Don't just play the games, play the video game industry

• Nvidia nvida. Makes high-powered graphics chips used in many gaming computers. The downside, though, is the company is under pressure over the software it provides to make its products work, called drivers. Problems with Nvidia drivers have been pinpointed as causing issues with Windows PCs.

• Advanced Micro Devices amd. Nvidia's big rival in the graphics business. While traditionally seen as an also-ran, AMD is gaining steam with consumers hoping its drivers work better than those provided by other companies.

• Hewlett-Packard hpq. This PC maker has been a big player in the gaming market. Its Voodoo division is dedicated to creating high-powered gaming rigs. HP has been taking share from Dell, as Dell restructures.

• Dell dell. Dell got into gaming in a big way with its acquisition of Alienware. But since then, facing challenges in its core mainstream PC business, Dell has focused on getting its primary business in order.

2. Software makers. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony all make games for their consoles. But much of the industry's success relies on third-party developers, who make just games. Some of the leaders include:

• Electronic Arts erts. The oldest remaining third-party game developer is best known for its blockbuster titles, including sports games like Madden NFL and other popular games like The Sims. It made a bet a few years ago to pay up for rights to movies, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and produce games connected with those. But since then, the company seems to be retooling a bit to focus on more original content. This holiday season will be a test to see how the efforts are panning out.

• Activision atvi has shown how management expertise can be critical in this tricky industry. Every console cycle, the company seems to morph in order to be at the right place. Currently, the company is betting on several huge titles, such as Guitar Hero and Call of Duty, and focusing its efforts there rather than trying to release many titles. And the company has long been a big PC developer, which helps to smooth out any disruptions between the releases of new consoles. It's currently assimilating with Vivendi, which controls the popular War of Warcraft online game.

• THQ thqi. THQ has concentrated on the portable consoles from Nintendo and has been a leader in licensing movie franchises, including from Pixar. Like Electronic Arts, THQ, too, has been developing original content.

• Take Two ttwo. If you know Grand Theft Auto, you know Take Two. Take Two has made itself the HBO of video game makers, by spending the effort to craft high-quality mature titles. The challenge, though, is that the company has not be successful in branching out from Grand Theft Auto. Electronic Arts is trying to buy the company.

3. Peripherals and accessories. There are many companies that make add-ons and other pieces and parts for video games. Among some of the publicly traded leaders:

• Mad Catz Interactive mcz. This company creates a variety of controllers for games and protective cases and car adapters.

• Logitech logi. Has a division that focuses on video game peripherals. It's primarily a maker of PC accessories, though, including mice, keyboards and webcams.

Matt Krantz is a financial markets reporter at USA TODAY and author of Investing Online for Dummies. He answers a different reader question every weekday in his Ask Matt column at To submit a question, e-mail Matt at Click here to see previous Ask Matt columns.

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