Monday, April 16, 2012

What's in a name?

A situation has arisen to which I don't know what the appropriate response is. There's a game that's slated to be produced by TMG which is a very good, very solid economic game that I've only briefly mentioned in this blog (Oct 2010). In addition to the game being top quality, I really, really like the title. It's a game that the designer has been working on for 4 years, and a google search for the title mostly brings up the designer's blog posts about his playtests.

The thing is that another, entirely different game has recently sprung up on Kickstarter using that same title! I played the Kickstarter game last July at Protospiel, when it was called something else. The game was in pretty good shape last summer, and is likely been improved since then. I'm sure it's a fine game and people will like it, but the thing I'm concerned about is this: what do I do about the great title of the game TMG is coming out with? Must we change it? That kinda sucks, as our game had that title first. But at the same time, it would cause some confusion in the marketplace if we released another game with the same title, wouldn't it? I know the designer of the game isn't thrilled with the idea of having to change the title, after using it for 4 years. He's been looking for a new title, but nothing's near as good as the one he had.

So, that's the dilemma - what can be done? What should be done? And how annoyed should I allow myself to be that this unfortunate thing happened? I'm open to suggestions...

Update: As I suppose I knew the whole time, we of course will have to change the title of the game we'll be releasing. We have it narrowed down to about 4 fair alternatives. The question will be which alternative is the best!


Unknown said...

As a guy who knows the game you're talking about (and yes, it is fantastic), I think you're going to have to change the name.

Is this a good place to talk about new names? I notice you took pains to not mention the game's name in your post.

Chip Beauvais said...

Can you use the original title as a subtitle instead?

If you (and the designer) describe what you like about the first title, that might lead you to a better alternative.

symbioid said...

I empathize with your plight! I sadly don't have an answer. I make music and have had the .com domain under that name for quite a few years (in fact, I was the only entity online with that name when one did searches)... Then a band sprouted up using my name. I had never released any music at that point, so I never had a chance to fight back, even though I did have a long existence as that name otherwise. I decided on changing it.

In your case... I feel it's only right that the kickstarter folks should give up the name (especially if there's a trail going back 4 years with your guy's game)... But, being that they have the first dibs on "popularity" and getting out there, I don't know what can be done. I have a feeling that in the end, you'll have to end up having it changed.

The other question is: How do you protect a name? Do you have to register it as a trademark? The more that creativity blossoms like this with online tools and information sharing the more overstepping will occur, and I don't know what options one has besides goodwill of others or legal remedies such as registering a trademark (which seems both overboard and also ripe for abuse (a la domain squatters)).

My sympathies to you and the game designer. I hope you can find a resolution.

Seth Jaffee said...

@Unknown: Let's not talk about names here. I was hesitant to even make this post, worried it might be unprofessional or something - so I just left all the names out of it (though it would be pretty easy to figure out).

I think we've found a title that's similar, almost as good, and different enough so as not to cause too much confusion.

@Chip: I was thinking that very thing (original title as subtitle)! I think it depends on what we use for the title whether that makes sense or not. I'm not opposed to it.

@symbiod: I think I agree with you. I can be heartbroken or annoyed, but the fact of the matter is, that title's been used and it doesn't matter who really had it first.

As for protecting a name in this day and age, my thought is to post it online, wherever you can. If our guy had posted a BGG entry with his game, then perhaps another game of the same title would not pop up elsewhere - or if it had, people could be directed to the BGG entry.

That said, perhaps we should decide on a new title and get a BGG entry or put it on TMG's "upcoming titles" list somewhere!

I have made BGG entries for my games that I expect to be published eventually, but I know that with the current situation (full time non-game-related job), it'll be a while. Specifically, Alter Ego is an excellent title for a game idea I think is great, and I wouldn't want to lose that. Note that AE has a BGG entry, in addition to my blog posts about it!

Jeff said...

It's an interesting question. Probably whoever is first to file for the trademark gets it, although in this case the fact that they have a KS game up might prevent TMG from getting the TM awarded. Absent that, on the one hand it's frustrating when a game gets yanked out from under you, on the other it's probably unreasonable to be able to claim "squatter's rights" on a game title, either -- probably the only sure way to protect a game's title is to publish a game with that title.

In the case of the game in question, it seems like it shouldn't be hard to find a perfectly good alternative title, and given the possibility of bad press for trying to press on with the same title as the KS game, that's probably the best way to go.

Seth Jaffee said...

@Jeff: I agree with you 100%. In this industry I don't really see people getting trademarks - I think the realistic thing is to "publish" the title. And by that I don't necessarily mean printing the game, but publishing it online, giving it a BGG entry for example, lends about the best validity you can get.

In this case I agree - the 'good' title is gone, and the only real thing to do is find another one. Even if no alternative is AS good (and none likely will be when you're used to the old title), there's got to be something that's still good.

And indeed, I'm thinking we have that. It'll have to do.

Anonymous said...

Can you call it "Merchant of Venus" and hope for the best?

SDS said...

To be honest, if there's a name that you REALLY want to keep, you need to file the trademark. That's the simple answer.

And I really doubt that making a claim on this title (as I presume I know what it is) based on "closed use" (for lack of a better term) for the last four years is going to get you anywhere, especially since it's a common phrase to begin with.

I guess the more sneaky way to go about it Is, given the somewhat tightness of the community, is to go and claim all of the relevant. names on BGG and go website squatting. But that really doesn't get you any legal footing.