Speed bumps and soft launches
Whenever people ask me what it's like to build a startup, not just in games but in general, I often equate it to driving a car with no breaks down a road full of speed bumps and road blocks. If you're small and self funded you'll be wearing many hats, and like it or not you're going to miss things along the way and run into a lot of issues, but to be successful you just have to find a way to continue moving on. The only sure fire way to lose is to stop trying.
During development we've hit quite a large amount of speed bumps. Myself moving from a predominantly tech/engineering role to production/design along with taking care of engineering has proved to be quite a challenge, and you have a constant feeling of "this is all wrong, I have no idea what I'm doing". Trent posted a great article about his experience here, and that's pretty much what I've experienced through the entirety of our production.
Ok so why am I on GDNet babbling about this?
If you're reading this blog than I'm guessing you saw the recent announcement of the game title we've been working on for an extremely long amount of time. We basically soft launched the company site and posted here on GDNet, in another forum post, and to friends and family on Facebook. Our purpose was just to make sure that everything was working fine technically, as we're working on getting the actual game site launched within a week or so, and at that point we planned to start to marketing the game everywhere. So we figured, let's get things online a piece at a time, test them out and make sure we have no issues, and then we should be good to go. I was expecting a technical hiccup or two, and we encountered a tiny bug that's still in the tracker for me to fix, but nothing major stood out at all and everything seemed like it was ready and we could move on to step two. Then...
bizzang! wham! pop! crunch! wtf!
I received an email sent from the site contact form, and the person was asking whether we are related to another game/company with an extremely similar title name. Panic set in.
It's quite funny actually. We operated as a numbered company for over a year because I was so picky on naming, and it took about a year and a half to get something I really liked. I wanted a made up word, that also has meaning, and I could register the domain, trademarks, etc. Eventually we settled on Creoterra which is really two latin words "Creo" and "Terra"... with a loose translation of creating earth/worlds... and we added our tagline "Bringing worlds to life!". This worked out extremely great!
When naming the game title we decided again on the latin word Imperia, which is the plural of Imperium (supreme power, dominion, commanding the state, etc). We searched the trademark and copyright database, made sure we could secure the domain we wanted, registered the name on the markets we want to sell on, and decided that we liked the name. This is where we made an extremely key mistake... for whatever reason we didn't search the name on Google.
As you can imagine a title already exists using a variant of the name, and therefore not only could we have future legal issues, but even worse we could be confusing our own potential customers, as well as those of the other company. This is probably the worst road block hit throughout production, strictly because we've been calling the title by that name throughout the entirety of internal development and this was something that was completely avoidable but overlooked due to time constraints. Now the only sane thing to do is to change it.
After a crazy amount of hours brainstorming, and crying to Drilian on the phone for awhile (in reality venting in IRC but that didn't sound as powerful), with his help we finally settled on a new name for the title and we're working on rebuilding the logo and branding as I write this. Mind you the funny thing is that what started out as shock and panic has turned into a really great thing! The new name we selected is a word that we made up, is used nowhere in the world, and is very core to the actual story of the game world. I was also told a few times that Imperia sounded pretty generic, but I always just brushed it off. I'm not sure if it's Stockholm syndrome or not but looking at it now I agree that it does have a generic ring to it, and luckily the new title is a much better fit for our game.
My lessons learned were things I already knew, but I also have to be a little more careful with in the future:
1. It doesn't matter how busy you are with writing code, game design, production, management, or really anything else... you should really take care of any issues that could become perilous in the future. The only reason we ran into this one was from being too busy doing everything else and not taking enough time to properly go over the business issues. Skipping something as simple as searching Google cost us a great amount of time brainstorming and rebuilding artwork.
2. You likely want to either retain legal counsel for searching and filing for your trademarks or have a business representative that knows what they're doing handle it for you.
3. There is always a great benefit to a soft launch, and you'll find that sometimes it isn't only for technical reasons
So hopefully I'll be able to have everything updated by late tonight, correct the naming in my previous post and on Facebook, and walk away with a red face, lesson learned, and damage avoided.