The Quality Guy

A story by Ken Ramsley

Available on Amazon Kindle

Deadlines.  That’s the concise title of our new RPG (role-playing game) and a nicely polished summary of my career because, according to the clever tagline for this video game, I’m always ‘returning to the scene of the crime.’  In my case, this always has me landing in the same dead-end job.  I don’t create anything.  Instead, I look for design flaws, which makes me the ‘enemy’ in the eyes of the so-called ‘creative’ teams who design without regard to reality.  Forget creativity.  Most days have me working crazy hours trying to ensure that we produce something that actually works.

Meanwhile, we are all staring down the barrel of a ‘ship date’ aimed at us by the money people who make the real creative decisions based on what we can afford and when we need to deliver our game.  At first, the investors are looking to score the next big-name franchise.  Once they see us hiring a standing army, they begin to panic, and after the usual production delays and cost overruns, it isn’t long before they are scrambling to get their money back any way they can.

Most game studios go belly-up before they ever turn a profit, and to hedge their bets, seasoned investors stick with famous studios who produce famous titles like Minecraft, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto – and they let the no-name studios borrow from no-name investors.  By the time a video game goes on sale, it may have cost the money people 10 or 20 million dollars.  And because of the risks involved, once the release date rolls around, it’s all about the money – not the art, or the gameplay, or the story arc.  If the investors don’t turn a profit, the next time around they will invest their money somewhere else.

Despite threats to fire everyone on a daily basis, the cash pours straight down the drain until we ship or fold.  If we manage to ship, it’s never the game we planned to build because that game was never possible.  I keep a running list of original concepts and a list of how they turned out.  The difference comes down to how the investors and studio owners overestimate the market and underestimate our ability to define a ‘next generation’ of gameplay reality.  If we had a time machine that would let us freeze the competition inside a temporal bubble – maybe we could produce something truly ‘next generational.’  Yet, by the time a video game is released, it winds up for sale as part of the newest current generation – like everyone else’s game.

For this reason, the people who invest in games like Deadlines are called ‘stakeholders’ to their faces and ‘fools’ behind their backs.  But we have our marching orders, and in the end we’ll chop out the unfinished parts, cobble something together that looks like a game, and hope nobody notices how it could have been much better.

Unofficially, I’m the ‘quality guy,’ and back here inside our windowless ‘cave’ my Quality Assurance team tests everything that is produced by the ‘creative’ team.  It’s a lot of work, but basically it comes down to looking for bugs and major crashes so our customers standing knee-deep in snow waiting to drop fifty bucks on our title won’t open a Christmas morning disaster.  Until we find a padlock on the door to our office, our QA team will play-test each newly updated version until we loathe this game to the point where we can’t imagine anyone paying a dime for this virtual piece of crap.

I’d like to say how a quality failure can ruin the reputations of people like me, but back here, in the quality cave, we have so little to lose by way of ‘reputation’ that it’s pointless to worry.  Even though we rescue projects on a daily basis, in the world of video game design, like most industries, QA hangs from the lowest rung of the product development hierarchy, and no matter what goes wrong, the QA people catch the blame and we wind up with our pink slips before anyone else.  Bad customer reviews?  Blame QA.  Bad Sales?  Blame QA.  The embarrassment of a newly-released product cluttering the dust-covered bargain bins at Walmart?  You guessed it – Blame QA.

Everyone bad-mouths the QA guys almost as much as we bad-mouth ourselves for a thankless job that nobody appreciates – except for Tom, our executive producer and the only reason I’m still here.  Tom is one of the ‘good guys’ in this business.  Though even Tom can’t ignore economic reality.

Making a game is just like making a movie.  Once the production wraps and the title ships, an executive producer has no need for a standing army anymore.  One way or another – even if things go well, and everybody’s writing glowing reviews and the game somehow winds up famous for more than fifteen minutes – the studios always terminate their teams at the end, as in fired, discharged, shit-canned.  Until they hire a brand new team to work on a brand new title, most studios are ghost towns.  That’s how it works in this business, and before Deadlines is officially released I’ll be out the door looking for another quality disaster to fix, and in my next job I’ll be happy for the paycheck and not much else.

Around midnight, once the so called ‘creative department’ runs out of pizza and beer, they save their latest ‘work’ on the main server, and log out.  Minutes later, our QA team shows up, downloads copies of the newest archive, and opens the mess on our own machines to have a look.  Before the ‘talent’ returns like driftwood on the tide to produce another tsunami of gameplay bugs and broken software elements, we have until noon the next day to tabulate our test results and deliver the bad news.  As the QA boss, I usually stay around for the afternoon senior staff meeting, and after a frustrating 15-hour day, I’ll trudge past the usual gauntlet of slacker-talk on my way out the door at 3:00 p.m.

Mostly, we report endless computer lock ups, game-engine crashes, calls to software subroutines that do not exist, and gameplay levels that run around in circles that can never be won, and when the so-called ‘talent’ gets royally pissy and starts to ignore our warnings, I’ll drag them into the QA cave by the ears and show them just how poorly their work is built and how an entry-level designer could do a better job.

After that, if they still won’t pick up the slack, I’ll bury them in bug reports at all hours of the day with copies to their managers in random order until they toe the line.  In short, when the ‘talent’ pushes me too far, I’m happy to remind them how easy it is to turn their lives into a living hell.  I’m the ‘quality guy.’  I’ve got nothing to lose.


Sample End

Total Length: 29 pages

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