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In-Depth: When the Name Of The Game Changes

Sometimes, a game can outgrow its title during the course of development. Gamasutra speaks with indies Demruth, Dejobaan, Over the Top and Vblank about the ramifications and reasoning behind a change of name.
Sometimes, for various reasons, a game can outgrow its title during the course of development. Notable indie game developers Demruth, Dejobaan Games and Vblank Entertainment all faced game name issues, and at different points in time made the difficult decision to rename their games. When indies finally receive spotlight coverage, it may seem like brand suicide to rename a well-known game, and potentially lose their following. However, if the focus remains on making a remarkable game, events such as a Nintendo Power cover story, a Portal 2 ARG (alternate reality game) inclusion, winning multiple awards at conferences such as the Freeplay Independent Games Festival, or being featured at PAX 10 can help a developer retain that spotlight, even post-name change. But sometimes that spotlight crucially fades. In addition to the tales of three above indies, Over the Top Games recollected having to rename its project merely days before distribution. Though a future Steam and iOS would help give Icarian back its wings, the developer will never know the extent of loss sales and coverage from the sudden change. Demruth Avoids Hazard: The Journey of Life Alexander Bruce, the man behind indie developer Demruth, told Gamasutra that his unique "psychological exploration game" Hazard: The Journey of Life was "born out of iteration, and it isn't the same as what it once was." But the focus of his game changed since 2009, when he first named it Hazard. With huge amounts of thought going into every detail of the game, he felt it was wrong to leave the name something he chose for lack of time or forethought. "Some people will say that not having the right name doesn't matter, but I think that that is a different issue to having the wrong name." Bruce said that it is generally hard to find people who cared enough to have a serious discussion about renaming his project. He has to thank fellow indies Adam Saltsman (Canabalt), Jonathan Blow (Braid), and Jason Rohrer (Sleep is Death) for providing rational arguments as to why finding the right name mattered. "When I thought I was getting close with a few, they'd tell me all the reasons why it wasn't the right name," Bruce said. He felt an increasing pressure to change his game's name with each upcoming public event in which he entered the game. Towards the end of March 2011, the process of seriously changing the name began. Within a week he was calling his game -- in which players move room to room to complete truly mind-bending puzzles -- "Antechamber". Bruce later refined that to Antichamber. When Bruce had a name that he thought worked well, he randomly asked other designers for their opinions, and when it was working well with other indies, he asked random people who'd never heard about the game what they thought. "Antechamber worked better when I said it than when people read it, because they were hearing me say 'anti-chamber.' So I changed the spelling accordingly to gain that immediacy in text." Bruce actually entered major consumer gaming show PAX 10 as Antichamber, before the change officially occurred. "When I was notified that I was one of the winners, changing the name immediately shot straight to the top of the priority list." Having something like the PAX 10 helps with the transition, especially all of the write ups that happen after the show. Once he was sure of the name, he sought advice from other developers about how to go about the change. Some said to do it as soon as possible; others said to make sure the trademark is clear. "I didn't want to announce the change without any other resources like the website, logo, and new screenshots, because I felt that they would make it more impactful as far as getting press about the change was concerned." Bruce was fascinated by the "cut-throat" subject of game names among developers. "You're trying to work out who the right people to listen to are, and a bunch of insults get thrown around the place. Statements like 'Don't listen to them. They named their game X!' or 'I think things worked for them in spite of the name they chose.' It was frustrating at the time, as I was trying to get clear answers, but it was pretty amusing reading all those conversations again later on." Dejobaan Loses Its OOO! Developer Dejobaan wanted its newest title to be interesting, descriptive, and remarkable. But that title's first iteration -- "ooo! ooO! oOO! OOO!: Grab a Loop and Mix a Beat" -- seemed to be lacking. Studio president Ichiro Lambe elaborated, "'ooo! ooO! oOO! OOO!: Grab a Loop and Mix a Beat' was too close to [the studio's previous game] AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity (which was originally called 'Low Altitude'). [OOO!] wasn't descriptive (there was no mixing of beats), and also sounded like an orgasm simulator." Lambe wanted something more fun, and the name of the game officially became "1... 2... 3... KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby)." He explained the decidedly unscientific process. "Ugly babies are funny! Who has an ugly baby? Nobody does! All babies are beautiful. Except Kick It's baby, which is ugly," he said. And Dejobaan also managed to tie the game to Valve Software's highly-viral Portal 2 ARG and "got the [new] name out to untold bazillions of people," Lambe said. The birth of the name wasn't too painful: While the "kick it" part of the name existed for several days, Dejobaan's creative consultant Alicia Fontaine added, "Drop that beat like a baby." Dejobaan's gameplay and narrative designer Dan Brainerd mentioned that ugly babies are funnier, and that "Drop that beat like an ugly baby" flows when spoken. It was settled. Well, mostly settled. "People still call the game Ooo!," said Lambe, "and some actually think that we created a game called Ooo!, and are making another game called Kick It, which is a rip off of Ooo!, so we seem like a one-trick pony. But really, since we keep hitting everyone with Kick It, it's not a problem." When asked how problematic multiple name changes would be, Lambe said that more than three changes turns it into a game of its own. "A name without a product won't get us anywhere. [After a change], you pretty much have to move onto more important things (like making the actual game)." Asked if it's ever too late to rename, Lambe thought that "Alex Bruce totally flirted with the bounds of changing late -- everyone knew Antichamber as Hazard: The Journey of Brucing Out, which has won many, many awards. So, people who hear Antichamber may not realize that it's the same delicious game." As for it ever being too early for an indie to change the name of the game: "If you're worrying about it at prototype, you're not focusing on the right thing. At the very least, the game will outgrow the name by the time you're done with it." While outgrowing a name is an option, Lambe said naming appropriately is more effective. "I've given talks where I ask the audience, 'So, who here knows our game about BASE jumping?', and everyone will scream 'Aaaaa!'. Great brand recognition there." Vblank Dismisses Retro Theftendo Indie developer Brian Provinciano submitted an early build of Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare game Retro City Rampage to the Independent Games Festival in late 2008 as Retro Theftendo, which was the first public announcement of the project. However, that was the only push he made with that name before the final change before its announcement in Nintendo Power in early Summer 2010. Provinciano reflected, "I still wasn't 100 percent settled on the name, but the magazine had to go to press and debuting in Nintendo Power was an incredible opportunity, something kids dream about!" He went with Retro City Rampage, which the majority of people he asked had voted on. Along with Retro Theftendo, Provinciano had developed a different but similar game: Grand Theftendo. "Being a completely different game, others had mentioned I might want to distance myself from that for a number of reasons." The quality differed; "Retro" is about 300 times that game in size -- and quality. And "Grand Theftendo" was an unofficial homebrew game that plays on the Grand Theft Auto IP, whereas Retro is completely original. As for how Provinciano settled upon Retro City Rampage, "I couldn't use '-tendo,' and I decided it was good to distance things from ancestor Grand Theftendo." While he felt it would not be an impossible fight against industry giant Nintendo, it wasn't worth it for him. "There were also concerns, though, that the other consoles may not want to publish a game with -tendo in the title, either," he said. Along with pondering the name change, he mocked up logos, bought domain names as soon as he liked a name, and generally "wasted way more time" than he should have. Whereas Dejobaan felt naming was important, Provinciano slightly disagrees. "It's more about just marketing the heck out of the game itself and the name will stick in people's minds." Over the Top's Clipped Icarian Wings No amount of marketing could have prepared developer Over the Top for the sudden change its game Icarian faced, just two days before its release on WiiWare. Over the Top director Roberto Alvarez de Lara recalled, "We received a Cease and Desist from another developer with a game with a similar name. We believe both games had very different markets and different meanings, but it was similar phonetically." de Lara decided to change Icarian to NyxQuest to avoid further legal hassle. "Up to this day I strongly believe that there was really no reason for the [legal] action and that our game didn't break any trademark or could be confused with the other, but being a new developer that spent all their resources on the development, we didn't have an option just two days from the release. We needed this game to be released to survive." To keep the WiiWare deadline, Over the Top had to think quickly about renaming. "We had a lot of options for game names. The first option was just 'Nyx,' but we were very scared to be asked again to change it. Other options were 'The Quest of Nyx,' 'Icaryx,' and since this game is intended as part of a series, 'Nyx Tales' and 'Nyx Travels.'" The team even resorted to using Google to assure that it was not already in use. "That is the reason for the game to be called NyxQuest. We searched for it, and we got no matches... we had a winner." NyxQuest eventually found a wider audience on iOS and Steam. However, de Lara lamented that they will never know the real impact the name change had on WiiWare sales. "I think it certainly affected negatively, as we had a lot of good previews on renowned magazines and websites. We made a few front pages and the awareness of the game was very good." The sudden change became one of the most stressful moments of his life as he felt all his work at risk. However, de Lara said, "the important thing is to be positive that the game was released and that players enjoyed it." As for what others can do to avoid the hassle, de Lara suggested to do research before choosing the final name of the game. However, he said that other companies can still menace to sue if the name is even somewhat similar. Ultimately, he feels "there is nothing you can do against that, but be prepared and not very attached to a name." [In full disclosure, freelance writer John Polson now works part-time at Dejobaan Games.]

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