Conceiving a New Game: Tips for Aspiring Designers

A collection of tips for aspiring designers about the process of conceiving new games. Find a free coupon!
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Instructed by Lewis Pulsipher Design / Game Design
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  • Lectures 24
  • Length 3 hours
  • Skill Level Beginner Level
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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    Available on iOS and Android
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About This Course

Published 5/2016 English

Course Description

This is a collection of tips for aspiring designers who are conceiving new games.  It isn't as simple as you might think (at least, if you want to do well).

As of summer 2016, this is a free class with appropriate coupon. As such, it is not typical of one of my not-for-free classes. One difference is that this is more like an anthology, many pieces written independently, than like a book written for one purpose. Though I’m the “author” in both cases.
So this free class does not have the flow toward a specific result that those not-for-free classes have.

My not-for-free classes, having been planned from the beginning as coherent wholes, are fundamentally “better” than these free classes. Because of that difference between anthology and single-purpose.

What you get is valuable information, but in small packets. Like short stories rather than a novel.

The individual videos show how I go about things. I’m here to help you become a better game designer. I do that through conveying my experience to you, by asking questions, by providing the benefit of my thinking about these topics.

NOT by entertaining you. This is serious, game design IS sometimes work, not entertainment. It's fun to watch people playing your game, fun to create games, fun to make money (if you do), but it's not all fun.

Another difference between this course and others is that it's much shorter than my not-for-free classes.

Finally, the other major difference is that all of the videos in this class are available for free by other means: either my “Game Design” channel on YouTube, or as free previews from my not-for-free classes. There are about 150 videos currently available in that way. But the other 350+ are only available if you take those not-for-free classes!

What I’ve done is try to categorize some of those freely-available videos, and offer them as several free classes (though most are only free-with-coupon, nominally $20).

What are the requirements?

  • No prerequisite other than knowledge of games and an open mind

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Understanding what games are really about is a major goal
  • Understanding that you must apply constraints to what you're doing
  • Recognize the "natural" format for your game - even if you choose not to use it
  • Understand what you can control, and what you cannot

Who is the target audience?

  • Anyone who is interested in designing games (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.


Section 1: A Brief Introduction

A summary of the most important points about actual conception.


For more about the instructor, you have two choices:

Notice the resource PDF, which goes into more detail than this quite brief video. This is written in the third person, as is required for most mini-biographies.)  

Notice also the resource two and a half minute video, in which you actually see me talking. It's the original intro to my courses from 2012. It's regarded as "too long" now (2.5 minutes). Nor is it highly polished.

Section 2: Conceiving a New Game: Tips for Aspiring Game Designers

A Game is not Mechanics – Yet it IS!

What’s most important in a game is not the mechanics, it’s the impression your game makes when people play it. But the game itself IS mechanics, plus rules
Rules describe and exactly specify the mechanics, which (in a tabletop game) the players have to enforce.

Which (in a video game) the programmers etc. have to simulate.In a video game, the rules aren’t seen by the player(s), and the software enforces the mechanics

Rulebooks include other things that don’t specify mechanics


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!)

What are the most important questions when starting a game design?  There are always LOTS of questions.  These four are the most effective, and have most to do with shaping your conception into a game.
Insofar as game design is much about thinking... Dividing/categorizing what game design is about can be fruitful.  I've done this in many videos, both here and in my classes.  This time the divide is between games as interesting decisions (or choices, as Sid Meier put it) and games as wish fulfillment.  Neither is "better", but they're quite different.

Robert Heinlein once said about jokes, "Good once, good twice, or always good."  We can apply the same to games, especially nowadays when the standard has fallen - because most people don't care about playing a particular game more than a few times.  I want to make games that can be played over and over with interest: how about you?


Many people assume that the big divide in games is between video (electronic) games and tabletop (non-electronic) games. No, and we see that more clearly as more games are converted from one format to the other.  The big divide is

whether or not a game has human opposition, or a good semblance of it.


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.

Games, puzzles, and contests (which I now call "parallel competitions") are all collectively called "games", but have different characteristics that call for different efforts from the designer.

This video grows out of my experience at the East Coast Game Conference in April 2014.  There was much discussion of story in games, Ken Rolston (Morrowind, Oblivion) called himself a writer rather than a designer, and the notion floated around that writers were the ultimate creators of games, not designers.  Is that so?  Which are you, designer or writer?

Think about how many big innovations we've seen in games over the years.  Not very many.  And in many cases, the creators weren't striving to create a great innovation, they "just" wanted to make fine games.  Make your best game, and if you're really lucky, it will turn out to be innovative as well.
Game designers can be seen as three groups. Sometimes a person can fill one role, another time another, but what we can say for certain is that good game studios want engineers, and imitative ones want mimics. (Engineer is a term describing designers, not programmers.)

Math, People, Story: three kinds of games, and a designer cannot pretend all three don't exist, even if he or she only likes one kind.


A game designer cannot control certain parts of the player experience, such as who you play with, where you play, attitudes of players. Nor is the game designer responsible for such players as the "Bored Loser".  Players need to bring an active attitude and take responsibility for their entertainment (unlike with movies or novels).

Part 1


A game designer cannot control certain parts of the player experience, such as who you play with, where you play, attitudes of players. Nor is the game designer responsible for such players as the "Bored Loser".  Players need to bring an active attitude and take responsibility for their entertainment (unlike with movies or novels).

Part 2


Functional differences are ones that affect actual play. Cosmetic differences only affect appearance. Whether a game is physically a card game, board game, or video game is a cosmetic difference!
It’s like the difference between a man dressed “in drag” and an actual woman. Or a woman dressed to look like a man.
Cosmetically, the first looks like a woman, the second like a man
Functionally, the first is still a man, the second still a woman.


"Classic" games - most from before the 20th century, none from this century - may or may not be well-designed games. But many of them, if released today for the first time, wouldn't cause a stir.  Part 1


Part 2.  "Classic" games - most from before the 20th century, none from this century - may or may not be well-designed games. But many of them, if released today for the first time, wouldn't cause a stir.

Section 3: Bonus Material
The attached file describes my courses, games, and other game-related activities.
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 I did it, and how it's different from other game design books.
If you write a game design book these days, you'd better have some ways in which it's unusual or unique.  Here are mine for "Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish"

There are LOTS of common mistakes that aspiring (tabletop) game designers make.  Here are 10 that stand out.


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

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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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