Archive for September, 2009

“I just found this blog, what do I do?”

September 9, 2009

This course was originally offered in real-time from June 29 – September 6, 2009. If you are just finding this now, does that mean you missed out on everything? Not at all. The course content is still here and available for you. Going through the course just requires some minor modifications. Consider the following as your guide to the course if you are just starting out.

Follow the posts in order.

Start with the schedule and syllabus to get an idea of what this course has to offer (ignore the dates, of course). If it sounds intriguing, you’ll also want to order Challenges for Game Designers as it is a required text, and the recommended A Theory of Fun and Understanding Comics. The purpose of these books is explained in the syllabus.

Then, when you are ready, move forward to June’s Level 1 post. This is the official start of the course. From there, move forward to the next post, and the next, and so on all the way up to Level 20 when the course is finished.

Suggested Schedule

This summer, we went at a fast pace: one blog post every Monday and every Thursday (so, two per week), which let the entire course fit into 10 weeks. If you have plenty of free time, you may be able to go at this pace on your own, but if you are in school (or have a full-time job) then I would suggest a slower rate.

To extend this to a 30-week course, go through the first half (Levels 1 through 10) at a rate of one post per week. Go through the second half of the course (Levels 11 through 20) at a rate of one post every two weeks. This will give you a lot more time to spend on your Design Project, and you will be grateful for it. Allow yourself “vacations” from the course at 10-week intervals, to give yourself a break and to let the material really sink in.


Naturally, since you are not going through this course at the same time as everyone else, you will not have access to the discussion forums or write access to the wiki, and posting on Twitter will not be as meaningful. Whenever the course asks you to use the forums, wiki or Twitter, simply put this in a document of your own and keep it for yourself. You do not need to post it anywhere.

If you have any questions or comments on the course content of this blog, please leave comments! I do get an email whenever someone leaves a comment, and I can still respond to posts here. As time goes on and more people leave comments, the course material just gets stronger and stronger.

This course works better if you take it with friends. If you have a group of friends or colleagues who are willing to go through this with you, instead of keeping your work to yourself, share it with your friends. Meet on a regular basis to discuss the course topics and share your projects.

When you’re done… There’s another course on the topic of game balance, if you’re interested in that! Go to and continue.


Level 20: Course Summary and Next Steps

September 3, 2009

Here we are, at the end of the course. I appreciate the time that you have put in, if you have read this far and stayed with me from beginning to end. I hope that you got out of this course something of more value than what you put in.

We’ve covered a lot of topics in this course. We started by building the beginnings of a critical vocabulary to allow us to talk about games and game design. We looked at the process of designing games, particularly the advantages of rapid prototyping and iteration. We broke down the concept of “game” into its formal elements, and learned to analyze each element individually. We talked about common concepts that come up in game design: the MDA framework, feedback loops, emergence and intentionality, flow theory, kinds of decisions, kinds of fun and player types. We looked at narrative and the various roles it can play in a nonlinear game experience. We looked at games not only as entertainment, but also as an art form and an educational medium.

And, of course, we made games. Lots of games. Some little ones, and one longer project (which I’m sure you all feel now was way too short, even though you worked on this for a full month). We dove right in, applying the theory in order to make a game. Along the way, we discussed techniques for playtesting (in all its incarnations), balancing, and designing the UI for the game.

At this point, you might be wondering… what next? If this course is over, what are the next steps on this journey towards becoming a better game designer? And when does it end?

Lifelong Journeys

Since none of us are perfect or will ever be, there is always a way for us to improve. If game design is your passion and you want to design better games, you’ll continue to improve over time, and this is a process that continues for as long as you make games.

No, the journey of a game designer does not end. But it does get more interesting, because you can put higher-level concepts together much easier. The kind of thing that used to take you a month eventually takes you a week, and the rest of that time can be spent doing even more for your games.

You might wonder, then, what is the next step on this journey? I have created a page on the course wiki with my thoughts, so visit over there (and leave your own thoughts) if you are done with this course and you want to get to the next level.

Some Other Questions You Might Have

There are some questions I’ve been asked a bit during this course, about what happens when it all ends. Here are my answers.

I want to pass some of this material along to other students/friends/colleagues. Can I get the rights to use it? Can I link to it from my own blog/course/whatever?

