Monday, January 5, 2015

What's In A Name? : Project:Gorgon

Project: Gorgon is the little MMO that could. It failed two Kickstarters but it just keeps on going. Last week the game Greenlighted on Steam. It also has a spiffy new website , a wiki and of course you can actually play it right now. There's an enjoyable and stable "very early" version of the game available, which is well worth taking a look at, especially if you're one of the gang that's hoping someone might come up with a new old-school MMO "done right".

Eric Heimburg, the developer behind Project: Gorgon, seems to know what he's about more than most indie MMO devs. He's doing everything he possibly could to turn his dream into a reality and making a pretty good fist of it, too. So, the question has to be asked: why did he give his little darling such a terrible name?

Almost every positive post you come across (and everyone who's tried Project: Gorgon is positive about it) mentions the name. No-one has a good word to say about it. It doesn't work on so many levels.

It includes the word "Project", for a start. That makes it sound experimental and unfinished. It's only two words long and yet there's a colon in there, which makes it awkward to say out loud (you have to drop in an uncomfortable, half-beat pause) and even more awkward to abbreviate. (When you do shorten it to initials you get "P:G", which both looks weird and suggests the equally inappropriate concepts of "Parental Guidance" and piano-moving primates - or at least it does where I come from).

If I say it's my house it's MY HOUSE, alright?

It's also the kind of name that sounds as though it might "mean something" yet nothing I've been able to find on the website or while playing the game offers any clue as to what that something might be. Is it a game based around Greek Mythology? (Clue: no, it's not). Maybe cheesemaking? (hmm...could be). Beats me. Eric?

However the game came by its name, that name can't be helping things. But then, how important is a name to to the success of an MMO anyway? It's not as if there's a long and illustrious heritage of meaningful and elegiac titles throughout the history of the genre, is it?

There's the "Name Of Existing IP With "Online" Tacked On" approach that's been the go-to for conservative marketing managers since 1997: Ultima Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, The Elder Scrolls Online... There was arguably a point to that back when being "online" was both unexpected and a selling-point but it seems curiously archaic now, although it's a choice that does at least have the benefit of clarity.

Underwater effects may need a little tweaking...

Then there's the "Big It Up" approach - EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies, Second Life, where the name tries to sell you on something that's just too vast to be contained in any petty offline space. Or the ever-popular Made-Up Fantasy Place Name - Alganon, Istaria, Zentia, Mabinogi - seemingly chosen from a random Scrabble hand - that hopes to convince you there's an entire world to explore rather than just a handful of lackluster maps.

Some aim to pique your curiosity with their simplicity: EVE (the link I found to the origin of whose name now leads to a 404 error, making the mystery even more intriguing) Rift, There, Trove, while others rely on the emotional power of a descriptive phrase - Dark Age of Camelot, The Secret World, Pirates of the Burning Sea, City of Steam.

In the end, though, how much does a name matter? WildStar is a pretty solid title for an MMO with a space-opera setting and colorful, cartoonish visuals but it doesn't seem to have done anything to draw that game to the attention of an audience outside the specialist MMO ghetto. Rusty Hearts is one of the most evocative names yet to have graced any MMO but that one closed down a few months back and much though I admired the name I'd never even gotten as far as downloading it.

Forever autumn.

Certainly an MMO doesn't need a name that makes any sense if it's going to succeed. Runescape is one of the most successful MMOs ever despite having a name seemingly completely devoid of any semantic value whatsoever. Guild Wars 2, famously and controversially, is an MMO which doesn't accommodate Guild vs Guild combat. I can't help thinking, though, that, while an MMO may be able to rise above a poor title, having a name that generates a media-friendly acronym like WoW can't have done Blizzard any harm all these years.

So, Project: Gorgon may have a terrible name but is it really that much more terrible than most of the competition? You can argue precedent -'s extensive list of games includes four other "Project..." somethings. Of course, one of those is Blizzard's "Project: Titan", which is hardly a propitious omen, and the others are Blackout, Zomboid and Powder, which I'm willing to bet no-one reading this has ever bothered to investigate.

Just another idyllic Cotswold village.. apart from there's a freakin' praying mantis the size of a horse!

No, as far as I know, there's only one MMO that's ever achieved even a modicum of success with the "Project" label hung around it's neck and that's Project: Entropia, generator of all those news stories concerning unfeasibly large cash transactions for virtual islands over the years. It's probably not quite the model of MMO design and philosophy that Eric plans on emulating. And, anyway, even Project: Entropia changed its name, long ago, to the more professional-sounding Entropia Universe.

As SOE found with EQ: Landmark and EQ Next, if you're not careful you can find yourself stuck with a working title that no-one planned on keeping. The time to switch out a bad name is as soon in the development process as you realize just how bad it is. With Project: Gorgon now on Steam it's probably too late already.

Still, it could be worse. At least they didn't go with Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.


  1. Names do take on a life of their own. It might be too late to change Project:Gorgon at this point, especially after the Steam Greenlight win. My own experience in software dev is that something gets a name... sometimes just a project name... and that becomes what we end up calling in development for years and year. Marketing will give it an official name. Then they will change that name. And then change it again, yet years down the road we will be in a meeting and somebody will throw a fit because a developer used the original code name.

    And that isn't even going into how much a name can get embedded into the code and file structure. I have worked on enterprise software that has changed names a few times over the course of a decade and going through the names on directories or DLLs or executables can be like an archeological expedition into the history of the product.

    Project:Gorgon isn't what I would have picked, but Eric might as well stick with it at this point even if it isn't doing him any favors, as I am not sure a change to the name would help.

    1. Yes, I think the name-change boat has sailed now. About the most they could do would be drop the "Project" and go with "Gorgon" but I'm not sure that would help much!

    2. Maybe "Gorgon! Gorgon! Gorgon!"

      Or enhance the cooking trade skill and go with Project:Gorgonzola.

  2. I think I prefer Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. It's far more generic, but at least then I won't expect gorgons to be everywhere!

    1. Hmm. Come to think of it that's unnecessarily Greek too. I almost went with "Tree of Savior" but translated titles are just too easy to mock. Brad can't blame his verbal infelicities on Google Translate, although I wouldn't put it past him to try.

    2. To be fair, Pantheon: Fall of the Risen would more accurately describe its context. It's also been lambasted for using two opposing verbs in the same phrase, e.g. Pantheon: Up of the Down, Pantheon: Back of the Front, etc. I'm sure they could have paid a college student a pittance to go through their linguistic IP and check it for resilience.

    3. I'd play Up of the Down for sure! That or just Ascend ... more game titles should be verbs. Let's end this colon business!

    4. Go with Up, Down, Left, Right, and diagonals and we can nickname it "Panth, Panth, Revolution."

  3. Both Pantheon and Gorgon are pretty bad names. My vote would go to Pantheon simply for the Transformers aspect tacked on to the end of it.


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