Oh, that’s an easy one. AAA means you’re at the top of the alphabetical listing. Or, put another way, you care about marketing more than anything else.
When you put something in directory, the results have to be ordered somehow. You could order them by “popularity” like the internet search engines do, but then you’d get people fighting and bribing to be judged the most popular. The phone book companies decided to do it by alphabetical order. This makes things easy to find if you know the name you’re looking for, but what if you’re just looking for a service in a particular category? In that case, you name your company “AAA stuff we do” and it shows up first. Trademark laws (and common sense) prohibit multiple companies from doing this in the same or similar fields, so there’s only going to be one AAA company around. The disadvantage is that you end up with a name that sounds like you’re falling to your death, or terrified of the products/services you provide.
Another way to look at it is as a rating system. People like to classify things, and do so on some sort of scale. Instead of using a numeric scale, they often resort to an alphabetical scale, because that’s not arbitrary at all right? Anyway, A is the best, B is decent, and C is just barely passable. Schools (in the US at least) use the same system for grades, skipping all the way to F for unacceptable, or other “failure” states.
But what if the thing in question is better than A grade? Well, how about AA. And better than that? AAA works. Why not just keep going? AAAAAAAA! Too many letters! For whatever reason, three ‘A’s seems to be the ad-hoc limit to quality. Once you’ve got three A marks, there’s no better you can do.
But this is all just a rating system, a way of objectifying something and boiling it down to some marks on a page. For classics (such as sports and long-enduring board games) the rating doesn’t matter that much, because they have a reputation already. If you’re chasing an AAA rating, you’re probably chasing looks, flash, and the latest fashion. It’s the equivelant of the “10 out of 10” review score. To get there, you have to be trying to please the people who are doing the grading. And, chances are, the result isn’t going to be a long-lasting success.
There are exceptions of course. AAA insurance for example (though their industry is protected by law, so maybe marketing is all they need) has been around for a while. But I can’t think of a single AAA game franchise that I respect. Maybe there are exceptions for you.
To me an AAA game means a game that wants desperately to be a movie and a marketing success. It doesn’t mean anything about mechanics, innovative interaction, interesting lessons, usability, or any of the things that I care about. And, chances are, if that’s the big goal, there probably won’t be much left for anything else.
I don’t buy AAA games. Join me, and ignore the marketing.