2nd Edition

The Art of Game Design
A Book of Lenses, Second Edition

  • This version cannot be shipped to your selected country.
ISBN 9781466598645
Published November 6, 2014 by A K Peters/CRC Press
600 Pages - 147 B/W Illustrations

USD $69.95

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

Good game design happens when you view your game from as many perspectives as possible. Written by one of the world's top game designers, The Art of Game Design presents 100+ sets of questions, or different lenses, for viewing a game’s design, encompassing diverse fields such as psychology, architecture, music, visual design, film, software engineering, theme park design, mathematics, puzzle design, and anthropology. This Second Edition of a Game Developer Front Line Award winner:

  • Describes the deepest and most fundamental principles of game design
  • Demonstrates how tactics used in board, card, and athletic games also work in top-quality video games
  • Contains valuable insight from Jesse Schell, the former chair of the International Game Developers Association and award-winning designer of Disney online games

The Art of Game Design, Second Edition gives readers useful perspectives on how to make better game designs faster. It provides practical instruction on creating world-class games that will be played again and again.

Table of Contents

Table of Lenses



In the Beginning, There Is the Designer

Magic Words

What Skills Does a Game Designer Need?

The Most Important Skill

The Five Kinds of Listening

The Secret of the Gifted

Other Reading to Consider

The Designer Creates an Experience

The Game Is Not the Experience

Is This Unique to Games?

Three Practical Approaches to Chasing Rainbows




Introspection: Powers, Perils, and Practice

Peril #1: Introspection Can Lead to False Conclusions about Reality

Peril #2: What Is True of My Experiences May Not Be True for Others

Dissect Your Feelings

Defeating Heisenberg

Analyze Memories

Two Passes

Sneak Glances

Observe Silently

Essential Experience

All That’s Real Is What You Feel

The Experience Takes Place in a Venue

The Shifting Sands of Platform

Private Venues

The Hearth

The Workbench

The Reading Nook

Public Venues

The Theater

The Arena

The Museum

Half Private/Half Public Venues

The Gaming Table

The Playground


Venues Mixed and Matched

Other Reading to Consider

The Experience Rises Out of a Game

A Rant about Definitions

So What Is a Game?

No, Seriously, What Is a Game?

Problem Solving 101

The Fruits of Our Labor

Other Reading to Consider

The Game Consists of Elements

What Are Little Games Made Of?

The Four Basic Elements

Skin and Skeleton

The Elements Support a Theme

Mere Games

Unifying Themes


Back to Reality

Other Reading to Consider

The Game Begins with an Idea


State the Problem

How to Sleep

Your Silent Partner

Subconscious Tip #1: Pay Attention

Subconscious Tip #2: Record Your Ideas

Subconscious Tip #3: Manage Its Appetites (Judiciously)

Subconscious Tip #4: Sleep

Subconscious Tip #5: Don’t Push Too Hard

A Personal Relationship

Sixteen Nitty-Gritty Brainstorming Tips

Brainstorm Tip #1: The Write Answer

Brainstorm Tip #2: Write or Type?

Brainstorm Tip #3: Sketch

Brainstorm Tip #4: Toys

Brainstorm Tip #5: Change Your Perspective

Brainstorm Tip #6: Immerse Yourself

Brainstorm Tip #7: Crack Jokes

Brainstorm Tip #8: Spare No Expense

Brainstorm Tip #9: The Writing on the Wall

Brainstorm Tip #10: The Space Remembers

Brainstorm Tip #11: Write Everything

Brainstorm Tip #12: Number Your Lists

Brainstorm Tip #13: Destroy Your Assumptions

Brainstorm Tip #14: Mix and Match Categories

Brainstorm Tip #15: Talk to Yourself

Brainstorm Tip #16: Find a Partner

Look At All These Ideas! Now What?

Other Reading to Consider

The Game Improves through Iteration

Choosing an Idea

The Eight Filters

The Rule of the Loop

A Short History of Software Engineering

Danger—Waterfall—Keep Back

Barry Boehm Loves You

The Agile Manifesto

Risk Assessment and Prototyping

Example: Prisoners of Bubbleville

Prisoners of Bubbleville: Design Brief

Ten Tips for Productive Prototyping

Prototyping Tip #1: Answer a Question

Prototyping Tip #2: Forget Quality

Prototyping Tip #3: Don’t Get Attached

Prototyping Tip #4: Prioritize Your Prototypes

Prototyping Tip #5: Parallelize Prototypes Productively

Prototyping Tip #6: It Doesn’t Have to Be Digital

Tetris: A Paper Prototype

Halo: A Paper Prototype

Prototyping Tip #7: It Doesn’t Have to Be Interactive

Prototyping Tip #8: Pick a "Fast Loop" Game Engine

Prototyping Tip #9: Build the Toy First

Prototyping Tip #10: Seize Opportunities for More Loops

Closing the Loop

Loop 1: "New Racing" Game

Loop 2: "Racing Subs" Game

Loop 3: "Flying Dinos" Game

How Much Is Enough?

