It was early 2004, I had just finished graduate school at UCF and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Typical. My savings was starting to dry up and I needed money fast. I went around filling out job applications. I actually got hired at Lowe’s first off. I was sent to push shopping carts on the second day instead of going through the typical orientation session. By the third day I was left alone in the lumber section all by myself. I quit that afternoon. Days later while wallowing in shame and fear, I saw an advertisement on careerbuilder.com for a video game tester. I knew that was something I could do. When I found out it was for EA Sports Tiburon I got excited. I filled out the application and days later I got a call from one of their screeners who gave me the phone interview. This consisted of some basic experience questions, and some sports specific questions like:
“What is the difference between overtime in college football and the NFL?”
“Name the major BCS bowls”
“Name as many NASCAR drivers and their sponsors as you can”
I was able to pass that pretty easily so I was invited in for another interview at their office. Here I had to answer a ten page multiple choice test where we shown pictures of controllers and match them to their consoles. It was video game and sports stuff. I did good there too so then we were given a console and told to follow a procedure where we would get a video game to crash. Then a panel interview where I chatted with three people. I remember being asked if I could remember what the interviewers names were and I only could remember the chick’s name. Again, typical. I was told I had the job and I had to come in Monday morning for a week of training which consisted of learning the bug database and learning from the previous year’s titles. At the end of the week we got our assignments and I was on the NCAA team for PS2. We all felt sorry for the guy who was given Madden for Game Boy Advance.
The work started out good. We worked 10AM-630pm, there was a fridge and a soda machine there. In the break room there were arcade cabinet machines such as Q-Bert, Mortal Kombat 2, and Golden Tee. We had some good competitions there. Soon our days went from 10am to 10pm. Beta got closer and we split into different shifts. Some worked 10am to midnight, some worked 12pm to 2am. It was a grind. No days off, not when you are putting out one of the best selling video games of the year. The people at the 7-11 store got to know us rather well for coffee and energy drinks.
It was an interesting job. There were barely any women around. For a group of guys who barely got to see women outside the office, work life brought out the caveman in everyone. Think of that boobs episode of South Park if it helps. Also, I found that the people in charge took what they did waaaay to seriously. They’d pump us up as if we were on the mission to kill Bin Laden. And they were the kind of bosses who used the old “We work hard but we play hard” catchphrase. I always thought anybody who used that should be locked in a closet with bees. There was a divide too among the full time programmers and staff and the seasonal Quality Assurance testers like me. The “people upstairs” got better snack machines, benefits, and we got to read some messages which revealed that they pretty much thought we were peons. But we weren’t, at least not all of us. We had lawyers, cops, college graduates, parents, all guys just trying to make a living and pay the bills. I know they had their struggles too. There was a controversy awhile back about the wife of an EA Employee there who didn’t like the long hours and lack of overtime her husband had to deal with. Google “EASpouse” and you’ll see the story.
Eventually I moved on but every year I would check the credits of all the football games and see who was still there from my day. Some testers actually got promoted to game producer. That was something good about the job, if you showed dedication, you were rewarded. I often wonder where I would have gone had I stayed there. I surely would have made a better Superman Returns game, that’s for sure.