Why is the game called "Prismata?"Honestly, there is no short answer. Naming Prismata was probably the hardest decision we ever had to make. I imagine that it might feel similar to naming a first child, except there are lawyers involved.
Step 1. Admit that you have a problem
Shit guys! We need a name!Back in 2010 when we used to play Prismata using slips of cardboard, long before we knew we would withdraw from the PhD program at MIT to pursue game development full-time, we weren't remotely concerned with branding our game. After all, we were the only ones playing it. We took to calling it "MCDS", an acronym for Magic, Chess, Dominion and Starcraft--four of the games that most inspired us to design Prismata. By any standard, it was an awful name. As Alex pointed out, it reminded us a bit of McDonald's. The first ever computer version of Prismata was coded by David Rhee in 2010. The software was named "Breach" in honour of the term used to describe the process of overrunning your opponent's defenses--a key turning point in many games of Prismata. Originally, we thought that perhaps Breach could become the official name for the game, but the idea was quickly scrapped when we discovered an existing FPS game that had the same name.
The first version of David Rhee's "Breach" client for Prismata, which he coded in GameMaker while spending hours procrastinating on his master's thesis.
Step 2. Grind bad ideas for monthsEventually, we reached a point where we became overwhelmingly aware that we needed an actual name. We wanted to eventually take our game to the masses, and there came a point where we simply wouldn't be able to proceed as a company without a product name. We set harder deadlines: on a certain day, we were supposed to have a hard list of candidate names, and a month later we'd have a shortlist. This went on for a while, with the list being constantly updated and the deadlines repeatedly being pushed back. Our consistent circling-back was unproductive, so we developed a plan to generate a final list of name ideas. A key first step: we sorted all of our ideas into 4 main classes of names: 1. Actual words (e.g. Destiny, Bastion): Our only real contender in this category was "Breach." There are at least three issues with these types of names:
- It's hard to register a good domain name, since names like destiny.com are already taken.
- It's hard to rank well in Google search results if you're a small company, as larger things with the same name will outrank you.
- It's a trademark minefield. As with the name Breach, many of these names infringed upon trademarks, and would be impossible for us to trademark ourselves.
Our top ideas: Breach Fringe Zenith2. Made up words (e.g. Metroid): Making up our own name, as we ultimately did, solved most of the issues associated with using actual words. However, made-up names lack rigid connotative meaning and are more open to intepretation, so we had to take efforts to shape our own new meanings and word associations.
Our top ideas: Prismata Kemta Magnoia3. Phrases (e.g. League of Legends): Our exploration of phrases was probably what ate up most of our time, because we often tinkered with incorporating our "actual word" ideas into them. Our list of phrases included some of the best and worst ideas (Will, for example, was obsessed with the name "Cosmic Harvest" for a while). Another problem with using phrases was that the number of words proportionally increased the difficulty of ensuring we wouldn't be infringing on any trademarks. Many of our phrase ideas incorporated key game concepts. "Swarm Wielder," for example, was a phrase we thought we might use to describe the commanders of armies in Prismata -- our own variation of "Pokemon trainer."
Our top ideas: Swarm Wielder Tidal Key Starlight Frontier4. Portmanteaus (e.g. Skyrim): Protmanteaus are names created by mixing or combining two separate words and blending them together. These types of names are often very memorable, and we were drawn to many of them because they evoke familiar connotations, but in a new context. At the height of our indecision regarding names, Shalev suggested that we try coming up with "template" names that used the following structure: [a one syllable noun relating to space] followed by [a one syllable abstract noun]. The template was solid because it allowed us to rapidly iterate new ideas, and to experiment with endless combinations.
Our top ideas: Dawnshaper Parallapse Psynapse Heliofringe
Step 3. Refine the list of names by doing actual workThere's a famous company called Lexicon Branding that specializes in exactly what we were trying to do: creating a name that didn't suck (except they call it "creating a name with strategic impact"). They're the ones who thought up names like Swiffer and BlackBerry. Eventually, we gave up on naming Prismata, and decided to hire the naming experts. Just kidding! Although it would have been cool to work with them, it probably would have cost us more than all of the art in Prismata, so it wasn't going to happen. Instead, we tried to replicate their naming process by using linguistics and sound symbolism to identify words (or word fragments) that users would associate positively with our brand and intended marketing message (a cool strategy game). Below is just a small fraction of the 7-page word cloud we generated. Highlights include "ADD MORE" and "help me.": We brainstormed words relating to mythology, mathematics and science fiction, but also generated some rather odd lists, like the list of "badass latin words" in the image above. Analyzing these words, we generated a bunch promising "morphemes"--prefixes, suffixes, and whole words that we could use in the construction of other names. Lexicon says that they measure "the effects of sound and spelling patterns," for both semantic meaning and aesthetic value. We obsessed over these types of details, and frequently had discussions on topics like trochee fixation and the Bouba/Kiki effect. Here is a real conversation that occurred on our message boards at the end of March:
> Shalev: I think "Starlight Frontier" is too long and hard to say. Actually, I think the reason people like "Prismata" has a lot to do with how easy it is to say. try saying the following sentences: "Bob, do you want to play Starcraft?" "Bob, do you want to play Starlight Frontier?" "Bob, do you want to play Hearthstone?" "Bob, do you want to play Swarmwielder?" > Mike: I can picture a guy named "Bob" playing a game named "Starlight Frontier," beating a boss, and being instructed by his CRT monitor to switch from CD-ROM 2 of 5 to CD-ROM 4 of 5.The name Prismata rolls off the tongue quite nicely, and has a crisp, angular sound association that goes well with concepts of aggression and outer space. As for its semantic value, the "prism-" morpheme has a lot of conscious and subconscious associations. It looks like "prize," sounds a bit like "orgasm," makes you think of interesting objects, and connotes concrete function mixed with elegance. Prismata is easy to say and relatively easy to spell, which were also important qualities. It passes the "Bob, do you want to play Prismata?" test. But Prismata wasn't our only candidate name.
Step 4. Cry because all the good names are takenAfter Step 3, we had a sizable list of name candidates. We just needed to pick one. Unfortunately, many of them were doomed never to work out.
Step 5. Cross off the crappiest names until one remainsEventually, we produced a "shortlist" containing the best names that had decent URLs available and didn't infringe on any trademarks. Prismata was actually a relatively late addition to the list. We held a vote to determine the best candidates using Google Drive spreadsheets. All the voting was done blind--we would highlight the voting columns in black so that it was impossible to see what other people voted easily. We then computed some averages and established a shorter list of names. The first time we did this in September 2013, about a year ago. This was our list:
|Affinity. Scores: 8 4 6 3 4, z=0.37, a=3/5||Beacon. Scores: 8 5 6 6 5, z=1.03, a=4/5||Bliss. Scores: 7 4 6 4 5, z=0.52, a=4/5|
|Breach. Scores: 7 10 5 6 6, z=1.51, a=5/5||Codex. Scores: 3 7 5 4 6, z=0.45, a=4/5||Emissary. Scores: 4 3 6 5 7, z=0.46, a=3/5|
|Flux. Scores: 6 4 4 4 6, z=0.15, a=4/5||Fringe. Scores: 6 3 6 3 7, z=0.38, a=3/5||Kismata. Scores: 4 7 7 3 8, z=1.02, a=3/5|
|Lapse. Scores: 6 4 4 4 8, z=0.38, a=4/5||Magnoia. Scores: 7 3 6 4 8, z=0.73, a=4/5||Swarm Wielder. Scores: 7 3 6 4 8, z=0.73, a=4/5|
|Synapse. Scores: 5 5 5 4 8, z=0.60, a=5/5|