Friday, October 11, 2013

The Name Game: Naming a Game

Video Game Name Generator
Shakespeare's beloved Juliet opined, "What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Well, I don't think I need to tell you she was a foolish child, because without the keyword "rose" and, your love is doomed. Choosing a game name is a big deal, and can sometimes be a pretty big process. For instance, our little team at Fixer Studios has put a lot of work into our first title's - uh, title...

Especially in the crowded mobile game market, the name of your game is really, really important. Not only does it need to be memorable, iconic, and fun; including search keywords in your title can really help it appear when players are looking for a game. How do you make sure your game shows up when people search for "war games", "wizard games" or "battle games"? As my former colleague John reminds me, name your game "Wizard War: Battle". That's why there are so many generic sounding mobile games out there with semicolons and dashes. It's sad, but true.

We started with a brainstorming phase in which only a couple of us participated, then I began to look at a few overall name structures we could use and to get ideas flowing I generated a lists of every word that could work as a core or modifier term.

Main Words 
  • Spell, Wizard, Wizardry, Mage, Magus, Magical, Magic, REDACTED, Sorcerer, Sorcery, Warlock, Witch, Arcane, Arcana, Arcanum, Mystic, Mystical, Occult, Tarot, Chicanery, Prestidigitation, Legerdemain, Escamotage, Sortilege, Adroit, Adroitness, Deft, Deftness, Dextrous, Dexterity, Sinistrous, Bedevil, Sleight, Grimoire, REDACTED, REDACTED, REDACTED
  • School, Academy, College, Circle, Disciples, Way, Battle, Bout, Challenge, Contest, Strike, Blitz, Duel, Combat, War, Conflict, Strife, Versus, Battleground, Arena, Down, Book, Tome, Hero, Champion, Deck, Taboo, Shadow, Dark, Hex, Ploy, Trick, Stratagem, REDACTED, Chicane, Artifice, Gambit, Tactic, Chouse, Pocket, Artistry, Arts, Craft, Cunning, REDACTED, Finger, Digit, Hand, Gesture, Pocket, Fantasy, Saga
After than we came up with more one-off names that didn't fit that structure... and had literally dozens upon dozens of titles to winnow down.

To get this done quickly, our writer Andy invented the "Namestorm" process by which the team would collaboratively add yet more ideas. You see, we wanted a process whereby everyone on the team had invested a stake in naming our game... and that none of us hated it. We don't want to let the tragedy of the masses nor Search Engine Optimization blandify and genericize our game's title, so we're going to select our favourites ourselves... then look to the public for help after.

Every potential name went onto an index card and four strong candidates were selected to start off. Going around the group in a circle, anyone could 'veto' a name and, if seconded, replace it with another candidate. A name could return only is seconded and thirded. This went on for a good hour before we'd landed on our "top four" and runner up names.

So, now what? We took those top eight names to a patent and trademark attorney for some quick guidance, then with a better understanding of the legal risks and rules we searched in the US and abroad for conflicts. The only active thing that we could find was a cheap wine from California using called "Dark Arts"... should be no problem. Pretty much all of them had someone camping the URL, Twitter handle, Facebook URL or whatnot so... whatever. Finally, the names went into the Namestorm spreadsheet for the team to vote upon!

Aha, but we didn't just vote. We gave each name a score of 0-5 in six categories to guide our thinking:

  1. Catchy & Memorable
  2. Distinct from Competitors
  3. Appeal to Target Audience
  4. Implies Benefit to Game
  5. You'd Wear the T-Shirt
  6. Symbolic Association with Game

The votes were tabulated and outliers highlighted... and we had our top three names, nominated and voted upon by our team!

Oh, you thought this chart'd spill the beans on our top names. Nope, REDACTED!
Whew, okay... Top three. In fact, we could just choose the top name and go with it, right? Well, that's still risky. We decided to do one last gut check. Some companies would pay marketers to focus group test their top names in secret under harsh NDA. That's a really good idea, but too expensive for us. I'll promise this has likely been done for that triple-A game you're playing right now though. Nope, I elected to do something colloquially and somewhat offensively known as "Ghetto-Testing".

I got onto Google AdWords and paid to run three nearly identical ads on mobile Google search and display placements. All three ads were identical, 'driving' traffic to our Facebook page, and only the name of the game at the top of the ad varied. Did we want to pay for traffic at $0.90 to $2.20 per click? No, we just wanted to see how likely someone was to click on Name1 versus Name2 and Name3. If I knew what I was doing I could have likely set up the ad campaign faster and cheaper, but I settled for dozens of keywords like "iPhone game", "free game". As expected with the $100 budget I'd set aside, we didn't generate enough clicks to be statistically valid, but a steady trend appears to have persisted across each day of the campaign. Name3 was the surprise winner.

Now what, is it named? No, we need to actually come together as a team and commit. Does our Ghetto Test rule the day? Do we ignore its findings? Do we register all three sets of domains and handles everywhere then launch more testing? Do we just say "Screw It" and pick one?

I'll let you know.


  1. Welp, I decided to run a series of test ads on Facebook too. Hopefully we'll know if those results corroborate the Google Adwords findings within 36 hours.

  2. Replies
    1. We went with a "Sinister Dexter", but I want you to know that we plan to create a dance during the launch party called the "Grimoire Grind", all thanks to you.

  3. I'm happy to share that we're going with the name "Sinister Dexter"!