Your Secret Fuel

Other Reading to Consider

The Game Is Made for a Player

Einstein’s Violin

Project Yourself


The Medium Is the Misogynist?

Five Things Males Like to See in Games

Five Things Females Like to See in Games


LeBlanc’s Taxonomy of Game Pleasures

Bartle’s Taxonomy of Player Types

More Pleasure: MORE!

Other Reading to Consider

The Experience Is in the Player’s Mind





Other Reading to Consider

The Player’s Mind Is Driven by the Player’s Motivation


And More Needs

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Wanna vs. Hafta



Other Reading to Consider

Some Elements Are Game Mechanics

Mechanic 1: Space

Nested Spaces

Zero Dimensions

Mechanic 2: Time

Discrete and Continuous Time

Clocks and Races

Controlling Time

Mechanic 3: Objects, Attributes, and States


Mechanic 4: Actions

Emergent Gameplay

Mechanic 5: Rules

Parlett’s Rule Analysis




The Most Important Rule

Wrapping Up Rules

Mechanic 6: Skill

Real vs. Virtual Skills

Enumerating Skills

Mechanic 7: Chance

Invention of Probability

Ten Rules of Probability Every Game Designer Should Know

Rule #1: Fractions Are Decimals Are Percents

Rule #2: Zero to One—and That’s It!

Rule #3: "Looked For" Divided By "Possible Outcomes" Equals Probability

Rule #4: Enumerate!

Rule #5: In Certain Cases, OR Means Add

Rule #6: In Certain Cases, AND Means Multiply

Rule #7: One Minus "Does" = "Doesn’t"

Rule #8: The Sum of Multiple Linear Random Selections is NOT a Linear Random Selection!

Rule #9: Roll the Dice

Rule #10: Geeks Love Showing Off (Gombaud’s Law)

Expected Value

Consider Values Carefully

Human Element

Skill and Chance Get Tangled

Other Reading to Consider

Game Mechanics Must Be in Balance

The Twelve Most Common Types of Game Balance

Balance Type #1: Fairness

Symmetrical Games

Asymmetrical Games

Biplane Battle

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Balance Type #2: Challenge vs. Success

Balance Type #3: Meaningful Choices


Balancing Type #4: Skill vs. Chance

Balancing Type #5: Head vs. Hands

Balance Type #6: Competition vs. Cooperation

Balance Type #7: Short vs. Long

Balance Type #8: Rewards

Balance Type #9: Punishment

Balance Type #10: Freedom vs. Controlled Experience

Balance Type #11: Simple vs. Complex

Natural vs. Artificial Balancing



Balance Type #12: Detail vs. Imagination

Game Balancing Methodologies

Balancing Game Economies

Dynamic Game Balancing

The Big Picture

Other Reading to Consider

Game Mechanics Support Puzzles

The Puzzle of Puzzles

Aren’t Puzzles Dead?

Good Puzzles

Puzzle Principle #1: Make the Goal Easily Understood

Puzzle Principle #2: Make It Easy to Get Started

Puzzle Principle #3: Give a Sense of Progress

Puzzle Principle #4: Give a Sense of Solvability

Puzzle Principle #5: Increase Difficulty Gradually

Puzzle Principle #6: Parallelism Lets the Player Rest

Puzzle Principle #7: Pyramid Structure Extends Interest

Puzzle Principle #8: Hints Extend Interest

Puzzle Principle #9: Give the Answer!

Puzzle Principle #10: Perceptual Shifts Are a Double-Edged Sword

A Final Piece

Other Reading to Consider

Players Play Games through an Interface

Between Yin and Yang

Breaking It Down

The Loop of Interaction



Channels of Information

Step 1: List and Prioritize Information

Step 2: List Channels

Step 3: Map Information to Channels

Step 4: Review Use of Dimensions


Mode Tip #1: Use as Few Modes as Possible

Mode Tip #2: Avoid Overlapping Modes

Mode Tip #3: Make Different Modes Look as Different as Possible

Other Interface Tips

Interface Tip #1: Steal

Interface Tip #2: Customize

Interface Tip #3: Design around Your Physical Interface

Interface Tip #4: Theme Your Interface

Interface Tip #5: Sound Maps to Touch

Interface Tip #6: Balance Options and Simplicity with Layers

Interface Tip #7: Use Metaphors

Interface Tip #8: If It Looks Different, It Should Act Different

Interface Tip #9: Test, Test, Test!

