A term i’ve heard bandied around a lot in the past few years is “Triple-A”, or “AAA”, to describe video game publishers and developers who create console games (Wii, Xbox 260 and Playstation3). When you heard the term a few years ago, it described the cream of the crop: console games that stood head-and-shoulders above the competition. Lately, the term has been inexorably tied to the word “console”.
i suppose it’s because consoles used to be the only thing going, and the term was used to separate the wheat from the chaff – he’s a “triple-A devloper”, instead of just a “developer”. The word “console” was implied.
Today, you’re either a “casual game developer” or a “triple-A console developer”. There’s no term that describes you if you’re a “crappy console game developer”. If it’s console, it’s “triple-A”.
The first time i heard the term “triple-A”, i could smell a turd. i was working behind the counter at a video game franchise – one of these Buy/Trade/Sell places. The owner had a moldering moustache and pants pulled up over his potbelly, so he looked like a guy who was hired to play Tweedledum at a children’s amusement park that was staffed by registered sex offenders. He was a drunk, and a mean one to boot. He actually reduced me to tears in front of a group of customers – over the phone, even. My clearest memories of Game Boss are of him twirling his suspenders and wiggling his potbelly around whenever he totalled up the day’s receipts, like some copper-counting Dickens villain.
One day, i saw Game Boss intently studying a sheet full of facts and figures. i asked him what it was all about, and he said it was an order sheet from his distributor. Next month’s upcoming games were listed, and Game Boss was going over them to decide how many copies of each game he would order. He said “i’m really excited about Game XYZ. It’s going to make me money money money money money!”
An actual portrait of my old boss. No fooling.
i asked him why he thought Game XYZ would sell so well. i had played other games by the same dev team, and they weren’t that great. He said “because it’s Triple-A!” And he showed me the sheet. Beside each game was a quality ranking written by the distributor. They were letter ranks that the distributor used to help retailers with their game orders. There were “A” games, “B” games, and “AAA” games. Magically, no game ranked below a “B”.
i told him that i thought the rankings seemed arbitrary, and that the distributor may have just attributed the rankings based on which games offered the highest margin, or which games they had crowding up their store rooms. He was vehement: “No, no no! See these games, here? They’re triple-A games! That means they’re better than the other games. Because they’re triple-A.” i hesitated to point it out, but there were an awful lot of triple-A games on that sheet.
i suppose now that i know more about the industry, the distributor could have based the letter grades on the financial clout of the publisher, the marketing spend for the game, the track record of previous titles from that publisher, and stuff like that. But what really interests me is whether this term “triple-A” that we’re all throwing around actually came out of these letter grades that distributors gave to individual titles in the hopes of driving higher orders at retail. Does anyone know? Etymology fascinates me, and we have a shot at preserving our word history for the very new game industry before this terminology’s roots are lost to time.