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Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals [Hardcover]

Katie Salen
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Nov 2003 0262240459 978-0262240451
As pop culture, games are as important as film or television--but game design has yet to develop a theoretical framework or critical vocabulary. In Rules of Play Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman present a much-needed primer for this emerging field. They offer a unified model for looking at all kinds of games, from board games and sports to computer and video games. As active participants in game culture, the authors have written Rules of Play as a catalyst for innovation, filled with new concepts, strategies, and methodologies for creating and understanding games..Building an aesthetics of interactive systems, Salen and Zimmerman define core concepts like "play," "design," and "interactivity." They look at games through a series of eighteen "game design schemas," or conceptual frameworks, including games as systems of emergence and information, as contexts for social play, as a storytelling medium, and as sites of cultural resistance.Written for game scholars, game developers, and interactive designers, Rules of Play is a textbook, reference book, and theoretical guide. It is the first comprehensive attempt to establish a solid theoretical framework for the emerging discipline of game design.

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Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals + The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses + Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 650 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press (4 Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262240459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262240451
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 20.4 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 231,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

...a monumental examination of the emerging field of games design... -- Guardian, 27 November 2003

About the Author

Katie Salen Tekinbas is Professor in the School of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University and Chief Designer and Researcher at Institute of Play. Eric Zimmerman is a game designer, game design theorist, and co-founder and CEO of gameLab. He has taught at universities including MIT, the University of Texas, Parsons School of Design, New York University, Rhode Island School of Design, and the School of Visual Arts.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment 18 April 2011
By Jakub
Format:Hardcover
I spent several hours choosing a game design book, and from the other reviews I figured thi must be the one. However, I discovered that it reads much more as a theoretical textbook than a practical guide. Mind you - I have a Ph.D. in IT so theory is great, but only when it's actually useful for something.

If you want 7 definitions of "what is a game" and an in-depth discussion about what is a rule and what is not a rule, spiced up by discussing how Tic-Tac-Toe permeates and influences the contemporary culture, you're going to be satisfied. If you wish to learn how to design games, you're also going to learn quite a lot but on the way there you'll have to skip quite a few sections of this hefty tome.

I bought The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses at the same time. Although my focus is not on digital games, the Book of lenses is so much more practical and inspirational that I just have to recommend it, along with Challenges for Game Designers which may not be as inspirational but is all the more practical.

Hope I helped :o)
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive guide to game design 24 Mar 2006
Format:Hardcover
Rules of Play is a mix of a student textbook about games and a practical guide for game designers. It is extremely comprehensive, clear and well written, admirably synthesising a diverse set of perspectives on the ways in which games function. It is structured to allow the reader to dip into particuar areas and read the book in any order. As a designer of games this is by some measure the finest book I've found on the subject.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, broad coverage of design principles 28 Dec 2010
Format:Hardcover
This book is great for anybody wishing to read up on design principles. Some of the ideas discussed within can be applied to areas outside of video game design. As a matter of fact, I used much of this book to write a paper on illustration. I believe that reading this book has enriched my design practice.
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Long winded and aimless 21 Feb 2008
Format:Hardcover
The most irritating thing about this book is it's brilliant presentation (especially the cover), which unfortunately is coupled to a repetitive long winded text which takes ages to get to a point, which it then reiterates eight different ways. As a result the valuable content of this book is simply what is written on each of the chapter summary pages, and much of that is just common sense. Attempts to actually read the main text will simply cause headaches.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
93 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A long overdue book on game design *theory* 23 Aug 2004
By Christopher Weuve - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are very few books about the theory of game design. Most of the books which purport to be about game design theory have titles like _Game Design: Theory and Practice_ [Richard Rouse III: 2001], and focus much more on the latter than the former, usually in the context of commercial computer games. The exceptions to this rule generally approach the subject of game design theory from a particular perspective, e.g., as a communication method or "future's language." [Duke: 1974] So when _Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals_ (by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman) was published by MIT Press in 2004, I took immediate interest.

The book largely lived up to expectations. Weighing in at a hefty 672 pages of relatively small type, this textbook-format tome is, as the title might suggest, heavy on game design theory but light on practice. This makes it a excellent complement to the established game design literature.

