Kickstarter Lesson #129: Picking the Right Name for Your Project

8 December 2014 | 34 Comments

Recently I wrote about a tabletop game project called WordTov. A few weeks into the project, the project creator, Michel Nizon, realized that some people were searching Kickstarter for “Word Tov” (two separate words). The searches were unsuccessful.

So Michel did something clever–he changed the full project title to: “WordTov: Word Tov The Board Game of Dramatic Reversals.” The repetition is a little clunky, but it had the intended effect.

This is an example of one of several things you should consider when picking a name for your project–not just the name of the product, but also the full name on Kickstarter. Here’s the full list:

  1. Legality: Does the name of your product conflict with an existing trademark? You don’t need to secure a trademark before launching on Kickstarter, but you do need to do a trademark search.
  2. Direct Searchability: The two primary places people will search for your Kickstarter are Google and Kickstarter itself. So before you move forward, search a few different names on both of those platforms to see the results. You might encounter projects that use the exact same name or projects that you don’t want associated with yours.
  3. Indirect Searchability: As a way to complement the searchability (or lack thereof) of the product name, add a subtitle that can help lead more people to your project. For example, if you’re raising money to make a new type of sunglasses called YouVee, add a subtitle that captures a broader audience than those specifically searching for your project (YouVee: The Summer Sunglasses of the Future). I’ve even seen some projects try (mostly unsuccessfully) to build off the hype around other projects, such as those that used “potato salad” in their project name this past summer even if they had nothing to do with potato salad.
  4. near final with rough graphic designSpellability: You know how to spell your project name because you thought of it and you look at it every day. But everyone else has only seen or heard the name once or twice, and if your name isn’t obvious to spell, those people may never find your project. This will happen even if people have seen your name in print numerous times–think about all the people who spell your name incorrectly in emails even after you signed the previous email with your name! Make your name as easy to spell as possible, and when in doubt, include supporting words in the subtitle.
  5. Letters/Numbers: Letters and numbers are tricky. For example, we have an upcoming tabletop game project called Between Two Cities. Will people try to spell it “Between 2 Cities” when they search for it? Absolutely. And the search will come up blank. So I might have to find a way to get the number 2 in that title somewhere.
  6. Brand Definition: Most likely you have a company name (even if it’s a sole proprietorship) and you’re hoping that the product you launch on Kickstarter will be the first of many products your company offers. Ideally people will know your brand for the company name, not the name of the first product. However, if your first Kickstarter is really successful, people can’t help but know you more by the name of the project than your company name. So please be abundantly aware of the impact that will have on your future branding.

Fellow creators, can you tell us about the process you went through to name your Kickstarter project? Are you pleased with the results, or do you wish you had named it something else?

34 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #129: Picking the Right Name for Your Project

  1. Naming, especially indirect searchability, is even more important when you or your product shares a name. So often, I find new games that share a name with a long forgotten game but when you go to search for it on BGG on Google, you often find the older game first. That is where that indirect searchability shines when I can add an element to the search to find the specific item of interest. Personally, I have manage this issue all the time with a Hollywood actor and I sharing the same name and spelling. I often get tweets and Facebook messages meant for the other individual (which I happily accept as accidental connections for me as well). As I was planning my new blog, I thought long and hard about the title of it and how it would associate with my name to help differentiate me from the actor.

    As a follow up, how do you feel about games that reuse older game names or parts of their name? Should every game be uniquely named even if an older out-of-print game’s name is perfect for your game?

    1. T.R.: That’s really interesting to hear about you and the actor who shares your name. I’m glad you found a way to differentiate yourself.

      There are only a limited number of words out there, so if you found the perfect word for your game and it happens to be shared by an older game, I don’t think there’s a problem with using it, especially if it’s out of print or if it only has like 3 ratings on BGG (which sometimes indicates the game was never even published). I like the idea of differentiating the name with a different subtitle, though.

      1. I think the challenge you’re faced with when using a name that already has some exposure is getting your name to the top of the google search results and differentiating well enough. Although I don’t share a famous name (maybe someday!), there are a lot of guys out there with my boring name (Chris Harden), so my efforts to get to the top of that list have taken a while. TROBO is popular in other languages, so working to be (and stay) number 1 with google just means regularly working on the 3Ps of branding Richard Bliss discusses here: https://richardabliss.com/2013/09/17/here-i-am/#comments He talks about it in one of his podcasts too.

        There is a video game out there called TROBO ROBO, that we can potentially be confused with, but we hope our subtitle helps communicates we are not a game. I do sometimes wonder whether the fathers of the internet domain name strategy really understood the limits of the one-line naming convention and how significantly it would effect modern branding.

  2. Hey Jaime,

    We created @herecomestrobo for all our social media early on, because we could not get trobo.com. That was without a lot of research. The result has been ok, however we’d like something smaller. Size does matter. Twitter’s limited tweet size means the smaller your hashtag the better. The smaller name you can get, the more letters you can use in your tweeting. We also learned about Knowem.com. You type in your name ideas, and instantly see a list of all the big social media sites with who is using it. We’ve used that for researching a few name ideas. If you have the cash, you can even pay them to get the usernames for you. We’ll more than likely do this manually, but it’s handy if you don’t have the time or skills.

