There has been a lot of talk about the video game crunch in recent months. Everyone wants to play the latest games as quickly as possible, but this takes a real toll on the developers behind the scenes. Even for studios with large teams, finding every bug and issue in a major game can be a monumental task, and throwing more people at the problem does not always solve it. From weeks of crunch to a series of patches post-launch, as games get bigger and more complex, the need for a modern way to deal with QA to stop bugs is a constant problem.
This is where GameDriver comes in. A software solution designed to aid the testing process, it connects directly to the game engine a studio is using to create the latest games, helping the QA department to find bugs and report issues. This is a solution that is not designed to replace the need for people, but rather to help them do their job more efficiently, with fewer problems getting the bugs reported as they happen. As this sounds like a fantastic concept, we at CGMagazine decided to sit down with GameDriver co-founder Rob Gutierrez to discuss their solution and how it can change the way games are made.
Could you just give us a brief overview of what GameDriver is and why it is such a big change to the way the industry is currently working?
Rob Gutierrez: GameDriver is a cross-platform, reusable and scalable framework for automating the testing of any kind of video game, virtual reality, augmented reality or anything else we could call an immersive experience.
What it does differently from what’s been done in the past is that this kind of work has mostly been done either by armies of manual testers or by building custom frameworks on a product-by-product or project-by-project basis, rather than looking at it from a holistic perspective that the rest of the software industry uses, where there are a few standard frameworks that are used for testing based on the technology, not the project. That’s what we’re doing for this area.
For a developer who might be interested in implementing GameDriver, what is the process like? How hard is it? How does it change the workflow when implemented?
Rob Gutierrez: Can I rephrase that to “how easy is it”? To implement GameDriver, all you have to do is open up your Unity project, which should be standard for anyone in our target audience, and add the one GameDriver library. As soon as you add it to a blank scene, usually the first scene in the game, you have full access to everything that GameDriver provides.
What we’ve done after that is thought about things like NUnit, which is a very popular unit testing framework for anything built in .Net. Most of our users choose NUnit as their testing framework. And we took something like XSL, which is an XPath technology that is used for navigating through data files to find individual instances of objects. And we reimplemented it in what we call HierarchyPath.
So with Hierarchy Path, you can instead find any instance of any object that lives in the scene and then you can interact with any public, private or protected mechanism within that object. When you put those two things together, you suddenly have a lot of power to interact with the game world in any way you want to in a very creative way.
Going back to the ease of use, I mentioned that it’s very easy to implement or set up. If you’re used to working with Selenium tests, for example, for testing websites, or Appium tests for testing mobile apps, GameDriver tests will look almost identical, but the transition is even easier than from Selenium to Appium to GameDriver.
You mentioned Unity. Are there any plans to go beyond the Unity engine?
Certainly, in March, we secured funding from a prominent venture capital firm, Panoramic VC. This investment has enabled us to expand our development team, and just last week, we brought on board a new lead for the Unreal project to expedite its completion. I use the term “completion” since we already have our technology running on the Unreal Engine, as well as various consoles and other engines, including some lesser-known ones.
From the outset, our strategy has been to compartmentalize the workflow. We consider input devices such as consoles, a scripting link or engine in the middle, and then a script. In my view, this should form a matrix, providing users with a range of input options, be it PC, Mac, PlayStation, Xbox, or mobile devices, either iOS or Android—ultimately, the specifics are of little concern.
Next, we have our middle layer, comprising all the engines. This includes widely-used engines such as Unity, Unreal, Godot, Game Maker, and potentially some proprietary engines developed by studios seeking to collaborate with us. Lastly, there is the interaction of the work being done. By constructing a matrix that supports any of these components, we have effectively decoupled our technology, making it agile enough to rapidly adapt to new areas.
You mentioned implementing it early in the first part of development. For someone who has already made a game and only has it built in Unity or Unreal, how would GameDriver be implemented into their workflow after the fact? is it possible to do that without causing a serious delay to the overall product?
Rob Gutierrez: Testing is equally crucial at the beginning of a project as it is towards the end. Developers, whether in the later stages of the development cycle or post-release, often work with seasonal content or subscription models and engage in what is commonly referred to as LiveOps. This approach involves frequent releases of new content. Failing to conduct thorough testing during regular releases can result in numerous issues. However, when dozens or even hundreds of manual testers are involved in a game’s testing, it is challenging to find the time to perform comprehensive regression testing. Our goal is not to eliminate jobs, but rather to enhance them.
