glitchtesters3.png[Returning to GameSetWatch for a new interview series, Todd Ciolek firstly looks at the folks in Georgia who've created Glitch Game Testers as a way to get high school students professionally game testing, hopefully paving their way for programming experience and bigger things.]

For the typical game tester, plowing through titles and spotting bugs are things to be done outside the classroom, as part-time jobs. Yet a number of high schools and colleges are offering game-testing pursuits as part of curricula, and a fine example lies in Glitch Game Testers.

Founded by the Georgia Institute of Technology and Morehouse College, the program finds a dozen high-school students playing, evaluating, and bug-hunting their way through the latest games on deck at GameTap, Hi-Rez Studios, EA, Cartoon Network, and other Georgia-based companies.

For a look at just how Glitch Game Testers came about, we went to Betsy DiSalvo, the Georgia Tech student who serves as Glitch’s research leader and program manager:

How did Glitch Game Testers get started?

Many computer scientists credit playing video games with sparking their interest in computing. But for some groups, such as African American males, the connection between video games and computer science is not happening as frequently. We began to wonder if there were differences in cultural play practices.

In 2006, we did some preliminary studies at the University of Pittsburgh and found that there seem to be some differences. The primary difference that inspired the tester program was that young urban African American men did not seem to have much value for modifying, cheating, hacking or in any way "gaming the game."

When I came to Georgia Tech, I started working with Dr. Amy Bruckman on finding a way to leverage the African American male’s gaming into an interest in computer science. We needed to get them to break open the game without interfering with their high value on sportsmanship. Game testing is a legitimate excuse to "break" a game that doesn't conflict with their culture of play.

How many students are currently in the program and how do they join it?

We have 12 students enrolled in the program. They learned about it through their teachers, after school activities and from informal parent networks. They each had to apply for the Glitch Game program.

Of the games the students have tested so far, which one was the most in-depth project?

The work we have done for GameTap has been very in-depth. We started with walkthru scenarios. We them moved on to area testing, ad hoc testing, and then started developing our own functionality test.

What is the typical work process for a Glitch game tester? How many hours a week does a tester normally put in?

During the summer, the testers work Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. During the school year, we work every Saturday from 9:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m.

Which type of game do the students enjoy testing most?

There are differences in what the students enjoyed based off of what they liked to play in general. Most students preferred testing Fusion Fall, play testing Global Access, or doing the tester training on consoles with Madden.

How does testing an MMO game differ from testing a single-player game?

The students had to work together in the game to test the MMO games. It was difficult because talking to the person next to you is much easier than communicating through the game - and we needed to simulate the real world game play. The single player games often required more work for functionality testing, where the task was broken up among several people working on different systems.

How does a Glitch Game Tester’s work differ from that of a game tester employed full-time at a game developer?

We incorporate computer science workshops into their day. We usually have one hour a day where testers learn introductory programming. We work to relate the programming to the games and the Q&A process.

Where do you and the other students plan on going from here?

This program will continue to run. We would like to hire a full time Q&A manager and launch it as a non-profit or work with an existing game testing company to incorporate Glitch into their program.

The students who are in the program now will continue through next summer. Our students have already been awarded scholarships based off of their programming projects this summer. We are working hard to get all of them into college and are making sure they have the funding they need to do so.