Ryan has been developing a tabletop roleplaying game, The Gun Belt for over three years. The game features alien and robot cowboys riding dinosaurs in an interstellar Wild West on a world with no wheels. It is currently in the process of playtesting. This blog explores the process he and his design partner, Ashley, have experienced during that time.
Names matter. The name of your game is the most important communication tool you have to present your game to your potential customers.
A great name has to have great visual aesthetics. It needs to be able to look good on your product. Some words just look better than others, and when you use a fancy font on a word, it will amplify a word’s aesthetics, making it look even more ugly or more appealing to the eye. Short, simple words are always safe. Less common letters, such as x, q and z are often less friendly on the eyes and remove familiarity from a title’s aesthetic, making it less comfortable on the eyes.
It’s also important that the title be easy on the tongue. Every time someone talks about your game, they will be saying the name of it. Make sure that you choose a name for your game that is not difficult to say. Avoid strange, odd words (particularly made up words), tongue-twisters and words with lots of syllables.
The visual and verbal elements should also be considered together, thinking about how they interact. Look at your title on paper and read it aloud. Does it sound okay? Sometimes a title looks great on paper but is actually difficult to say out loud. Does it sound like it reads? If someone were to say it aloud to you, would you know how to spell it correctly? If you heard the name and never saw it in writing, could you go to Google and type it in correct enough to successfully find it?
There’s more to a name than how it feels, of course. It also has a purpose.
The name of your game is your brand, and it has to communicate that to your customers. It needs to be something that quickly summarizes the essence of your game, presenting the essence of your game to people in a way that helps them imagine what it must be about. The name should be easy to remember and talk about while being unique. Finally, it should be at least a little catchy or clever (but not too clever).
Another thought to keep in mind is that, should your roleplaying game be successful, you may find yourself publishing additional materials after your core book. These kinds of splat books often expand your game’s universe into other geographic, cultural, governmental or spiritual areas that the initial book doesn’t explore. Your name needs to avoid being so narrow and specific that it would limit your opportunities to grow your world. Had Star Trek been called Starfleet, it could be more challenging to market a follow-up sourcebook with a misleading name like, Starfleet: The Klingon Empire.
Early on, Ashley and I really wanted to call our game High Moon. The name was a play on the classic film, High Noon, evoking the right feelings of a cinematic western. Swapping “noon” for “moon” in the title added our science fiction element to the title. It was easy to say, it looked good on paper and it quickly evoked an image in our mind that led to a rapid development of a rough, possible logo and look.
It turns out, High Moon is a video game development company that has worked on Call of Duty. The .com for High Moon goes to their website. High Moon is also a comic book about werewolves in the wild west by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis. Guess what the next piece of advice is?
Google your title. Has it been used by anyone else for anything? If so, is it something prolific, well-known or too similar to what you’re working on? If you still feel okay about your name, then you need to purchase the .com domain right now (do it now!). Try not to use a .net, .org or other domain extension because most of your customers are going to assume the .com address. There are many places you can purchase domain names from, but if you are unfamiliar with the process, I recommend Google Domains, as it is user friendly and safe.
Since we couldn’t use High Moon, we started brainstorming. Honestly, this is the fun part. We searched the internet for everything that had anything to do with the keywords of our project: cowboys, dinosaurs, western, aliens, coyotes, deserts, trains… Nothing was off the table.
One option was Boom Space, a play off of boom town, a phrase describing western towns that popped up as a result of someone striking gold. It wasn’t really catchy, and was strange when spoken aloud. We also worked with End of the Line, but it’s a very common title for a lot of things. The Road to Hell was an option, but road wasn’t really appropriate when talking about people coming to our planet through space on a train. At one point, we went really simplistic and considered Progress. Turns out, it was so simplistic, that no one had any idea what our game might be about.
Our final option was Last Train Out. We really liked that one. It felt desolate and somber, evoking a feeling of hopelessness. It also lent itself to the wild west genre in a way that worked well for us, while not limiting us in dealing with the scifi aspect of space trains. In addition, the .com was available. We felt pretty certain this would be our title. The only problem with it was it didn’t express any thoughts of aliens or dinosaurs, and they are pretty central to our theme.
A few days after we had all but settled on Last Train Out, I was watching television. There was a show on talking about the asteroid belt in our solar system. They also mentioned the Van Allen radiation belts and the Kuipper Belt. Something clicked in my head, and The Gun Belt came to me. It was simple. It was catchy. It was easy to say and spell. It looked good when written. It had a clever pun (a belt that holds your pants and a belt of things encircling something in nature). It implied western and science fiction. A quick Google showed us that somehow, no one had ever used it as a title before. Perhaps the most unbelievable part of this was that the .com was available.
One of the great things about names being so important is that when you find the right one, it will line up with your vision and your marketing ideas perfectly. It will quickly convey an idea of what your game is, how it feels and what they can expect in a manner that's easy to remember and simple to repeat or search online.
And that's why names matter.