Thursday, July 26, 2012

Choosing a title for a game design book

My author copies of my book,  “Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish",  arrived today - it was printed a little early.    I don't know when it will reach pre-order folks.  You can click on the title of this post to go to the publisher's page for the book.

So it's a good time for the following:

As with game titles, book titles are determined by the publisher, not by the author.  All things marketing are the province of the publisher and the title is part of marketing.  So the author or designer can suggest titles but he or she does not have the final say.

Sometimes this works well.  My title for what the publisher called Britannia was "Invasions of Britain", Invasions for short.  That was perhaps a more descriptive title but does not have the "gravitas" of Britannia.  The title for Valley of the Four Winds was the title of the miniatures line that inspired the story that the game is based on.  Swords and Wizardry and Dragon Rage were my titles.  And so forth.

Some of you may regard this as an esoteric subject but others may be interested in the process, so I'm going to describe how we settled on a title for my game design book.

Many titles have been suggested for my game design book.  The first (and longer) book, which has not been published but which contributed a large amount of material to the one that has been published, was christened "Get It Done: Designing Games from Start to Finish" by the acquisitions editor at the company I originally submitted the book to.  (Their game design books were not selling well in stores, not surprising as their latest was over 1,000 pages, so the decided not to publish more books of that type.)   The title on the McFarland contract was "Designing Games from Start to Finish," but I wanted the term "Game Design" in the book title because that's how people in a library are going to search for the book, and McFarland's primary market is libraries. The title that I finally selected for the manuscript was "Learning Game Design", but there were lots of alternatives around game design and learning and how to, such as "How to Design Games".

When I received the acknowledgment of receipt of the manuscript the editor said they were looking for a more formal title, one more in keeping with their image as serious publishers.  "Introduction the Game Design" was a possibility.  It turned out that a book of that title had been published in February 2012, and when I wrote to point that out I found that the publishers had "just settled on a title we like and think will work well for your book. What do you think of 'Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish'?" 

At first I thought that was quite good, but after a couple hours I realized that "create" should be changed to "design".  The reason was that so many people confuse game production with game design, and "create" implies doing all the computer programming and art as well (that is, doing the entire production).  One of the reasons why we use tabletop games to begin teaching video game design is so that students quickly understand that computer programming is not part of game design.  Many video game schools say they teach "game design" but actually teach programming and art. I tried to find an alternative word to design but "plan" has the incorrect connotations, too, as it implies doing it all "up front", an error commonly seen in game design books.

Not surprisingly the publishers have a strong rule against using the same word twice in a title.

"Back to the drawing board." By this time I had another idea,  “Game Design: How to Devise the Essence of Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish”.  As I realized later, I was trying to find a different object for the verb in the subtitle because there was no verb other than "design" that could be used for the direct object of "game" without some confusion.  So the verb "devise" had an object of "essence."

The editors didn't feel that this was working because “how to devise the essence of” sounds like you’re thinking about it a lot but not actually doing anything about it.  And I didn't want to imply that game design was all about thinking.  It *is* critical thinking but it is also doing, the two have to go together. 

So I came up with the a more descriptive title:
"Game Design: How to Conceive and Incrementally Playtest and Modify the Mechanics and Heart of a Game until It Is Done."

I used "heart" instead of essence, to represent the non-mechanical aspects as opposed to the mechanics.   "Essence" would do about as well, I think.   "Incrementally playtest and modify" is the major part of the process.  "Until it is done" substitutes for "start to finish" or "from conception to completion".

I also had problems with "start to finish", because what I mean is that wannabe designers have to complete games, not just start them.  But it implies that the book is going to tell them "everything", and that isn't even close, the book doesn't even address marketing and licensing much, let along programming and art.  But once again, any phrase is going to be open to misinterpretation.

The next day, I realized that in trying to solve the fundamental problem of the direct object of "game" the alternative titles became much too long, and I decided to throw in the towel.  In the end there's no title that cannot be confused to mean that the designer is also doing the game production.  So the title that has been settled on is the one that they suggested,  "Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish".  If this confuses people then the book will disabuse them of their confusion that game design equals game production, and thus abusing people of incorrect notions is one of the purposes of the book.

No comments: