Monday, January 14

What's in a Name?

For many years I've been referring to new games by a codename that stands as a working title while the game is in development. It's Alive! was Codename: Monster, Carpe Astra was Codename: Network and Sumeria was Codename: Ancient before their official names were chosen or announced. And now I'm working on Codename: Vacuum.

If I decide to hawk it to publishers, job done, I can send it with the codename, since the publisher will almost certainly want to chose the name (and the artist and tweak the rules) themselves. However, if I decide I self publish again I'll need a real name for it at some point.

I've been toying with a couple of ideas (one of which I posited here to a conspicuous silence!), and it got me thinking about what makes a good game name.

Lots of euro games go for the place name option, e.g.: Goa, Macao, Cuba, Santiago, Puerto Rico; while more themed games chose something a bit more involved: e.g.: Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition, Race for the Galaxy, Space Hulk.

I would want something that gives you a flavour of the game, but it also needs to meet certain criteria:

  • There can't be an existing game with the same or a similar name
  • It's got to Google well
  • Ideally there's not a book/film/computer game with the same name
  • It's got to sound enticing
  • It ought to evoke the gameplay or setting

So Race for the Galaxy is out (taken) and Race for the Solar System is out (too similar). Sol is out (taken by a 2011 game, a forthcoming film plus brings back hundreds of BGG hits). Empire of the Sun is a film and book, Solar Empire is a 2012 game. So you can see there's a lot of competition!

Making up a word works in a lot of ways (it should be unique in the BGG database and should Google well), but it be awkward for searchers to guess the 'correct' spelling, plus it's difficult to evoke the theme, concept or mechanics of a game with a word that by definition doesn't mean anything.

I've been thinking about 'Full Steam to the Stars' or 'Steam to the Stars' for Codename: Vacuum. They both have a few things going for them:

  • No competition: a BGG search of 'steam stars' brings back no hits and Google doesn't find anything with that phrase in the first page
  • They both evoke the Steampunk initial setting of the game and the sci-fi finish with a sense of the transition in between
  • Full Steam gives a hint of the race to ensure that your target victory conditions are ones that get scored

Of course, the downside is that I'm too close to them so I've no idea whether they sound rubbish or not. The name has to be interesting enough that if you saw it on a shelf you'd pick up the box or if you saw it in the BGG Hotness you'd click the link. I'm not sure either of those have that kind of appeal.

For Carpe Astra I ran a BGG competition to choose a name (the winner got a mention in the rules and, I think, a free copy of the game). I could do the same thing here, but it's a bit of a wasted effort if I hawk it to publishers and they call it something else.

What do you all think of (Full) Steam to the Stars? Got any better ideas?


Mal said...

I quite like Full Steam to the Stars. With some good, period artwork, it could evoke the 19th Century aesthetic really nicely. It absolutely needs "full" in there, mind -- Steam to the Stars doesn't have *half* the impact or urgency.

I guess my only reservation is that it's basically the same phrase as Race for the Galaxy, but with different words.

Ben said...

I too, prefer Full Steam to the Stars.

A current trick seems to be to use a colon to expand on the theme a bit. Steampunk lends itself well to this I think:

A Steam Odyssey: In which there is rip-roaring adventure to bring civilisation to far flung heavenly bodies

Alternatively an option might be to co-opt an existing victorian fiction title. The Starship of Doctor Pope. Around the Stars in 80 Cycles.

Those are all terrible ideas, but you get the jist!

Jack said...

Hiya Mal, Ben,

Thanks for your input guys. I'm now considering 'Full Steam into Space' too, since you don't really get to other stars...



Mal said...

While technically correct, "Full Steam into Space" isn't half as good a name as "Full Steam to the Stars". Accuracy be damned! (Seriously.)

Jack said...

Hiya Mal,

Thanks! It's hard to tell when you choose the name - you're too close to have any editorial input.



Scrabble Hints said...

Very interesting perspective. I haven't thought much about game names, but i do see how it can be important. I don't think a good game name would single-handedly convince me to buy a game, but I guess a bad name could discourage me from buying.

Jack said...


I'm not expecting anyone to buy it based on the name, but I hope a good name might cause people to take a closer look - either looking at it on the shelf or browsing for more information on the net.