Video Games: Branding & Naming

I am a big video games fan, somewhere between a casual and a hardcore gamer, and I think that the video games industry is an extremely interesting industry to be in at this time. I think that, actually, there is no video games industry per se, but rather video games are a part of the larger entertainment industry. Like every other industry, the entertainment industry has its own peculiarities and branding is probably one of them.

As Paul Garrison was telling us, the CEU Business School MBA students who took his strategic marketing class, a brand is the container for the total experience consumers have with a product, a service and a company. People always buy for emotional reasons, but look for functional reasons to support or explain their emotional decisions. Thus, a brand is only meaningful and has an impact within the context of who the customer is.

A great brand is more than just the sum of its parts for a customer, because it makes and delivers a promise, provides an experience, develops a relationship and becomes a symbol or icon against which every other alternative is perceived. Branding is a creative and consistent long term process that makes use of all corporate communication vehicles to position a product or service in the mind of the customer, by creating value and meaning for that customer and thus making it the first choice in its respective category.

Latham & Co defined three building blocks of a brand: graphics, content and style. The name of a brand is part of the content building block and in the entertainment industry plays a very significant role. It can often make it or break it, be it a movie, a show or a video game title.

When we think about a product, we tend to first think of the name, and only afterwards mentally picture its graphical representation. A great brand is that which can easily substitute the name with the logo and vice versa (Nike or Coca Cola are good examples – you can picture the brand logo almost immediately as you think of the name).

A product name needs to convey a compelling and meaningful message about the product, as the name is what creates the customer’s first critical impression about that respective product. In the quick paced and high tech world of video games, product names are probably even more important, especially since there are usually several sequels following a successful initial product.

In 2004, Scott Miller, the creator of Wolfenstein-3D, Duke Nukem, Max Payne or Prey, talked about video games branding on his blog and made it pretty clear: name matters! The main points that Miller was touching upon were the following: short names are better than long names; avoid punctuation in the game title; avoid sequel numbers; avoid generic titles by having a meaningful title; and beware of names that leave you open to easy criticism.

In general, but in the gaming industry in particular, shorter brand names are always better. If we think about brands that have made it in this industry, the vast majority of them are not longer than three words while the most successful ones are usually just one word: Doom, Diablo, Starcraft, Quake, Eve Online, The Sims, Tomb Raider, Far Cry, Guild Wars, Halo: Combat Evolved, Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft. If we think about the brands listed above, most of the two or three words names have always been abbreviated by the gaming community. Halo: Combat Evolved was always referred to just as Halo. Guild Wars, Grand Theft Auto and World of Warcraft were always abbreviated as GW, GTA and WoW by their hard core gamer community.

Game names should be neither generic nor meaningless because if they are, they can fall in the trap of easily forgettable brands. Shadow, Revelation, Syphon Filter, and Darkness are all generic game names that do not differentiate themselves from the mass because they do not have a unique identity. Good, easily identifiable and memorable examples of game names are those like Diablo, Baldur’s Gate, Starcraft or Warcraft.

Game names should be easy to pronounce, because otherwise your customers might have problems remembering them properly. Xenosaga or Anachronox are both possible examples of hardly pronounceable game names that haven’t really made it in the video game industry because they aren’t easily memorable.

If a game brand is already established on the market, it is important to avoid numbering the sequels. The problem with sequel numbers is that they don’t add almost any differentiation in comparison with the initial release. If we think about Final Fantasy 1 to 10, or Heroes of Might and Magic 1 to 5, there isn’t much novelty in just adding a different increment after the game’s name. However, if you feel compelled to use a sequel number, you could get creative like in this example: Duke Nukem, Duke Nukem 2, Duke Nukem 3D and Duke Nukem Forever (4ever).

One of the best branding/naming example is also a game that I like a lot and I also play a lot. Despite the potential bias I might suffer from, the Guild Wars series offers a complete brand experience, mostly defined through the names of the games in the series: Guild Wars Prophecies (foretelling the start of an interesting war adventure), Guild Wars Factions (suggesting a conflict, the peak of the story), Guild Wars Nightfall (portraying the upcoming closure of the story – a full, 360 degrees experience), and Guild Wars Eye of the North (exploiting the game’s GW abbreviation in the community and promoting the last sequel as GWEN, because it linked to a character named Gwen from the original release).

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