QA specialist Testology has launched a new academy and training course that will give graduates the chance to earn an accredited National Diploma in games testing, GamesIndustry.biz can reveal.
Test-thru-Ology is a new initiative that stems from previous training courses the company has run, with the first six month full-time course launching this summer. The academy's qualification has been accredited by the UK's national awarding organisation AIM Awards, and premises have been set up in Hampshire.
Testology's owner and managing director Andy Robson says an industry-led course will be the best way to resolve the skill shortages the market faces, particularly for an area as crucial as games testing.
"This has been a long time coming," he tells GamesIndustry.biz. "If we want to ensure that every game produced is of the highest possible quality then that level of quality has to be reflected in the next generation of people doing the testing.
"In our experience, there is a definite shortage of high quality testers in the games industry. QA is obviously one of the most critical elements as it can make or break the success of a game. Our aim is to standardise the QA industry so that anyone who wants to be a games tester has to have this qualification."
Robson will be putting his money where his mouth is as he reveals that not only will his company's current batch of testers have to take the new qualification but all future employees will have to graduate from the Test-thru-Ology academy as well.
The course promises "more than 780 hours of learning" and combines lessons from industry experts with practical, on-the-job training. Students will complete more than 400 lessons, split into 11 modules, in order to earn their national diploma after just six months, which Robson claims is "a very realistic time period". By the end, he claims that graduates will have "extensive knowledge of bug hunting, bug writing, test plans, tools, bug databases, communication, teamwork and destructive testing".
Part of the course will also focus on helping students secure jobs once they have qualified, with advice on CV writing, interview techniques and help finding work placements. Testology's new recruitment firm, Recruit-thru-Ology, will also run alongside the academy and the firm is calling for other studios to get involved.
"On-the-job experience is the best way to learn and we are looking for companies to allow the academy to test their games live in development to give our students a real-life testing environment"
"On-the-job experience is the best way to learn and we are looking for companies to allow the academy to test their games live in development to give our students a real-life testing environment," says Robson. "As part of the diploma, students will also get a work experience placement in the industry so they can see for themselves what it's like to work in the games business."
While Testology has worked with both AIM Awards and Farnborough Technology College to ensure the course meets educational standards, Robson believes it's crucial that ventures such as this are led by the industry rather than an academic institution that lacks in-depth experience.
"I think a big failure of many educational courses is that students end up leaving with a mass of debt and no career direction," he says. "We need to really help place these people in the industry, some establishments do this already, but this should be reflected across the whole industry.
"One of the biggest challenges for educational institutions is that they tend not to have industry experts in every specific field. We can channel our years of experience into the academy and offer the students an accredited academic qualification at the same time."
It's no secret that a role in testing, QA and localisation can be used as a springboard into many other games disciplines across the entire spectrum of development, and the hope is that Test-thru-Ology will help nurture future talent in all forms.
"The industry has to take control. We all moan about the lack of quality and skillsets coming in but it's really down to us to lead the way and teach these disciplines properly"
"For anyone interested in a career in games, QA is a fantastic place to start," says Robson. "Some of the most respected people in our industry started off in QA, which is testament to the fact that it is a viable way in. Ultimately, having QA testers with a qualification will save companies and test departments a significant amount of time as they will no longer have to train their own testers."
If successful, it's possible the Test-thru-Ology model could be applied to other disciplines, helping the games industry directly source and train new creators with the skills studios need. Robson is keen to see this concept taking beyond just quality assurance.
"I feel very strongly that the industry has to take control of this," he says. "We all moan about the lack of quality and skillsets of people coming into the industry but it's really down to us as industry experts to lead the way and teach these disciplines properly. Why don't we have an academy for game design, coding, production, audio, script writing, level design? The list is endless and these are just some of the areas the industry needs to explore."
Test-thru-Ology opens doors this summer, and Robson reports he's received a "brilliant response" from the industry. The team is reaching out to other studios for both games to test and additional expert advice, with Populous and Fable creator Peter Molyneux praising the initiative. And Robson stresses that this is only the beginning.
"We've got some ambitious plans for the academy in the not too distant future," he says. "There is a mass of people looking for ways to get into the industry so we're expecting a huge response from students wanting to apply. Initially, we will run four courses a year from the first academy based in the South East.
"The plan is to roll this out nationally and introduce courses in London and the north of England. We have global plans for the future - we want to take the academy across Europe and to the US. We have set the bar high, but we think our plans are very achievable."