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Ask Amiqus - How do studios approach QA and localisation before release

Posted by: Liz Prince

When a good job has been done on QA no-one notices, but when it goes wrong it can make headline news.

Quality is part of the bedrock of a robust and reliable technical product whereas localisation quality facilitates enjoyment for your audience in any corner of the globe.

A challenge in recent years has been the increasing use of an early-access launch. New hardware and the advent of VR have also added to the scope, but if anyone can bring a robust, structured approach to a moving feast of game development then a QA can. We spoke to studios to get their take on these far-reaching, highly specialised components of game development. 

Timing is key
Ross McGhee is Marketing Manager at Pole To Win. As a leading provider of outsource services, McGhee has insight from a multi-company perspective;- “In our experience the approach very much varies from one client to another but the consensus is that whilst QA tends to be involved at a much earlier stage, Localisation QA’s involvement still comes in at too late a stage”. McGhee is keen to expound the benefits of involving Localisation QA in the early stages of the design and development to ensure correct internationalisation. He told us:- “Championing Localisation QA best practises will maximise the impact of processes and eventually drive cost and time efficiencies down. Involving Localisation QA at an earlier stage will:

  • Help the team gain advance knowledge of the game structure features, release schedule to scope the requirements
  • Enable the team to rely on the Functional QA team’s expertise to identify suitable build/change list to start Localisation QA testing on (e.g. build stability)
  • Enable the team to use QA test plans to help build the Localisation QA testing schedule and plan adequately”

Richard Hylands, QA Lead agrees early approach is also needed from a software perspective;- “My approach is to integrate quality assurance into the development cycle as early as possible. QA should understand the design and features of what it is testing at concept rather than waiting until the hard work of creating the content has passed. The aim of this approach is to create software that is stable and also aligns with the design from day one. By doing this we can ensure there are no surprises later in the development cycle where defects can be very costly”. 

Know your audience
Olly Hart, QA Manager told us that social and mobile developer Outplay takes quality extremely seriously; “so do our players – our games are enjoyed all around the world!”. Hart believes this is due to the extensive effort and time that the team put into testing and localising games for a number of different countries; “Outplay recognises that quality and localisation play a huge part in connecting with our audience around the globe, which is why we dedicate ourselves into making sure that our games are great right from the initial release”.

For Western developers, the five core languages that are used in commercial territories are known as ‘EFIGS’ which stands for English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. However these are very much considered the basics. “We aim to launch every game with localisation beyond standard EFIGS” says Hart, “and this requires co-ordination and effort. Our process begins with a large team of dedicated in-house testers, who form a part of the game teams. This close interaction with both the developers and other testers means that a high flow of information is maintained at all times – which is vital in such a fast paced environment”.

Hart also believes that for Outplay, the team’s diversity plays a huge part in testing, and that this naturally helps with localisation too. “Outplays multicultural team means that in the run up to any game launch, we have native speakers who can assist us in making our game easy to understand – no matter where you are or what language you speak. Getting our games ready in this fashion involves a lot of both manual and automated testing. These custom tools are developed alongside the game, so that when it comes time to test localisation, the team can work efficiently and without being hindered”. 

Same process – different games
Daniel Flanagan sheds light on how AAA developer Codemasters shapes the expansive and detailed process of QA and localisation on a large-scale;- “The core portion of the in-game text is normally completed for the Alpha milestone in English, at which point we would begin the translation of our target languages. Maintaining a consistency with the translations across title updates is key, so great care is paid to previous editions of the franchise – again, this also helps to retain the style and characteristics within each of our titles”. Critical paths can vary under the QA umbrella depending on the feature being tested as Flanagan explains “Localisation QA starts once we have all of the localised assets available in game – all of our localisation testing is outsourced and so the testing window is not as broad as our main QA testing; first passes of the foreign languages are done in-house in order to catch any immediate issues with overlaps or truncation”.

Following a process doesn’t mean identical game experiences however as Flanagan points out:- “Each of our titles has a distinct style and feel to the presentation; we work hard with our localisation partners to ensure that these styles and the presentation as a whole is kept as close as possible and retains the highest level of quality. Maintaining a constant level of communication with all areas of development during the localisation process is a key factor to ensuring that we deliver the same level of quality across all languages”. 

All the studios concurred that the bridge between the dev and QA teams is key to keep the overall product on track. Outsourcing provides access to specialist expertise, though relies on strong relationships and a full understanding of the game proposition as Flanagan explains;- “We have a select few trusted vendors that we work with for translations, VO recording and localisation QA testing. Working on specific franchises keeps the quality high and consistent, providing all territories with the same extremely high standards that we set ourselves”.

Indies and smaller studios
Even though the scale might be smaller, for a game to reach it’s full potential QA and localisation is just as important for smaller developers. Ian Masters, Creative Director of Quiz Tix offers an SME perspective;- "As a small indie mobile dev Google Play's release management system has quickly become an essential part of our QA process. The ability to have alpha and beta users who receive pre-release updates automatically is brilliant but the best part is staged roll-outs. This allows us to push new features and release builds to a small portion of players first, often surfacing any issues before they ever reach 95% of players. It's impossible to ever guarantee a build is bug free so these two tools have helped immensely."

Andrew Bennison, founder of Manchester based Prospect Games shared his view;- "Some indie developers consider that designing and making the game is far more fun than QA and localisation. Fast forward in time and this negligence will hurt your team in the long run as you scramble to fix old bugs and hastily implement poorly translated text”. Bennison describes a learn from his early experiences with Unbox: Newbie's Adventure; “We populated the levels with characters, signposts and diaries full of fun text for players to read but we never considered at the time how much that would cost to translate - imagine our shock when we received quite a hefty quote! The best way to approach QA and localisation is to start both as early as possible” concludes Bennison;- “Ensure you have a pipeline for testing builds from day one and write text with localisation in mind". 
In an increasingly crowded games market, with so much choice the importance of player experience is greater than ever. Early integration, adherence to the game’s vision, robust processes and dialogue between the dev and QA teams are all key features of success. As Richard Hylands surmises;- “Quality Assurance is a high-value service and very much part of the whole development process”.

This article by Amiqus was originally published abridged in Develop Magazine September 2017 p38.

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