It can be hard to convince people that playing children’s games is work. When you meet someone for the first time and tell them what you do, you usually get one of two reactions. They either get way too excited about how sweet your job must be, or they nod politely and start looking over your shoulder for a proper grown-up to talk to, presumably so they can discuss the budget deficit (or whatever grown-ups talk about).
Assuring quality for children’s games is important and challenging work. Here’s why...
Play is an important part of childhood. It’s not only fun, but is vital to building creativity, an active imagination and even emotional maturity. Play is a significant part of brain development in children, and a big part of how children learn about the world.
In recognition of this, children’s media organisations have increasingly been utilising storytelling and gaming to promote play-based learning.
Two Bulls is proud to be a part of this movement in children’s education and entertainment. Since our release of The Hidden Park in 2009, we’ve been leading the charge in creating innovative designs for children’s games, achieving wide recognition as specialists in children’s media, culminating in the 2014 launch of our dedicated children’s division, Two Moos.
To ensure everything Two Moos releases bears the high standard Two Bulls demands, it has to pass through the rigorous QA process applied to all our projects, but the Quality Assurance department’s contribution to our children’s games goes much further than testing and verifying behaviour.
When working with well-known properties like PBS KIDS, Sesame Workshop and Disney, our testers become intimately familiar with the characters and the story world involved. We diligently check all character interaction to ensure that our portrayals are always faithful to the source material.
We organise internal kid testing, often utilising the children of our staff and friends of staff (or, as we like to think of them, the Two Bulls extended family). Running informal testing with kids gives us some great insights into children’s motor skills and how they interact with our games, as despite our best efforts, our bitter, jaded QA professionals can sometimes find it hard to view the world with the excitement and curiosity of a child.
QA is integrated into each project’s team from the very start of a project, long before there’s anything testable. This early onboarding ensures QA have a thorough understanding of the project when it comes time to test. At Two Moos we’re involved in pre-development phases, including creative, wireframe and VO (voice-over) script. Our team is ensuring awesomeness is injected wherever possible by punching up VO and suggesting gameplay tweaks prior to and during development. We’re in the fortunate position of being a strong voice in any development team. Our creative feedback is heard, QA at Two Bulls is comprised only of those with the highest taste and distinction.
Recently we worked with PBS KIDS on an app, website and five games for their popular animated series “Ready Jet Go!” The series aims to teach children all about astronomy and scientific enquiry and is backed with scientific advisement from NASA. With the weight of such a prestigious organisation behind your product, you need to make damn sure the educational content you include is correct.
On a project like this, QA is utilised immediately to pour over Wireframes and VO scripts to identify edge cases and verify facts. Our team emerged from this work with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Planet and Constellation positions, names, and their background in Greek myth, even verifying the correct pronunciations of the most troublesome constellations (Camelopardalis, IMHO).
What this adds to the end product is obvious. When we release, it’s with the confidence that not only will our gaming experience provide the fun today’s kids have come to expect, but we can also be sure that the educational experience we provide for them is of the highest possible quality.
While our department enjoys a degree of creative input to our projects, testing games targeted at an audience of children can also be a real challenge.
We strive to foster the user’s creativity and allow them as much freedom as possible. We want to encourage learning and exploring while also catering to kids at varying levels of development.
The cost of our ambition is often a monumental amount of edge cases (unusual scenarios in which users do unexpected things), because we allow our users the freedom to explore, we have to consider all the different ways they may use the product.
QA leads must consider lateral approaches to gameplay (to ensure all scenarios are handled), monitor how our games communicate, ensure we cater for children who are learning to read, and provide alternatives so that educational content doesn’t come across as condescending to older kids. In short, QA tries to fill the role of our most demanding end user.
We strive to incorporate emerging technologies to make the experience more than just an interaction with a screen. This often introduces a minefield of testable variables involving Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Geolocation tracking (often requiring our testers to get out and about), gesture recognition tools like Kinect and an even the occasional karaoke app requiring some brave tester to annoy the rest of the office with their vocal stylings.
Projects usually require the QA team to understand and do research on the technologies involved, and always require creativity to imagine the many ways in which the interacting technologies may have issues.
So yes, games testing is work.