Brief Introduction to Game Design

The truth about what game design is, what you need to be good at it, and how to start out. No dreams, just facts.
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Instructed by Lewis Pulsipher Design / Game Design
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  • Lectures 44
  • Length 9.5 hours
  • Skill Level Beginner Level
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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    Available on iOS and Android
    Certificate of Completion
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About This Course

Published 8/2013 English

Course Description

This is a brief introduction to game design by Dr. Lewis Pulsipher (see Wikipedia), designer of several published games (e.g. Britannia), retired teacher (computer networking, later game design and game production), and author of the 2012 book "Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish" (McFarland).

A much longer and more comprehensive course ("Learning Game Design") is also available on Udemy.

Comment from LinkedIn:

"Fantastic course, Dr. Pulsipher. I'm in school for Game Dev (which, of course, does involve programming), and while my last instructor is a veteran in the field, the textbook didn't emphasize the required aptitude for Game Design. This one nails it without sugarcoating it." By Michael Thompson

A recent reviewer (Santiago Eximeno) gave the course 3 stars, so I asked him what I could do to improve it. He said:

"Your course is fabulous. I have given it 3 stars because it's a first step. I really enjoy contents but, as its name says, it's an introduction to game design and I think that a wannabe game designer must continue studying and working on it.

So I don't think that you must improve this course, it's just that for me is a first step and for that I have given it a 3 stars rate.

I'm sure that "Learning Game Design: as a job or a hobby" (I have starting it now) will be great . . ."

And it's certainly true that this course is only a start.

What are the requirements?

  • Basic familiarity with games

What am I going to get from this course?

  • The general goal is to realistically understand the nature of professional game design
  • Understand what game design is and isn't
  • Know the best ways to learn how to design games
  • Recognize that there's nothing magical about game design
  • Understand why you won't get rich in game design
  • Understand that being an expert game player has nothing to do with game design

Who is the target audience?

  • Aspiring game designers, whether video or tabletop

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

Forever yours.
Lifetime access.

Learn on the go.
Desktop, iOS and Android.

Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.


What you'll discover

I've placed this at the start of the class as a summary, and also because it has been by far the most popular of 60-some videos on my YouTube Channel, "Game Design".


twitter: @lewpuls

Blog: and

Voluntary, anonymous survey of just 10 questions
Section 1: What game design is all about

There are many, many misconceptions about what game design is. It isn't programming, art, sound, or other parts of game production. The game designer actually decides how the game is going to work, and tries to make sure that is entertaining.

"What Game Designers Do (According to the Internet)" by Liz England is an annotated compilation of (Internet) confusion about what a game designer actually does. Typically, the term "game design" is used when "game production" is meant. Unfortunately, many of the sites that are supposed to help game development wannabes are just advertisements for expensive for-profit schools and universities.


Anyone can design a game to about 80%, that's not hard. It's getting to 100% that's hard.

Most game designers have designed game since they were kids. In that respect they're much like novel writers. But there are exceptions.


Certain characteristics help people succeed as game designers.


With very few exceptions, people don't get rich designing games. In fact, many people must have a full-time job, just as many novelists have full-time jobs.

People who don't believe this, should read the "lecture" I've added in the Bonus material, "A tax on people who are bad at math."

See this blog post for a measured view of indie game development:


A game, at bottom, is a set of rules/mechanics. Especially when you're starting out, don't try to focus on story. And recognize that ideas, on their own, are worthless, because many people have had the same idea, and no one buys game ideas.

Even though there's "nothing new under the sun", you can make an idea your own. Phil Luddington recently made a useful comparison: "The idea is like your finger, we all have them, but the implementation is like your fingerprint, everyone's is unique."

Doug Hall put it another way: "Let's be honest. Most newborn seed ideas are ugly, wrinkly little wretches. If the newborn is your own, you're liable to think it's a thing of wonder and beauty. But it's going to need a whole lotta nurturing before anyone else will think so. Because it's not theirs."

As someone who thinks most newborn babies are UGLY! I especially appreciate this comparison.


The best way to learn video game design is to start with tabletop games! Here's why.


Free tools such as Gamemaker or even Unity can help make game software easier to create, if you insist on starting with software rather than paper prototypes.

A new (28 Mar 14) website, "How can I learn Gamemaker language", lists many books and other resources for learning Gamemaker.

