The game industry is growing. As it has expanded to include social and mobile gaming; games in health, education, and training; and innovations in play psychology, middleware, graphics tools, game mechanics, game evaluation methods, and advanced artificial intelligence and narrative techniques, it has become an increasingly competitive space.

The selectiveness of the industry and the diversity of the skills required mean that students seeking entry need both broad and deep skills. As an emergent industry using diverse technology and collaborative practices, Games needs workers with interdisciplinary skill sets that can weave knowledge about development with knowledge about evaluation methods and players’ behavior and psychology.

Jointly offered by Northeastern’s Colleges of Computer and Information Sciences and Arts, Media and Design, the MS in Game Science and Design is a one-of-a-kind interdisciplinary program that prepares students to meet this need. Weaving together science and design, the two-year, 34-credit hour program gives students a choice of three concentrations: game analytics, game user research and game design and development.

blue-button-curriculum        blue-button-plan-of-study


GSND 5110: Game Design and Analysis [4 SH]

Provides theoretical background and foundation for analyzing and designing games. Examines fundamental domains that are necessary to understand what games are and how they affect players, including but not limited to interface design, level design, narrative, learning, and culture. For each domain, relevant concepts and frameworks will be presented from a wide variety of disciplines: psychology, phenomenology, sociology, anthropology, media studies, affect theories, learning theories and theories of motivation. Explains the core elements of game design, including goals, rules, environment, and resources, and introduces students to formal abstract design tools that are used in game design to systematically capture these elements. Explores several models of design process and iteration, including ideation, basic prototyping, iteration based on playtesting, participatory design practices, and formative evaluation methods. Allows students to practice game design in groups by developing game concepts and by pitching and creating simple prototypes. Extracts analytical lenses from the theoretical works examined and applies them, week by week, to the games presented in GAME 5121.

Learning Objectives

After the course, you should be able to:

  • Understand the basic concepts and core elements of game design
    • As evidenced by the demonstrated ability to develop game concepts and prototypes
    • As demonstrated by the ability to (re)iterate designs and balance them
    • As evidenced through the ability to discuss and critique students work
  • Acquire the ability to apply formal abstract design tools
    • As demonstrated by the appropriate use of formal abstract design tools both in developing original game concepts and in deconstructing existing game concepts
  • Know and apply several models of design process and iteration
    • As demonstrated by articulating the contemporary design models
  • Formalize game concepts in a manner that is easily transmissible and clearly understandable by a large team
    • By writing and critiquing game design concepts
  • Ability to deconstruct a game experience and analyze it based on several dimensions, including but not limited to narrative, learning, culture, and interface design
    • As evidenced by applying deconstruction methods appropriately to the analysis of games
    • Demonstrated by the ability to apply concepts to articulate how a game experience is established
    • By being able to discuss and critique student work in how they applied concepts and used deconstruction methods
  • Understand the psychological and phenomenological dimensions of game play and its effects on players

GSND 5130: Usability and Empirical User Research [4 SH]

Focuses on introducing methods and methodologies from Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and their use in different applications, including apps, web applications, games, and virtual worlds. Covers the basics of user-oriented evaluation and associated topics, including HCI theory, human perception and cognition, user experience and user testing and feedback. Covers basic usability methods such as think- aloud testing, surveys, interviews, ethnography, heuristic evaluation and observation. Introduces the design process, usability heuristics, playability heuristics, HCI paradigms, task models and cognitive models. Examines quantitative analysis and qualitative analysis of data, including techniques for coding, and basic descriptive statistical analysis, as well as experimental designs and the differences between hypothesis based experiments and exploratory analysis. Allows students to delve into experimental design, IRB approvals, ethics, research subject recruitment, and experiment implementations. Applies concepts through concrete projects, case examples and exercises. Students will continually be running assignments trying out different evaluation methods and methodologies.

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the basics of human cognition and –perception, as well as interaction and communication models in HCI.
  • Understand the role of HCI in product development and the fundamental nature of software development processes
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the wide spectrum of different evaluation methodologies used for usability and user experience evaluation.
  • Develop and demonstrate practical skills of conducting a user test, including planning, collection, analysis, interpretation and communication of data and results.
  • Demonstrate skills of quantitative analysis of data sets
  • Demonstrate skills of qualitative analysis of data sets

GSND 5111: Game Critique Seminar [1 SH]

Examines one game per week, games selected will provide student with a varied mix of AAA and indie titles. Allows students to discuss and analyze the games selected applying concepts from GAME 5110: Game Analysis course. Exposes students to many different kinds of games, the ability to analyze and appreciate them.

