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Design & Style

The Fundamentals of Game Design

Will Wright

Lesson time 15:15 min

Meet your new instructor: Will Wright, visionary game designer behind The Sims. In your first lesson, you’ll learn the core tenets of Will’s multidisciplinary game design process.

Will Wright
Teaches Game Design and Theory
Collaboration, prototyping, playtesting. The Sims creator Will Wright breaks down his process for designing games that unleash player creativity.


All of us are set in our own little world view. We think we see the big picture, but we all see a little slice of the world surrounding the lens. I would like to imagine that people have the opportunity to see a much wider set of perspectives on the world, and that games might be the mechanism, the vehicle brings that to them. We can take almost anything and make it a fascinating interactive experience. What I'm really doing is, I'm giving the player a toy, and the player is turning it into a game. Every designer has the opportunity to create something incredibly unique. At the same time, every designer faces the risk of creating something that no one will be able to understand. As a designer, you're actually dealing with two computers. First, the electronic one, sitting on the table in front of you. But more importantly, the player's imagination, the player's brain. And that one is far more complex, and we have barely scratched the surface of it. During the course of this class, I'm going to expose you to a number of kind of fundamental concepts about game design. Basically psychology of the player, the mental modeling that goes on; how to use game mechanics as part of your tool set, and how to develop your tool set as a designer; how to think about the overall structure of what's going on underneath the hood; how to build emergence, surprise, cool, detailed worlds; and to try to predict what's going to motivate players of your games and pull them in, and get them emotionally involved to the point where they get into communities that are built up around these. And so there are many different levels of game design, and we're going to kind of start with the fundamentals and work our way outwards towards larger and larger more strategic levels of thinking around it. Every designer is unique in some way, and my games have tended to be very specific in terms of real world simulations generally-- games that tend to encourage player creativity, player storytelling. There are a lot of other approaches to game design. But I think a lot of the fundamentals that I'll be talking about in this class are going to be things that can apply to any genre of game. And I think by going down to that fundamental level, it's going to give you a lot more opportunities to kind of come up with creative inspiration to bring in new approaches, new ideas. Basically, how to amplify your own internal creativity in ways that are coming from a fundamental level rather than just the feature level. I'm Will Wright, and this is a simulation-- a simulation-- a simulation-- of my MasterClass. So you're probably watching this because you have an interest in games. But what are games? We all know what games are. We play games. More recently with electronic devices, games have taken a totally different kind of turn and gotten much more elaborate, more ubiquitous in our lives, I think. But games really are something that have been around for thousands of years. Different...

Explore the Possibility Space

Learn the art and science of game design with Will Wright, the mind behind SimCity and The Sims. In this game design class, Will teaches you how to create games that empower players and unleash their imagination. You’ll develop a tool set for understanding player psychology, as well as learn Will’s approach to generating and pitching ideas, prototyping, playtesting, and building a community.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I've learned that even small, unconventional changes and discoveries can have a major effect on the outcome of your design and player experience. This was such an intriguing course, filled to the brim with useful information. Thank you, Will!

It has unlocked the doors to the game design. Now, I can know where I am going with the tools that I just learned. Thank you for this amazing class.

Very real presentation; not trying to "sell" a method. You can tell Will has nothing to prove and is simply sharing his knowledge with others.

This was really helpful in order to improve my fundamentals towards game design. I've followed the exercises and adapt them to the prototype I'm building. It's hard to reach professional people that you actually admire and I've really felt mentored by Will . The results of his courses are already activable not only from an abstract perspective but in process and dynamics.


Magnetar S.

Hi! he workbook mentions that there's a GDD template "with headings and subheadings" (pag 3/64) but the link directs me to the user profile page here at Masterclass. Is it possible to access the document somethow?


I have to confess, I thought this class was about economics! However, as a teacher who now has to teach remotely, I can use ideas that will help me carve out my virtual teaching space. It's challenging to create materials/ work that is interesting and able to draw in students. Game architecture is all about hooking and gratifying the player and now I have to be able to do the same within a virtual classroom. What is lacking is the social connection, even though we meet as a classroom through google meet, it's still not the same. It's very difficult to connect socially. I am a special education teacher - most of my students are autistic - so the social piece is a critical part of their education. I am trying to reestablish our social community online but I am not sure how successful I have been. The problem is, pre-made constructs don't work. It has to be unique to us - a space that is created that allows unique individuals to interact in an authentic way and due to privacy concerns we are only allowed to use google classroom. Still learning everyday.

Mike E.

I find it interesting how knowing different subjects such as philosophy, history, psychology create a better game. For my students, I would encourage them to research certain subjects such as mythology, or learn about the Amazon to make a better game.

A fellow student

I was already familiar with Will Wright through playing his games, and it was a treat to take his class. I found the entire class informative and more importantly, inspirational.

A fellow student

First lesson, and I can report that I am hooked. This was a great insight to a possible career avenue I have been considering.


