Tête-à-tête with Christian Etter

Our phones, iPads and tablets have been drained out of power since the last two weeks, thanks to ‘Drei’, the uber-cool, addictive game by Swiss game designer Christian Etter.

Drei, a social experiment according to Etter, has fetched him an array of awards including the Swiss Game Award 2013. We caught up with Etter for a quick chat on his take on game designing during his visit to Bangalore for an inspiring talk at the National Institute of Design and Srishti School of Arts, organised with Pro Helvetia – Swiss Arts Council.


Please describe your journey from being an art director to a game designer.

In my case it was a long process with a lot of windy roads. While as a good Art Director you should have a good sense of how to create an intreating coherent world, one thing you usually don’t have is a deep technical understanding. My first company was focusing on web design and applications, so I actually had already a good understanding, but was missing some understanding of how to let your work communicate with its audience. I think this is something I learned while being an Art Director.

How many games have you designed so far?

I think thus far there must be about five games out there.

What’s your favourite game that’s not yours?

Generally I do like any game that is a bit different. I have my very own best of list, actually, if you’re interested see it here: plapp.net

Once you create a prototype and the actual game, how easy or difficult is it to have the licensing done?

To sell your games through iTunes and Google Play is fairly easy. You need to fill out forms and normally within a week you should get your login. Being certified for Playstation, Xbox and so on takes a little bit longer. You might have to estimate a month or two to go through that process.

Which phase of game designing is the most challenging?

Finishing it. There are so many games out there that never have been and will be finished. To have a playable game is hard, but then to actually have it bug-free, performing well, to have all the menu structure, language selection and all these other annoying but necessary things, will take you forever!

What is the best platform to release a game? Is iOS overrated considering the challenges with discoverability?

Absolutely. There are hardly any game studios who make a living on iOS or Android. A better option might be more exclusive systems that haven’t been swept by games yet.

How important is it to follow market trends while creating a game?

I think from a creative point of view it’s very bad to follow the market, since you might end up doing what everybody else is doing. But from an economic point of view it’s very crucial. Ideally you have a team where the creative and business part is separated.

What’s the concept behind Drei and how does it matter to the society?

Our latest game Drei plays with the notion of connectivity. Its game mechanic makes you to rely on other players to help you to progress through the difficult levels, and the other players rely on you. Hence it should sub-consequently underline the fact we need all to work together to tackle some of the new global issues that one human or nation can’t tackle by selves anymore. Games are an amazing medium to address these very complex interconnections of everything that technical progress has brought upon the world.

How do you go about marketing the game?

We didn’t. I invested a lot of my money into production, so usually there is nothing left by the end. But we have been very lucky so far. Since our games seem very different to others we could rely a lot on the international media to carry the message out.

Does it help to have a formal education on designing to be successful in this field?

I don’t have a formal design education, therefore I would say no.

Your message for the next gen game/ app developers?

Start small, do a tiny little game, publish it on mobile/tablets, even if it’s not perfect, then do the next little game. You will learn so much during this process that you can slowly start to build bigger games and expand. Just do it.

So, have you tried out Etter’s multiplayer game yet? Don’t blame us if you get ‘Drei’ned out too!