Learning Objectives:

  • Appreciate the breadth of ludic experiences beyond AAA top sellers
  • Understanding how similar game concepts and mechanics can be implemented very differently (context, 
controls, platform, audience) with very different results on player experience

GSND 5122: Business Models in the Game Industry [1 SH]

Examines the fundamental structure of the interactive digital entertainment industry and the characteristics of the different units, notably developers and publishers. Describes the key business models of the game industry and the fundamental economic challenges underlying them. Gives students an understanding of the business of developing game products across the different levels of company size and game forms, notably the AAA-level, social games and indie games. Describes go-to market strategies and 
caveats for the different kinds of strategies. Outlines the requirements for entrepreneurship endeavors within these markets and explores the rapid innovation rate in games and other forms of interactive digital entertainment. Covers topics such as retail vs. online, free-to-play modes of operation and basic monetization, as well as budgeting for game productions, distribution channels, business planning and overview of the different stakeholders in the industry and how they interact.

Learning Objectives:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the fundamental structure of the game industry and understanding of the developer-publisher relationship
  • Ability to understand a business plan for a digital game and a financial forecast for a production
  • Understand a number of different business and revenue models currently or in the near future operating in 
game development
  • Knowledge of the various stakeholders in the game industry and ability to define the primary tasks and 
interactions of stakeholders
  • Understand of some of the key challenges in starting up a game company

GSND 6350: Game Analytics [4 SH]

Introduces the topic of game analytics as the process of discovering and communicating patterns in data, towards solving problems and developing predictions in user behavior supporting decision management, driving action and/or improving game products. Covers the fundamental tools, methods and principles of game analytics, including the knowledge discovery process, data collection, feature extraction and selection, pattern recognition to aid in prediction and churn analysis, visualization and reporting. Covers analytics across game forms, notably online games and delivery platforms. Presents analytical tools recommended during development and tools designed for ongoing maintenance of games.

Learning Objectives:

  • Apply data collection, feature selection, statistics, data mining, and visualization to make sense of user 
behavior data
  • Apply exploration and hypothesis driven process to analysis of player behavior using analytics
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the game industry and the use of analytics within the current industry across 
industry segments, hosting platforms and the game lifecycle

GSND 6330: Game User Research [4 SH]

The development cycle of any game relies on the understanding of the players, the target market of the game product. This course covers topics on player psychology, including cognition, memory, emotions, attention, and game-focused theories such as engagement theory, fun, user experience, Player Need Satisfaction model, and Flow. In addition, it will cover socio-technical context analysis methods, usability engineering and game specific evaluation methods, such as playtesting, RITE testing, play heuristic evaluation, and retrospective play reviews. To enable students to analyze qualitative and quantitative data, the course will also introduce parametric and non-parametric statistical evaluation methods, qualitative data coding and analysis, and descriptive statistics. The course will also require students to apply visualization techniques of data and reporting.

Learning Objectives:

  • Develop an understanding for game user research and its role in game development
  • Articulate and understand the theories underpinning game user research, including emotion, engagement and 
flow theory
  • Articulate and apply user research methods developed for games, including RITE testing and playtesting, and 
integrate theories of engagement and emotion to measure these qualities of gameplay.
  • Plan and execute user testing in any phase of game development across game form and format, deliver 
actionable insight to stakeholders.
  • Develop and demonstrate skills for triangulation of data sources to serve the design process
  • Understand and demonstrate the ability to visualize results and tell a narrative about the user experience

GSND 6340: Advanced Game User Research [4 SH]

