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  • 7 Must-Read Books For Game Designers

    - Narek Aghekyan
  • This article discusses when and how game design has become a profession as well as when it has formed enough to be considered as a separate discipline. Also it suggests 7 books that every game designer needs to read and explains what special value those books contain and how they can help one to shape as a professional game designer. Although there are other articles suggesting game design books, the authors of those articles are not suggesting specific order of reading them. Whereas, in this article books are presented in a specific order which enables the reader to enhance game design skills smoothly. Moreover, the order and the reasons for reading these books are thoroughly explained.

    Disclaimer: This article is not meant to market any of the below mentioned materials, but instead to provide information about where and what to learn.


    Playing games has been with humanity for thousands of years. Some of those games we play even today (see Table 1). Not only for humans, but also for many animals play has always been a critical form of self development. Play is teaching vital skills for the rest of their life [1].

    Table 1: Games have been with us for 1000s of years
    Hunting games from time immemorial
    Senet 5000+ years old (ancient Egypt)
    The Royal Game of Ur 4500+ years old
    Olympic Games 2800 years old
    Go 2500 years old
    Chess 1500 years old

    But when did game development become a profession? How much knowledge and skills have we accumulated until now? How mature is that knowledge?

    Within this article we will understand when game design has become a profession. And if we want to make games

    1. what we need to learn,
    2. from which sources to learn?

    Game Design as a profession

    In 1950s video games have appeared as a result of pure academic interest. Soon, in 1971 first arcade games have been created (Galaxy Game, Computer Space). In 1972 first game console Magnavox Odyssey has been created which allowed to play video games at home. 1978 is considered to be the beginning of Golden age of arcade video games. [2]

    So in early 70s people started to make money by creating games. Making games have become profitable and, hence, companies needed more professionals who could make them. Thus, the profession of game design is about 50 years old.

    (As Scott Rogers mentioned in comments, "people have been making money designing games since 1883" but this didn't form a game market where significant number of professionals could work as game developers.)

    Over time more platforms have been appearing, technology was developing and more people were working as game developers. Naturally, professionals were interested in why some games are more fun to play than the others. How to make better games? Trying to answer these questions accumulated enough knowledge that enabled us to talk about game design not just as a profession, but as a separate discipline. In Image 1 you can see a timeline of important events that contributed to the establishment of game design as a separate discipline.

    Image 1: Game Design is becoming a separate discipline

    Here is some data to justify the timeline:

    • First game development conference - GDC has been organized by Chris Crawford in 1988 in his living room with only 27 game designers. The second conference, that was held the same year attracted already about 125 professionals. [3]
    • Game design schools offering game design degrees:
    Date Of Offering Game Design DegreeInstitution
    1998 DigiPen Institute of Technology [4]
    2002 School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California [5]
    2005 Game Design and Development Program at Michigan State University [6]

    Rochester Institute of Technology (first game development courses started in 2001)

    2018 University of Utah's Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program (University of Utah offered game design programs as part of a film degree and a computer science degree since 2009 [7])
    • Game design books and the dates they have originally been published:
    Originally PublishedGame Design Book, Author
    2002 The Art of Interactive Design by Chris Crawford
    2003 Chris Crawford on Game Design by Chris Crawford
    2003 Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals by Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman
    2004 Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling by Chris Crawford
    2004 Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton
    2004 A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster
    2006 Fundamentals of Game Design by Ernest Adams
    2008 Game Feel: A Game Designer's Guide to Virtual Sensation by Steve Swink
    2008 The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell

    One might argue that there was a game design school in the world established earlier than 1998 (e.g. LED school in Osaka in 1986 [8]). Or the first game design book was not written in 2002 but much earlier (e.g. The Art of Computer Game Design by Chris Crawford originally published in 1984). But these are exceptions rather than rules. On the timeline it is mentioned the periods when significant number of books have been published, or significant number of schools started to offer game design degrees.

    By looking at Image 1 one can conclude that structured knowledge and knowledge sources, such as schools and literature, has appeared in the early 2000s. Thus, game design as a discipline was born in early 2000s and it is just 20 years old.

    This, in its turn, means that there is a vast knowledge and experience accumulated and it is worthwhile to learn the accumulated and structured knowledge. This will significantly increase your chances to make better games. The essence of cultural evolution is that we don't rediscover everything from scratch, but we learn from others' experiences and then we study or invent the rest ourselves. After all if you want to become a doctor, painter, physicist, engineer, musician, filmmaker you first study what is already known and only then you try to broaden the boundaries of knowledge. In fact, some genius game designers such as

    1. Shigeru Miyamoto (studied industrial design),
    2. Will Wright (studied architecture, mechanical engineering),
    3. Sid Meier (studied computer science),
    4. Hideo Kojima (studied economics)

    have created a series of brilliant games without any formal education in game design. Nevertheless, thinking that education in game design is useless would be a wrong conclusion. Please consider that today's opportunities were not available to these designers [9].

    On the other hand, it is important to mention that, learning from educational materials is only one side of the coin - the theory. Of course, it is necessary to combine the theory and the practice. Playing, analyzing both good and bad games and making your own games is the other side of the coin. And as a game designer you need to do both on a daily basis.


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