Structurally, the book is fairly straightforward and is divided into four major sections: Core Concepts, Rules, Play, and Culture, each of which is capped by an essay or a game design by an established game designer written especially for this volume.

The first section (together with two brief chapters preceeding it) discusses necessary background ideas, defining important terms and presenting concepts to be built upon later. Besides preparing the reader for the next 500 pages, it's in this section that the authors accomplish one of their primary goals of the book: creating a game design vocabulary. Creating such a critical vocabulary, they argue, is an important step towards treating game design as a discipline, because you need such a tool to education game designers, to pass skills and knowledge from one generation of designers to another, to faciliate audience-building by enabling critical discussion of games, and finally as a buffer against criticism, by giving "us" -- a word which takes on new meaning in the last third of the book, when they discuss the various ways players become de facto game designers -- the vocabulary and understanding to defend gaming as an activity from those who would censor it. These points are borrowed from an essay by Henry Jenkins, a media theorist and game scholar who is also the head of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. (As a quick sidebar, this book may be worth buying for the bibliography alone.) Of course, vocabulary is only the start of an effort to establish a "critical discourse for game design." Or, as Salen and Zimmerman explain, "a critical vocabulary lets us talk to each other."

The last three sections of the book form the beginnings of that critical discourse. Each of these sections highlights a specific primary schema ("a conceptual lens we can apply to the analysis or creation of a game"), with most of the chapters in these sections focusing on related lower-level schemas. For example, in the section on the schema "Games as Play," there is a chapter on "Games as Narrative Play," which examines both narrative elements of games and narrative as a result of game play. These schema-based chapters borrow heavily from a wide variety of disciplines, and it is through these schemas that major insights regarding game design can be found. (For instance, the chapter on "Games as the Play of Pleasure" has an interesting discussion of the importance of short-term goals, which serve both to help players make plans in a game, and also provide moments of satisfaction when these goals are reached.) A lot of these insights will not be new to experienced game designers, but what is new is the systematic framework in which the insight is embedded.

Or, more correctly, frameworks. I would argue that this multiple-perspective approach is the book's primary strength. Rather than taking a given theoretical construct and forcing all of "games" into it, it starts with a few core concepts and then generates a plethora of interrelated-but-distinct models with which to examine any game. Any given model may or may not be suited to an individual game -- or, perhaps more accurately, may or may not have the potential to produce new insights -- but as a whole they are a powerful collection of tools. If you have a hammer, the old saying goes, everything looks like a nail. In this case, Salen and Zimmerman have handed the reader a fairly complete toolbox. (Note that I will admit to shoehorning this analogy into place just a little bit. A hammer is construction tool, not an analysis tool; it's job is on the *practical end*, not the theoretical. A better analogy would be a toolbox that contains an MRI machine, a spectrograph, an x-ray machine, a CAT scanner, and a simple camera, but I don't know of any old sayings that use those particular tools.) This comprehensive approach draws on a wide variety of disciplines, from pyschology and literature to software engineering. Within the field of games it casts an equally wide net, drawing examples from computer games, parlor games, Live Action Roleplaying Games, boardgames, professional sports, schoolyard games, and others. It's not unusual for one paragraph to discuss a game like Chutes and Ladders, the next to discuss professional basketball, and a third to discuss Quake. Such a diverse treatment of the subject guarantees that there is always an example available for a type of game the reader is familar with, even if the inevitable result is a little bit of shoehorning of examples. (I remain unconvinced, for example, that Tic Tac Toe is really a "territorial acquisition" game.) There are also plenty of new games to learn about -- for instance, did you know that someone ran a live action PacMan game in New York City? This comprehensiveness extends to the bibliography and footnotes.

Another strength derives directly from one of the goals of the book: the authors are attempting to create a vocabulary. As a result, they are meticulous about defining terms, especially when they are borrowing concepts from other disciplines. This can occasionally be a little tiresome, but in the end it's always worth the effort.

The weaknesses of the book are in many ways mirror images of the strengths -- it's occasionally too theoretical, too comprehensive, and too multi-disciplinary. It tends to wordiness, and occasionally the authors seem to base significant points on what one could argue is a word game, e.g., they draw upon the definition of play as in "loose" ("too much play in the fan belt") when defining the idea of "playing a game" or "game as a form of play." It's a clever little example of creative pseudo-etymology, but I'm not sure that I buy the construct, even if it does seem to offer insight on occasion. (Note that I originally wrote "play on words" rather than "word game.")

