Here are some of the reviews from professional game industry people and academics.
Over the years, I've been incredibly lucky to haveA Theory of Fun read by tens of thousands of people. I wish I had room to include some of the many amazing comments sent to me or posted online by regular readers!
Nominated for a 2005 Front Line Award from Game Developer Magazine!
One of "50 Books For Everyone In the Game Industry" according to EDGE
One of the "Five Books You Should Read About Game Design" according to 1up.com
"I don't think I have ever recommended Koster's A Theory of Fun here. But even if I have, I'm recommending it again. If you're interested in game design, get it and read it."
- Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games, in the Daily Illuminator
"A Theory of Fun for Game Design is a cleverly illustrated, easy-to-read book with lots of good ideas about what makes games fun. Itís well worth a quick read and provides many ideas for exploration."
"Even if youíre not interested in creating games, I recommend this book simply for the applicable lessons in learning. For example: "Not requiring skill from a player should be considered a cardinal sin in game design." Is it any less so with learning design? How many courses have you seen that waste time by teaching at too low a level or by simply not focusing on skill acquisition? At the same time, though, Koster warns against making challenges too great, or of no relevance to something the audience would actually have a reason to learn -- again, common pitfalls in learning design.
"All in all, if youíre interested in a book on learning design, you could do a lot worse than simply reading this book, replacing "player" with "learner" throughout, and evaluating how your own ideas and creations stack up against Kosterís theories. A Theory of Fun for Game Design is an excellent, even foundational, read for anyone interested in creating experiences that challenge and engage minds, experiences that inspire learning, experiences that are -- in Kosterís definition -- fun."
"By skilfully traversing topics from cognitive science, to mathematics, to psychology, Koster integrates a number of disciplines into his theory of fun.... Koster successfully bridges the gap between game design practice and academic theory... For anyone interested in the relationship between games and human experience, this book is a must-read.And for those wanting to design their own games, this book is a definite must have... a welcome addition to the libraries of both gamers and non-gamers alike."
- Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society
"Entertaining, illustrated text from a respected and successful game designer which argues that the most effective games are puzzles that challenge the mind and require players to analyse patterns. The fun of solving these puzzles is what acquaints games with learning."
"...it's the best game design book I have ever read. There was this pretty deceptive sample download going around the net 6 months back that made the whole book look like a bunch of cartoons that you could read in like 5 minutes....but the book is SO MUCH MORE than that...and SO MUCH BETTER. I think any and everyone who designs games (and aspires to) should read this book...it explains alot of stuff I have never thought about and articulates alot of the stuff I've always thought about but have never taken the time (or had the skillz) to put into words....such a good fucking book....please read it."
--David Jaffe, creative director of God of War
"This is an extraordinarily accessible book from one of the few game designers who not only thinks deeply about the design process but is able to articulate it in a form that both enlightens and humbles the reader.
"The first thing you notice when you pick up A Theory of Fun is that there is a sharp division to it: the left-hand pages are text and the right-hand pages are pictures, with very little overlap. You are going to prefer one of these to the other - I guarantee it. What's more, in reading the book you'll get an inkling of why; it operates at many more levels than its cheerful veneer would suggest.
"The basic premise is that games are important. They're important because the brain is a highly efficient machine for recognising patterns, delivering pleasure when you learn new patterns. Games provide a context for recognising patterns where there is no external pressure to do so; this is what people call "fun".
"The argument develops that games are also an art form. If people are learning things from playing them, then those who create games in some way determine what is learned. However, although many game designers do have an implicit understanding of what they're designing, few (if any) have an explicit enough understanding to reason about the design process itself. To be able to discuss what is in effect an internalised process, they need a theory of game design; that is what this book aims to deliver.
"It actually does reasonably well in this regard. The test of a theory is its ability to be used predictively, and although A Theory of Fun doesn't come up with a bounded set of rules that can be applied to determine whether any given game will be fun, it does have a non-exhaustive set that can be applied to determine if a game isn't fun. Fail even one of these rules, and your game is looking bad.
