Boss by day, gamer by night: Tech leaders' favorite video games

High-tech titans from Red Hat, Adobe, Cisco and more admit: All they really need to know they learned from ... World of Goo?

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Mark Randall

Chief strategist, Adobe Systems Inc.'s Dynamic Media Organization

First game, first system: It was Pong in a pizza joint about 1975. The first video game I played at home was one I wrote myself in BASIC on a Radio Shack [TRS-80] Color Computer with 4K of RAM circa 1980.

What you play now: I play LittleBigPlanet on the PlayStation 3 and World of Goo on the PC. But most of my gaming time is spent on a MAME [Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator] cabinet I designed myself. My latest obsession has been Japanese vertical shooters of the "bullet hell" genre, such as DoDonPachi and Dangun Feveron.

Skills and lessons that translate: I've noticed that around our house, we often spend more time playing classic arcade games than some of the current state-of-the-art games. The new games are visually stunning, but the game play of some 20-year-old classics can be longer lasting and in many ways more satisfying.

Mark Randall, Adobe
Randall: "Extreme technological limitations and constraints can drive creativity and innovation."

There are two interesting technology design lessons here: First, we must resist being seduced by dazzling new technology. Simplicity and elegant design can sometimes accomplish more than all the whiz-bang features in the world.

Second, extreme technological limitations and constraints can drive creativity and innovation you might not have reached if you'd been given endless resources and technology. The creators of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were able to push their primitive tools beyond all expectations and create engaging experiences that were entertaining and magical. As developers, it's all too easy to dwell on the technical and creative constraints placed on us by factors beyond our control, such as an installed base of old PCs or creaky networks. We can instead choose to see such limitations as a creative springboard ready to propel us to new heights.

Alan Cohen

Vice president of enterprise solutions, Cisco Systems Inc.

First game, first system: Pong and Space Invaders. I played them in college, usually with a cold Genesee Cream Ale not far away.

What you play now: I play tennis and bowling on the Wii, but Rock Band 2 for the Xbox 360 has taken over in the Cohen household. We play as much as we can, and it's great to play something with my kids that we all enjoy.

Alan Cohen, Cisco
Cohen: "Games are all about how you work together any place, any time."

Skills and lessons that translate: Those early arcade games were me versus the computer, mano a máquina. It was an individualistic, self-focused experience -- an Internet 1.0 encounter.

Now, increasingly, games are Internet 2.0 encounters. They're all about how well you work together with others any time, any place, with players from around the world. Rock Band 2, World of Warcraft, even Guitar Hero promote the shared experience and are all about how together we can do more, be more, compete better than we can by going it alone. That's right in line with how the corporate environment is evolving: You can play (or work) anytime you want, and you have to compete and collaborate on a global basis in order to succeed.

So, besides improving my mental and physical reflexes and my thumb action (handy for those tiny QWERTY keypads), gaming sharpens my focus on collaborative planning, problem solving and execution.

Rahul Sood

Founder, VoodooPC Chief technologist, Voodoo brand, Hewlett-Packard Co.

First game, first system: Mattel Football on a handheld Mattel toy. I used to collect these devices, which were powered by 9-volt batteries and lasted forever.

Rahul Sood, VoodooPC
Sood: "Playing games helped us make crucial business decisions."

What you play now: I play everything. I have a bunch of PCs, a PS3, a Nintendo Wii, an Xbox 360 and some handhelds. I currently play Call of Duty 4, Grand Theft Auto IV (a bit extreme, but very fun) and Mirror's Edge (an awesome game, very well done).

Skills and lessons that translate: In the early years at Voodoo, we'd shut down the office and play Command and Conquer almost every night. C&C is a real-time strategy game -- a live game of chess, essentially. The type of base you build, what type of leader you are and how you handle your army all play a role in whether you will win or get crushed.

And I'm dead serious when I say this: Playing games like C&C helped us make crucial business decisions over the years. Playing C&C with our team reminded me of Sun Tzu's Art of War, and many decisions that we made in our business can be paralleled with The Art of War.

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