The course builds on GAME 5330 Game User Research extending into the domain of psycho-physiological testing and more advanced statistics. Delves into the principles, theory and applications of psycho-physiological assessment inside and outside of interactive digital entertainment. Introduces the theory and research in major areas of human psycho-physiology, including correlation, cognition, emotion and affect, and methodological principles of human psycho-physiology. Provides an understanding of the basics of eye tracking: eye movements, fixations and saccades, eye tracking equipment as well as understanding of how to incorporate eye tracking for user research. Applies methods of data collection, cleaning and analysis for both physiological and eye tracking data. Covers all issues of using such measurements, including validity of conclusions and confounding variables. Covers the process of triangulation and reporting in depth, along the entire process of a game product lifecycle through pre-production, production and post-production. 
Pre-reqs: GSND 5130, GSND 5330

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the principles, theory and applications of psycho-physiological assessment, including emotion, cognition and affect.
  • Understand the methodological principles in human psycho-physiology including normalization, cleaning and correlative/regressive statistics.
  • Develop and demonstrate ability to apply psycho-physiological methods in laboratory settings
  • Ability to plan for and apply triangulation of data and visualization of data.
  • Ability to develop reporting plans and utilize reporting techniques
  • Develop and demonstrate skills of eye tracking data collection, raw data cleaning, and analysis
  • Develop and demonstrate skills of physiological data collection, raw data cleaning, and analysis

GSND 6320: Psychology of Play [4 SH]

Explores theories of perception, motivation, needs, learning, goals and belief systems as they pertain to games and play. Examines psychological principles including visual and audio perception, emotions, behavior, personality, and the more recent scientific discoveries around psychological models explaining play behavior or motivation theories behind play. Introduces how players learn in and from games based on the relationship of play to learning theories. Forms a solid theoretical basis for a new segmentation tool: psychographics. Explores visual and cultural archetypes, digging into comics, movie sets and cartoons to distillate what makes people tick in certain ways relating to universal theories of perception and gestalt theories. Applies the theories through critical analysis of play behavior and games. 
Pre-reqs: GSND 5120 and GSND 5110

Learning Objectives:

  • Articulate the psychological principles affecting game play:
    • Perception
    • Emotions
    • Motivation
    • Personality
    • Goals
  • Understand and articulate the different player models and audiences, their motivations and goals
  • Describe detailed psychographics profiles of intended target audience
  • Identify pertinent ludic and aesthetic codes for selected profiles
  • Analyze affordances of existing games to infer concurrent and equally optimal patterns of behavior
  • Deduce possible psychographics profiles for existing games

GSND 6240: Exploratory Concept Design [4 SH]

Explores the process of designing new modalities of interaction utilizing novel uses of established technology, e.g., pervasive and affective technologies. Focuses on philosophy and practice of creating and evaluating experimental interactions. Re-contextualizes gameplay concepts through permutations of basic elements such as controls, platforms, cameras, interfaces, etc. Leverages constraints as vehicles to push the boundaries of accepted design, for example by designing games for one-button interactions. Explores four key 
approaches to experimental interaction through course projects and assignments: (a) discovering, examining, and exploring potential new technologies and interaction principles, (b) rapidly designing and prototyping experimental interactions, (c) pitching, justifying, and explaining designs and prototypes to others, and (d) addressing new technologies and forms of interaction from a research perspective, with a focus on their larger implications and potential impact on play.

Learning Objectives:

  • learn about the concept development cycle from pitch to rapid prototyping to testing to refinement
  • learn how to develop design artifacts and prototypes to experiment ideas
  • apply the concept development cycle through building a novel idea from pitch to polished prototype
  • Design playful interactions around diverse initial stimuli: a linguistic metaphor, a body gesture, a desired 
intended behavior, a cultural archetype

GSND 6250: Spatial and Temporal Design [4 SH]

Explores the development and understanding of spaces used by people in 3D and 2D virtual environments. Uses iterative process of making and criticizing, experiencing and analyzing spatial form, compositional ideas for form making and critical thinking applied to design. Intends to develop the arbitrary, yet still necessary, frame of mind needed to make assumptions about aesthetic spatial values and expected player behaviors. Discovers the connection between spatial-aesthetic elements and their effects on players’ psyche. Experiments with how spaces, textures, shapes and colors can engender, foster and support different synchronous moods. Attempts to shape spaces that fit rational, emotional and behavioral profile of different types of players. Introduces evaluation tools such as pattern languages, affordances, etc. Applies, through course projects and assignments, the concepts learnt from architecture and game level design to extend students’ creative and critical abilities.

