Business of Game Design usc school of Cinematic Arts, ctin 456

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Business of Game Design

USC School of Cinematic Arts, CTIN 456
Instructors: Chris Swain, Dan Arey, and Vincent Diamante
Contact Info:

Chris Swain

Dan Arey

Vincent Diamante

(310) 403 0798

(310) 663 0949

(213) 840 0645

Course Description: CTIN 456 Business of Game Design is a commerce-oriented subset of CTIN 488 Game Design Workshop. CTIN 456 meets Tuesday nights for a lecture and is a two unit course. Lectures provide a combination of history, theory, and practice about the game industry. The design aspects of games is stressed in order to make business students literate in the ways that developers work and games in general work. Students will do in-class creative exercises but will not have take home design assignments. Assignments include interviewing game industry executives and write two business-oriented papers about the game industry.
CTIN 456 is designed to provide knowledge for the business professional to communicate effectively with creative and technical professionals in game-related ventures. This knowledge is designed to help business professionals be more capable managers, marketers, executives, and investors.

Meeting Information:

Lecture (all students attend):

When: Tuesdays 7-9 pm Where: THH 208
Office Hours: Tuesdays at 1 pm (by appointment)
Pre-requisites: N/A
Evaluation of student performance:

In-Class Design Exercises


Play Experiments


Interview Assignment


Paper 1: Game Publishing


Paper 2: Game Venture


Quizzes (3)




Week 1: Overview of the Course and Introduction to Game Structures

Week 1 Lecture: Overview of the course. What is a game? Formal and dramatic structures of games. Prototyping, playtesting and iterative design.


“Game Design Workshop”, by Swain and Fullerton

         Chapter 1-2
Play Experiment #1: Mobile Games

Week 2: Formal Elements of Games: Objectives, Procedures, Systems and Rules

Week 2 Lecture: Discussion of elements that make up the formal structures of game systems. Analysis of game rules from classic games.


“Game Design Workshop”, by Swain and Fullerton

         Chapters 3 and 6

Assignment 1 Given: Interview Game Executive (details below)
Week 3: Dramatic Elements of Games: Metaphor, Characters, Roles, and Story

Week 3 Lecture: Applying traditional tools of drama to game design. Analysis of character, plot, story and metaphor in well-known games.

Week 4: Dynamic Elements of Games: Emergence

Week 4 Lecture (9/18): Complexity Theory, Conway's Game of Life, The Sims, Gearheads, SimCity, RollerCoaster Tycoon. Testing your game for functionality, completeness and balance.


“Game Design Workshop”, by Swain and Fullerton

         Chapters 4 and 7
Week 5: Guest Speaker

Week 5 Lecture: guest speaker tbd


Game Design Workshop

         Chapters 5, 8, 9, and 10
Play Experiment #2: Web 2.0 Games

Week 6: Creating Interesting Choices

Quiz #1

Week 6 Lecture (10/2): Game theory, Minimax theory, strategy games. Tic-tac-toe, Connect Four, Chess, Warcraft III, many others.

Assignment 2 given: Paper about Game Publishing (details below)

Week 7: Social Play

Week 7 Lecture (10/9): Social roles and player interaction. Killer, Pictionary, You Don’t Know Jack, Acrophobia, NetWits.

Week 8: Managing Resources

Week 8 Lecture (10/16): Types of resources, information structures, game economies. Magic: The Gathering, Settlers of Catan, Pit.

Play Experiment #3: Marketing through Games – Distributed Narratives
Week 9: Puzzle Games

Week 9 Lecture (10/23): Set, Tetris, Smart Games, MetaSquares, Incredible Machine, Myst.

Week 10: Narrative Play

Quiz #2

Week 10 Lecture (10/30): Development of interactive drama. Interfilm, Kino-Automat, Eliza, Catz.

Play Experiment 4: Microtransactions in Games

Week 11: Role-Playing Games and Online Communities

Week 11 Lecture (11/6):

  1. Roleplaying Games: Dungeons & Dragons, Hack, Diablo, Ultima Online. M.U.L.E., Habitat,, Sony Station.

  2. Online Communities – The Nine Principles of Community Design

Assignment 3 Given: The Game Venture (details below)
Week 12: Guest Speaker

Week 12 Lecture (11/13): Guest Speaker: tbd

Week 13: Concept through Delivery: Stages of Development and Business of Games

Week 13 Lecture (11/20):

  1. Concept through Delivery - Discussion of teams, process and documentation. Design and planning documents from actual products will be distributed.

