The Name of the Game
Copyright © Eliot
How do you go about naming a table game?
In this article I'm going to explore the art and science of naming a
game by working through the naming of a well known game. And
believe me, it ain't easy.
The starting point is the list
of the most well-known games: baccarat, blackjack, craps, poker,
roulette, slots. What do these names have in common? The
obvious observation is that they are single words. Even more
than that, they each have history, name recognition and their own
gaming sub-cultures. The table game inventor is competing with
the complex relationships and loyalties players have with these
existing products. The inventor can choose a name that invites
the player to expand an existing relationship, or the inventor can
try and establish a new gaming brand. Both of these are
tough roads. In this article, we'll explore the naming process
by way of a highly successful and well known independent game.
The game we'll consider is Three Card Poker
(I'll assume you are familiar with this game). Let's suppose
the game was never given a name by its inventor Derek Webb and he
came to us with the request that we name it (what follows is a
fictional account -- Derek Webb never really asked us to help him
name his game). So, magically, erase the verbiage "Three
Card Poker" from your mind and let's get to work.
Until we give this game a name, we'll call it "Derek."
It's 1995 and the only other independent game out there is Caribbean
Stud, so we have a whole world of naming options available.
Our goal is to give "Derek" the best possible name to help
it sell. We will be writing poetry here -- our poem will be at
least two words, and probably not more than four words.
First, consider the poetic naming of the game
"Caribbean Stud." The word "Stud" is a
specific type of poker. The word "Caribbean" is a
place we want to be, exotic, tropical, beautiful. Taken
together, these two words have a smooth mixture of syllables:
"Da-duh Da-duh Da" and a level of specificity that sets a
standard. The name describes the underlying model, a place, a
theme, and something we want. It gives us the feeling of its
culture, history and ubiquity. This is the level of perfection
in naming we seek as we reach for a name for the game currently
The first step in the naming
process is to figure out which of the commonly named games Derek is
most closely associated with. Because the hands in Derek are
evaluated and ranked in a traditional poker format as "high
card," "pairs," "flush,"
"straight," "three-of-a-kind" and "straight
flush," it is clear that this is a poker game. Thus we
want the name to include the concept of poker in some fashion.
As with "Caribbean
Stud," the natural question is to ask if there is some popular
variant of poker that this game resembles. Some examples of
poker variants are "Draw", "Stud",
"Omaha" and "Texas Hold'em." In Derek, you
are given one strategic option -- either match your ante with a play
bet or fold. There are no raises or bluffs. There are no
community cards. There are no drawn cards. The rules for
Derek do not resemble any of the popular poker games other than
using similarly named and ranked hands. Because we do not want
to offend our poker base by wrongly typing the game, the best we can
do is to use the word "Poker" in the name. Too bad.
Obviously we're going to need
some adjectives in here ... "blah Poker" or "blah
blah" Poker. Because we're terribly lazy, we try the name
"Derek Poker." Note that the word "Derek"
and the word "Poker" both have two syllables and that hard
"k" sound. Also note that both "Derek" and
"Poker" have an accent on the first syllable. The
name "Derek Poker" and the word "Mississippi"
are both accented on the first and third syllable. That's a
familiar sound to our ears. We got lucky here -- "Derek
Poker" -- what a name! We tell Derek Webb about our
discovery and he tells us we are lame, holding his thumb and index
finger in the shape of an "L" up to his forehead.
However, as a naming outline,
"Derek Poker" is a starting point. "Derek Poker" has the shape "Da-duh
Poker," and overall shape "Da-duh Da-duh", where the
first word has a hard "c" or "k" in it.
Before working on the word to
replace "Derek," what else do we know about the game?
It has an "ante" bet. It is played with three cards.
It has a decision to raise or fold. There are bonuses paid to
the player for value hands. (Note that Derek wisely renamed
the "raise" wager as the "play" wager;
playing is fun). The player places an ante wager. The
dealer and player are dealt three cards each. The player
either plays or fold, and collects a bonus for any value hand.
That's it, and we have to extract a name.
We dismiss the obvious name
"Ante Poker" (or "Ante-up Poker" or
"Ante-Play Poker") because most variations of poker have
an ante (and the syllables don't work). We dismiss a few dozen
similar names involving the words "ante",
"play", "fold", "raise". These
technical words are already implied by the word "Poker."
In general, anything technical in the naming will drive players
Of course the game is played
with cards, but every poker game is played with cards (as opposed to
dice, a wheel, or a reel), so there is no way we'll use the word
"card" in the name. We dismiss the use of the word
"card" for the same reason we dismissed the word
"ante." It would be like using the word
"dice" in a craps game, the word "wheel" in a
roulette game, or the word "reel" in a slot game.
The words are flawed because they're tautologies.
We also dismiss the word
"three" because casino game names never have had, and
never should have numbers in them. People are intimidated by
numbers. There is nothing warm or inviting about the sterile
concept of "three" or any other number.
What two syllable word is easy,
comfortable, descriptive, inviting, has the "k" sound, the
right number of syllables, draws in people from various gaming
segments, and adds value to the game? Do you give up?
How about the word "Jackpot"?
The perfect name for the game is "Jackpot Poker."
The game has a jackpot (for value hands), so
it's a reasonably specific descriptive word. Jackpots are fun,
exciting, and potentially life changing. Poker games don't
usually have jackpots; a jackpot is a value added feature.
"Jackpot" also hints that the game is simplified; slots
have jackpots. This will help draw the slot crowd into the
game. Players who are interested in poker, but feel poker is
too tough, are the same people who get excited by jackpots.
On the other hand, poker players never get a chance to play for
jackpots, so this is something new and interesting for them.
Also, remember when (historically) we are doing this naming.
This game isn't competing with hundreds of other modern table
games that have jackpots. So getting the word
"Jackpot" in there first is going to be a huge trademark
bonanza. Finally, though any game that involves poker
and has a jackpot could be called "Jackpot Poker," a lot
of games could be called "Caribbean Stud" as well.
It's just a matter of getting there first.
We turned to Derek Webb, inventor of this new
table game, and dubbed it "Jackpot Poker." Of
course, Derek told us to take a hike and that he's going with the
incredibly lame "Three Card Poker." We
dismissed that name early on. It was so obviously wrong, it
wasn't even worth considering. We held the "L" sign
up to our foreheads and walked out on Derek.
Is "Three Card Poker" really lame?
Note that "Three Card", "Derek" and
"Jackpot" each have two syllables. Moreover,
"Three Card", "Derek" and
"Jackpot" are each accented "Da-duh" and have a
hard "k" sound in them. As fate would have it, the
name "Three Card Poker" is right, but for the wrong
reason. The name is pure poetry, nothing more.
Derek Webb spent the next several years of his
life pushing "Jackpot Poker" (or as Derek preferred to
call it, "Three Card Poker") before his hard
work paid off. The full history of Derek's heroic effort to
make his game a success is found in this
On the other hand, the name "Jackpot
Poker" has gone on to describe many successful casino games.
For example, "Jackpot Poker at Casino.Net is a video poker game
based on Jacks or Better but with an additional jackpot for Royal
Straight Flush." "Jackpot Poker" also describes
certain games offered by California poker rooms (the name was
introduced in 1995). And in the ultimate irony,
"Jackpot Poker" is currently used by some online casinos
as another name for Caribbean stud.
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