Crispy Gamer

Editorial: The Excessive Use of Subtitling in Videogames

In the second week of November 2007, publishers released an unprecedented number of multiplatform videogames at the height of holiday shopping. Interestingly, more than half of the listed games employed subtitles in their titling, via the use of colons. This represents a far cry from the use of subtitles 10 years ago, which stood at just 30 percent of games.

Consider these longwinded game names of late: Code Lyoko: Quest for Infinity, America's Army: True Soldiers, Soldier of Fortune: Payback, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Imagination Invaders, Strawberry Shortcake: The Four Seasons Cake, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Plus, EverQuest II: Rise of Kunark and Left Behind: Eternal Forces Expansion Pack -- and those are just the really bad ones.

So when do publishers use subtitling, and what's with their recent increase?

Sony's director of product marketing, Jeff Reese, explains, "Subtitles can be used in place of sequential numbers to show the progression of a franchise, to help differentiate a title from the competition, or highlight something new about the franchise. For instance with God of War: Chains of Olympus, we wanted consumers to know that this was not a port of the PS2 game and exclusive to the PSP. So we added the subtitle to separate it from the God of War console games."

Despite the obvious advantages when naming endless sequels, Bungie's Frank O'Connor says subtitling is more fad and superstition than anything else. "I think the use of a qualifying subtitle is a two-fold phenomenon," said O'Connor, who admitted the subtitle of the first Halo game was the source of minor conflict within his company. "Firstly -- it?s a fad -- a kind of 'me-too-ism' that?s rife in games, and common in films.

"The second part is that I think marketing folks tend to be overly cautious when naming their games, so when a developer comes back with a title like 'Onyx' that may have a perfect resonance for those familiar with the game, marketers want to hedge their bets. So they add a subtitle and 'Onyx' becomes, 'Onyx: The Crystal War' so that more consumers absorb more message, presumably."

One of the biggest recent offenders in the subtitling trend is Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, a game that not only uses a subtitle, but the word "Future" for added distinction. Granted, every sequel in the Rachet series has used a subtitle, but why not simply call the game Rachet and Clank Future (a great name in and of itself), as it is commonly known by gamers?

Reese makes his case. "We had a lot of discussion around the naming for Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction," he says. " 'Future' helped to support the new storyline and refocusing the brand on the PS3. The 'Tools of Destruction' subtitle assured fans that the high entertainment value they have come to love was still alive, in addition to highlighting how much bigger and better this Ratchet experience was compared to all other games in the franchise thanks to the PS3."

In reality, however, subtitles are forgettable and rarely quoted by gamers. As O'Connor observes, "The 'science' behind subtitling is far more laughable than the results."

But who cares what a game is called so long as it's fun, right? A title is only as good as the product it represents, so there's seemingly no harm in using a subtitle. Still, if we can do away with the majority of subtitles (read: they are meaningless), as we do in mainstream speech, then they should be avoided.

So what can be done when a game hits number four, five, six or beyond? The solution is simple: Gracefully use only one or two added words without a subtitle to maintain meaning and freshness. For example, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, Super Mario Galaxy, and Rachet and Clank Future (without the subtitle, of course) all reinvent their names without going overboard. "Tony Hawk 9" and "Super Mario: Out of This World" just don't have the same ring.

This isn't to say subtitles can't be used in moderation when they make sense, but they should never be treated as headlines to feign originality, and they certainly shouldn't deface the covers of more than 50 percent of games.