This design diary, which is already running backwards, is about to get even stranger: I’m going to jump back to near the very end of the process. Today, let’s talk about how, and more importantly when, I chose Accelemechs vs. Crashotrons as the game’s title.
At this point I think it’s fair to say that there’s broad agreement that your game’s advertising—including its name–must reflect how it plays. People go into a game with expectations based on how they were convinced to try it, and if those expectations aren’t met they’ll be disappointed. This is true even if what they end up playing is “good,” by the metrics that should be applied to it; farm-fresh, delicious apples aren’t a substitute for rigatoni. Since disappointed people give bad reviews and spread negative word of mouth, it’s important to set the right expectations at the outset.
Names take on special significance when talking about small games released on digital storefronts. A tabletop game might get its entire front cover displayed, and be able to set the mood that way. At the very least it will have a spine showing, with room for an artistic presentation of the game’s title, an environment or a character, and some basic data like who made it and play time. A digital storefront compacts all that: you get your game’s name presented in plain text, a tiny image, and a summary of less than a full sentence, if there’s room for a summary at all. In that latter environment, the name has to carry extra weight.
So, keeping in mind the critical role that the title would play, I adopted my wife’s early preference: Robot Sock Ball.
In a funny way, Robot Sock Ball works. Highlighting the robots is useful, as is that the game involves doing something with socks. Lots of people really enjoy that part!
Unfortunately, Robot Sock Ball also sets the wrong expectations. It sounds like a sport, and Accelemechs vs. Crashotrons doesn’t play that way. One doesn’t score goals or pass a ball around; I don’t want people to open the PDF expecting rules for doing so.
My first serious effort at a name landed me for a while on Some Shall Stand, Some Shall Fall. This had a couple of things going for it:
- It’s a recognizable reference for at least some of my target audience, “people who own toy robots that turn into vehicles.”
- This sounds like a game where you eliminate your opponent’s pieces, which sets the right expectations.
At the same time, there were quite a few weaknesses. Among those I considered most troubling were:
- The reference is strong only for those old enough to remember it.
- If one doesn’t get the reference, there’s little hint as to what’s going on. An ill-defined “some” will “fall,” whatever that means in an unknown context.
- This is an intimidating, serious name. When I hear it I’m put in the mind of Waterloo or Sekigahara. I knew from the beginning that I wanted my game to be engaging for wargamers, but it’s played with toys; it’s a beer-and-pretzels wargame, and the title should sound like it.
I spent a long time stuck with Some Shall Stand, Some Shall Fall. I knew it was wrong, but wasn’t able to find anything better. There were so many things to capture: toys, robots, socks, tactics, on and on.
Mercifully, Zach Barash was willing to help me out of the slump. At the risk of oversimplifying, the insight Zach shared was: the name should hint at how players will actually win the game, because that’s what they’ll spend most of their time doing.
By this point in the process I had a lot of test data, and it had revealed something interesting: throwing stuff at the opponent’s toys wasn’t all that strong, and players realized it. Throwing a sock was fun, sure, but folks didn’t anticipate winning that way. Overwhelmingly, their plan was to get a toy up close to an opponent’s toy, turn into a vehicle, and knock the opposing toy over by ramming it.
Seen in that light, naming suddenly became a lot easier. The central verb of the game is crash or ram, and that’s what the title had to convey. I didn’t need to talk about throwing stuff; that was cool, and players would enjoy trying it, but it shouldn’t be sold to them as a primary activity. Nor was it important to specify that the game is played with toys, since crash and ram imply more kinetic action than is found in a hex-and-counter wargame.
With that in mind I went back to brainstorming–but now with much more focus. Accelemechs vs. Crashotrons won out because:
- It explicitly calls out the idea of crashing.
- “[M]echs” and “trons” are robot-sounding.
- The idea of competition between groups is clearly conveyed.
- Each word is easy to say, even if the overall name is a mouthful. That leads into the next point . . .
- AvC as an acronym doesn’t, to my knowledge, mean anything bad. It also doesn’t, again to my knowledge, suggest any similar game.
- Accelerating and crashing sound like arcade-y, silly things for robots to do, which suits this arcade-y wargame.
- There’s no immediate reference to tactics or wargaming, but I considered that an acceptable loss in light of the positives.
And with that, the lesson was learned: name your game after you understand it, and know what the primary verb is. Even if that word doesn’t show up in the title, you’ll at least be able to judge whether you’re giving the right impression.
(If you want to keep calling AvC Robot Sock Ball, though, you’ll be in good company.)