Gaming! – Playing to be a better tester?

I’m a tester. I love it. But without doubt the pastime that first got me into IT as a career, and latterly testing, is undoubtedly gaming. I owe those early home computing pioneers a debt, like many of us in IT careers now. I first played games on the ZX Spectrum and Commodore Amiga machines, and this is where I first learned to program in BASIC, from all those dog eared copies of code printed in magazines. It was a joy. 

Latterly, as a PC gamer I was a member of clans on various games such as the Jedi Knight and Soldier of Fortune series. Since then I have had various home consoles, such as the Wii, X-Box and PS3…which are all now reaching the next stage in their evolution in home entertainment.

Now many of you might question the value of gaming as a pasttime. I can agree that it is a distraction from more serious and worthy pursuits. However it does provide a degree of relaxation and a way of blowing off steam following a day at the office that a work out, game of squash or a walk in the countryside cannot provide. I only play for a few hours per week, unlike hardcore gamers who will go for days at a time without interacting with another human being.

Recently I have been playing the fifth title in the Grand Theft Auto series. This series of games has introduced a number of controversial themes and scenarios to gamers over the last 10-15 years, but they are without doubt one of the most successful game franchises of all time. I will not be discussing the associated social and political problems with such games as part of this post, but will instead be looking at them in terms of their value as a software product. I’m not going to justify my choice of hobby here.

Firstly, the budget. This is reported by various sources to be in the region of $170 million. This would make it the most expensive video game ever made. But riding on that budget is a reputation for gameplay, narrative and quality that has more than surpassed its peers, such as the Call of Duty or Batman Arkham franchises. 

If you further question its validity as a software product worth discussing, then within 24 hours of release it earned approximately $800 million in sales, and $1 billion within 3 days. This surpasses any entertainment product, from the most successful games to the massive blockbuster movies such as Titanic, the Harry Potter series or the most recent James Bond movie. In a word, this is big business. The game producers, Rockstar, needed to ensure that not only did the game sold well, but that it exceeded the bar in terms of quality.

Whilst playing the game one evening, I thought of a testing challenge I have recently been a part of. I considered the potential elements of the game that would need to be explored by the Rockstar testers (of which there are many)..and this quickly became a morass of thoughts in my head within only a few minutes. 

Similar to the task of exploring a large commercial software product I was new to, I attempted to mind-map the game, in terms of it’s functionality, gameplay elements, user interface and so on. As much as anything this was an exercise for me in learning to use mind mapping as a process for me to understand the scope of the application under test, and potential areas of interest for testing.

It might surprise you that I had not used mind mapping as a test tool before, so this process was new to me. I am now using this process to derive exploratory and security tests on a daily basis. Its a powerful process, that if used well can help to visualise the challenge of exploratory testing for all sorts of applications. I’m using it more and more now, and I am still learning how to do it better. 

I know that by no means have I explored all the game using the mind map (I simply don’t have that much time to play the game) and that I have barely scratched the surface. The learning process I went through whilst playing the game I felt went beyond the simple pleasure of following the narrative, interacting with the characters and gameplay elements. 

At this stage I have not derived any tests that I could explore and execute, but merely those elements that might need exploring further, the relationships between elements of the game such as gameplay, characters, environments, user interfaces and so on. I found this a really useful exercise as I have attempted to explore the game and find new things in it to enjoy once I had completed the main narrative.

Through additional gameplay I might come to develop further ideas regarding how to explore the game from a testing perspective, but I don’t want this exercise to detract in my enjoyment of the game. I need to strike a balance.

It may seem that through doing this I am somehow trying to justify the number of hours I have put into playing the game, but I am not apologetic. It is a hobby like any other, and hobbies are important. 

The mind map I have developed so far is attached so you can take a look. I’d welcome any comments and suggestions. 

GTA 5 Mind Map

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