I’ve received a number of emails asking about permissions, and I have just upgraded the blog with a fresh new Creative Commons license that should make it clear. Bottom line: feel free to use any or all of the content that I’ve posted here. I created this class to share information, after all. However, please do credit me as the original source if you use my content. My name is Ian Schreiber, and the title of this course/blog is Game Design Concepts.

I came to this class late / I fell behind, so now I’m on my own. What happens to this course now that it’s technically “over”?

I plan to leave this blog right where it is for posterity. Anyone who finds it later can feel free to drop by, going through the course on their own time and at their own pace. They won’t be able to participate with other students as the course is happening, of course, but the material is still all here.

The course wiki will remain exactly as it is, readable to the public. By popular demand, the course forums will remain as they are, allowing those of you who signed up to maintain a community.

Are you teaching this class again?

At present, I have no plans to do an exact repeat of this summer. However, all of the information is here, so anyone wishing to go through Game Design Concepts can do so at their own pace at any time.

Are you going to teach any other classes like this?

Update: YES. Summer 2010, I will do something similar to this one, but with new material.

The topic for next summer is game balance. I want to go into greater detail on ways to take an existing design and get it feeling right: identifying feedback loops and other relationships in a game, cost curves, metrics, randomness, payoff matrices, and similar topics. It’s an area of fascination for me, and I would love the opportunity to share what I have learned among a community of like-minded game designers and hobbyists. Since Game Design Concepts is experimental in nature, I’d like to take the opportunity to go into an experimental topic, the kind of thing that I would probably not be allowed to teach at most schools because it is too specialized. No textbook for it exists (yet). I’d like to write one, some day, but I’ve learned to not write a textbook unless you’ve taught a class in it first. In Summer 2010, I’ll teach that class, and I am already looking forward to it.

The course blog for Game Balance Concepts is at Details for signing up are on that site.

And Now, Some Shameless Plugs…

Game Design Concepts reached a lot of people. As you see in the sidebar, there were over 1400 people who sent an email to formally sign up for the course ahead of time, covering nearly every state in the US and an additional 47 countries. Here are some other stats for the interested:

  • 400+ game industry professionals (including 160+ professional game designers)
  • 200+ teachers and educators (including 60+ who teach game design)
  • 400+ students, ranging from middle school to graduate school
  • 350+ people who signed up in a group (that is, not alone), forming 120+ groups
  • All of the above is just for people who signed up in advance. There are, of course, many more who visited the blog but did not formally sign up ahead of time.
  • Starting out, the blog had 6,000+ unique visitors for both if the first two lessons, with 13,271 hits in the first week total.
  • More recently, we get about 1,000 hits when there’s a new blog post, and about 400 on days in between posts.

So, if you’re reading this, you are in good company.

As a result, I ask the following:

  • Do you work for a school or company that would be interested in sponsoring next year’s course? I can offer your logo and link on the main blog page, and mentions at the end of each blog post with your message. Your message could be seen by thousands of repeat visitors. Contact me by email to receive sponsorship info.
  • If you are a professional educator (teacher, professor, etc.) at an institution that offers online classes: would you be interested in an adaptation of Game Design Concepts for your institution? I can do that for you. Are you looking for game design professors to teach an existing online class? I can do that, too. Contact me by email, and let’s talk.
  • Do you work at a game company that may eventually look for a freelance game designer on a short-term contractual basis? Ask me for my full contact details by email. Résumé and references available on request.

Also, if you liked the textbook, my co-author and I would appreciate if you’d leave a review on Amazon. For as many people as have bought the book, there are currently very few reviews, and it would be nice to see that change.

Course Evaluation

Update: This survey is now closed, but you can still send email to me directly if you want to comment on the course.

At the end of most college courses, students are given an evaluation to fill out. It asks all kinds of questions about the strong and weak points of the class and the professor. The answers are collected, compiled, and given back to the professor. I continue this tradition here.

I want to know what I did right, and more importantly, what I did wrong.

I have set up a survey here:

If you are reading this at all, I would like to hear from you. This is true whether you originally signed up for the course, or came in late; whether you kept up with the coursework, or not; whether you enjoyed yourself or whether you thought this was a complete waste of time.

Go there and fill out the survey. I’m asking you to do this as a personal favor to me, in exchange for the time I have given you in putting together the content for this course. Your responses help me to make things even better next year. Thank you.

Final Words

I would like to thank you for your interest, your participation, and your time. I wish you well, in games and in life. Keep playing, keep designing, and keep learning.

– Ian Schreiber