Interface Tip #10: Break the Rules to Help Your Player

Other Reading to Consider

Experiences Can Be Judged by Their Interest Curves

My First Lens

Interest Curves

Patterns inside Patterns

What Comprises Interest?

Factor 1: Inherent Interest

Factor 2: Poetry of Presentation

Factor 3: Projection

Interest Factor Examples

Putting It All Together

Other Reading to Consider

One Kind of Experience Is the Story

Story/Game Duality

Myth of Passive Entertainment

The Dream

The Reality

Real-World Method 1: The String of Pearls

Real-World Method 2: The Story Machine

The Problems

Problem #1: Good Stories Have Unity

Problem #2: The Combinatorial Explosion

Problem #3: Multiple Endings Disappoint

Problem #4: Not Enough Verbs

Problem #5: Time Travel Makes Tragedy Obsolete

The Dream Reborn

Story Tips for Game Designers

Story Tip #1: Goals, Obstacles, and Conflicts

Story Tip #2: Make It Real

Story Tip #3: Provide Simplicity and Transcendence

Story Tip #4: Consider the Hero’s Journey

Vogler’s Synopsis of the Hero’s Journey

Story Tip #5: Put Your Story to Work!

Story Tip #6: Keep Your Story World Consistent

Story Tip #7: Make Your Story World Accessible

Story Tip #8: Use Clichés Judiciously

Story Tip #9: Sometimes a Map Brings a Story to Life

Other Reading to Consider

Story and Game Structures Can Be Artfully Merged with Indirect Control

The Feeling of Freedom

Indirect Control Method #1: Constraints

Indirect Control Method #2: Goals

Indirect Control Method #3: Interface

Indirect Control Method #4: Visual Design

Indirect Control Method #5: Characters

Indirect Control Method #6: Music


Other Reading to Consider

Stories and Games Take Place in Worlds

Transmedia Worlds

The Power of Pokemon

Properties of Transmedia Worlds

Transmedia Worlds Are Powerful

Transmedia Worlds Are Long Lived

Transmedia Worlds Evolve over Time

What Successful Transmedia Worlds Have in Common

Worlds Contain Characters

The Nature of Game Characters

Novel Characters

Movie Characters

Game Characters


The Ideal Form

The Blank Slate

Creating Compelling Game Characters

Character Tip #1: List Character Functions

Character Tip #2: Define and Use Character Traits

Character Tip #3: Use the Interpersonal Circumplex

Character Tip #4: Make a Character Web






Character Tip #5: Use Status

Character Tip #6: Use the Power of the Voice

Character Tip #7: Use the Power of the Face

Character Tip #8: Powerful Stories Transform Characters

Character Tip #9: Let Your Characters Surprise Us

Character Tip #10: Avoid the Uncanny Valley

Other Reading to Consider

Worlds Contain Spaces

The Purpose of Architecture

Organizing Your Game Space

A Word about Landmarks

Christopher Alexander Is a Genius

Alexander’s Fifteen Properties of Living Structures

Real vs. Virtual Architecture

Know How Big

Third-Person Distortion

Level Design

Other Reading to Consider

The Look and Feel of a World Is Defined by Its Aesthetics

Monet Refuses the Operation

The Value of Aesthetics

Learning to See

How to Let Aesthetics Guide Your Design

How Much Is Enough?

Use Audio

Balancing Art and Technology

Other Reading to Consider

Some Games Are Played with Other Players

We Are Not Alone

Why We Play with Others

Other Reading to Consider

Other Players Sometimes Form Communities

More than Just Other Players

Ten Tips for Strong Communities

Community Tip #1: Foster Friendships

Community Tip #2: Put Conflict at the Heart

Community Tip #3: Use Architecture to Shape your Community

Community Tip #4: Create Community Property

Community Tip #5: Let Players Express Themselves

Community Tip #6: Support Three Levels

Community Tip #7: Force Players to Depend on Each Other

Community Tip #8: Manage Your Community

Community Tip #9: Obligation to Others Is Powerful

Community Tip #10: Create Community Events

The Challenge of Griefing

The Future of Game Communities

Other Reading to Consider

The Designer Usually Works with a Team

The Secret of Successful Teamwork

If You Can’t Love the Game, Love the Audience

Designing Together

Team Communication

Other Reading to Consider

The Team Sometimes Communicates through Documents

The Myth of the Game Design Document

The Purpose of Documents



Types of Game Documents







So, Where Do I Start?