  2. Business of Games - Game market statistics, publisher/developer relationships, royalties & deal structures.


Game Design Workshop

         Chapters 12 and 14

         Chapters 15 and 16
Week 14: Guest Speaker

Week 14 Lecture (11/27): Guest Speaker: tbd

Week 15: Course Wrap Up

Quiz #3

Week 15 Lecture (12/4): Final Presentation Night, Quiz #3, and Course Wrap-Up

In-Class Design Exercises:

The In-Class Design exercises will consist of short, focused assignments that can be completed and playtested during the lab time. These exercises will give students hands-on experience with core concepts in game design, including breaking and balancing systems, changing game variables and system scope, designing for meaningful choice, brainstorming, conceptualization, and responding to player feedback.

Play Experiments

CTIN 456 students are required to complete four “play experiments” as follows.

  1. Mobile Games – students are required to play the free cell phone game “Dodgeball” as a class for one week. Each student must submit a photo essay / Powerpoint presentation format that illustrates a) how the game works, b) the story of what happened during their week of play, and c) a short analysis of how the business of Dodgeball works.
  2. Web 2.0 Games – students are required to play the free Facebook game “Bunchball” as a class. Each student must submit a photo essay / Powerpoint presentation that illustrates a) how the game works, b) the story of what happened during their week of play, and c) an analysis of how the business of Bunchball works.

  3. Marketing with Games – Distributed Narratives – students are required to play an Alternate Reality Game from 42 Entertainment (exact game tbd) as a class for one week. Each student must submit a photo essay / Powerpoint presentation that illustrates a) how the game works, b) the story of what happened during their week of play, and c) a short analysis of how the business of the game works.

  4. Microtransactions in Games – students are required to play the free online game “Maple Story” as a class for one week. Each student must submit a photo essay / Powerpoint presentation that illustrates a) how the game works, b) the story of what happened during their week of play, and c) a short analysis of how the business of the game works.

Interview with a Game Executive Assignment

Each student must schedule an interview with a publishing or marketing executive from the game industry. A one page write-up summarizing what the student learned from the interview is due two weeks after the assignment is given.

Paper 1: Game Publishing

Students are required to choose an aspect of game publishing and write a 3-5 page research paper analyzing it. Students are free to choose any aspect of game publishing including console games, PC games, mobile games, casual games, Web 2.0 games, digitally distributed games, games that require peripherals, collectible card games, etc. Students must show an analytical understanding of the chosen business and draft a short pitch statement for a proposed publishing venture.

Paper 2: Game Ventures

Students are required to develop concept for a game related business venture and write a 3-5 page research paper about it. The paper should include a vision statement, an analysis of the target customer, and analysis of the revenue streams for the venture. Students are free to choose any aspect of games.

Reading Requirements:

The textbook is “Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping and Playtesting Games.” It is available at the University bookstore or online at and

Course Website Address:
Missing an Exam, Incompletes:

The only acceptable excuses for missing an exam or taking an incomplete in the course are personal illness or a family emergency. Students must inform the professor before the exam and present verifiable evidence in order for a make-up to be scheduled. Students who wish to take incompletes must also present documentation of the problem to the instructor or teaching assistant before final grades are due.

Note for students with disabilities:

Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to us as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301, and is open 8:30am5:00pm Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.

Academic Integrity:

The School of Cinema-Television expects the highest standards of academic excellence and ethical performance from USC students. It is particularly important that you are aware of and avoid plagiarism, cheating on exams, submitting a paper to more than one instructor, or submitting a paper authored by anyone other than yourself. Violations of this policy will result in a failing grade band be reported to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs. If you have any doubts or questions about these policies, consult “SCAMPUS” and/or confer with the instructor.

Instructor Bios:


Chris is an Assistant Professor at the USC School of Cinema and the Co-Director of the Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab at USC. He has been a professional game designer for 15 years. He designed over 150 interactive products in industry before coming to academia.
His research projects in the EA Game Innovation Lab at USC include:

  • The Redistricting Game – a game designed to educate US voters about the issues of congressional redistricting. The project strives to engage and empower citizens to get involved in their own governance – . Funding is by the USC Annenberg Center for Communications.

