Testing video games is hard work, and it only gets more challenging as games get bigger and more complex. What would make the job even more difficult, however, is covering the work of three other testers while pretending you have a full team to the developer who contracted the work. That’s the kind of thing some QA developers say they’ve been directed to do while testing major games at a large third-party test house.
Two current and eight former workers at prolific Romanian quality subcontractor Quantic Lab spoke to PC Gamer about their jobs on condition of anonymity, claiming that management not only pushes its testers above and beyond the norm for this vital but all-too-often underserved subset. of game development, but also misleads customers about the size and expertise of its QA teams—and directs employees to keep doing it.
You probably don’t know Quantic Lab, which is based in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, but you will know the games that this Embracer Group subsidiary has worked on: Cyberpunk 2077, The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine, Divinity: Original Sin 2, Necromunda . Hired Gun, Cities Skylines, and more were all tested by Quantic employees. Testers had access to development builds of these games, examining them for bugs and potential blocks to progress in a similar way to how speed runners try to “break” a game after release.
In June, a series of videos from YouTube channel Upper Echelon Gamers (opens in a new tab) drew attention to Quantic’s alleged mismanagement and duplicative business practices. UEG focused on the testimony of former members of Quantic’s Cyberpunk 2077 QA team, the distress management caused those workers, and the negative impact this had on Cyberpunk’s development.
Doru Șupeală, a Romanian tech journalist, published several reports from former Quantic employees alleging malpractice by management at his sub-stack, Hacking Work. (opens in a new tab). Șupeală offered invaluable help in researching this story. Quantic was also scouted by the Romanian outlet, Libertatea (opens in a new tab)who published similar results.
The employees I spoke with described an environment where Quantic was constantly operating beyond its means, taking on more projects than it had capacity for, and stretching its staff too thin among them.
They indicated that these issues reached a crescendo when the company accepted contracts to test Cyberpunk 2077 and NBA 2K21. Cyberpunk was a bit of a flash for Quantic, but the company doesn’t appear to be officially credited in 2K21, a practice that one of the currently active employees touched on.
“Unfortunately, many Quantic Lab testers were not credited in all the games they tested,” they said. “In some cases, publishers’ criteria for crediting a person was if they worked more than five months on that game. If someone only worked four months and two weeks on that game, they wouldn’t be credited.”
Night City Blues
Some of the employees we spoke with were intimately involved in Quantic’s testing of Cyberpunk 2077. They claim that Cyberpunk 2077 and NBA 2K have been a major drain on the company, drawing talent from other departments and leaving other projects short-handed even as the Cyberpunk. project in particular faltered. All employees we spoke with indicated that these two marquee projects were fully staffed, but not with the expert testers promised to the customers.
“From a team of 30 people [initially assigned to Cyberpunk 2077]I think only 10 of them had QA experience,” a source who worked on Cyberpunk for Quantic told us. Of those 10, they said “none of the ‘experienced’ testers had more than a year.”
Several of the employees we spoke to mentioned that management told them to avoid talking about how many years they had worked in the industry when communicating with CD Projekt employees, and they agreed that the Polish developer had not gained the level of experience , which it paid. with its QA team at Quantic. They said CDPR contacted Quantic several times about the team’s underperforming performance.
The Cyberpunk team at Quantic would be doubled halfway through development, but a lack of experience, the onset of Covid-19, and directives from Quantic management that conflicted with CD Projekt’s development priorities all caused Quantic to underperform compared to the others QA teams that CDPR had. working on the project.
Workers familiar with the project told us that one such problem was testers filing many low-performing bug reports to match daily quotas set by Quantic management. Developers at CDPR would receive many reports of low-priority graphics glitches, and testers at Quantic had their attention diverted from digging up higher-priority issues like the progress-blocking main quest issues that made it to the final release.
Multiple former workers on the project indicated that Quantic’s contract with CDPR was open to extension through Cyberpunk’s updates and expansions, but was not renewed when it expired in 2021.
Quantic was one of several quality control teams to work on Cyberpunk 2077, including QLOC SA and CDPR’s in-house team, but the fact remains that Quantic’s mismanagement has left a third of Cyberpunk’s gameplay QA staff struggling to meet its basic commitments.
“I wouldn’t fault Cyberpunk [Quantic]CDPR still released the damn thing,” one of the former Quantic employees who worked on the game told us, “but the fact that the game was in the state that it was, [Quantic] contributed.” The same employee claimed that a better managed team in the same position could have bought CD Projekt valuable time on the project.