Other Reading to Consider

Good Games Are Created through Playtesting


My Terrible Secret

Playtest Question the First: Why?

Playtest Question the Second: Who?

Playtest Question the Third: Where?

Playtest Question the Fourth: What?

The First What: Things You Know You Are Looking For

The Second What: Things You Don’t Know You Are Looking For

Playtest Question the Fifth: How?

Should You Even Be There?

What Do You Tell Them Up Front?

Where Do You Look?

What Other Data Should You Collect During Play?

Will I Disturb the Players Midgame?

What Data Will I Collect after the Play Session?



Other Reading to Consider

The Team Builds a Game with Technology

Technology, At Last

Foundational vs. Decorational

Mickey’s First Cartoon


Sonic the Hedgehog



Ragdoll Physics

The Touch Revolution

The Hype Cycle

The Innovator’s Dilemma

The Law of Divergence

The Singularity

Look into Your Crystal Ball

Other Reading to Consider

Your Game Will Probably Have a Client

Who Cares What the Client Thinks?

Coping with Bad Suggestions

Not That Rock

The Three Layers of Desire

Firenze, 1498

Other Reading to Consider

The Designer Gives the Client a Pitch

Why Me?

A Negotiation of Power

The Hierarchy of Ideas

Twelve Tips for a Successful Pitch

Pitch Tip #1: Get in the Door

Pitch Tip #2: Show You Are Serious

Pitch Tip #3: Be Organized

Pitch Tip #4: Be Passionate!!!!!

Pitch Tip #5: Assume Their Point of View

Pitch Tip #6: Design the Pitch

Pitch Tip #7: Know All the Details

Pitch Tip #8: Exude Confidence

Pitch Tip #9: Be Flexible

Pitch Tip #10: Rehearse

Pitch Tip #11: Get Them to Own It

Pitch Tip #12: Follow Up

Hey, What about Kickstarter?

Other Reading to Consider

The Designer and Client Want the Game to Make a Profit

Love and Money

Know Your Business Model


Direct Download

Free to Play

Know Your Competition

Know Your Audience

Learn the Language

General Game Business Terms

Free to Play Business Terms

Know the Top Sellers

The Importance of Barriers

Other Reading to Consider

Games Transform Their Players

How Do Games Change Us?

Can Games Be Good For You?

Emotional Maintenance




Giving the Brain What It Wants


Problem Solving

Systems of Relationships

New Insights


Creating Teachable Moments

Transformational Games

Transformational Tip #1: Define Your Transformation

Transformational Tip #2: Find Great Subject Matter Experts

Transformational Tip #3: What Does the Instructor Need?

Transformational Tip #4: Don’t Do Too Much

Transformational Tip #5: Assess Transformation Appropriately

Transformational Tip #6: Choose the Right Venue

Transformational Tip #7: Accept the Realities of the Market

Can Games Be Bad For You?




Other Reading to Consider

Designers Have Certain Responsibilities

The Danger of Obscurity

Being Accountable

Your Hidden Agenda

The Secret Hidden in Plain Sight

The Ring

Other Reading to Consider

Each Designer Has a Purpose

The Deepest Theming





View More



Jesse Schell is distinguished professor of the practice of entertainment technology for Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a joint master's program between Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts and School of Computer Science, where he teaches game design and leads several research projects. He is also CEO of Schell Games, LLC, an independent game studio in Pittsburgh. Formerly he was creative director of the Walt Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio and chairman of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). Schell worked as a designer, programmer, and manager on several projects for Disney theme parks and DisneyQuest. He received his undergraduate degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and master's degree in information networking from Carnegie Mellon. In 2004, he was named as one of the World's 100 Top Young Innovators by MIT's Technology Review.


"… a solid pick and a ‘must’ for any collection looking for an in-depth, fundamental textbook on how to design and work with games."
Midwest Book Review, March 2015

Game Nite’s Editors’ Choice
"… this book is considered by many to be the ‘bible’ of game design. … Much of the material has been updated … the introduction to probability … is a must read for aspiring game designers … engaging and thought provoking … a substantial book for someone looking to get serious about game design. … the cards are brilliant and a joy to keep on your desk and pull one or more out and see how they relate to your current design. … Highly recommended."
Game Nite, Issue 2, 2015

"I could not think of a better name for this work because game design isn’t a skillset, it’s a Tao: a way of looking at the world. This was perhaps the most important thing that Jesse ever taught me. It is the principle lesson of this book. … The things you will learn here are universally applicable. … Each section individually is a lens and tool in your designer’s tool belt but, taken as a whole, they form a system of thinking that will allow you to tackle problems well beyond their scope. … this book trains you to think as a designer …"
—James Portnow, Game Designer, CEO of Rainmaker Games, and Writer of Extra Credits

