key skills needed for you to work on to do your role?
Certainly the ability to juggle multiple high priority tasks, keeping calm under pressure and a good eye for detail really helps when testing too. I find that I have a need to retain a lot of information about multiple titles and how their key systems work and interact with one another and what the current overall state of recent builds are.
What advice would you give to your younger self looking to get started in the industry?
Personally I have a lot of interest in other areas of the industry. Certainly if I had known this was going to be my career I would have directed my education more in that direction. There are lots of courses which focus on the games industry nowadays and I feel I would have benefited from something more intensive around computer science or design.
Even if I still ultimately ended up in the QA side of things these skills are easily transferable and would be a boon to anyone looking to get into QA.
Do you have any links to good articles or videos that you think might give some tips or advice to someone starting in your role?
QA is absolutely a viable career opportunity, and not just a gateway into the industry. A lot of people do start in QA before moving on to other things, and I feel having experience in QA is a great asset to anyone in other positions as it gives you an appreciation for the skills involved.
Passion for the job is important. Be passionate about games, playing games, replaying games, different kinds of games, new games, old games, video games, board games(!?). Tell me about issues you’ve seen in games you play at home – maybe elaborate on how you think the issue could have been found, or improved upon – It gives insight into your way of thinking.
QA isn’t “being paid to play games” - This is something I see a lot of. Yes, we do spend a lot of time playing games, but it’s also important to have a good analytical mind; The ability to assess how different systems will interact with one another, or what different things players might try to do.
We also provide feedback on features and accessibility. There are also a lot of technical aspects to the position, and every project I have ever worked on has required me to learn a new skill or piece of software – Even after 11 years in QA I’m still learning new tools.
One of the hardest skills to master is forgetting what you know and playing from the perspective of someone who has never played the title before. The tutorials might make sense to you because you’ve played the game for months. But if you had no idea what the game was, had never picked up the controller before, would it still make sense?
Strong communication is another key skill. Whether it is writing reproduction steps so anyone can reproduce the issue you’ve found, providing feedback to a designer on their new interaction, updating your team on the test progress of new features or sending an email to an external test team. Being able to communicate clearly is super important.
And lastly, not an article as such, but this Twitter thread by Shauna about testing roles at Ubisoft gives a good amount of insight into how many different roles there are within QA and that it’s not just about playing games.