Here's a site that shows quite a few commercial games made with Gamemaker. is itself a list of mostly-free development tools that help people learn game development.

Epic now offers their Unreal 4 engine on subscription for $19 a month (and 5% of gross for anything you actually sell made with Unreal). Epic's Tim Sweeney talking about changes in the Unreal engine (both in economics and in programming) If you're already a programmer you might look into this, but Unreal is a top end, complex, engine.

Errata: Flynn Pierce points out:

"The free version of Unity 3D does allow you to make commercial games, as long as your annual gross revenue is less than $100,000. See, specifically 'Making and selling games with Unity'. This applies to all platforms."


You can't satisfy everyone, gamer preferences are far too diverse. Choose a target market and make a game for that market.


Games are for players, not for designers. And gamers want to do something, games are activities. So ask yourself, what is the player going to do?

Section 2: Game Making in a Nutshell

This is a brief exercise to help you internalize the vital truth that opinions about games vary greatly, and what you like isn't necessarily what others like.


Playtesting, modification, more playtesting, more modification - this is the heart of game design.

An articulate and fascinating look into the head of a budding game designer (who took my "Learning Game Design" course . . .):

2 pages

An attempt to summarize quite briefly what you need to know when making a game for the very first time.

Also you could read Reasons for Modest First Projects and Incremental Learning by Chris DeLeon

The linked article is the longest, most thorough explanation I've seen of why video game developers should start with simple projects that they have a decent chance of finishing, rather than "shoot for the moon."

He makes lots of comparisons and analogies to help make his points.

3 pages

Video games owe a lot to tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, but it's instructive in its own right

1 page

Constraints contribute to good work, I think. So I tried to say what is important in designing games in one page.

5 pages

Following the "six word stories" format, I asked readers of my blogs to say six words about game design. Here are some of the best.


A brief answer to this question, written originally for Quora.


I don't use the word "theme" any more, because it has so many meanings (often very different) that I don't know whether my listener or reader will understand me. Here's the low-down, and suggested alternatives.

Tastes in games vary so greatly that it's impossible to make a universal list. There is no universal "fun", there are so many ways that people enjoy games. So here's my list for hobbyist games, games for adults that play games as a hobby. Part 1.

Tastes in games vary so greatly that it's impossible to make a universal list. There is no universal "fun", there are so many ways that people enjoy games. So here's my list for hobbyist games, games for adults that play games as a hobby. Part 2.

Section 3: The End of the Beginning

This is a simple exercise in game design. The Nine Structures are fully explained in my "Learning Game Design" course, which is five times longer than this Brief Intro course.

Jason Miller asked if I meant you to reset the game to its original structure before making another game, or to build on your changes. The former gives you a clearer view of exactly what your single change does to the game. However, the other way, changes building on one another, can also be interesting, if you want to do it. It will help you see how more than one change implemented serially can result in yet more unintended consequences. What you want to avoid, if you can, is making several changes at once, because then you don't know which change (or combination) caused what.

10 questions

This is a simple quiz to determine whether you "get" the fundamental ideas behind game design.


This is a summary, not something involving new thoughts. But people like to have summaries.


Teachers and advisers all suggest that beginners need to undertake much smaller projects than they think they can manage. Otherwise they'll end up with a string of partly-done projects. That's a bad idea, because employers and publishers are only interested in complete games.

On the other hand, beginners can experiment in ways that don't increase the length/size of the project. The time to experiment is when you're just starting out, not when many people and lots of money depend on your design.

(Thanks to Ian Schreiber for pointing this out - on Facebook!)


Pro game designers, especially tabletop designers, work on many games concurrently (in the same year, for example). Dilettantes work on one.

In video games, designers work on a lot until the point that their studio commits to one, then they usually work on that one along until it's done.


This is a discussion of the various computerized platforms running video games.

And now we've added Virtual Reality.


Although I was initially skeptical, I've found that twitter has some advantages.

You might also read "To Tweet or not to Tweet: Social media and the indie"

By Keith Andrew

"The day I realised a news announcement made direct on Twitter got more eyeballs than some of the mid tier games sites...that was the day I realised the power and opportunity Twitter holds for me." -Developer of Thomas Was Alone


Many aspiring designers, and some who have been at it a long time, think of themselves as writers rather than game designers. This is a discussion of how the two differ. (And my advice - become a game designer first, even if you can be a fiction writer for games later.)


