Crash Course in Game Design

So you want to start designing your own games? That’s great! There’s a whole heap of books, articles, videos and more where you can go deep in tons of different aspects of games, but here’s a quick way to get started:

First, think about a game that you like to play. What kind of play is it? Is it competitive? Cooperative? Challenging? Silly? Serious? What makes it fun? We call these design goals. The designer(s) made certain decisions to make that happen. As you play the game, can you guess at what those might be? Try and change some of the mechanics and routines to see how it affects gameplay. For instance, is your game turn-based? What happens if everyone can play simultaneously!?

Second, all games have resources. Think about your example game again. What resources does a player in that game have? Money? Pizzas? Lives? What would happen if you removed any of those resources? Reduce the number of a given resource and find out! Now, what happens if you add in additional resources? Grab a few blank cards, draw a picture or write the name of your new resource, and add it to the game. What happens? How does it affect gameplay? Is it more challenging? Longer? More complicated? 

Congratulations, by tweaking a few rules and resources from an existing game, you’ve just become a game designer! Most of game design is making these small changes and paying attention to how it affects the game. 

All you have to do now is figure out an original game you want to make. First, come up with a theme. Take out your blank card and have you and a few friends write out a bunch of weird nouns and/or adjectives on them. Shuffle the deck and start dealing out sets of cards. Surfer Cat Party? Helicopter Parent Dating Simulator? Guacamole Fight? These sound like great ideas to me! Start brainstorming some possible resources and mechanics and try them out, just like you did before. Make changes as you go and your game will get tighter and more fun as you play. Do this process lots of times. Do it forever. Make amazing games and have fun!

About the Author:

Matthew Bethancourt
CTD Program Director and Senior Instructor
University of Colorado, Boulder