Matt Booty, head of Microsoft Studios, has enthused about the future of artificial intelligence (AI) software at PAX West 2022, claiming he dreams of a future where AI can take the jobs of QA testers and create more efficient bug fixing pipelines for games. As Booty sees it, one of the major issues in the industry is that games being more complex also means they’re more prone to bugs – with current testing methods and QA workers struggling to keep up with demand.
‘Some of the processes we have, have not really kept up with how quickly we can make content,’ Booty said during a Q&A, per VGC. ‘One of those is testing. You think about a game, one of the biggest differences between a game and something like a movie, is if we’re working on a movie and you come in and say “hey, this ending, let’s tighten this up, let’s edit this, let’s cut that scene,” it usually doesn’t break anything at the beginning of the movie.’
‘But in a game you can be ready to ship, and a designer’s like, “I’ve got this one little feature, I’m just going to change the colour on this one thing” and then it somehow blows up something and now the first 10 minutes of the game doesn’t play … So that testing aspect, every single time anything new goes into a big game the whole game has to be tested, front-to-back, side-to-side.’
‘My dream – there’s a lot going on with AI and machine learning right now, and people using AI to generate all these images. What I always say when I bump into the AI folks, is: “Help me figure out how to use an AI bot to go test a game.” Because I would love to be able to start up 10,000 instances of a game in the cloud, so there’s 10,000 copies of the game running, deploy an AI bot to spend all night testing that game, then in the morning we get a report. Because that would be transformational.’
Booty’s assessment of the current industry did not account for the human loss at stake in AI transformation. QA workers are some of the hardest working in the entire games industry, and often the least respected. Their work is frequently misrepresented, or considered unskilled, while QA workers bear the brunt of long office hours and – unfortunately, quite frequently – crunch conditions.
QA work is highly specialised – it requires human insight, and making subjective judgements about game features and flaws. It’s not simple work that can be replaced by a machine. Booty’s comments also come at a tumultuous time for the industry, one where QA is in the spotlight as workers fight for their rights in companies around the globe.
Workers at Activision Blizzard recently unionised to protect their jobs, with others in companies like Keywords Studios following suit. While AI continues to be talked about as a potential tool for cutting game development costs and streamlining testing processes, we should never forget the very real, had-working humans currently leading the QA scene.