    I’m interested in hearing whether people still think .com and .net are the only way to go for picking a domain and brand name. I’ve seen a growing number of companies using other countries’ domains to complete their names, like bit.ly, but I have not been able to force myself to take that leap.

    -Chris

    1. Hey Chris, I was just listening to you today on the Funding the Dream podcast! You did a great job. I like the idea of “smaller is better,” especially for a new word like Trobo (which is also great because it’s spelled exactly like it sounds).

      I’m still a fan of .com and my #1 preference, even if it means tweaking the name a big to make it work (like, “TroboRobot.com” if “Trobo.com” isn’t available).

      1. Thanks Jamey. We had a great time, and Richard treated really nicely. It was fun to connect with the voice we’ve listened to for so long (much like you!). :]

  3. We chose our game’s name based on elements of the game. However, before we finalized the name we did the following:

    – Search google to make sure it wasn’t taken (or too common)
    – The name was catching and easy to remember
    – The title looks good if you make it a logo

    We weren’t concerned with getting a Facebook, Twitter, or domain handle for the game since we try to run everything through our company name (which is a whole other story about how that name came to be).

    However, we can’t say what the results are yet since we haven’t launched our Kickstarter.

  4. I think a game’s name means a lot. If something contains ‘wars,’ ‘ battle’ and ‘pirate,’ I am less likely to pay attention to the game. Not a complete ignore, but close. I want developers to be just as creative with the names of their games as they are the products themselves. Not to brown-nose, but “Viticulture” rolls off the tongue AND it paints a picture when visualized. “WordTov” does nothing for me.

    Subtitles are iffy. “Five Tribes: The Djinns of Whatever” does not work for me. However, “Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia” works. It is ironic, humorous and it sets the scene that the game presents.

    Like us humans, games’ names are important.

    1. Bryan: I’m glad to hear the names of our games have worked for you so far! It’s interesting that you have certain words that immediately lose your interest. I bet everyone has different words that have the same impact.

  5. These days, I almost always automatically search a name via Google and BGG as soon as I have it as an idea … not only to see if there’s a table top game already with that name, but also to see if there might be something more well known by that same name. (This became a habit after finding out that there was a semi-popular space MMORPG called “Jump Gate” after my board game became a thing.)

    For example, I was working on a game about conventioneers coming to a triangular city called Trident and I thought the name “Trident Travel” would work — except there are a good half-dozen actual travel agencies with that name. So that was a no-go. (And, it didn’t really matter, since the game didn’t get very far off the drawing board.)

    A current example is the first game in a multi-game series set in my Land of Danger that I will be launching in the spring. I wanted both the series name and the individual game title involved … and they’re both made up of pretty ordinary words: “Tales of Danger #1: Days of Discovery” … while it fits the game and the timeline of the series, I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t already a “Days of Discovery” game out there. So, both a Google search and BGG search helped to solidify the name.

    1. Matt: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I do the same thing when I think of a new game name. You can definitely catch a lot of names that won’t work early on thanks to a simple search like the one you did for Trident Travel.

  6. The name is the key.
    Particularly when you think about the Kickstarter.
    You should put in your first line a ‘descriptive title’ in one sentence capturing the name together with what is the product about. Simply because this is what you see in the search results on Kickstarter.

    It is too often that you see just a name which is only meaningful for the creator & their gang without a few words telling you what it is.

    All the Best.

  7. Don’t let your Ego get in the way of the game name either. Originally, my Japanese-Ninja-Themed PYL dice game was called “Dorobo” (which means “thieves” more or less in Japanese). I mostly chose it because I thought “Ninja Dice” was too on-the-nose and not creative enough. I was pretty firm on the name, which I thought was “cooler” than Ninja Dice.

    When the publisher picked it up, the name came up. “At the office and at playtests we’re all calling it Ninja Dice, can we change it?” I then asked my friends and local playtesters what they called it – They all said variations of “that Ninja Dice game”. Then I took a poll and it came out 100% for Ninja Dice. Sheepishly I called the publisher and said maybe Ninja Dice is a better name.

    1. Rocco: Thanks for sharing this example. I really like the idea of putting ego aside–it’s easy to fall in love with our ideas, isn’t it? I applaud your willingness to move past that and find the best name for the game.

  8. Thanks for another good article, I hadn’t considered specifically looking at indirect searchability as a factor for our Project.

    What are your thoughts on word association? I think this sort of falls under Brand Definition but probably more aligns with Name Appeal, similar to what Rocco Privetera was talking about.

    I know in the marketing world advertisers generally try to avoid using words with negative connotations to them. We have had discussions within our ranks on several games we are in the process of developing regarding this. Some we have chosen to change while others we have kept the name as is, including our first big project. We haven’t had a lot of feedback on the name during play testing, though I suppose that it is possible we were focusing on the content and overlooked such feedback. It will be interesting to see if that affects our support coming up so we will know if we have to adjust down the road.

