"Breaking Into the Industry" is a weekly interview series that speaks with video game professionals from all across EA. We hope that by sharing how some of the industry's biggest (and smallest) players got their start, you too can learn how to get your foot in the door. Join us today as we speak with Tim Toy about the playtest process, Battlefield 3, and how you can become a playtester.
So, first question: What’s your name and job title?
My name is Tim Toy and I am a Games User Research Project Manager.
Can you talk a little about your department and what you do?
Sure. The Game Lab is one of the user research groups here at EA. We focus on getting games in front of our users and understanding what they like about a game, what they dislike, what’s frustrating, what needs improvement, and how we can make a better gaming experience for them.
So, within the Game Lab group, how is a day’s work typically divided up?
It’s split into multiple focus areas. My main area of focus is making sure there are participants for our playtests. We have three to four playtests a week, with anywhere from five to 40 people participating in each playtest.
Because EA publishes so many different types of games, we have to bring in different types of gamers, ranging from eSports/pro gamers and PC gamers to hardcore RPG fans, puzzle fans, and Facebook gamers. So, on a daily basis, I’m trying to figure out how to find these people, screening them via a survey or over the phone, and then making sure they’re able to fit into our playtest schedule.
Another role I play is in managing the playtesting labs. We have two labs, each with 12 stations. Each station has an Xbox 360, a PlayStation 3, and a high-end gaming PC. We need to make sure all of those devices are functional prior to a playtest, so I spend a lot of time jumping underneath desks to make sure all the right cables are plugged in, trying to figure out why sound is coming out of one headset but not another, making sure our recording/streaming software is working correctly, etc.
Lastly, I’m starting to work with my manager, Marina Kobayashi, on the Operations side of Game Lab. We are taking a look at our processes and operations and trying to figure out how to make everything more efficient. So that means understanding how much time we’re spending on recruiting participants, how much time it takes for us to set up for a playtest, and just trying to optimize all of those processes.
Do you play any of the games yourself, or are you too busy helping everyone else play?
I’m a big gamer. That’s one of the reasons I’m here at EA!
Is there anything you see in games that gamers consistently dislike?
People hate spawn killing or being in the position to get spawn killed. Gamers also seem to love shotguns and turrets. Who can blame them?
So you got to play Battlefield 3 months ago? Maybe years ago?
I think I’m allowed to say that I played Battlefield 3 a while back. I think it was probably in either March or April.
Oh – that’s another job responsibility that I want to call out. In this position, I’m asked to “test out a build” prior to having our playtesters play them. What that basically means is that I get to play a lot of early versions of some of my favorite games. So that’s a pretty cool job perk.
How do you get a job like yours? What were you doing before this?
I started off as a recruitment coordinator for a financial tech company down in San Francisco. Basically, I assisted the HR recruiters in finding participants, and then once they found them, I’d get them through the door for interviews. If they were good enough to get hired, I helped facilitate the hiring/onboarding process.
About a year after that, I moved over to Adobe Systems as a Recruiter for their User Research group. My role at Adobe was very similar to what I do today. I was collaborating with Researchers to make sure their research studies went smoothly by making sure they had the appropriate study participants and that the study facilities were working the way they were supposed to.
Did you have any kind of schooling that helps you now?
My major was kind of an obscure major, but I think it definitely helped me with a lot of my duties. I went to UC Davis and majored in Community and Regional Development.
What made you come to EA? Was it a goal of yours?
As much as I love Adobe and its products, nothing can beat working on video games. I’ve been playing video games since I was five, and in my wildest dreams I never would have thought I’d find myself working in the industry. When this opportunity came along, I couldn’t pass it up.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to grow up and be like you?
Advising someone to grow up to be like me…? I have plenty of exes that would probably suggest otherwise. I guess just never give up on making your passion your career. If you know you love video games and want a job in the video game industry, there are many routes you can take. You don’t necessarily need to be a programmer to work on cool games and create great experiences.
Do you ever think about joining a game team?
That’s an excellent question. I really love working on the Game Lab team because I get to see almost every game that EA makes. However, being in a role where you get to create and craft the universe and storyline would be awesome. When I play games like Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham City, or Red Dead Redemption, I think about how amazing it must be to create these worlds with their own unique mythologies and characteristics.
Any last words before we finish?
Last words: We are always looking for more playtesters. If you’re interested, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you become a playtester – be on time. Actually, be 15 minutes early. Seriously.
Is there a specific video game job you'd like to know more about? Let us know in the comments! Plus, check out last week's interview with Global Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Ginger Graham, for more insight into the industry.