GeoGuessr and the art of QA

By John Pollard

Over 2.5 billion people play games. It's natural to consider (or maybe hope!) that the time spent playing a game has some transferable value for other applications. GeoGuessr, the browser-based game that plonks you somewhere on Google Street View and challenges you to pinpoint your location on the map, doesn't seem a tool to develop a stream of elite software testers, but what if there are commonalities?

Natural curiosity

Tweet joke about QA engineer

The core of what drives people to GeoGuessr is the desire to gain a better understanding of the world. Where should I go on holiday next? What similarities do other places have to where I live? If I was kidnapped, escaped and needed to figure out where I was, could I?!

Curiosity is one of the foremost traits of a software tester. Our job is to consider sequences of actions or circumstances which may not have been anticipated by others, and communicate these ideas as soon as possible to increase the chances of ‘right first time’. Our approach is to build confidence in the system under test, not necessarily to try to break things. Being inquisitive and curious is key to building this confidence.

Knowledge absorption and application

Hand-in-hand with the desire to acquire new knowledge is the ability to absorb and retain knowledge. As we spend more time with GeoGuessr and Google Street View, our geographical knowledge naturally builds. We learn major city names, how street signs look and become better able to identify languages. We absorb all this visual information in order to be able recall it at the point it's needed. The more time spent on GeoGuessr, the more of an expert we become.

In QA, it's also essential to be a sponge for a project, product and develop contextual knowledge. Attaining a whole-of-product knowledge, understanding how all elements of the system integrate, and the ways end users interact with it helps with:

  • Considering potentially impacted areas or edge cases when analysing requirements
  • Determining and designing the scope of the testing need
  • Utilising an end-user focus to provide usability feedback
  • Facilitating valuable collaboration across the whole team (including stakeholders)

Detective work and critical thinking

4 images taken from GeoGuessr

The presence of Google itself can introduce unique elements that give away a country (Mongolia luggage rack, Kenya snorkel, Nigeria police escort, Ghana gaffer tape).

What keeps people playing GeoGuessr is the sense of satisfaction they gain from their successful detective work. While we might be lucky and be able to derive our location from the ‘meta' Google elements (unique characteristics of the Google car, escort vehicles, etc), we're most likely to have to apply critical thinking to the visual data with which we are presented. Our thought process might play out something like the following:

  • Observation: We're driving on the left
    • Deduction: Could be a number of places, but it's likely to be the UK or a former British colony
  • Observation: The vegetation/climate appears quite tropical
    • Deduction: We're probably close to the equator
  • Observation: English appears to be an official language
    • Conclusion: Could we be in Singapore?

The most obvious parallel in QA is the process from first encountering unexpected behaviour to the point where we have it clearly articulated. When we see something which appears to be undesired, there are likely to be a number of factors which could have contributed to the state we now observe. We must eliminate inconsequential elements in order to distil a concise set of steps to reproduce what we have seen. The process is the same as the above – we use our expert knowledge of the system under test to reach a final hypothesis.

Attention to detail

Image of Eswatini

It might not seem identifiable, but the solid yellow line on the tarmac, dark soil colour, vegetation and hilly terrain tell us we’re in Eswatini.

There will always be something that gives away the location in GeoGuessr, but our ability to look for details in the imagery will directly influence our success in the game. Maybe we're looking at road markings, number plate designs, or trying to spot the side of a van or a billboard that might reveal a city or web address. If we're playing a game with no moving, panning or zooming we're likely to have to rely on very specific details. While we may have amassed an impressive amount of knowledge, we still need to find the opportunities to trigger recollection.

In QA, when we talk about attention to detail, we're not just talking about spotting single-pixel misalignments when evaluating compliance with designs. We need to focus on details in all areas to which we are exposed. We should be looking for gaps or ambiguities in requirements and designs. We should care about the accuracy of our test cases and test data. Perhaps most importantly, we should look for opportunities for incremental improvement to our development processes, benefitting the whole team.

Prioritisation and time management

GeoGuessr Battle Royale

GeoGuessr Battle Royale brings the double threat of time and elimination.

Most of the games we play on GeoGuessr will have a time limit constraint. With Battle Royale, we have not only a short time limit, but also the threat of being knocked out by our competitors. These constraints cause us to focus on prioritisation and use time efficiently. We need to identify where an image doesn’t give us any conclusive evidence as soon as possible, deciding it isn’t worth our time and moving on.

In software, it’s already known that we can’t guarantee a lack of bugs (the absence-of-errors fallacy) and that we don’t have infinite time to test. Therefore, we prioritise our testing to front-load the cases that will mitigate the greatest risk and yield the most confidence. While there’s value to testing obscure edge cases, it’s more valuable to provide assurance for the most common paths. We determine our time constraints to complete testing, and decide our exit criteria and when it has been met.

In summary

Of course, being a strong GeoGuessr requires more than just the above skills. Similarly, being a competent QA analyst also requires a broader range of skills, along with specialist knowledge. At Inviqa, quality is a priority across all roles in a team, and we integrate dedicated QA resources to advocate quality throughout the lifecycle. We also sometimes use GeoGuessr to test and sharpen our core skills!

Want to test your GeoGuessing skills? Why not try to pinpoint the location of some of Inviqa’s clients?