  • Immune Attack – realtime strategy game that teaches immunology. It’s set in the human blood stream. Collaborators are USC’s GamePipe Laboratory, Brown University, and Federation of American Scientists. Funding is by the National Science Foundation -

  • ELECT Bi-Lat – simulation game that teaches bi-lateral negotiation and cultural sensitivity to US military officers in Iraq. Collaborators are USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies. Funding is by the US Army.

  • ELECT urbanSIM – simulation game that teaches urban battlefield management to US military commanders in Iraq. Collaborators are USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies. Funding is by the US Army.

  • America’s New New Deal – a game that examines America’s shift from a New Deal economy to an ownership economy. Based on data from prize winning LA Times reporter Peter Gossellin. Collaborators are the LA Times. Funding is by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Chris is co-author of the book Game Design Workshop, published 2004 by CMP Books. He specializes in original play mechanics and new kinds of interactivity.

Previously, Chris was a founder of game developer, Spiderdance, Inc. Spiderdance’s mass audience interactive television games included NBC’s Weakest Link, MTV’s webRIOT, The WB’s No Boundaries, History Channel’s History IQ among others.
Prior to Spiderdance, Chris was a founding member of the New York design firm R/GA Interactive. As Executive Producer he created over 150 games and interactive products for clients that include Disney, Sony, Microsoft, America Online, Warner Brothers, BBC, PBS, Children’s Television Workshop, Discovery Channel, and Activision among many others. Notable projects include:

  • Sony’s Multiplayer Jeopardy! and Multiplayer Wheel of Fortune

  • MSN’s NetWits - the first mass audience online gameshow

  • PBS’s Frank Lloyd Wright: Poetry of Structure - which is the convergence companion to the Ken Burns’ documentary.

His work has received numerous industry honors including best Family/Board Game from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, ID Magazine’s Interactive Design Review, Communication Arts Interactive Design Annual, multiple gold Invision awards, iMix Best of Show, The Digital Coast Innovation award, IBC’s Nombre D’Or, and Time Magazine’s Best of the Web.


Dan Arey is currently Creative Director at game developer Ready at Dawn. He was previously the Creative Director of Naughty Dog studios, a division of Sony Computer Entertainment America. As a writer, director, and senior designer with over 19 years of experience, Dan has worked with publishers ranging from Electronic Arts, Accolade, Sega of America, Crystal Dynamics, and Sony.

An early proponent of interactive and convergent media, Dan led the earliest titles in this regard during his tenure as Design Manager for Crystal Dynamics. At Crystal, Dan designed games using film content and stronger narrative techniques as early as 1992 and has been an industry leader in story enhanced gaming for more than a decade.

Continuing his career at Naughty Dog, Dan has been involved in the design of the Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter series, two best selling franchises that have together sold more than 35 million units.
Dan has been involved in the design and IP development of the following best selling titles:

• Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS3) - 2007

• Daxter (PSP) - 2006

• Jak X (PS2) – 2005

• Jak 3 PS2) - 2004

• Jak II (PS2) - 2003

• Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (PS2) - 2001

• Crash Team Racing (PS1) - 1999

• Crash 3: Warped (PS1) - 1998

• Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (PS1) – 1997

• Gex: Enter the Gecko (PS1) - 1997

• Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain - 1996

• Gex 3DO - 1995

• Blazing Dragons (Dragon Tails license w/ Terry Jones of Monty Python) (PS1) - 1994

• Total Eclipse (3D0) – 1993

• Crash ‘n Burn (3D0) – 1993

Dan has been a contributor to Game Developer Magazine, Creativity Magazine. and a frequent lecturer at the Game Developers Conference, E3, DICE, SIGGRAPH, Writer’s Guild of America, and USC School of Cinematic Arts.


Vincent Diamante is a music composer, writer, and artist living in Los Angeles. He has provided audio for over a dozen video games spanning all platforms, from mobile handsets to next-generation consoles. Some of his projects include the indie games: Dyadin and Cloud; and research games Immune Attack and The Redistricting Game. He is currently composing for the not-yet-announced PS3 title from developer ThatGameCompany at Sony Santa Monica.

In addition Vincent is a veteran of video games journalism, having co-founded noted New Games Journalism representative He regularly contributes to other media outlets as a freelance writer.
Vincent holds a BM in Electroacoustic Media from USC's Thornton School of Music and an MFA in Interactive Media from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

CTIN 456 Game Design Workshop: Business Section

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