July 31, 2023

Branding Tips for Video Game Developers


Lets face it, choosing a good brand for your game is hard. I should know, I made a bunch of poor decisions with the branding of my game. But more on this below.

This article is part of a recent series looking to provide practical IP advice for those working in the software and game development industries. There are relatively few resources available online, and even fewer dedicated to the specific needs of game and software developers in general, so we are doing our part to correct this.

So, let’s talk branding!

What is a brand

Mario wouldn’t be the same without the moustachioed plumber, and if Tetris Holding LLC had let just anyone use the Tetris name for their tetromino games, then the genuine Tetris games would have likely been drowned out in a sea of clones.

For a lot of gaming companies, the brand is the most important IP asset their business holds. It is the brand which ultimately carries the reputation of the company (for better or worse), and it is the brand which keeps customers coming back when new games are released or when new IP is announced. So, before you release your game to the world, we strongly recommend that you spend some time to review:

  1. A) The brand you intend to release your game under. This can include a series brand, which is designed to encompass multiple titles such as “The Elder Scrolls:” as well as a brand specific to the game such as “Skyrim”.
  2. B) Company branding representing the studio or organisation that developed the game such as “The Pokemon Company” or “PikPok”.
  3. C) Whether your game includes notable character IP, such as Sonic, Mario, Donkey Kong, and Master Chief.
  4. D) The presentation of your game, to ensure it is eye-catching and likely to encourage users to click on the game in the increasingly cluttered digital storefronts.

How to choose a brand

  • Ensure that your brand is distinctive. There are a lot of games out there with generic names such as “Hero War battle” or “Fantasy Adventure Quest”, so when choosing a name for your game we encourage you to think a bit further outside the box to find a name which is catchy, and is a bit different to other games already on the market. This is important from a marketing, discoverability and brand development perspective.
  • Use generic terms sparingly. For example, if you are developing a tower defence game, calling it “Tower Defence Extreme Edition” is generally not a good idea from a protection perspective. Instead, consider using graphical elements to communicate to the user that it is a tower defence game. Remember that, on most digital storefronts, you can use keywords and tags to direct users searching for tower defence games, even if your game’s title doesn’t use these terms. Some great examples include Ninja Kiwi, and their series of “Bloons TD” games, or “Orcs Must Die!”.
  • Consider game names which have some connection to the game itself. Some of the best games out there use names which allow the player to connect the name quickly and easily to the product. For example, the borderlands series involves fighting for survival in the borderlands between outposts, Halo involves a literal halo or ring-shaped superweapon floating in space, and the path of exile games involve controlling an exiled character looking to find their way back to civilisation (Oriath).
  • Carefully consider your company or studio branding. In most cases it is advisable to have some disconnect between your game title(s), and the company brand so that it leaves the door open to developing further different games and IP under the same company brand. For example, “Grinding Gear Games” is distinct and unrelated to their main game brand: “Path of Exile”. The more goodwill you can develop in your company brand the more people are likely to come back and purchase your next game, and the more the value of your company will rise. See for example the excitement around ConcernedApe’s next game “Haunted Chocolatier” which is largely unrelated to the successful “Stardew Valley”.
  • Consider brand similarity. It is common in the gaming space to have a simultaneous international release, and therefore for most companies, it is important to check whether you can use your chosen brands internationally. For the same reasons that you don’t want others to pick a name which is similar to yours, other people can rightfully protect the brands they have built up over time. The last thing you want to have to do is rebrand your game after release, and after you have spent money marketing the brand. Formal searching is a service we provide, however often some basic Google searching can go a long way.
  • Consider filing a trade mark application for your brand(s). It is possible to file trade mark applications which protect the names you use, your characters, as well as the graphical presentation of these. By trade marking your brands, you establish formal intellectual property rights which can act as a deterrent from others copying your brand. In addition, if anyone did release a game which had similar branding, having trade mark rights may help to get them to change their brand, even if the similarities were unintentional. Trade marking is a relatively cost-effective process, and there are mechanisms to get simple, effective international protection through the Madrid system.

When it comes to brands, much of the advice around IP best practices also applies to marketing best practices, so making the right branding choices up front can pay off in the long run.

My “Mistakes”

As promised, let’s talk about some of the mistakes I made when designing my recently released game Baldy Bounce.

The original working title for my game was Balderdash, a name which had connotations of nonsense (given that you play as a ball with a hat and a moustache), as well as having some connections to “ball” and “dash” – one of the main abilities in the game. However, in doing some due diligence I realised that there is a board game with the same name, as well as a classic Atari game which shares a very phonetically similar name “Boulder Dash”. This really emphasises the importance of doing some searching before investing time and money into marketing a brand that you may need to change later.

While I preferred the original title, and could have arguably proceeded with it, I made the decision that it would not be worth the risk to do so. This change was probably for the better, as searching Google for Baldy Bounce returns my game, while if I had proceeded with Balderdash I likely would have always played second fiddle to the much more popular board game with the same name.

However, I have rightly received some criticism that the name is not particularly catchy, and also creates a much weaker connection between the brand and the product in the mind of the public. I also completely neglected to develop any unique IP or characters which are memorable, or could be used again in a sequel.

These mistakes were things that I was aware of, and happy to live with at the time of releasing the game since, as a solo developer, there are a lot of things which needed to be focused on (such as fixing bugs) which meant that the IP took a backseat. My total investment in the project was also relatively minor, and I was not dependent on the success of the game to keep the lights on which was a contributing factor (although this could be “copium” for those familiar with the term).

Closing Thoughts

Branding takes many different forms, and for most game developers is likely to be one of their most important IP assets. If you are in the process of choosing a brand, or if you are concerned about others using similar brands, please don’t hesitate to give us a call and we can discuss.

We here at James & Wells, understand this dilemma all too well, and can provide you with tailored advice based on your specific situation and needs, including strategies for deferring the costs of formal IP protection until you have market feedback on your game.

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