One glaring void in this comprehensive approach, ironically, is that the book doesn't really focus on games that are played for reasons other than the pleasure of the participants. Professional military games are mentioned only in passing, large seminar games not at all, and it's probably safe to say that when one thinks of DOD gaming, such concepts as "Games as Cultural Resistance" (chapter 32) are probably not the sort of idea that comes to mind. Indeed, much of the sections on "Play" and "Culture" might seem to be inapplicable to the type of gaming sponsored by DOD, because they do not address the unique reasons as to why military organizations participate in the creation and playing of games.

I think that conclusion would be a mistake. The motivation as to why individuals play DOD games is certainly different than the motivation of your average _Vampire: The Masqerade_ player, but the mechanisms by which a player finds the experience meaningful probably isn't. A bored or alienated player is bored or alienated, regardless of whether he's playing in the latest first-person shooter on his own initiative or Millenium Challenge because he was told to be there. If anything, these issues might be more important in a military games context: Joe Civilian Gamer can simply stop playing DOOM if he gets bored, but gamers that are forced into situations they don't want to be in have a tendency to cease their willing suspension of disbelief ("step outside the magic circle," as Salen and Zimmerman would say) and cause problems for others as well.

So, in short, I think the book is worth the time and the price tag ($50 list), both for game designers in general and professional military game designers in particular.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deep, fundamental treatment of game design 13 Dec 2004
By Derrick Coetzee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First, let me say that if you want to learn to use a technology like DirectX, OpenGL, C++, or Your Favorite Game Engine to build a computer game, this is absolutely not the book for you. Most of its examples don't even come from computer games, although the authors are fully aware of games like Warcraft and Unreal Tournament.

This is a book about *fundamentals of gameplay*, independent of any particular physical realization. It addresses the deep, underlying elements of designing an engaging, effective game, drawing on a variety of social and technical fields. The first unit focuses on defining the properties of effective games and the different "frames" or viewpoints from which they focus on gameplay. The rest of the book focuses on describing games from these viewpoints in a variety of ways by tying them into concepts used in other fields such as probability and semiotics. While one might expect such a drawing together of disparate elements to result in an wandering mishmash, the authors' continuous focus on the application of game design keeps this from occurring.

As for audience, this book does not require a background in mathematics, computer science, sociology, or any of the other areas it draws from; except for an assumed knowledge of various well-known games, it is self-contained. In fact, those with background in these areas may wish to skip a few sections that cover their basics. Just about anyone can read this book and get a lot out of it, although it is a deep treatment and requires careful thought to get the most out of it. Not a quick pleasure read.

It also evidently had a large budget, because it includes a variety of fitting photographs, commissioned games for the book to use, and a commissioned essay.

In short, if you want to learn how to write a game, given a design, this really isn't the book for you. If you want to learn to design your own games and understand gameplay and game design at a much deeper level, there is no substitute for this book.
45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally! A conceptual framework for game design 14 April 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you're looking for a "how to" book on game design, don't buy Rules of Play. It won't tell you how to write a design doc, or how to reward players with powerups, or how to write puzzles, or how to work with technology. There's plenty of books that cover those aspects already (Richard Rouse, Ernest Adams, etc.)
Instead, Rules of Play is all about fundamental game concepts. What are games, really? What are the different models to look at games? Rules of Play gives you an enormous understanding of the actual mechanics of gameplay that no other book has offered to date.
Other reviewers are upset by the fact that this book uses both digital and board games as examples. A lot of them discredit the authors because they haven't designed any games they've heard about. That's pretty shortsighted, and unappreciative of the valuable high-level concepts presented in this book.
A game played with dice might not have Isomorphic Real-Time X-Treme Bloomed Shadowing Effects, but it does have a pureness that will allow you to look at the game undistracted by its superficial elements.
Is John Carmack more qualified to talk about games? If that's what you think, you're probably a programmer at heart -- not a game designer.
64 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE BEST BOOK ON BOARD GAME DESIGN 19 Jan 2004
By K. Sampanthar - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
(NOTE: This is the final review of the book. I wrote preliminary reviews which have since been cleaned up by Amazon; unfortunately it looks like they left my negative review that was submitted to balance my multiple positive reviews.)
The Summary
This is the BEST BOOK ON BOARD GAME DESIGN that I have read and I have read many! The book is well written, it is thorough in its analysis, has references and bibliographies that allow you to explore the authors' research yourself. I had high expectations for this book and that normally leads to being a little disappointed, but this book not only met my high expectations but actually exceeded them! This book isn't for the impatient programmer who just wants to know how to write the next First Person Shooter, or the person who wants to be told some quick methods to come up with new ideas for games. This is for the serious student who wants to really understand game design and what it truly means to design immersive, balanced and compelling game play.
I have been reading and researching game design for over 10 years now. I have been writing computer games for over 20 years. Over the last 4 years I have been researching board games, since discovering the European board games that have been doing so well across the pond, I got hooked and realized that these games were the embodiment of great game design. I decided that to become better at designing computer games I should learn what makes games like Settler's of Catan and Carcassonne so compelling. So for the last few years I have been exploring the theory of game design. Since there wasn't much out on board game design specifically, I read newsgroups, web site articles and the plethora of books coming out on computer game design. I also diversified my research and delved into psychology, mathematics, game theory, and anthropology and information architecture. Well all I can say is that if this book, Rules of Play had been available 10 years ago I would saved myself many years of reading! This book brings together all the different strands of game design, going into the theoretical aspects, delving into board game design from the Landlord game (the earliest form of the Monopoly type game) to Reiner Knizia talking about how he designed Lord of the Rings. It explores computer games from Pong to the recent slew of First Person Shooters. It explores psychology, anthropology, cybernetics, mathematics, probability etc... This has the broadest coverage of topics that relate to game design. If you want to know the fundamental principles behind what makes great games, then you need to understand people and why play and games are important. You need to understand how people think and the underpinnings of why reward schedules works. There are a lot of books out there that refer to reward schedules, flow and game balancing but this is the first one that truly explores the subjects and their roots. I found this book to be amazing. I am of the personality, when I start something I want to learn everything I can about the subject, and this book allowed me to be immersed in game design.
Here is a list of some of the most interesting parts of this book:
- Reiner Knizia - writing about how he designed the Lord of the Rings Board game
- Richard Garfield (Sibling Rivalry), Frank Lantz (Iron Clad), Kira Snyder (Sneak) and James Ernest (Caribbean Star) - design board games for the book and each of them describe how they went about designing. (Note: James Ernest's game Caribbean Star is available as part of a game collection he released from his company Cheapass games - check out "Chief Herman's Next Big Thing" )
- There are game design exercises that students or teachers can use to learn more about each of the concepts. These exercises are split into 3 categories: game creation, game modification and game analysis.
- Complexity, Emergence, self organization as they refer to games
- Probability and Randomness (luck) in games
- Information Theory - uncertainty, noise and redundancy
- Systems of Information - public and private information
- Cybernetics - Feedback loops and game balancing
- Game Theory - Cake division and the prisoner's dilemma
- Conflict and Cooperation
- Interactivity
- Flow - Entrainment, reward schedules, behavior theory and addiction
- Edward De Bono's L Game
- Narrative play - story arcs etc..
- Simulations - games as simulations
- Metagames - the larger social context of games
- Open Source Games - like Icehouse
- Game modifications - Alterations, Juxtapositions, Reinventions
- Blurring the boundary between "real" and "play"
A part of me of wants to keep this book and all these amazing insights that I have read to myself, since then I could have that added advantage. But I know the best way to ratchet up the quality of games is to share information and the game industry as a whole will be improved.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Game Design Fundamentals 10 Dec 2004
By Gabriel Dizon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book will not teach you about game development. That is not its aim. The book aims to give the game designer a framework for analyzing the concepts of "game" and "play", hopefully giving the game designer a more analytical mind when designing games.

For those who complain about the book not being helpful in creating computer games - you're missing the point. There are plenty of books on game development.

This book is not an easy read. It's like going back to school and reading a book mainly focused on theory - you're going to get bored and find it useless unless that's exactly what you're looking for. It contains plenty of references to psychology, anthropology, and philosophy that you may never have encountered before in a game design environment.

But for game designers who wish to have a more analytical mind on their craft, this is the best book available.
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