Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach – published!

I’ve been encouraging (requiring) my students to post regularly on their accomplishments, difficulties they’ve gotten through, and things they’ve learned on their development teams. Naturally enough, I should be doing the same.

So here’s my first post in awhile, which also acts as a partial explanation for the long absence: last month my new textbook, Game Design: A Systems Approach, was published by Pearson Education!

This book is intended to be a guide for anyone interested in game design, especially at the university level. I wanted to dig deeper into the foundations of game design (in terms of game design theory, not history), but without neglecting the day-to-day practical elements, so the book is divided into three sections: Foundations, Principles, and Practice.

As discussed in detail in the first section, the root of this is really systems thinking and how it informs (and is informed by) game design. This is something I believe will lead us to be able to design better games, and puts the book on a more secure foundation, rather than being a bunch of ad hoc practices (which, admittedly, still describes a lot of game design). This section also covers the “what is a game?” question in a new way, given the basis of systems thinking. This framework also allows an approach to interactivity, engagement, and even the thorny question of “fun” in what I think are new and fruitful ways.

The second section gets to the heart of game design, again using the systems thinking perspective. I’ve found it useful to separate the whole experience, the systemic loops supporting it, and the parts and their behaviors that create these loops into three separate areas — and to likewise separate game designers into storytellers, inventors, and toymakers based on their individual inclination. We all seem to have a “home” that we start from — the “nouns and verbs,” the dynamic system, or the eventual player experience. Recognizing this and building the design process around it heads off a lot of arguments and helps designers with different talents and focus areas to work together.

The final section has two chapters on game balance (methods and practice), followed by a chapter devoted to what it means to work effectively as part of a diverse game development team, and a final about all that goes into making a game idea real — from pitching to prototyping to the phases of production.

My hope in writing this is that it serves two complementary purposes: that it provides real, tested, practical game design guidance, and that it does so within a useful, systemic framework. My belief is that “systemic games” win out over “content games” in terms of engagement and long-term replayability, a subject I’ll return to here in later posts.

This has been a long project – about 18 months of serious writing, plus a good six months of deep research before that. I’ve been poking at systems design and the confluence of systems thinking and game design for some time, starting many years ago with engaging conversations with Charles Cameron, reading Christopher Alexander, and leading to some wonderful group-work that resulted in a 2014 report from Project Horseshoe, followed by a lot more in-depth reading (Meadows, Capra, Luhmann, etc.). All of that, plus a great deal more than I’m leaving out, led to me writing this book. I hope that others find it useful in digging deeper into game design.

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Explore posts in the same categories: education, game design

2 Comments on “Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach – published!”

  1. Gregory Brown Says:

    Impressive, excellent insight Mike. Truly invaluable content in fact. Is there a “best time” of the week to contact via your posted office hours? I am looking to recruit 2 or 3 students from your Gaming Design program there at Indiana University for a media company that’ll launch in early 2019.

    Thank you, in fact all of your readers, followers and students thank you.

    Gregory Brown in North Carolina

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike Sellers Says:

    Thanks very much Gregory – email sent!

    Liked by 1 person


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