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand and apply the knowledge of 2D and 3D world designs in constructing virtual spaces
  • Apply testing and feedback in refinement of the designs
  • Acquire knowledge of architecture spatial languages
  • Apply temporal design or narrative design of the space in a model environment
  • Iterate on the designs based on tests and critiques
  • Shape spaces apt at accommodating multiple modalities of players’ expression by disseminating equally 
optimal gameplay gestalts, mechanics and affordances for interaction
  • Deconstruct existing virtual world spaces to distill core patterns

Project Work

Virtual Personality Assessment Laboratory (V-PAL)

Overview: Given the popularity of games, and their use for education, health and training, there is a unique opportunity to develop games that can identify and adapt to personality differences thus increasing their success. This project, called V-PAL, aims to address this link between personality and game behavior. The goal of the project is developing a preliminary taxonomy of game-based mechanics, grounded on personality research, that allows researchers to use in-game behavioral patterns of individual players to assess their real-world personality. Such virtual personality detection mechanism can then be used by other researchers to adapt the game system further, which would be one ultimate goal – the design of more personalized and adaptive applications that may improve impact on large societal problems.

VPAL-300x194Previous research has confirmed the existence of correlations between game behavior and various models of personality and motivation. However, none of the previous works adopted personality theories to guide the design and development of a game aimed at assessing players’ personality. This is the target of this proposal. Specifically, the aim is to leverage already existing work in personality to develop a game able to detect and identify specific aspects of personality. The design of the game is driven by personality theory and validated by a wide range of personality measures such as the Need For Cognition, the California Q-Sort, the Reiss Motivation Profiler and the Five Factor Model. The game will be developed as a set of modular challenges and situations that make use of the mechanics individuated in the taxonomy. These situations are constructed to elicit personality preferences. The game will be validated through two iterations to ensure that scenarios are assimilated and that they conform to the intention of the designers. A final summative evaluation will be administered utilizing in-game data as well as various personality measures such as scores from personality questionnaires, informant interviews, and behavior coding. Correlation analysis will be used to investigate relationships between in-game choices emerging from the context of play and personality scores.

Faculty Members: Alessandro Canossa (PI), Magy Seif El-Nasr (Co-PI), and Randy Colvin (Co-PI).

Emotions and contextual individual differences

This project examines the use of virtual environment as a tool to elicit scenarios that aid in investigating emotions and individual differences.

PhD Students: Eric Anderson

Faculty: Lisa Barrett Feldman, Magy Seif El-Nasr, Alessandro Canossa

Visualization and Learning Analytics

This project seeks to develop an interactive visualization system to investigate group and individual differences in game play strategies and decision making over time.

So far the group has developed a visualization system called Glyph that shows paths through game states and how many users are going through them. Interactivity is used to allow users to isolate specific traces and see how many users took them. Thus, allowing designers to see dominant or popular strategies and not so popular ones. They can also clearly see winning vs. loosing strategies. More work is currently underway to look into separating the traces by different rewards to see individual differences and preferences.

This graph shows nodes of all paths, the bigger the paths the more popular it is. The number against the node shows how many users used this path. The color shows if the path led to a dead end or not; red means there is a dead end.

This graph shows nodes of all paths, the bigger the paths the more popular it is. The number against the node shows how many users used this path. The color shows if the path led to a dead end or not; red means there is a dead end.

This graph shows all paths that players took. Nodes are states in the game and the links are transitions between states. The red nodes are end states. The blue node is the start state.

This graph shows all paths that players took. Nodes are states in the game and the links are transitions between states. The red nodes are end states. The blue node is the start state.

Doctoral Fellows: Shree Durga, Truong Huy Nguyen Dinh
Faculty Members: Alessandro Canossa (PI), and Magy Seif El-Nasr (Co-PI).

The project was funded by Northeastern University Interdisciplinary Tier 1 grant. 


Please visit the CAMD Graduate Studies website for detailed admission information including a listing of required application materials and answers to frequently asked questions.



Casper Harteveld, Assistant Professor, Art + Design and Game Design

Magy Seif El-Nasr

Magy Seif El-Nasr, Associate Professor, Game Design and College of Computer and Information Science


Jackie Barnes, Postdoctoral Researcher, Game Design