Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Outsourcing Quality

This post was inspired by a quote I saw from a Blizzard talk at DICE '08

"A lot of studios wouldn’t do QA, tech support, PR internally..."

Really? Well no wonder so many games turn out crappy. How can you adequately perform any of those roles if you aren't invested with the product? And how can you be invested if you don't work closely with it. All of that interaction amongst departments is vital. QA and developers need a close, active relationship. Otherwise its too easy for both sides to be dismissive of the other. Same goes for Tech Support. How often have you been frustrated by talking to someone in tech support who has obviously never talked directly to anyone involved with making the product and has no clue about the product in question beyond what their screen prompts tell them? It's happened to me too many times. And the experience was always awful.

But let's focus some more on QA, because that's where my experience lies. I have worked in QA for almost 10 years now at a variety of companies and with a varied amount of responsibility, including a year and a half at Origin working on UO, and a summer at Sega working on console games.

Sega was awful. I never even set eyes on a developer during my three months there. They were completely isolated from us. You never knew if they saw your bugs or not. Or if they even cared. And, in fact, we were at times told to only enter crash bugs. They didn't even want to hear our thoughts about gameplay, interface, etc. Result? None of the QA folks cared, none of them enjoyed the job after the first few weeks, and the turnover was tremendous. Crappy job, crappy games.

Contrast that to my previous QA job with Origin where we all worked in the same building and QA was right next door to all of the developers and programmers. The developers would come to us when they had a question about a bug and we would do the same when we had questions of our own. Not only was the communication great, but a general camaraderie developed amongst all involved, from HR to the server techs.

Towards the end of my tenure there, we were even getting QA involved with the initial design process, which IMO, worked great! I was the lead for that project (character transfers) and was able to point out potential issues before development began as well as get a head start on creating thorough, informed test plans. Result? What was probably one of the smoothest feature releases in UO's history.

But I'm digressing into personal reminiscence now. In short, all parts of the process should be kept as close together as possible. With distance comes communication issues, estrangement, lack of enthusiasm and a disinterest in taking ownership of the product. And I just fail to see the advantages in that.

1 comment:

Jeremiah said...

I've been reading a few of your posts, especially after searching for "Dynamic NPC". I have started working on that very idea for my Computer Science Senior Seminar. I think alot of gamers are tired of living in a stale world that have static NPC's walking the same path for 4 years, or groups of mobs that never migrate. Weather was introduced into WoW, but what effect did it have on NPC's or characters? None.

Anyway, I'd like to discuss it more, especially since you have seen the inside of the MMO industry via QA. You should be able to email me at my account. Thanks :D