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For Video Game Makers, Playing The Competition Is A Heroic Task

Stack of GamesFor most executives, sizing up the competition means reading white papers or paying researchers to conduct market analyses. But when your industry is video gaming, knowing thy enemy means a whole lot of play time. 

Sounds like the greatest gig in the world, you say? Consider this: Playing a single game to completion can take up to 100 hours. And in this particularly crowded holiday season there are around a dozen AAA titles stacked up—that means setting aside weeks to get through them all, while still holding down a regular job. What's a gaming professional to do? We asked industry execs and game creators for their strategies on powering through a tower of video games.

Few execs I talked to are as ruthless as SCEA's senior vice president of product development Scott Rohde; he has a 15-minute test. "If I'm not completely reeled in within 15 minutes, it's onto the next game in my endless stack," he said. 

More often they use a chronological tactic, similar to that of EA Games executive vice president Patrick Soderlund. "I have gone in the order of release: I started playing Batman: Arkham City, then went on to Uncharted 3—I haven't started playing Modern Warfare 3 yet." Others, like Assassin's Creed Revelations's Creative Director Alex Amancio, play them all simultaneously. "I have four of them right now that I am trying to timeshare: Battlefield 3Batman: Arkham CityDark Souls, and I just got Skyrim," he said. "It's going to be a very interesting and time-consuming holiday."

John Koller, Director Hardware Marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), is planning to blast his way through Battlefield 3 with the help of numerous energy drinks. "I am drinking an espresso right now," he said. "For me personally, there are certain games that I have to sit down and play all the way through... I will need to take a few days off to get through all that." 

Days off are not an option for everyone. Which is why Dan Ayoub, executive producer for Microsoft's Halo: Anniversary, is playing at work. "The best strategy I have come up is bringing my Xbox to work and try to play over lunch to catch up," he said.

Brian Fleming, Managing partner at Sucker Punch, developers of the Sly Cooper series, prefers to get twitchy-fingered after breakfast. "I actually just started carving out the first hour of my day to play all the games that have been stacking up," he said. "It's pretty quiet around the office about that time, so it's a great way to start my day inspired."

And for the busy executive who is away from the office and traveling constantly? "The way I work through all of the games that are stacking up, I get to play them on airplanes," says Nintendo of America's president Reggie Fils-Aime. "I travel with my Nintendo 3DS, I travel with my DSi XL. I travel with about 10 games."

Inevitably, though, the stack overflows into personal time—there's just too much playing to be done. And Thanksgiving offers the rare window of time between when this year's games have shipped and when the next wave of development begins. "It's a daunting task—there's a lot of games to play," said Erik Peterson, Localization Producer for Nintendo, who worked on bringing Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword to America for the holiday season. "I am going to have to really bear down on it and get some game time in, say goodbye to my family for a while."

Read more on how companies promote games during the crowded holiday season.

Follow author (@khohannessian) or Fast Company on twitter.

[Image: flickr user visualrips]

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  • aligatorhardt

    The label of "AAA games" seems to be related to which ones are heavily advertised, not dependent on the customer satisfaction.  This year offers very little innovation, with mostly sequels to previous games occupying top advertising spots.  I find good video games are about as rare as good movies. Too many games seem to lack the most important feature, which is enjoyable game play. Graphics cannot make up for lousy gaming experience. Many of these so called AAA titles offer too much redundancy and too little latitude in achieving success. Any time it takes more than a couple minutes of shooting the same enemy to kill it it is no longer entertaining. Having only one strategy for success is also irritating to find and boring to play through again. The other thing is games where success is denied for lack of ammo, or when enemies guns are instantly removed upon their death, denying a logical way to get ammo. Some games cheat the player by changing physics arbitrarily. Difficulty levels should be selectable by the player, not imposed on the player, or automatically stepped up with every attempt at a mission. Player controls must be manageable and accurate.
       A game that successfully develops these parameters will be capable of delivering entertaining game play, and replayability.  Advertising can trick people into buying a game, and that seems to be more important to many developers than spending the time to develop a good game, and test and refine it to make it a great game.