"The scholarship behind the formulation of these rules, by the way, is considerable; it's one of the glories of A Theory of Fun that its results seem to effortlessly derived. I put this down to its being a book by a game-designer; the crafting of its structure is just so elegant. All is there that is needed to be there, yet with imaginative doors that open wider when you push them with thought. Whatever your game design experience, it will appear just right for you; that's the skill of a first class game-designer at work. Knowing this, at times it's breath-taking.
"This is a fun book, with a fun message.
"Play games: go grok yourself."
-- Dr. Richard Bartle, co-creator of MUD and online gaming veteran
"A remarkable little book."
Rand Waltzman, Royal Institute of Technology [Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan], Stockholm
"Raph Koster (of Sony Online and issue 138's Opinion column) outlines a convincing manifesto for why people do or don't have a good time in games in A Theory of Fun. He also makes us feel very very not smart."
- Game Informer magazine, Oct. 2005
"...Raph's book is one of the most important written for our industry, not to mention interesting to read. You cannot possibly read it and not feel at least twice like your brain has been hit by lightning, even someone as hide-bound and arrogant as I am.
"In fact, I make it mandatory reading for my designers in the MMO space and it has had an interesting effect on design discussions. People start talking less about "I bet we can improve on Feature X from Game Y" and more about "When does the learning and fun end and how do we break that loop?" It is gratifying to watch.
"I think if the book's influence and legacy is nothing more than that in the MMO space as a whole, it deserves to be canonized. Or if we only do that to people..."
- Jessica Mulligan, online gaming veteran
"The arcane mysteries of game design go poof with this delightful approach to the fundamentals of fun. Raph Koster, chief creative officer for Sony Online Entertainment, cuts through the dispassionate discourse that we see in many books on the subject, with easy-to-read prose and nifty cartoon illustrations (penned by himself in a not-unlike-Gary-Larson-esque style). Not for folks interested in the hard mechanics and processes of making games, this title instead explores what games really are, what they do, why we play, and why we like them. The light, often humorous approach should be appealing to a large spectrum of readers, not necessarily just those interested in the core concepts of game design, but to those interested, perhaps, in learning a little bit about themselves as well."
"Last week I finished reading A Theory of Fun, by Raph Koster, Chief Creative Officer for Sony Online Entertainment. This book convincingly answers the question, What makes a game fun? And more than that, it dives into topics such as the ethics of games and how games can take their rightful place alongside other respected forms of entertainment. It's all good stuff, and it's easy to agree with everything Koster writes. It all rings true.
"Although the book is deep with detail, the main question boils down to three words: Fun equals learning....
"I think Koster is 100% right. Developers must strive to make games whose difficulty zig-zags within that narrow band of "fun," between boredom (too easy, already learned) and frustration (too hard to learn). Koster says that "the definition of a good games is therefore 'one that teaches everything it has to offer before the player stops playing'."
"Koster has written one of the best books for our industry. I hope everyone adds it to their bookshelf."
- Scott Miller, CEO of 3DRealms
"Understanding the meaning of fun according to someone who works in the video game industry is a good place to start. In A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Raph Koster explains, "Exercising your brain is fun" as long as the activity is challenging. Games are about pattern matching, about special relationships, about exploring.
"Fun is all about our brains feeling good -- the release of endorphins into our system." Fun is mastering a task -- a birdie putt that goes into the cup provides a feeling of exhilaration. A game must hit "cognitive buttons to be fun." It must involve preparation, have a sense of space, and offer a range of challenges requiring multiple choices based on skill, according to Koster.
"A Theory of Fun is enhanced with illustrations that help present the author's theory. The book can help give educators a better sense of how to make learning more fun through the use of games." Four stars out of four, and a Top Ten product for training.
"...one of the best work-related books I've read in quite some time. It is also one of the strangest. Written in a simple, plain-spoken style with relatively few words on a page and an illustration on every facing page, printed in a shape that is wider than it is tall, the book feels very much like a children's book. But don't be fooled. The level of sophistication, both in the narrative construction and in the content itself, is impressive. The result is that you can plow through this book very quickly and yet absorb some very rich and subtle concepts.