Conclusion and what you can do in the future.

My courses are at as well as on Udemy. "Learning Game Design" is an obvious follow-up to this course, and "How to Design Levels/Adventures for Video and Tabletop Games" may appeal to many of you. LGD is 6 times larger than this class (not counting bonus material), and Levels/Adventures is nearly 4 times as large.

"Get a Job in the Video Game Industry" may also be appropriate.

65 pages

I've strung together all the slides used in the lectures so that you can download them as notes, if you wish.

Section 4: Bonus Material (also available on the Web, usually at my site or YouTube)
4 pages

I've added this discussion of probability and the immense unlikelihood that you'll get rich making games, for the possible benefit of those who just cannot believe what I've said in "I'm going to get rich" NOT.

You're much, much more likely to become a wealthy pro athlete, or win a big lottery pot, than you are to make a million from a game as a game designer.

14 pages

Lew's online courses and information sources


Why write a book in the 21st century, an era when people rarely read non-fiction books? And why a game design book? Here's why…

Lew's games as of August 2015
20 pages
2 pages
Results of a game designer survey I distributed in late 2012 and 2013.  See
for a discussion and text (as opposed to spreadsheet) listing of the results.

What makes my game design book unusual or unique.


Classic games provide interactivity with people, puzzles (including most single-player games) provide interactivity with the game (and sometimes, not much of that).

This is a simple recording of a talk I gave at the UK Game Expo in 2011.  It was recorded with an MP3 player, hence not perfect.  Many other talks are available at
28 pages

Slides that go (more or less) with the previous audio. When I speak at a convention I don't follow the slides, which are made for people who cannot come to the actual presentation.


Magic: the Gathering dominates this category, but there are other games, often not collectible, involved.


From Origins Game Fair, Columbus, OH 2007. Begins abruptly, as I had just remembered to turn on my MP3 player to record.

This is a discussion of the steps involved in designing a game. Many people follow some of all of these steps, whether consciously or not. It will be covered at length in my Learning Game Design class, but was far too much to include in this brief class.

45 pages

Slides made to accompany the Origins 2007 talk - but I don't follow slides as I talk, these were made as notes, and to help those who couldn't attend the talk.

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Instructor Biography

Lewis Pulsipher, Commercially Published Game Designer, College Teacher

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher (Wikipedia: "Lewis Pulsipher"; "Britannia (board game)"; "Archomental" ) is the designer of half a dozen commercially published boardgames. His game "Britannia" is described in an Armchair General review "as one of the great titles in the world of games." Britannia was also one of the 100 games highlighted in the book "Hobby Games: the 100 Best". He has over 17,000 classroom hours of teaching experience including teaching video game design and production, and over 20 years of part-time graduate teaching experience.

His book "Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish" (McFarland) focuses on practical advice for beginning game designers, about how you actually create and complete game designs. He also contributed to the books "Tabletop: Analog Game Design," "Hobby Games: the 100 Best," "Family Games: the 100 Best." His game design blog has been active since 2004, and he is a contributor and "expert blogger" on Gamasutra, the #1 site for professional video game developers.

His latest published game is the 2011 reissue with additions of "Dragon Rage," originally published in 1982. Three new versions of Britannia, including a 90-120 minute version and a diceless version, are forthcoming, as well as several other games from Worthington Publishing and others. His Viking adventure game "Sea Kings" was published by Worthington in August 2015.

Lew has a Ph.D. in military and diplomatic history from Duke University, from ancient days when degrees in media, computer networking, or game design did not exist--nor did IBM PCs. In 2012 he was a speaker at the East Coast Game Conference, PrezCon, Origins Game Fair, and World Boardgaming Championships. Long ago he was contributing editor for White Dwarf and Dragon magazines, and publisher of various game fanzines. In 2013 he was Industry Insider Guest of Honor at GenCon, and in 2014 is again speaker at the ECGC.

Game design blog and teach game design blogs are on blogspot

"Expert blogger", Gamasutra

former contributing editor, White Dwarf, Dragon, Space Gamer, etc.

former publisher, Supernova, Blood and Iron, Sweep of History, etc.

"Always do right--this will gratify some and astonish the rest." --Mark Twain

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