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05 MAY. 2017

Naming for Gaming: 7 Ways to Name Your Game

Allison Rose

Brand Naming Team

The following article is part of our ‘Naming for Gaming’ series, where we uncover English and Chinese naming trends that lead to successful gaming enterprises.

Thoughtful branding allows you to clarify your value to customers and deliver consistent messages across all touchpoints, both internally and externally. Naturally, people recognize and talk about your brand through one of its most vital assets, the brand name.

Can you guess what industry the company Cellectis belongs to? If you guessed something related to biopharmaceuticals, selectivity, or technology, you’re right. Having a name that customers and stakeholders easily associate with the correct industry can increase brand recognition and memorability.

A thoughtfully selected name can also add to the buzz surrounding a product or company leading up to its launch. Do you recall the pre-release hype of Blizzard’s Overwatch? That excitement was bolstered by its brand name, and the buzz would have been impossible if Blizzard hadn’t chosen a memorable name before the release.

What does the value of brand naming mean for the gaming industry? How do developers build up excitement for game after game, series after series? This quick article will walk through naming strategies used by different gaming genres to attract their target fan bases. 

Targeting Your Fan Base

As we look at different gaming genres, you’ll notice that naming trends differ depending on what mood the publisher intends to convey.

1. Sports

These game names are the most straightforward. They include the name of the relevant sport or a closely associated athlete or tournament, as in Konami’s PES (Pro Evolution Soccer) and EA Sports’ Madden NFL. Many feature a famous athlete only in their cover art, allowing adaptability over time, as new stars rise and fall. The games are often branded with a sports league or network, like 2K Sports’ NBA 2K17. These professionally branded games indulge players in the excitement and competitive spirit of the multi-billion-dollar professional sports industry.

2. Fantasy

Fantasy action-adventure games with storylines typically adhere to certain fantastical naming conventions. Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda, Daybreak’s EverQuest, and indie developer Brace Yourself’s Crypt of the Necrodancer all fit in this category. They imply an intriguing background story while maintaining a mysterious air, preparing players for thrilling adventure.

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3. “Online” Games

The names of many popular MMORPG’s (massive multiplayer online role-playing games) end with “Online”. This was initially used to emphasize the connected nature of the game and the open world it creates for its players. We see it in names like NCSoft’s Aion Online and GRAVITY’s Ragnarok Online. The most popular MMORPG’s are sci-fi and fantasy games, so while the aforementioned both use transliterations of their original Korean names, many MMORPG’s adhere to fantasy naming conventions.

4. Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas

In MOBA’s (multiplayer online battle arenas), players build camaraderie and fight together to defeat the opposing team. Valve’s DOTA (Defenders of the Ancients), Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm, indie publisher Ronimo’s Awesomenauts, and other MOBA’s begin with a plural noun to indicate the team-based nature of the game.

5. First-Person Shooter

We frequently see short, sharp creative names paired with FPS’s, as in Halo, BioShock, Half-Life and Counter-Strike. The names, which are often compound words, are quick and tactical, just like the action in the games.

6. Sandbox Building Games

Minecraft is the most widely renowned sandbox game, but Mojang’s international show-stopper took inspiration from other sources that echo with its name. Games like Zachtronics’ Infiniminer, Re-Logic’s Terraria, and the Roblox platform all allude to building blocks, mining and forging, and world crafting. These are games for people who want endless space to design, create, and build worlds within worlds.

7. Indie

Indie games cover the whole gamut of naming tropes, with names like Even the Ocean, Owl Country, and To the Moon embodying the truly whimsical and abstract. Ambiguous single-word names that make sense only once you play the game include Braid, Fez, Bastion, Limbo, Flow, Nidhogg, and many more. As indie developers publish their first games, they exercise full creative license, resulting in many names that do not clearly indicate their genre.

Overarching Trends

In the list above, or as a gamer yourself, you’ll notice overarching trends spanning across genres. Game namers tend towards names with grand, heroic implications. Many refer to action, fantasy, mythology, history, military, technology, and adventure. Related words are combined into short phrases and compound words, or distorted into completely new words using familiar prefixes, suffixes, and other morphemes.

While there are some intriguing exceptions, choosing a name that alludes to the right genre is a powerful tool in your branding toolbox. The right name attracts the attention of gamers who are most interested in what your game has to offer. Of course, a genre-conscious name must be distinctive and eye-catching to successfully drum up interest and lead to higher numbers of new players.

As you narrow your name list, it’s vital to ensure that your name is unique and can be trademarked. Further, a linguistic check across regions and languages can test whether players will agree on its pronunciation, be able to write it, and remember it easily. If you do choose a longer name, a linguistic check can test whether your target players will align on a logical acronym or shortening of the name. Otherwise, you may want to pre-empt confusion by putting forth your own abbreviation. You can further measure how your name will be received by target consumers by conducting thorough market testing.

Conclusion: Align with your Genre

Overall, aligning on a distinctive, memorable name that alludes to your game’s genre will help you attract enthusiastic players as you expand your gaming empire.

How can games succeed in the biggest gaming community on the planet? Check out the next article in the Naming for Gaming series to learn how to name your game in Chinese and how to build a strong brand nomenclature as a foundation for epic game expansion.

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