Friday, January 31, 2014

Nomen est omen: the naming of games

One of the main recurring criticisms of MobyGames - despite all its serious flaws in other parts of their data model - is the naming of the game entries. As MobyGames is, and always has been, a US project, every game is only accepted into the database using its US release title as the "main title". Missing that, a release title of other English-speaking countries is accepted, and only if there's no English title available, the original title of release is allowed, regardless of origin. When a main title is found for the game, every other title is only accepted into the database as an "alternative title".

There's one big problem with this approach. It may well be that the rest of the world doesn't care one bit about the US release title of a game. Imagine a Japanese player browsing MobyGames, only to find the fourth entry of the Final Fantasy series listed as "Final Fantasy II", just because it was the second FF game released in the US. There must be a better way to do this, so, let's conduct some research about how other game sites are approaching this issue, and allow me to introduce you to the planned Oregami solution. For reference, I will always link Final Fantasy IV as an example game.

The German project OGDB uses the original release title as main title, where non-latin titles need to be transliterated before being accepted into the database. Every other title can be entered as an alternative title with description, too. TheLegacy, which is the oldest German project alive, accepts every transliterated title of a game into its database. All these titles are treated more or less equally throughout the whole site, but that's only possible because there is no game list there, where a single title would need to be chosen for display. Instead, games are only found using a search, and the game's detail page displays the title as main title which the user clicked at.

So much for German projects, let's take a look at another old contender of Italian roots - the UVL. This project doesn't have so much problems with the titling issue, as it more or less documents different releases of games. Exemplary, every platform release of a game gets its own entry there, which naturally lightens the burden of using the "right" title, because the case of a game being released under two different names for the same platform is not that common. Final Fantasy IV is such a case, and as the US release is a seriously dumbed down version of the Japanese game, it gets two entries at UVL, one under Final Fantasy IV for the hard release of Japanese origin, and the other named Final Fantasy II for the "Easy Type" US version. Of course, every of these entries has multiple AKA's, too.

Finally, let's take a look at two other US projects, and whether they use the US release title as main title, too. First thing to look at is GiantBomb, a newer wiki-style project with a lively community. Okay, Final Fantasy IV is listed under this name, other games I checked are listed under their original name as well, so I think we can safely assume that GiantBomb uses the original title, although I couldn't find this documented on the site. A nice touch of GB's approach is that every release can have its own title there.

The second US project to look at is VideoGameGeek which is a follow-up to the successful BoardGameGeek project, and has a unique text desert kind of approach to displaying data. But the data complexity is high, and a quick look suggests the same approach to game naming that GiantBomb has: original title with AKA's and named releases. But a deeper look into VGG's help pages reveals the concept of a "primary" title which should be "the name with which the game is best known. For foreign games, if there is a widely known English name, that name is preferred, otherwise use the native language name.". The best-known name? Talk about subjectivity.

So, what's the conclusion? Most sites use the original title as "main" title, so should Oregami do, too? We don't think so. The whole concept of a "primary" title for a game is flawed to begin with, as there is no such thing. For every gamer, the title under which he / she got to know a game is his / her main title. And that personal main title mostly depends on the region the player resides in, or the platform he / she played the game on. Following this insight, Oregami will implement a different model:

The main thing we want to do is to assign multiple titles to a game, but with additional attributes, like region, language, platform, and so forth. With these data in the database, we will be able to show every user his / her appropriate title using the information the user entered about his / herself. Exemplary, if the user is from the US, we could use the MobyGames model of displaying the US title. Furthermore, we will implement a hierarchical fallback of titles, so, following our example, if the US title of the game isn't present in the database, we could display the UK one instead, then any other English language title, next the game's original name, and so forth. Finally, these fallback options should be customizable by the user.

Now, the interested reader may be inclined to ask how this theory would translate to a Final Fantasy IV implementation. Well, FF IV would get just a single game entry at Oregami, but with multiple titles assigned to it, which could look as follows:

Title (Language)
Title Type
Final Fantasy IV (English)Initial ReleaseJapanSuper Nintendo
Final Fantasy IV (English)Re-releaseUSA / UK / JapanNintendo DS / PlayStation / PlayStation Portable
Final Fantasy IV (English)Re-releaseJapanNintendo Wii / Wonderswan Color
Final Fantasy IV Easytype (English)Re-releaseJapanSuper Nintendo
Final Fantasy II (English)Initial ReleaseUSASuper Nintendo
Final Fantasy II (English)Re-releaseUSA / UKNintendo Wii
Final Fantasy IV Advance (English)Re-releaseUSA / UK / JapanGameboy Advance
FF IV (English)Abbreviation

By the way, the differences between the Japanese initial version and the US Easytype version are documented elsewhere within the data model, but this shall be the subject of another blog post.

Another facet of our approach to game titles is to document where and how these game titles were used. Every release of a game comes with different locations where a title can be shown, e.g. the front cover of the box, the title screen of the game, or more exotic ones like the install program. So we will implement a way to be able to assign game titles to releases, too, saving its location in the process. Of course, this assignment to a release shall only take place if the respective title was properly accepted into the database with a game connection beforehand.

With these facilities in place, we will be able to apply this flexible data display idea to other parts of the database as well, say platform naming, or showing every user an appropriate cover, which will enable us to noticeably improve the Oregami user experience. And this is a goal very much worthwhile, I think. (smile)

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