"..the range and depth that he covers is amazing. Here are just a few of the topics he tackles:
- The relative strengths of games versus narratives as teaching tools
- How games and the stories tacked onto them do and do not tend to support each other
- The ontology of essential game patterns, or "ludemes"
- Whether games can ever be "art" and what it would mean if they could
- Why a sense of fun is an evolutionary advantage "right up there with opposable thumbs"
"In the process, he touches on art, music, literature, cognitive science, philosophy, and many other highbrow topics with great sophistication yet without a trace of pretention or even an excess of big words."
- Michael Feldstein, Assistant Director for CourseSpace at the SUNY Learning Network
"...[One of] my very favorite books of all time... Raph, the Creative Lead of Many a Famous Online Game looks first at Human Nature, and from that, he deduces that games are very important, and puts forward formulae for understanding games. You end up going, "Woah."
"Anyway, the Universe works, so says I, and games are a bloody important part of that. If you read [A Theory of Fun], you'll understand why, you'll be a great philosopher, and you'll be able to make a pile of money off of making totally excellent games. And it will have only taken, like, two days."
- George "The Fat Man" Sanger, game audio legend
"Raph's new book, A Theory of Fun for Game Design, is well worth reading. It won't take long to get through; and there is a great deal of thoughtfulness crammed into its few pages."
- Lee Sheldon, writer and game designer
"I thought was a fantastic book. It has truly inspired me and at the end I was saying, "I'm with you Raph."
"He describes why people play games and the challanges that games have in trying to obtain and sustain an audience. He also says what I've been feeling, that games need maturing and not be so juvenile.
"Raph's book has the most important words of wisdom for our entire industry that I've read yet. He's spot on when talking about how our work, our craft can only be taken seriously if developers themselves start taking their work seriously and produce art."
-Reid Kimball, level designer, Ritual Entertainment
"Expanded from a presentation given at this previous year's GDC, A Theory of Fun attempts not to so much define that indefinable "fun" in games, but to examine the way the human brain processes games and to gain an understanding of the back to basics approach to game design. What is it about games that gives us that rush, that makes them enjoyable? Instead of dense text full of annotations and theory, its format is that of some bastard form of picture book. Each page of text is accompanied by a cute cartoon on the facing page, illustrating something of the points made on that page...
"Anyone interested in game design should read the book. While certainly not an exhaustive academic study, it's a great primer before tackling more dense reading material on the subject...
"The bottom line on A Theory of Fun is that if you have any interest in game design, you should read this book. Even for those who've been designing games for years should be interested, if for nothing than establishing a common vocabulary on game design. I give Theory a 4.5 stars out of 5, because everyone likes to get stars on their book report."
"A Theory of Fun For Game Design by Raph Koster tackles the questions of fun and engagement in a fun and engaging way (even my 13-year-old son wants to read it), and ties the "fun" in games to what games have to teach us. Yes, Koster says the "fun" in games comes from learning, and the learning is helped by the "fun".
"[A] thought-provoking read that would be great to take on a cross-country flight and then loan to your friends."
-Learning Circuits, the e-learning blog of the American Society for Training and Development
"...it'll get you thinking about all manner of issues in relation to what it means culturally and cognitively to make games in the first place. It contains a lot of ideas and information I either just didn't know about or hadn't thought deeply on before...
"For an extremely academic book (containing words like "systematizing" and "ludemes"), it's very light and fun. And as far as improving your game design, it does have a pretty handy checklist you can use to see if your game is good. That's a very small part of it, though. It also brings up a lot of really difficult notions, and probably some things you'll disagree with (I did!). A lot of it is of course common sense (like "don't make your game too hard or too easy"), but it explains the reasons behind it, with psychological stuff. It gives you more you can think about in regard to game designs than you surely ever have.
"And the epilogue is practically a poem. It's mainly for the epilogue that I am going to try to get my parents to read this. The epilogue talks about why what we do is important (no, I DON'T need a real job, thank you!). It's for the strong connection between my role as a game designer and the role of a teacher that I'm getting my wife to read it.