Along with Cyberpunk, the company’s regular work on other smaller projects continued, but with exacerbated staffing problems. A former senior Quantic employee who was hired in 2019 says it was “standard practice” to misrepresent the “size and experience” of the company’s QA teams to clients.
These smaller projects would underperform, according to multiple sources, as management pressured employees to create the appearance of full teams. “On smaller projects, you were lucky to have at least half the testers,” claims one former employee.
The degree of understaffing in any given project was not a static situation. Games would undergo rounds of testing, and the teams handling them would be in various capacities at different stages. At one point in development, a project may be at or close to capacity, then return for another round but this time handled by a skeleton crew.
“We often saw entire projects being handled by one person, which actually needed a team of one to three testers. [in addition to the lead tester],” a former executive told us. “Some lead testers were handling two to three projects at once, with probably fewer than needed testers assigned to each.”
Our sources told us that “lead testers” at Quantic often only have about one to three years of experience in the industry due to Quantic’s targeting of recent graduates and a high turnover rate at the company. For context, a source with experience at AAA’s QA department told us that a lead was promoted “rapidly” if they reached that entry-level point in two and a half years, while some of the Quantic employees we spoke to faced that level of professional pressure, at a lower level of salary, in less than a year.
According to the employees, these lead testers are often placed in the position of maintaining the fiction of the size and expertise of a team in communication with customers, in addition to the regular pressures of game testing.
“I was a lead tester in contact with customers and I had to do that [lie about their team’s size],” a former leader told us. “I’ve done it dozens of fucking times.” They found the experience unpleasant, but say they did it for lack of other career prospects, especially at the height of the pandemic.
Several of our sources witnessed misleading clients in the way they registered work. Testers at Quantic typically use a database called Jira to log bugs for customers. Typically, an individual tester will have their own Jira account that they use to report issues, but the workers I spoke with claimed that testers at Quantic would often be prompted to log into accounts of testers who quit, were sick, assigned to other projects. between rounds of testing, or never even once touched the game in question to avoid performance differences that could raise questions about team size.
Low pay, low morale
Compounding these dishonest practices, employees who spoke to us said they were working in a toxic environment for low pay. A former senior employee said managers insulted and berated lead testers, with that stress trickling down to the wider teams.
Multiple employees told us that management would outright state that testing games is unskilled work, with that attitude perhaps helping to explain the high turnover or employees who were treated as expendable. We’re told that for the past few years, during the development of Cyberpunk 2077, junior testers earned close to minimum wage (1,450 Romanian lei, or about €300 per month), with no bonuses. A full lead tester could expect to earn around €680/month, which the former employees we spoke to indicated that it is still extremely difficult to live in Cluj.
Like many workplaces, the outbreak of Covid-19 has negatively affected Quantic Lab, and the workers we spoke to were highly critical of Quantic’s response. They told us that work-from-home privileges were unevenly granted and mostly reserved for upper management, despite remote work being widely adopted in the games industry in response to the pandemic. Testers were arranged close together, shoulder-to-shoulder, with multiple employees witnessing an infamous meeting where an HR employee stated that six feet of social distancing was only required when individuals were face-to-face, and that it was safe to be. closer while that was not the case.
Ultimately, the employees we spoke to felt worn down by the low-wage, high-stress environment, the lack of support and the petty indignities that come with working a supposedly “low-skill” job, especially during the height of the pandemic . “Now, [Quantic] should pay for my therapy,” said one.
Most of the former employees we spoke to went on to other jobs in tech and gaming, and admitted they at least gained something to put on a resume. Another wouldn’t even give the company that much: “Quantic made me hate games and gaming. I never tried to work in game development again, even though it was my passion at first.”
Quantic Lab did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Quantic Lab’s specific issues aside, quality assurance is already a particularly underpaid and undervalued aspect of game development. QA workers are often external contractors, either on a company-scale, like Quantic, or on the individual level, with the salary, benefits, and job security disparities with salaried employees that implies.
The success of the Game Workers United QA union at Raven Software presents a possible way forward, but unionization, especially in an industry relatively new to labor activity and at a company with high turnover, is inherently challenging.
The employees we spoke with were pessimistic about Quantic’s prospects of changing for the better as a result of current negative attention. One suggested it would require a top-down management review stemming from its corporate owners at the Embracer Group, which acquired the company in November 2020.