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How to name a game

Naming a game isn't just an artistic choice, neither just about pure communication efficiency. It must be original, appealing, memorable... Here's my advice about how to name your game more easily.

Yannick Elahee, Blogger

February 1, 2018

6 Min Read

Naming things is a challenge you get in every domain: restaurants, startups, music bands. I don’t believe you spend a lifetime choosing a name. I understand why people may think this way though. You have to find a middle ground between something totally random and something too obvious.

It’s interesting to note that naming an indie game, a III or a AAA is a totally different thing. Generally speaking, III and AAA will go with low-risk name because they have big marketing power to show the game. They also want to be the most inclusive possible and will avoid names that sound strange or weird. Eg: The Witness, Dark Souls, etc.

Why should you take the time to find a good name?

  • Google Searches. You want to appear first.

  • Memory. Don’t let your players get to confuse your game with another one.

  • Coolness. Being cool is gud.

  • Atmosphere-teasing. You can hint the story, the art direction.

  • Gameplay teasing. It can be nice to give a few hints on what is the game’s genre.

So what are BAD names?

There is one criterion that makes me directly classify a name as bad.

Can you tell me the difference between Battlerite, Battlegrounds and Battleborn? Between Warface and Warframe? Between Paragon and Paladin? Have you ever seen the trailer of Away? By the way, Paladin is not really a classic RPG about playing a Paladin, huh.

Let’s play a game:
How many games are in this tweet?

(answer to the tweet was 10 btw: Bastion, antichamber, away, portal, the witness, braid, gone home, dishonored, limbo, inside)

You get what I mean. Some names are overused. Some examples:

  • Age (Age of Empires, Age of War, etc.)

  • War (Age of War, Warcraft, Warhammer, Dawn of War, etc.)

  • Battle (Battle royale, Battlegrounds, Ultimatest Battle, etc.)

  • Craft (Minecraft, Spacecraft, etc.)

  • Heroes (Heroes of the Storm, Heroes of Newerth, etc.)

  • Dungeon (Dungeon Master, Lord of the Dungeon, Dungeon Crawling, etc.)

I generally advise that, if you use a generic name, try to either:

  • Append or Prefix an original word.
    Eg: Drifting Lands.

  • Add two or three more words with an original word that will result in “THING” of/on/or/for “STUFF”. Eg: Battle for Wesnoth, Heroes of Newerth, Dark Age of Camelot.

  • Get a more complex phrase structure like: [adjective] [name] [name], [name] [verb].
    Eg : Double Kick Heroes, Grand Theft Auto, Mother Russia Bleeds, Slender Man

What is a good name?

I believe a good name brings semantics and link to the game while using original, less used words. For instance, when Clash of Clans came out, it used not-that-much used name with a good rhythm.

A good name also stands out from the crowd. I really like VVVVV for instance, even if I never remember how much V there is. It doesn’t really matter, we both know what is this game. Good name also brings some nice rhythm when said out loud, in English. Try to say Rymdkapsel?

The name also have to be linked to the gameplay. It will help your player remember it, because they will link the game feel to the name. For instance, Hatoful Boyfriends read and plays like a ridiculous japanese visual novel.

Finally, pick a name that doesn’t have competitors on Google. Did you know that Super Massive is now called Steredenn? The former was already used by a big publisher and the latest is a cool indie shoot’em’up in space. Also, Steredenn means Star in Old Gallic — and the whole game is in Old Gallic! It brings meaning to the story of their game production.

Here are some names I really like.

  • Limbo: original, linked to content, embed with an atmosphere. Sounds very universal.

  • Mother Russia Bleeds: this name almost tells a whole story by itself and hints that it’s not a dating sim.

  • Hotline Miami: full of mystery, but you can easily guess the tone of the game.

  • Grand Theft Auto: totally sounds like an italian-american mafia movie from the 80's.

  • L.A. Noire: mysterious and interesting to read. The word Noire obviously hints at an investigation name. This one is pretty obviously hinting a film noir atmosphere.

  • Hatoful Boyfriend. The name is as funny as the game! You can also guess it’s a dating game.

  • Transformice, Prison Architect, Krosmaga, The Next Penelope, Road Rage, Burnout, Owlboy, Cuphead, Umbra, etc.

Thanks for reading!

What’s your story about choosing your game’s name? Tell me!

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