Hmm, yes creativity is a big thing for something like Spore. But there is something I suddenly remember about Spore; a path that is uncommon for players to take. The Grox species living in the center of the game's galaxy can actually become your ally, which makes most if not all other species in the galaxy your enemies. You can still finish the game by going into the core, but that presumably doesn't change the fact that the most hostile alien species in the galaxy is your friend. I found this to be an unexpected feature in the space stage. I think when it comes to expanding interactivity and analyzing the extent of what players can do, the surprises end up fueling new possibilities. Dark Souls is definitely not easy, but ends up being one of the most influential approached I've seen the past decade. The Mario Battle Royale game, which lasted only a few days before Nintendo DMCA'ed the heck out of it, was truly an innovative approach to a mario-like sidescroller that complements the battle royale design.


"You can take almost anything and make it a fascinating interactive experience," and he couldn't be more true. Lucas Pope the designer and developer of Papers Please actually came up with the idea for the game because he had to live in Singapore for a year to work on a game. During this time he made many visits to and from America, during this time he got inspiration to make a game about inspecting passports. Thus, Papers Please was born.

A fellow student

Funny that just after watching this lesson, where Will reminds us that we as players make up our own definitions of a win, I happened across and article describing how somebody made a calculator that adds and multiplies; they built it out of roller coasters in Roller Coaster Tycoon 2...

Mia S.

"You can take almost any technology that we have and view it as an extension of the human body. Television, telescope, our eyes, our vision. Telephone, our speech. Car really kind of extends our legs. If somebody hits your car, you don't say, 'My car was hit,' you say, 'Somebody hit me while I was driving.' The car becomes me, it becomes an extension of your body. I think that computers and games and things we're dealing with on the entertainment side can extend a lot of these in a lot of ways. When I was watching players play 'The Sims' initially, it was like, 'He was hungry, then he did this, that,' and they very smoothly shifted to, 'Then I got tired and went to bed, then I woke up.' They shifted from 'he' to 'I' very smoothly. We now, with these little microworlds, have the ability to basically externalize what's in our imagination and share it with other people. Used to be that you had to have a very rich skillset - had to be a fine artist - to do that, to paint something in your imagination and then share it with other people. But now with these tools, the creative leverage they give us, average, casual game players have the ability to externalize, create things of their imagination, share it with other players, and actually have these shared imaginary worlds. In 'Spore,' we actually had all these editors where the players were making cool things; in some of the levels, the design of your creature really influenced the way you would play that creature in the world, its performance. Other parts of it, like designing your spaceship, didn't have a whole lot to do with the performance of the spaceship, it was purely aesthetic. But people would spend just as much time crafting this very unique thing that was part of their player identity in the game - and as they were playing in the space level, they were front and foreground all the time with this spaceship, and so they really felt like that was them. When you get to the space phase, there are actually millions of planet you can go to, and we could never create millions of creatures, so we decided that every time a player made a creature, it would go up to our server and we would use it to populate everybody else's world. We were hoping to get maybe 100,000 of these creatures in the first months after we'd uploaded the creature editor; instead, it was so popular, we got a million in the first week. In fact, we passed five or six million in the first month, which is more than the number of species on Earth. So it was kind of extraordinary, how much players embraced that. Basically, we were turning the average player into a Pixar artist - they were able to create a brand new character out of their imagination and have it come to life. I think that's one of the examples of the computer giving creative leverage - a creative amplifier. And a lot of people are using computers for different creative fields, but same thing - it's a creative amplifier for everything they do,"

Mia S.

"One of my design heroes is Charles Eames. Charles and Ray Eames were a design team, husband and wife; he had a great quote, which is simply that 'design is constraint.' Design really is, How do you work around constraint? Without constraint, there's no design, it's just pure imagination. To be a good designer, you have to embrace that constraint; say, 'Okay, within this constraint, what can I do that's really cool?' That constraint is really going to become your foundation - it's going to be, 'Here is my starting point, and within that constraint I was able to do this.' The consrtaint could be the technology in front of you - how fast the processor, the graphics; but the constraint can also be, What does my player know? What kind of skills do they have? Where does their imagination take them?' Those are constraints just as well, and the more you understand your constraints, the more you can now use that as your starting point to go off and do something really cool that nobody else has done against those same constraints. In a competitive game, usually with two players, there's a concept of a zero-sum game, which is that if a player wins, he gets a positive 1, the losing player gets a negative 1. If it's a tie, they both get 0. So basically, the sum of the two players is always zero - either I won, you lost, or it was a tie. So you can't have two winners or two losers out of a two-player game. A non-zero-sum game, you can - both people can win. The kind of games I do are not zero-sum games at all; in fact, most of the things I do don't even really have a clear win state. When you play something like 'Sim City' or 'The Sims,' what actually I found very interesting was to leave it to the player to define the goal state. When a person sits down to play 'Sim City,' I don't tell them they have to build the biggest city or have the happiest people or the least crime; players in their own mind decide that. They think, 'Okay, what is my ideal city?' and they try to build that. So the player is actually the one building the rule set and the structure, and the player is the one scoring it. I'm really just kind of giving them an open-ended toy. And then you get a lot of kind of interesting different play styles - certain players trying to achieve things, other players don't even really try to achieve anything at all, but try to use it for creative storytelling or creativity. A lot of people were playing 'Spore,' not really trying to get through all the levels, but trying to just make really cool things within the game that they would then go out and share with other players. So for them, the win state was more social - 'Can I make something really cool in this game, maybe even just tell a story that other people really like?' I think games have the opportunity to go way beyond just this zero-sum approach."