What’s in a Name? (part 2)

In part 1 I discussed the various ways of designing how characters get named in an MMO. In this part I will talk a little bit about how your perfect name might not be perfect for the game and you will be forced to change it.

For fantasy games, it’s pretty easy to come up with a name. Just jumble some syllables around and you have a name. Most fantasy games ask you not to use real-world words in your (or as your name). “Role-Playing” servers can see some pretty strict enforcement on these name rules as well. For a modern, or superhero, game, words are the order of the day. Unfortunately there have been superhero comics for over 50 years, so a lot of names have been trademarked by various companies.

Which brings me to my next point, where do we draw the line in what names are acceptable, copyright and TM wise, and what are not? It’s a very blurry legal area we are treading into, and since I am not a lawyer, you have to take everything here with a grain of salt.

Obviously if a copyright or trademark holder asks that a name not be made available, as it might damage the brand associated with it, then you are not going to be able to name your character that, or anything even remotely like it. Wolverine, and \/\/01\/3r33n are the same thing in this case. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any names of characters that have had movies made about them in the past 20 years. Those are “top tier” characters with high visibility, and a game company will enforce them even if the copyright holder hasn’t said anything yet. If your character shares the name of a lower tier character, but is obviously not a “remake” or “homage” to the original, trademarked, character, than you have a better chance (not 100%!) of seeing it slide. At the end of the day, the game is that of the publisher’s. If they feel that your name is a violation of their naming rules, take a deep breath and move on; come up with something else and enjoy the game.

Now offensive names are another matter entirely. There’s two types of offensive namers, those who want to “life grief” people by reminding them of tragedies, and those who think the name is funny and want to see what they can get away with. The first type really are a type of player that isn’t doing your game much good. Your customer service should track how many times they need to get a player to rename their characters, and if a pattern has developed, then you need to consider your options. Do you really want a brand new user to see names reminding them of the holocaust, Columbine, or 9/11? People play games to escape that sort of stuff, just because a name filter didn’t “catch” something doesn’t mean it should be acceptable to name your character that.

The other type of offender is the one that tries to slip in the phrases, or the misspelled swear words, or stuff that only makes sense if you look it up on Urban Dictionary. These guys do it to be silly and to offend those who have their chat filters still enabled. While both of these types of namers are immature, these seem to be even less so. They are not “getting” anything out of it other than a “ZOMG, look what I got away with hehehehe” mentality. Yes, these guys generate CS tickets too. I really wish they didn’t.

So there you have it. Two posts on character names from the development perspective. I hope future MMOs are getting something out of these posts, I really do enjoy putting this information out there.

I bet someone out there thought I was going to post about ReadID as well. Gotcha!

4 Responses to “What’s in a Name? (part 2)”

  1. A.L. says:

    While obviously you’re not a lawyer, I am still curious. How strong a hold can a publisher have on something like Wolverine? Now, obviously he is an iconic character but the name is that of an animal known for its ferocity and size. Someone else having it just makes sense, especially when they are a ferocious fighter. Obviously, a Regenerating, Clawed scrapper named wolverine would be too close. But what about a Willpower Martialarts brute or something else where the person was using it.

    I’m more curious about your view on it as a creator than a lawyer here as well, where you feel the name isn’t being copied so much as drawing from the same inspiration and where that would stand.

  2. kevinearllynch says:

    there’s no way that a publisher would let someone name their super-speed scrapper style char the Flasher or their claws/regen brute char Will Fereen. an uncontested trademark violation leads to loss of the trademark. plus, they need that excuse to keep paying the legal team :-))

  3. Golden Girl says:

    I’ve seen a few of the second type of offensive names in CoH, but I’d never even heard of “life griefers” until I read this – what a weird thing for them to pay $15 to do.

  4. Ura Hero says:

    WoW is full of all of types the name offenders. CoH tends to get the copyright infringers and a few of the sophomoric types.

    It always amazes me that folks think that it is ok to be offensive or copy any character from a book, movie, song, etc and no one will care. But then it amazes me that the copyright holders do care what a character in a MORPG is named. You’d think that both sides would just grow up and realize it’s just a game.

    (I’m not talking about the game publishers. They do what they have to to stay out of legal trouble.)

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