"Two thumbs up."
-Mike Hommel, Hamumu Software
"A Theory of Fun is a title long awaited. Raph Koster takes an incredibly complicated and seemingly arcane subject and demystifies the magic with lucid insight and laser sharp deconstruction...and it's all done in a wonderfully playful way! I found myself both laughing and saying "aha!" simultaneously at both the insight and humor.
"Koster's creative talents are clearly demonstrated in the book's unique format - a design mirroring a Left Brain / Right Brain construct, where the left side of each page is packed full of information on games, how we learn, and cognitive functions, while the right side contains fun drawings with a light and moving theme that enhances the left, while striking out on its own, almost like a counter point melody to the book's grand symphony. It really is almost two books in one! Yet even the light and funny elements carry wonderfully heavy insight into what games teach us and why.
"A Theory of Fun is highly recommended for anyone working in entertainment today - from game designers, to producers, to the film industry, to people working in any creative endeavor, and people who think they don't have a creative bone in their bodies. (They'll soon discover they have a whole skeleton of fun in their proverbial closet after reading this book!)
"Koster's book clearly demonstrates that 'Fun Is As Fun Does' while exposing the method to the madness in gaming. A Theory of Fun is a must read for anyone who wants to understand why games are so pervasive today, as it sheds new light into why fun matters in this world, and how 'play' makes us truly human."
- Dan Arey, Creative Director, Naughty Dog
"...this book is worth reading. You should go buy it and read it.
"Raph has a background in writing, and it shows. Contrary to popular opinion, being a good writer does not mean using a bunch of fancy words. It means delivering a message in clear way. It means speaking to the audience in terms they can understand... It's clear, informative, and utterly readable. That is no small compliment, so congratulations, Raph.
"Raph argues that games are a very important medium because of their power to teach. Maybe they aren't as good at telling stories as a novel, but they are better ways to teach than just about anything else. Far better than a lecture or a textbook. So if games are such powerful teachers, and if this concept is what truly redeems and legitimizes games as a medium, then we really have to look at what we're teaching. Game designers have the power to educate, and yet most of our games currently teach a very narrow range of lessons. He envisions a future when games teach much more valuable lessons than they do today."
- Dave Sirlin, game designer, Backbone Entertainment (formerly Digital Eclipse)
"Raph Koster's Theory of Fun for Game Design is brilliant--not a game design primer, but a meditation on what it is about games that makes them fun, and certainly worth reading for that reason."
- Greg Costikyan, legendary game designer
"I'm a huge fan. I think I've handed out close to 15 copies of this book so far, including a copy to my mother. I love how I can use this book to spark an advanced design conversation but also use it to explain to my mom what hell it is I do for a living and why all these games I play actually matter."
- Paul Stephanouk, design lead, Big Huge Games
"Anyone that wants to know what REALLY makes a game fun needs to read this book."
- Chris Melissinos, Sun Microsystems
"Raph Koster, designer di alcune pietre miliari per il genere, come UltimaOnline e LegendMUD, sul suo sito A Theory of Fun dove promuove il suo libro, ha pubblicato in PDF la presentazione da cui il il libro e' nato.
"L'opera parla dei giochi, di cosa ci fa divertire, come, e perche', quale e' la loro relazione con l'arte, e perche' il divertimento finisce, il tutto condito dagli stilisticamente poco convincenti ma molto divertenti fumetti dell'autore (1 pagina ogni 2 e' un fumetto a tutta pagine) popolati da pinguini e coccodrilli.
"Una buona, simpatica e intelligente lettura per chi si rivolge al gioco, sia per giocatori che per designer."
"You should buy the book immediately if you haven't already, by the way. Yes, that is a gold-plated recommendation."
- Dr. Richard Bartle, co-creator of MUDs
"Plenty of books have been written about playing games or enjoying them but what really makes a game fun? Leading interactive designer Raph Koster provides a visual survey and discussion which examines the foundation of designing a 'fun game' in Theory Of Fun For Game Design, examining the different levels which work for game designers initially, how these ideas translate into games which teach and evolve, and how learning and playing are interconnected. Chapters aim at the rudiments of why some games are fun and others simply boring. *****"
"The book is appealing... because it's both intelligent and highly accessible, making its arguments with clear prose on the left-hand pages, and amusing cartoons on the right-hand ones. The cartoons are not just illustrative, but actually contribute to the ongoing argument. ...A multimedia experience, even though we never leave the printed page.
"I feel I learned a lot from Theory of Fun for Game Design; Koster provoked me to think a lot more than most academic books tend to do. (I hope that doesn't seem like too backhanded a compliment)."
"Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design takes an entertaining look at a subject that has, in some ways, been taken too seriously by other authors. The book is thoughtful as well, providing a groundwork for a discussion of games as learning tools, art, and societal shapers...
"If you're planning on entering the field of game design, A Theory of Fun won't help you to storyboard a plot, model a texture, or develop a code base: if you're looking for the technical aspects of game design or deep academic consideration of the field, other titles will hold more for you. The intended audience of this book is quite wide, and Koster does an excellent job of making everyone feel included in the conversation that occurs between the pages...
"...a refreshing read. The book is an unpretentious examination of what it is that makes a game a game. He steps beyond the dehumanizing aspects of game mechanics to look at games and their designers in a broader societal context. If for no other reason that that, Theory of Fun is worth a look to read the opinion of someone who gives a damn."
"This entertaining and innovative book is ostensibly for game designers. Personally, I think it is more than that: it's a primer for anyone interested in games, both for how they work and what we think of them. Written by Raph Koster, the chief creative officer for Sony Online Entertainment, it isn't an artificial or inflated study in how to build a particular kind of game. Instead, it is a wide-ranging intellectual foray into what games mean, both to individuals and society, and how they operate on a host of different levels...
"Koster clearly wants to reach a point where games are recognized as a form of artistic expression, and he is trying to articulate a worthwhile conceptual framework to explore what games really mean, both to us as individuals and to society as a whole. Some portions of the book are more clearly directed to game designers than others, but on the whole I'd say that there is much in A Theory of Fun for Game Design to interest even those who would rather play games than design them."
"Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design is an important book. On one level, it's a manifesto for social responsibility and artistry in game design. On another level, it's an insightful exploration of human motivation and learning with extensive application to the worlds of grassroots education and activism. One example: Games will turn people off if they are too difficult, as well as if they are too easy. There is a sweet spot where people are in a zone of greatest learning and effectiveness. I think the same holds true for social change work. "
- Nonprofit Online News
"...It's a book I sincerely believe everyone should have read at least once in their lifetime. It's that important.
"...what Campbell and Vogler did to storytelling, Koster has done to play. It is a seriously important work. It's a pop-science book that makes use the very theory it espouses. And it works. It works exceptionally well. By the time you've read through it, so many pieces of the game design puzzle will have clicked together in your head that you'll sit there wondering how someone could get so much knowledge across in such an easily swallowed pill.
"...This book is history in the making. It will be referred to in seminal books whose authors have not yet even been born."
"If you're looking for an entertaining read as regards game design you can't go wrong with Raph Koster's Theory of Fun for Game Design."
- Michael Zenke, aka Zonk, sectional editor, Slashdot Games
"Raph didn't just lay out a mental snack here, but one heck of a banquet, and it'll be quite awhile before I'm done digesting it all. What you see here is a meager sampler platter that's a far cry from experiencing the main course... I would recommend everybody from avid gamers to the remotely curious to grab a copy from Amazon... At $13.59 a copy, you'll find few better bargains.
"Overall, I learned a lot from The Theory of Fun in Game Design, much of it helped to bring the thoughts of this gamer into alignment with the big picture of what gaming is all about. I'll never look at game design in quite the same way again. Thanks, Raph."
