Not long ago, Jim and I were idly speculating on how it is possible that Bloodbowl, a game which should by all rights be wildly popular, still meets with only a small niche following. Ever since that conversation, the topic has been at the forefront of my prefrontal perambulations. While several possibilities present themselves, the one I find most intriguing is this:
Is it at all possible that Bloodbowl's name has been holding it back all of these years?
Seriously, what does Bloodbowl actually lack in a hobby game? Its concept has the universal appeal of sport, its flavor text is entertaining, the rules are easy and for the most part effective, the miniatures are great, and the buy-in cost is very low. Even without consistent or complete support, the game has more to offer than either of the GW battle games, rules which are no better or worse, figures which are no more or less interesting, a background which has no less potential, and a much more affordable price point, yet those games still take up every table at the local game shop.
You can put teeth to an argument that GW itself has no desire to see Bloodbowl succeed over the cash-intensive core battle games, as the same low buy-in that should make the game wildly successful would also take a huge toll on the company's profits, but considering the fact that even when the game was well-stocked, actively marketed, and generally given fair-haired treatment by the parent company, it just never took off.
And again I ask, could it just be the terrible name?
Show of hands, how many of you have ever been embarrassed to tell a family member the name of the game you're playing? How many of you have described Bloodbowl to a girl in place of answering a query about the name of the game you're playing? Have you ever reacted to Warhammer or Dungeons and Dragons with the save elusiveness? I've done it and I've heard it done by others. There seems to be a generalized anxiety in the community over the game's name. But why?
Really, when you step back a bit and consider the name objectively and literally, it really is no surprise that it is a minefield. Bloodbowl, when spoken, places the forcefulness of its pronunciation in the first half of the word, and just sort of trails off in the second. A listener without familiarity or with only marginal interest (which is any girl you ever talk to) is likely to hear little more than just "Blood" and process only that. The inclusion of the "bowl" portion of the name, even when not overlooked, does little to mitigate the severity of the first part, and is not effective in its role of grounding the name in the sporting genre, as even when the listener is likely to associate the word "bowl" with sport, which is not always, it is likely not to be fully processed in the first place.
Thus, the listener is left with a first impression of the game which amounts to "Blood-somethingorother" and most sane and rational people will not be anything other than marginalized by a game whose name means nothing to them beyond simple and undescribed violence. The game may as well be called "Murder" or "Rape" for all the good that it's present name does it in casual conversation.
And that first impression is important. Even when you're not chatting up a girl and feeling awkward about discussing your hobbies, the game doesn't always fare well because not all gamers are attracted to games which are founded upon overly violent concepts, and many of us are wise enough at this point to know that those games which are overly violent in nature tend to have many things going against them, namely rules which are painfully immature and rarely balanced, as well as players which can likewise be described as painfully immature and rarely balanced. Many gamers are simply expectant that a game with such a name is not likely to be an enjoyable pursuit without substantial convincing, and in the absence of an existing and effectively evangelical league, the opportunity to alter that impression may not exist.
This is all very speculative, by its very nature, but the rhetorical question that I will leave you with is this, would Bloodbowl be a bigger game if it were called Goblin Rules Football instead?