    1. Stone Circle: Thanks for your comment and question about word association. I think there is definitely some psychology to choosing a name that will make people excited or feel good (rather than words that are either dull or have negative connotations). The words should reflect the game and how you want people to feel about the game.

      If you’d like to post your game name here, that’s totally fine–you might get some good feedback about it.

      1. Thanks Jamey, The name we chose to stick with was Horrible Hex. Many of the other names we went through, when it initially came up as a topic, were already taken or too similar to other products or games which goes to your first two points in this post.

        Personally I thought the alliteration worked well. Since it is a strategy game, as I played it the thing that kept coming to mind was “That was horrible! How did I not see that move staring me in the face!” as my opponent scored another point or I accidentally scored a point for them. It was especially embarrassing when my mother smoked me in a game. As people played the games during my play testing sessions it I got the feeling that the name grew on them. We just hope that it is not too much of a detractor before they get the chance to play.

        Gary

  9. Hey Jamey, i didn’t comment on your blog but i been reading the last 2 weeks. Properly missed the boat on contacting bloggers, but been very helpful going through all your blog lessons like shipping in Europe. i just launched my kickstarter today and apply the “picking the right name for your project” ideas. what i also found helpful is having a LIVE CHAT on your site. you can see how i add this to my site http://www.liquidstore.co There are many people asking us questions on Live chat. so it’s another useful addition to demonstrate commitment to your backers that you want to have a open dialogue with them. Thankyou and i hope i can share more of my difficulties and success with you on your blog.

  10. First of all thank you again, in the naming part your insight has been most helpful Jamie.
    For me the naming part was one of the harder nuts to crack. The theme of my card game is psychiatry. As the game is not comic in nature, I wanted a name that set signals of empathy. As treating patients and having them in treatment “InTreatment” seemed a perfect name. But as there is a globally popular TV show about therapy with the same name this wasn´t the best of choices as running into copyright problems seems to be a bad start for any project.
    The name that I settled for finally was “Treatment – A psychiatry card game”. I came away with 2 conclusions naming something in such a popular field as psychiatry is hard(but naming seems to be hard for us all:)). And the name needs for me at least to come quite early in the design process as it helps in promotion.
    Merry christmas and hope that the new year bring as many interesting posts and fun games as last year.

  11. […] Jamey Stegmaier from Stonemaier Games makes this suggestion for those who are choosing titles: “As a way to complement the searchability (or lack thereof) of the product name, add a subtitle that can help lead more people to your project. For example, if you’re raising money to make a new type of sunglasses called YouVee, add a subtitle that captures a broader audience than those specifically searching for your project (YouVee: The Summer Sunglasses of the Future).” […]

  12. Jamey

    I wish I had read this blog before finalizing my company’s name for kickstarter. Now we have already started our pre-launch promotion (initial website, social media pages) and most importantly, as you said, we are in love with out company name. It has a great story behind it and quite related with the range of products we are going to offer on KS and after KS campaign.

    After reading your blog I discussed it with my co-founder because the name we choose for our leather brand is a bit uncommon and hard to pronounce. He was of the view that it seems hard and uncommon only to us not to the native English speakers.
    (we both are from Pakistan and English is not our first language).

    The name is “Aurochs Leather”. Does this sound uncommon and hard to spell and remember? We have already started branding with the username of “myaurochs” on social media e.g http://www.facebook.com/myaurochs.

    I would love to hear comments and views from other readers on this too.

    Ahmed Nabi
    Pakistan

    1. Ahmed: Thanks for your comment! You raise some really interesting questions here. The word “auroch” certainly is quite evocative for a leather brand. I actually think it works well. It doesn’t seem that hard to spell to me. I think most people will see it in print the first time they hear about it, so they’ll already have a connection to the correct spelling.

  13. Hi Jamey,

    Do you think that having a game name the same as your business name would be weird?
    I have noticed businesses do this. For example, Kingdom Death released a game called Kingdom Death Monster. The Campaign is here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/poots/kingdom-death-monster?ref=nav_search

    Would you say this is something people could do? Or would you advise picking a project/business name separate to the other? I’d be interested to know. (sorry if it’s a little confusing.)

  14. Stuart: That’s an interesting question. Oddly enough, even though I’m well aware of the Kingdom Death: Monster game, I always thought that it was intended to be a line of games called Kingdom Death, with Monster being their first release. This is the first time I realized that it’s the name of the company! Perhaps that’s indicative of something. :)

    Unless you want your company’s entire brand to hinge on one game, I would recommend separating the two.

  15. Our first game was called SSO, short for Space Ship Omega, and I love the name and I’m happy with it, but between Single Sign On and Star Stable Online I wish I’d been a little more careful with the acronym to make it stand out, maybe including a colon subtitle.
    The issue with naming your game for its acronym is I think we confused people who searched for the full name, or a part of it. I imagine that Omega is a weird enough word that lots of people just typed that it. So that would be the big piece of advice from me, if you have a game whose name is two or three ‘normal’ word and one weird one people will often just type in the weird word, assuming that will pop your project, so make sure its in the title.
    Being much more careful with the new game, going for the title being: Moonflight: The un- deckbuilder.

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