What are the differences between video game tester, QA tester, and playtester?

Playtests Ubisoft Screenshot 9 Ecran Partage

Ahhhh! Working in video games! A pleasure!

Even better when it comes to playing video games all day long!


Among the most common misunderstandings among people outside the video game industry are those around the job of the tester. Some people think that video game testers have a simple job and that these people are lazy. It’s simple to play a game, isn’t it?

Today we explain the differences between the different types of testers.

QA (or QA) Tester

QA is the abbreviation for Quality Assurance.

AQ is the equivalent for the French Quality Assurance.

The abbreviation QA is the most common even in the French-speaking world.

Throughout the development of a video game, programmers, graphic artists, sound artists, and game designers will add many elements to the game’s working repertoire. Game development is also a very iterative creative process. You’re never sure if you’re going to do something that’s successful, enjoyable to play, or that you’re going to transcribe what you want right. When it’s teams of 400-500 people working on a single project/game, that’s as many people who have opinions and think that this or that would be better this or that way.

Most of the time, everyone works on a just-in-time basis, programmers keep adding functions to the code but don’t have time to test if everything is working properly compared to what already exists in the project.

This is where the QA tester comes in, this person tests during the entire development of the project, all the functions, everything that has been added and everything that already exists to see if it still works properly. It then summarizes in very detailed reports what bug has been found, where in the game, how to reproduce it, what the effects are. It also tracks the progress of each of the bugs found:

Have they been resolved?

Have they reappeared?

Have they been hidden by another function?

Are they no longer relevant because the feature has been removed or replaced?

The person testing the game will follow the entire progress of the project, and this includes the production or even prototyping stages where the project looks like nothing, and is made up of cubes, rectangles, and provisional images. This person also has to try the same menus, buttons, game modes many times to report the details.

For many years, the project will be a far cry from the finish and graphics of the final game that consumers can buy commercially. The project will only take shape in the last months of its conception.

So it’s not necessarily a pleasant thing to test the same unfinished project for several years, and to have to report the details of the hundreds, sometimes thousands, or tens of thousands of bugs that make it up.

But it’s an essential job in video game development, regardless of the size of the studio. Fortunately, the larger the project, the larger the QA team.

Unfortunately, it is a profession that is very poorly regarded by the biggest video game companies despite the necessity of it.

Often, testers are freelance instead of salaried, so they don’t have health insurance, are poorly paid, and are fired very quickly. They are considered replaceable by the industry.

Some service companies have even dedicated themselves to having armies of QA testers who test the most popular games in development for other game studios.

The testers are then salaried but paid minimum wage, have working hours that can go to night work for months or even years, have no air conditioning in the summer or heating in the winter in the premises. If they complain, they are fired and replaced.

The dream job.

There has been no shortage of horror stories about the working conditions of some testers in the media over the years. Thankfully, things are getting better little by little, as the scandals break out.

According to Glassdoor.ca, QA testers have a salary ranging between $33k and $55k per year.

Some people use this role to get into the industry and a video game company and hope to convince them to change jobs once they know the staff.


Okay, let’s relax after the description above.

“Playtesting” games is something easier.

It’s not a job, it’s not a contract. You can’t rely on it to make a living from it.

When a game is about to be released, during the last months of development, the studio in charge invites players to come and test the game, for a “playtest”.

A playtest is a game session with some members of the game team. Players are then invited to give all their impressions, their opinions in detail on part or all of the game.

The playtest can last several hours or even days. Participants must not disclose anything about the game outside of the studio and must sign confidentiality agreements. It may be that their parts, facial expressions, words are recorded when they play. It depends on the requirements of the studio.

Playtests are used to adjust areas in the game, which may be too difficult, easy, scary, or cause unwanted behaviors for example. It’s also to see if you like the game or not, and to whom.

Are players who are used to this type of game happy?

Can neophytes have fun too?

Is the interface clear?

It also helps to market the game. If we know, for example, that the game will appeal to children between 7 and 12 years old, we will dedicate the ads to publications that concern them.

To do this, development teams agree with different groups of individuals to determine who will be suitable for the product.

Same thing here, some people hope to get into the industry by meeting the development team and giving them their resume.

Playtesters are rewarded with a little cash, Amazon gift cards, or games from the studio.

If you want to know how playtests work at Ubisoft, find our article here.

Video Game Tester

In the past, video game testers were the name given to video game journalists, or those who work in the press.

“They test and criticize games? So they’re video game testers!”

From now on, the term is mainly used to refer to QA testers, and to a lesser extent to playtesters.

Did it make you want to try out games?

Do you have any experiences as a video game tester to share?

Write them in the comments!

Featured photo credits: Ubisoft

About Marc Shakour

Former video game programmer, columnist, teacher, competitor ... Marc has always been very familiar with the world and industry of video games. He decided to help neophytes about it, to discover new universes, worlds and fantastic creatures.

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