Playing the name game

Just a quick post today: if you’ve already read about positioning, this is probably preaching to the converted, but otherwise, from the man himself, Al Ries:

Related article by Scott Miller: Name Matters

It should be pretty obvious now why Katana was renamed from the generic: “Katana v2 [K2]: Cold Steel” (I still cringe when I hear it), to just ‘Katana‘. Simple, meaningful names are the most effective.

Where the two views differ slightly is on descriptive/meaningful names vs. unique ‘shocking’ brand names. Good descriptive game names would probably include Doom, Tomb Raider, SimCity, and Prey; whereas good (semi) abstract names might include Quake, Half-Life, Unreal, Grand Theft Auto, and Wii. On the one hand you could argue that the first kind are more effective because they’re already meaningful; but on the other hand, as Al Ries points out, words by themselves don’t have meaning until you add one (Google, Kleenex, eBay, etc). In the context of games, I’d lean towards more meaningful names, but clearly good judgement and common sense is required. I went for Katana because a) it was obvious, and b) it’s the key gameplay mechanic of the mod – so much so, the hero practically has the Katana grafted to his hand.

The other (perhaps most effective) strategy is to name your game after the central character(s) – e.g. Duke Nukem, Max Payne, Alan Wake, Super Mario Bros., Phoenix Wright, Lara Croft, etc. This is ideal if your character has a clever name like Max Payne (maximum pain), Alan Wake (awake), and Duke Nukem, which hints at the kind of game it is, thus giving it some meaning. Again, this goes back to the whole Marion Morrison / John Wayne idea — if you give your character a strong name, appropriate to their genre/brand, it can be an extremely powerful marketing tool; whereas if your name isn’t appropriate (Ralph Lifschitz?) you headed for trouble. The trick is not to slip into generic city with “The adventures of…”, which is why Polar Paradise isn’t called “Dinky’s Christmas Adventure”. Unfortunately at the time of release, the hero of Katana didn’t have a name; and now that he does (‘Tao’), I don’t think it would have worked as well.

Did Katana benefit from its name? I like to think so. Next to ‘Kung Fu’ (another great name, except that its real name is: Max Payne: Kung Fu Edition version 3) Katana is regarded as one of the top Max Payne 1 mods ever created. And it can’t have been worse than the utterly generic ‘K2’ – what was I thinking?

Another benefit was that it kept the mod focused. When the mod was called ‘K2…’, a lot of different bladed weapons were being considered – steel fans, scythes, broadswords, nun-chucks, — even the Gunblade from FF8. So, when the mod was renamed back to Katana, it became pretty obvious that making amazing Katana combat was my number 1 priority.