So you've been working on this great game idea. You've got the mechanics down, maybe even some concept art and you've been thinking of what to call your newest brainchild. In a moment of what can only be described as pure genius, you think of the PERFECT name! Yes! You start planning the font, the artwork, the color scheme. Then you tell a friend about your great name idea and they say “Dude, That's the name of a movie”. Oh no. That perfect name you thought of is also the name of a twelves year old's Instagram, or a book, or anything else that steals your thunder.
Where have all the good names gone?
In this wonderful time of self-publishing, print to play and an explosion in indie games, finding or claiming the perfect name can be a real challenge. So how concerned do you really need to be about whether or not this name you thought of is in use somewhere else? I wish I could give you an easy short answer but the real answer is “it depends”
The bottom line is that unless you're infringing on copyright or trademark then, mostly, any name is up for grabs. There are some considerations to be made for words or phrases associated with brands that get into a tricky legal area but I'm not going to get into that. What's more important is that you want your name to stand out and you want everyone to recognize that name in association with your product, and not someone else.
Search, search, search
I'm sure you've already done a Google, Yahoo and Bing search on your name and seen the results. This is a good place to start. It can also be discouraging if you don't dig into the search results. You may find the name coming up in several places but if you check those links you may also find that they are not really relevant. For instance, how much does it matter to you that what you want to name your game is also the name of a facebook page that hasn't been in use since 2010; or the name of a wood-shop in Quebec; or a book that's no longer in print? (yes, those are real examples of names I've checked for myself) Discovering that the search brings up some results that are relevant to, in this case, games, then you'll have some choices to make.
Mainly, are you going to decide to compete? Is the name trademarked or part of copyright. If it is, you'll have to move on. However, if it's not, is it worth it to you to work to get that name associated with your product? Do you feel strongly enough that you are going to hit the market hard and fast enough that everyone will start associating that name with you? If you think you can do that, then go for it. You will be stepping on someone's toes but that's common in business. I'm not saying this to be a jerk, and personally, I would probably come up with another name, but that is an option.
Don't forget to search YouTube! With almost 5 billion videos watched per day, you can't forget about this one when searching your name.
There are many ways to search trademarks and searching a trademark is a complex task. The provided link is a basic word search and is a good place to start. You may find that the exact word or phrase pops up. Now here's where it gets a little tricky. Trademarks are also visual representations so if you think you can use the word in a way visually that hasn't been used then it could still be a possibility. They are also industry-specific, so even if your name is already out there, but for something unrelated, you may be in the clear. If you've gotten this far and are considering trademarks... congratulations. I'm not going to get deeper into trademarks here. I just wanted to suggest the basic search as a way to further check your potential name.
Search domain names and see if you can register an email. You can visit any domain registrar online and do a search for your potential name and see what comes up. Again, even if your name comes up you'll want to check it out and see if it's related to what you're doing in any way. If it's not then you may still want to consider it if it's passed your other checks. You can also check to see if the site is active or the domain is just parked.
I hope this is helpful for those who have a name they are considering for their upcoming project. At some point, we can discuss what makes a good name. What else to consider when choosing one, but for now... Good luck!