Why It’s Amazing Anything Ever Works At All

Hey, you! Yes, I’m talking to you!

AnnMaria and Daughter in weird crab thingYou couldn’t be like everyone else, could you? You just had to be an individual.

Yes, you, with your shiny brand new laptop running the latest version of Chrome on Windows 8.

You, too, Mr. Our-School-Must-Upgrade-Computer-Security.

And, I’m talking to you, person running Windows XP on a desktop you brought in 2005.

What do all of you people have in common? Nothing! And that’s the problem.

I never thought I’d say this but I totally get those people who insist everyone in an organization have the same computer, same operating system, use the same browser.


Before I wrote a lot of software myself, I used to think that companies like Microsoft, SAS or Adobe must be run by complete morons. They make billions of dollars, have thousands of highly paid people on their technical staff and they can’t make a product that doesn’t crash. Don’t they test this stuff?

Yes. Yes, they do. So do we. If you come to work for us, chances are great that at the beginning you will spend a good bit of your time game testing. Our newest release does NOT run in a browser and that is a godsend, because people use a lot of different browsers and a lot of different operating systems. Let’s just take the major operating systems – Mac OS 10.6 and higher, Windows XP, Vista, 7 and  8. Then take the major web browsers – Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer. That’s 19 combinations (since there is no IE for Mac).

To make this more manageable from the beginning, we have not supported XP or Vista and now we are an all-in-one install, which means the browser and everything else you need comes with the games. We only need to test every game all the way through for Mac, Windows 7 and Windows 8. Simple, right?

Ha ha ha ha ha <– maniacal laugh here

Different school districts decide on different levels of security. In some, when the student logs out of his or her account, everything they have downloaded on the machine is wiped out, so the game has to be re-installed every time it is played. (We think we have worked around this.)

Internet speed and reliability varies wildly. Our incomparable IT guy, Ernie, has been charged to going on a campus where we know wireless completely sucks and playing the game for hours.

We need to install and play the game on accounts that have both administrator access and without access to see if anything is blocked.

All of this is just a start. Testing the correct path is easy. If you get everything right, the games should work flawlessly. The problem is, these are educational games and the idea is that student probably won’t get every problem right. Then they’ll get routed to study, take a quiz and go back to the game — but every student is different.

Ramon gets the first two problems right, misses the third one. He chooses to watch a video on estimation. The video ends and he goes to the quiz, then back to the game. Easy, right?

Let’s say there are 14 math challenges in a game, each can be answered right or wrong, so that’s 28 possibilities. Each time a student misses one, they can go to one of 3 different choices to study, then take a quiz with 6 questions, each of which they get right or wrong. Wrong questions usually send you to somewhere to study or bring up an easier question, while right answers go on to the next question and eventually back to the game. So, that’s 12 possibilities.

Just following all possible paths is 28 x 3 x 12 = 1,008 , times 3 operating systems = 3,024 paths.

Remember, though, that the game involves music files playing, video clips, animation, writing students’ answers to a database so we can report to schools. Each one of those can be blocked by security preferences set by the user or administrator.

You know those unhelpful help desk people you call who say,

“Well, it works fine on my computer.”

The truth is, everything works fine on our computers and we are profoundly grateful that we have over 1,000 beta licenses out there with people in every possible configuration because even if we tested every possible one of those 3,024 possibilities on our computers we still haven’t tested it on your school computer lab with its specific details.

We try to fix every problem as soon as it is pointed out to us, and we appreciate every one of our individual beta testers and schools. It’s just some days I wish you all could be a little LESS individual.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *