Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dog name theory

Sunday, April 29, 2012
When talking about independent game development, the question of names comes up a lot. Names for projects, names for companies, names for engine tech and so on. Since nobody asked me, here's how I feel about the question: it doesn't matter.

That's not true; in fact, "it doesn't matter" nearly always pains me as an answer to a question as it's a thoughtless response. It matters, but I will argue it matters far less than people think it does. 

Maybe not the best dog name

I liken naming a game to naming a dog. As with a dog, you can name your game just about anything, with a few common sense provisos. A dog's name should be short, have a good consonant sound in there, and probably not be vulgar or obscene. Bonus points if the name seems to decently fit the personality of the dog in question, the more so the better of course, but a standard dog name is nothing to worry about.
So long as it isn't actively problematic, most any dog name will work. At the end of the day, the name means nothing, insofar as it is a vessel into which we pour all of our emotional connections, memories and associations of that beloved pet. The stronger the attachment to the pet, and it's unique personality and quirks, the stronger the name will seem.


Nobody familiar with CS can see those two words adjacent without a strong association--imagery, memories of particular matches, exultation or frustration. It's an above-average name choice that at least connotes some amount of shooteriness (and fittingly, some degree of sportiness), but to any player of the game, it doesn't feel generic at all. Not because it's a great name, but because of the rightful, arguably inextricable association of the game's character with the name.

Which is why it made me laugh to discover that Minh Le (of Counter-Strike fame) would name his new project Tactical Intervention, an only slightly more specific game title exactly in the vein of Counter-Strike. 
I laugh because it seems goofy and generic now, like a friend naming a dog a completely boring, standard dog name, but I know that with time the players' associations with the game will make that name seem like anything but. Games named in this fashion--the Unreals of the world in response to the Quakes--still tend to rise or fall purely on the strength of the game, rather than because of a particularly apt title or it's clear association with another game. 
Nobody really thinks of the three letters of MOH in the same way as COD, even though the latter title came later, as a clearly analogous naming choice.

Maybe this is all obvious, but I keep seeing independent developers agonize over this kind of decision. Build the game, and the game will fill the name with all the meaningful freight. 
So long as it isn't too cutesy, overlong, or embarrassing to speak aloud in mixed (or multigenerational) company, your game and company name are just fine.

Ask yourself: "does the name I am considering sound like a Dejoban title?" So long as the answer is a firm negative, you've chosen well.


Anonymous said...

This is quite the cure for the situation I've found myself in-- laboring on a project for months and keeping it offline only because I couldn't come up with the *perfect* name.

Trying to come up with something that sounds as good as your favorite games/books doesn't work because those have the strength of your own positive associations behind them. A nascent project has no such things, or even negative associations because of the inevitable frustrations from working on a project.

So thanks, this really helps.

Jay said...

It seems to me that Tactical Intervention is an even more generic title than Counter-Strike. CS at least means that your side has been on the defensive, but is going offensive. TI doesn't even say that much.

BrandFeelsGood said...

Scott Miller has a great post on naming your game, in summary:

* Meaningful title
* Short names are better than long names
* Avoid punctuation in the game title
* Avoid generic titles
* Avoid sequel numbers

Free Online Games said...

The games should have short catchy and meaningful names.

pilch said...

A rose by any other name... (and all that).

Hooch said...

When naming a game, like naming a band or a company, the one thing you should ask first is "can I get the top level .com domain for this?". Chances are, no.

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