VMC’s Kirstin Whittle discusses an ongoing shift that affects the role services like QA play in games development

The future state: Everything has changed

This new bi-monthly column will look at how global production support services and outsourcing trends, methodologies, and working models continue to change and evolve. It will also explore what it really means to support the games development and publishing process across the multitude of platforms, genres, and business models that exist in games today.

A fundamental shift has occurred in the games industry over the past few years. This may seem like an obvious statement in an industry that thrives on continual technological innovation and re-invention, but it goes far beyond the games themselves. The old retail model – put your game in a box and ship it to the stores – has transformed into a world where everything is live all the time.

Working as one

One of the most significant changes is how services that were until recently a relatively sequential process – design, then development, then QA, then localisation, then post-launch customer support – have begun to overlap and bleed together, to the point where everything now needs to work as one.

Where QA was once a pre-launch service, it is now an essential requirement throughout the life of the game as new DLC and updates are routinely developed and released.

It goes beyond isolated tests on new content to include verifying compatibility with all existing content and making sure it all works together in real-world conditions. This is also true of localisation and support. Most high-profile games, and even many true indie titles, have some level of these services happening all the time. Outsourced services have really become 24/7 processes.

This shift is driving a change in the relationships between content creators and outsourcers, and a change in the mindset of how both do business. The new always-on environment and the global reach of our products means outsourcing providers need to be true partners with developers and publishers, not simply vendors.
Smart outsourcers are bringing more value to their clients through flexible, innovative solutions.

For example, the cyclical nature of QA and live game operations – as the need for one rises, need for the other recedes – is creating opportunities for hybrid solutions that integrate these services and allow a consistent, manageable level of resources and support. Everything from localisation to global beta testing and community management is increasingly more tightly integrated.

We are truly a global industry now – anyone can publish globally because distribution is no longer reliant on companies with physical presence in other regions.

Player support

For the games industry, that means increasingly direct relationships with our customers and the need to be responsive to them. Because direct customer communication is outside the core competency of many developers and publishers, a strong partnership with an outsourcer that specialises in community engagement and player support enables each partner to focus on what they do best.

One thing is certain: the industry is not going back to the old model of development and publishing. Changes in player behaviour and expectations, twinned with the continuing advancements in technology and the increased capability of flexible global production support services, have resulted in better games. There are so many new opportunities for forward-looking publishers, developers, and outsourcing partners, and it’s exciting to be on the leading edge of all this change.

[Kirstin Whittle has 23 years of experience in the UK games industry and is one of MCV’s 2015 Top Influential Women in Games. She manages business development in Europe for VMC. www.vmc.com/games]

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