We aim to address the industry’s more strenuous and intensive aspects, such as the notorious “crunch” phenomenon that typically occurs as a release date approaches. By shifting the mindset from a panic-driven rush to complete testing before a release, we aspire to implement a more strategic approach supported by a robust baseline of automated tests. This change will empower manual testers to perform their roles more effectively, ultimately leading to a higher-quality final product.
For example, I was a World of Warcraft player. In fact, I met one of the co-founders of GameDriver, Shane, playing WoW in 2004. We’ve been friends for a long time. When Blizzard reinvented the world, they blew it up and went back to the original patch; at the same time, they cut a bunch of zeros off the power curve because the numbers were getting out of hand. If you were a new player and you came into the opening scene, your first quest is to kill some goblins or some wolves to collect their pelts; it’s a standard collection quest, but a new player would not have the skill or the weapons to actually do those kills.
You could kill the wolf all day long, but it wouldn’t be able to die because the rounding errors were off. It’s not something that would be a high priority for testing, but it has a huge impact on a new player. It completely crippled their ability to get started with a new class. Those are the kinds of things that a very mature game can benefit from, and that is blockbuster scale. Whether it’s AAA all the way down or if you’re introducing new content and making changes that have ripple effects, we want to help you validate those to make sure you’re not introducing those kinds of problems into the situation.
GameDriver sounds like a big step forward in QA. But what does it cost a studio? Is it cost prohibitive for smaller game studios that might just be scraping by to get the game out on time?
Rob Gutierrez: In brief, our licensing model does not disproportionately impact smaller studios. We have designed a licensing structure that accommodates everyone from small to large-scale developers. For smaller studios and indie developers, we have introduced the Ambassador Programme, which offers free GameDriver licenses. This ensures that cost is not a barrier to entry. Similar to user licenses, once these developers reach a specific revenue threshold, they will be required to purchase licenses.
This approach scales up to larger studios as well. For example, a major developer working on a AAA mobile app may have a device farm consisting of hundreds of devices. In this case, we offer per-device licensing, allowing well-funded studios to generate more revenue. This, in turn, enables us to reinvest resources into the community at the grassroots level.
For small to mid-sized studios working on PC or Mac games, licensing is straightforward. A studio with 50 employees and 10 users, for instance, would only need to license those 10 users.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that a new or experienced developer might want to know about GameDriver and why it’s something they should jump on?
Rob Gutierrez: Yes, we’re trying to do something really big. I worked with the industry for a while and I worked in test automation. Some of the people I met who had used some of the early products had literally built their entire careers in test automation for business applications. They had gone from being manual testers in the 90s to CTOs and IT directors, they had moved into leadership positions because the work that they were able to do could have so much more impact on the business.
We see an opportunity for a similar shift to happen in gaming and XR development. That’s what we’re trying to do. So when we talk about licensing, I don’t really like to emphasize it because it’s a means to an end because I’ve seen what transformative technologies can do to make something more powerful. That’s really what we’re trying to do. There’s a big social play and a big industry support play, and that’s where our focus as an organization is, more than anything else.
We think there’s a huge opportunity for us to work together as an industry to really mature and take it to the next level and take away some of the reputation of being a bit unprofessional compared to working with SAP. We think we can change that mindset. We don’t want the price to be prohibitive. We want to have support. If you are an independent developer or a small developer starting out, please talk to us. Contact us. We are happy to support you.
I know there are a lot of developers that would really benefit from GameDriver. I’m really excited to see how it helps, especially in that dreaded crunch time in this industry.
Rob Gutierrez: The situation is undeniably terrifing. Not long ago, I engaged in a conversation with a potential client based in Israel. They relied entirely on outsourced manual testing, which is an acceptable approach, and initially, they were not interested in our services. Regrettably, their manual testing team is located in Ukraine, placing them in a difficult position where they must consider terminating our contract, a decision they are reluctant to make. Having just secured funding, they were on the verge of launching their first major mobile game, which would also be their inaugural semi-hardcore title.
However, due to testing challenges, they are unable to proceed with the release. I candidly spoke with their CTO and expressed my regret that we had not connected six months earlier. Had their testers transitioned to GameDriver, we could have avoided this predicament, providing them with more flexibility to make a moral decision without turning it into a business dilemma. This challenging situation is precisely what we strive to prevent, and it serves as another example of how our services can offer valuable support to clients. We do not want to see any development team face such a disheartening scenario.
Thank you so much for your time.
Rob Gutierrez: No, thank you very much. I enjoyed it.