Praise for the First Edition:

Winner of a 2008 Game Developer Front Line Award

"This book was clearly designed, not just written, and is an entire course in how to be a game designer. … The book is also intensely practical, giving some of the best advice on how to harness your own subconscious I’ve ever read, as well as short and useful descriptions of probability theory for non-mathematicians, how to diagram interest curves, working with a team, and dozens of other topics. It is simply the best text I’ve seen that really addresses what a designer should know, and then actually gives practical advice about how to gain that knowledge through life experience. It’s a marvelous tour de force and an essential part of anyone’s game design library."
—Noah Falstein, Gamasutra.com from Game Developer Magazine

"… a good book that teaches the craft of game design in an accessible manner. … The text goes just deep enough to give you practical insight into how the key concepts might be useful without becoming wordy. … If you are looking for a competent introduction to game design, this book is a good place to start."
—Daniel Cook, Gamasutra.com, February 2009

"As indicated by its title, Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses uses many different perspectives (the titular lenses), which each prompt their own important questions, ranging from ‘What problems does my game ask the players to solve?’ to ‘What does beauty mean within the context of my game?’ These distinct points are interwoven throughout a step-by-step analysis of the design process that begins with the designer and his or her basic idea, and builds successfully from there. As with Rules of Play, the wealth of information presented by The Art of Game Design may seem daunting at first, but Schell’s agreeable voice eases the reader into a series of invaluable angles we can (and should) use to evaluate what we play."

"Easily the most comprehensive, practical book I’ve ever seen on game design."
—Will Wright, Designer of The Sims, SimCity, and Spore

"Jesse has lovingly crafted a great resource for both aspiring developers as well as seasoned gaming industry veterans. I highly recommend this book."
—Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski, CEO Boss Key and Former Design Director for Epic Games

"Inspiring and practical for both veterans and beginners."
—Bob Bates, Game Designer and Co-Founder of Legend Entertainment

"Jesse Schell’s new book, The Art of Game Design, is a marvelous introduction to game design by a true master of the form. Schell is the rarest of creatures: a gifted teacher who is also a talented and successful current game designer. This book reflects Jesse’s skill at presenting information clearly and coherently, and the knowledge he has acquired as a master game designer. I have already referenced this book while preparing lectures and classes in the U.S., Germany, and New Zealand, and recommend it as an invaluable aid for anyone interested in game design. The Art of Game Design is a pitch-perfect blend of valuable knowledge and insights with an informal and compelling presentation. The sections on harnessing the creative power of the subconscious mind are particularly insightful and delightfully written. It is immediately clear that Jesse Schell not only knows the theory behind what he writes about; he has also put it to use many times and honed his techniques to perfection. A must-read for anyone interested in interactive design, and even the creative process in general."
—Noah Falstein, Chief Game Designer, Google

"The Art of Game Design describes precisely how to build a game the world will love and elegantly crank it through the realities of clients and publishers. It draws wisdom from Disneyland to Michelangelo, gradually assembling a supply of concrete game design rules and subtle psychological tricks that actually work in surprising ways. It is fertilizer for the subconscious: keep a stack of Post-it notes nearby to record all the game ideas that will sprout out of your own head while reading."
—Kyle Gabler, Game Designer and Founder of 2D Boy, Makers of World of Goo

"He embodies a tradition of reconciling diverse disciplines, extending the possibilities of each and creating new theories and opportunities for both industry and academia. Jesse is like the Einstein of entertainment."
—Mk Haley, Walt Disney Research

"Packed with Jesse’s real-world experience and humorous insight, The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses is a tool chest crossed with a kaleidoscope. Both fantastical and practical, methodical and wonder-full, this book and deck will have you looking at and dreaming up games with a fresh vision. Like a chemistry set for making mental explosions, it’s an idea(l) book guiding the design process for both new and seasoned game designers. In short, using Jesse’s book is FUN."
—Heather Kelley, Artist and Game Designer

"The Art of Game Design is one of a handful of books I continuously reference during production. Whether you’re just starting out or looking for ways to approach your design from a fresh perspective, this book is a must for your library."
—Neil Druckmann, Creative Director on The Last of Us at Naughty Dog

"On games industry desks, books tend to come and go, but they all seem to go on top of Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design, because that’s the one book that seems to stick around."
—Jason VandenBerghe, Creative Director, Ubisoft

"Ken Rolston, internationally celebrated game designer, recommends Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design both for smart people and for people who are learning how to be smart."
—Ken Rolston, Director of Design, Turbine