by Eliot Jacobson
November 1, 2010
What’s in a name?
first interaction a player has with a casino game is seeing or hearing its name.
The name can lure players or repel them. It can strike positive emotional
chords and give a sense of community or remind players of the challenges and
negative experiences that most likely lie ahead. Given the reluctance of
players to learn new table games, the duties those precious few words serve is
immense. The name must be an advertising slogan: meaningful, motivational and
The power of a name is easily seen by looking at the most common blackjack side bet — “insurance”. This is simply a wager that pays 2-to-1 if the dealer’s hole card is a face. The house advantage is about 7.4 percent in a six-deck game, much less than many other side bets. But “Everyone knows you should never take insurance,” as they say. The word “insurance” evokes only negative emotions and reactions; something bad is likely to happen. Allowing insurance only when the dealer shows an ace is an arbitrary limitation that enhances the negative correlation. By changing the name to “Face Card Bonus” and letting players make the wager every hand, it has market potential. (It is also highly vulnerability to card-counting so don’t get any ideas.)
Consider the fate of two other blackjack side bets. One pays if the player’s first two cards total nine to 11 or 17 to 21. The other one pays if the player’s first two cards together with the dealer’s up-card total 19 to 21. One of these games has been highly successful, the other has languished in a single casino for almost a decade. The most significant difference between them is their names: “2 through 6” and “Lucky Lucky”. It doesn’t matter which name describes which game, players want to play “Lucky Lucky” because they want to be lucky-lucky. (Other games with numbers in their names have struggled as well, for example, “2 Run 21, 3-5-7 Poker” and “6-5-4 Poker”.)
Many names include the specific game type: Caribbean Stud, Super Fun 21 and Fortune Pai Gow. Fusion games like Baccajack combine types. (Too late, Crapjack has already been used; however, “Blackoulette” and “Roulecraps” are waiting, untouched.) There are complex trust relationships players have developed with existing games. They should be able to quickly identify if the new game is something they might want to learn.
The specificity rule is waived for side bets; the game type is already known to the player. In this case, fantasy and poetic principles are the guide. Among the successful blackjack side bets we find “Bet the Set, Royal Match” and “Lucky Ladies”.
Word play in a name can lead to marketing challenges. The game “Die Rich” is an innovative variant of craps using a single die, but who wants to be reminded of death, rich or otherwise? The table games “Up Your Ante” and “Whoop Ass Poker” are anatomically insensitive. I’d rather not be “Pai Gow’d”. The game “Flop Poker” may be telling its own fortune. “Something’s Wild Poker” has me guessing. “Three Way Action” describes wild sex, not a casino table game.
One frequently used naming tactic is to identify some element of a game that players don’t like and boast that the new game has removed that negative. For example, “Crapless Craps, No Bust 21” and “Commission Free Baccarat”. A double negative still reminds us of the negative. The success of the commission-free variants EZ Baccarat and EZ Pai Gow make this point clear. (If you’re eager, the game “EZ Craps” does not yet exist.) The names “Blackjack Switch” and “Triple-Up 21” succeed because each highlights a positive option while no mention is made of the accompanying negative that balances the house-edge equation.
To gain loyalty, players have to find a way to trust a new game. One way trust can be evoked is by giving a historical context to the game. Many good names imply longevity by using geography. Caribbean Stud is an example, along with Spanish 21 and Mississippi Stud. Trust is also gained through using positive words. The games Texas Hold ’Em Bonus and Ultimate Texas Hold ’Em accentuate their shared history, geography and type with “bonus” and “ultimate”.
Then there are the tell-it-like-it-is names. Among the select few successes in this category are Three Card Poker and Four Card Poker. The game of “One Card Poker” is otherwise known as War. The game of Two Card Joker Poker came and went. The games Three Card Baccarat and Three Card Blackjack are in their infancy. The not-yet-invented “Three Card Pai Gow” seems intuitively obvious and insanely boring. Don’t even think about “Three Dice Craps” or “Triple Zero Roulette”.
There is a tremendous boom in table game innovation. Creating a compelling name is the most neglected and misunderstood part of the development and selection process. The developer gets two words, maybe three. If it’s not a side bet, one of the words is probably descriptive of the game type. The others are modifiers or extraneous positives. For a game to be successful, these words have to drive play for years in at least one market environment. A brilliant idea can succeed or fail based on just a couple of words.
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