"If there is a game designer lurking anywhere in your soul, this book may not be the bible of game design, but I would certainly include it in the apocrypha (the missing books of the bible). Mr. Koster has assembled a tome that is at once insightful, poignant, and rich in detail, yet paints on the canvas of game design with light, cheerful strokes such that any reader (who is a gamer, at least) could fail to be entranced. Playing some games produces "game lock," where you're in "the zone;" this book is akin to that, one which cannot be put down until completion. If you ever wanted to feel good, and feel smart, about designing games and knowing how the human brain works sucking all of the fun out of them, A Theory of Fun is essential reading. I can't imagine anyone in the game industry who would not profit from enjoying this delightful book."
- Alan Emrich, Art Institute of California, and longtime designer and game guru
"This "DavidPerry - Recommended" is my personal stamp of approval awarded only to extremely key projects / games / books related to video game development. You can be CERTAIN that you will not see it often, and when you do, you should know that I highly recommend this product.
NOTE: I'm in no way affiliated with this project.
I started developing games over 20 years ago, in high school. Back then game design was based mostly on experimentation, mostly due to the limitations of the hardware that we had to work with. All we cared about was, "Is this fun?"
Today people expect completely immersive experiences, great stories, amazing graphics, fantastic sound, rich detail, but they also still need "Fun!"
So what is Fun?
Raph is a key and very experienced game designer in the video game business today that has (somehow) found the time to share his thoughts.
These thoughts and insights are focused on this most valuable game design topic, "Fun!"
Being creative, he couldn't even just do it the way every one else would have done, he has injected an incredible amount of passion and visual support to his ideas to make reading the book itself a FUN exercise too!
It's my favorite work on this subject to date and therefore I highly recommend it.
--David Perry, President, Shiny Entertainment Inc.
"I'm really glad that you wrote this! Everyone from professional game developers to those who want to understand why we play games will enjoy A Theory of Fun. You've written a wonderful starting point for research and many future dinner conversations!"
--Cory Ondrejka, VP, Linden Lab"A Theory of Fun elucidates some basic truths that apply not just to games but to all entertainment. Even better, it does so in a style that is clear, insightful, and... fun! I expect this book to become an instant classic, fascinating to anyone who has ever made a game--or played one."
- Noah Falstein, Freelance Game Designer/Writer/Producer
"A book about fun which is actually fun to read. It reminds me of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics--a work which makes sophisticated arguments by pulling them down to basic principles and presenting them in an engaging fashion. Raph Koster offers a road map for how to make games an even more expressive medium."
-- Henry Jenkins, Director, MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program.
"Raph has been an inspiration to countless developers over the years. His focus on finding new ways to communicate complex design issues has been an incredible benefit to the international game developers, who crowd into his lectures. Finally, he's tackling probably the most important principle of all, the one that all game designers someday need to become the masters of... "Making things Fun!"
-- David Perry, President Shiny Entertainment (Atari, Inc.)
"Does for games what Understanding Comics did for sequential art. Non-gamers: Buy this for the gamer in your life. Gamers: Buy this for the non-gamer in your life. You'll never look at fun the same way again."
- Cory Doctorow, Author of Eastern Standard Tribe and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom; co-editor of Boing Boing
"Gaming is much more than having fun--it is core to being human. Understanding games, and fun, helps us understand ourselves. Raph Koster is one of the good guys, always working to make more fun in our world. With this book he's just helped all of us, his readers and students, do exactly that."
-- Mike McShaffry, Author of Game Coding Complete and Head of Studio at Breakaway Games
"Amazing! All-New! Only Available on TV! Koster's A Theory of Fun is well-written, timely, passionate and scientifically informed, a fine piece of work that's bound to get lots of well-deserved attention."
- Edward Castronova, Associate Professor of Telecommunications, Indiana University
"Raph Koster asks the important question about games: why are they fun, and what does that say about games and about us? Koster takes our love of games at face value -- we play them because they are fun, we hate them when they are boring -- and he assumes the art of game design is to get more of the former and less of the latter. Koster's observation that "for games, learning is the drug," leads him on a tour of the nature of consciousness, how games do and do not intersect with reality, the difference between games and stories, and the seven different kinds of fun. It's a tour you'll be glad to take with him."
--Clay Shirky, Adjunct Professor, Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU