CMS.608 | Spring 2014 | Undergraduate

Game Design

Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course CMS.608 / CMS.864 Game Design as it was taught by Philip Tan and Richard Eberhardt in Spring 2014.

Students in this course learn the discipline of game design, with an emphasis on iteration. We focus on the design of board and card games because they are quick to develop and are easy to change based on tester feedback, helping students to understand why design iteration is important and how it is useful. The course also provides students with a historical overview of how and why games have been made and played through the ages, with a focus on the advent of industrialized game development over the past 150 years. The course is organized around a series of team projects, supported by lab time, workshops, lectures, readings, and discussions.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

The primary goal is for students to gain an understanding of the discipline of game design: what practices are part of game design, why they are important, and how they are useful for the development of games and other activities. Students also practice other skills important for game development, particularly those required for working in teams, such as management, communication, and organization.

Possibilities for Further Study/Careers

Common next courses include other game development courses taught at MIT, most of which feature video game design as the course work, including CMS.611J Creating Video Games and 11.127J Computer Games and Simulations for Investigation and Education. Non-digital game courses include CMS.617 Advanced Game Studio and CMS.615 Games for Social Change.

This course helps prepare students for design careers, especially careers which involve user experience design, such as game development. Students who take this course are often considering game development as a career option, be it working for a large game studio or publisher, starting their own company, or applying game design principles to other disciplines.

Instructor Interview

In the following pages, Philip Tan and Richard Eberhardt describe various aspects of how they teach CMS.608 Game Design.

Curriculum Information


One subject in Comparative Media Studies or permission of instructor.

Requirements Satisfied

  • HASS-A
  • HASS elective


Every spring


The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 25% Attendance, preparedness, and participation in class
  • 75% Three team projects (25% each)

Instructor Insights on Assessment

Philip Tan and Rik Eberhardt describe their strategies for assessing learning in the Assessment Design section of Instructor Insights.

Student Information


16 students

Breakdown by Year

3/8 Sophomores, 1/4 Juniors, 1/4 Seniors, 1/8 Graduate students

Breakdown by Major

Many Electrical Engineering and Computer Science majors, a few math majors, and students from mechanical engineering, biology, chemical engineering, management, and the humanities.

Typical Student Background

Most of the students had an interest in games when they started the course – some in video games, some in board and tabletop games. Their interests tended to be narrow and focused on particular genres or styles of games.

Enrollment Cap 

Enrollment for the course is limited to about twenty-five students. The cap is largely due to the capacity and features of the room we are normally able to secure for the class. The class requires a lot of flat surfaces and movable tables. We also need the classroom to be close to the Game Lab because of the large amount of materials we bring from the lab for each class session, such as multiple boxes of prototyping supplies (paper, markers, index cards, counters, etc.) and copies of board games.

Ideal Class Size 

The ideal size for the course is about 20 students – any larger and we lose the seminar feel of the course, requiring breakout sessions to make sure everyone contributes to discussions.

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In Class / Lecture

  • Met 2 times per week for 3 hours per session; 26 sessions total; mandatory attendance.
  • Lecture lasted between 30 minutes to 1 hour, generally based on topics from the readings assigned for that day.
  • Three days were set aside for guest lectures. One was a two-person panel with professional board game developers who described how and with whom they worked. The other two were presentations given by game studies academics, both of whom research game developers and game players. The goal was to help students understand possible career and education paths in the discipline of game design.
  • After each lecture, we ran a short discussion session linking reading back to the lecture material. This usually lasted 20-30 minutes.
  • Each project ended with a 5-minute oral presentation and demonstration of students’ games.

In Class / Lab

  • Half of the class sessions were game labs, during which students played sets of games relevant to the course. Students enrolled for graduate credit were required to learn the rules of the prescribed games ahead of each lab session and to be ready to teach the games to the rest of the class.
  • The last 2 hours of class each day were devoted to team workshops. One hour was devoted to playing commercial, off-the-shelf games that connected back to the lecture and discussion sessions. Students spent the other hour working in teams on their own projects.
  • In the middle of each project, 2 class periods (specifically, 2 of the 2-hour workshop times) were devoted to playtesting students’ games. Student teams played other teams’ games and provided feedback on usability, balance, and fun.
  • For each project, students brainstormed possible game ideas as an entire class. These brainstorms were then discussed and individuals within the class pitched ideas and formed teams around these ideas.

Out of Class

  • Students completed readings outside of class. The readings were selected to provide historical context for the design, play, and production of games, as well as to provide students with a deeper understanding of specific approaches to conceptualizing game design.
  • The course was organized around three team game design projects. While some class time was set aside for groups to work and playtest, the bulk of design and development took place out of class.

Course Team Roles

Lead Instructor (Philip Tan)

MIT Game Lab Research Scientist Philip Tan was the lead instructor for this course. He has been teaching game design for 10 years at MIT. Philip was responsible for selecting the readings and facilitating most lectures and discussions. Instructors shared responsibility for grading and assessment.

Instructor (Richard Eberhardt)

Rik Eberhardt, MIT Game Lab Studio Manager, assisted Philip during this current captured year. Rik was responsible for managing in-class lab sessions, during which students played both commercial off-the-shelf games and conducted playtests of their own games. Instructors shared responsibility for grading and assessment.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Audio
Design Assignments with Examples
Instructor Insights