'Tis the Season... to Get Your Game Ready for Christmas 2019

It’s easy to be ambitious when Christmas is a few months away.

You tell yourself that you’ll get all the Christmas shopping done by mid-November, and have the decorations up on the first day of Advent. Then suddenly it’s December 24th and you’re scouring an all-night garage for passable gifts, low-quality wrapping paper, and spare bulbs for the fairy lights.

TheGamingEconomy can’t help you make your own Christmas a meticulously organised triumph, but we are here to share insights on making a game thrive over the festive period. We just happen to be talking about Christmas 2019.

The Christmas period’s value to those creating or publishing gaming content has long been recognised.

Back when all games came in boxes, the seasonal gift buying rush through December was vital to shifting units. It’s the reason that, to this day, so many games’ production schedules are reverse engineered from the starting point of targeting a November or December release.

Then, as mobile gaming found its true potential following the 2008 release of the iPhone, the power of the ‘seasonal update’ became clear.

Simply put, a lot of people get phones or tablets for Christmas; and the first thing they do having torn off the wrapping paper and packaging is get downloading games and other apps. That shared behaviour by millions of people on a single day globally inspired a number of arcane strategies to increase a given mobile game’s chance of being a Christmas-day download.

And now, when so many console and PC titles are delivered as a live, maintained service, everyone with a game to push is keen to embrace the potential of seasonal updates. Only yesterday, we examined Fortnite’s 200-million player milestone. That very same day, the shooter’s fanbase began eager speculation about the Christmas character skins expected in the early December Season 7 update.

The logic is simple. If lots of people have new devices or gaming platforms they are keen to pack with content, developers and publishers need reasons for their games to be visible at the right time. In the days before games-as-a-service, release day was everything – a focal point for PR, marketing, advertising, and more. Now launch day is just the start; and there’s a need to constantly refresh a game to keep it at the top of newsfeeds, at the front of app stores, and popping up as meaningful ads in other titles.

Equally, existing smartphone owners – all 2.6 billion of us – are particularly likely to treat ourselves to a game over the Christmas period. That’s an important point. Christmas isn’t just a time to focus on new users. This is the season to monetise your existing audience too.

And it isn’t just Christmas day during which you’ll want your game on the radar of new device owners. In the seven days from 24-31 December 2017, Apple alone saw £890m spent on apps or in-app items within their ecosystem. Then, on New Year’s Day in isolation, another USD$300m (£234.4m) was spent by consumers via the App Store, dwarfing the previous single-day record: 1 January, 2017. ‘Less screen time’ clearly isn’t a popular New Year’s resolution.

One thing is popular, though. According to reporting by The Verge, most smartphone users in the U.S. downloaded no new apps most months. Many, it seems, are committing to what they already have, and even packing newly gifted phones with familiar titles. That could mean that a significant percentage of the seasonal app spending spree is devoted to extras for existing games.

So, what can you do to give your game or app a taste of those Christmas revenues?

Firstly, play close attention to this year, with the next in mind. Getting the seasonal game buying peak right means planning now for Christmas 2019. You’ll need to do a lot more than just build content, including making sure the accompanying marketing, PR, and plan also accommodate the likes of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the new year.

You should also consider where your game is popular. North America? Then Halloween should also be a key consideration. Or perhaps your release thrives far from the West? That might mean there are other festivities to consider that will have more impact than Christmas.

Mainly, though, you’ll want to build quality seasonal content, be it in the form of avatar skins, in-game items, themed competitions or offers, special in-game events, or perhaps entirely new content, such as a new North Pole-themed level.

That considered, eye your rivals and genre-mates over Christmas 2018. What is a success? What did you see front-of-store when you opened an app store over the festive season? What about your colleagues or peers in other territories? What games are getting the press headlines, and how did they offer seasonal updates and content?

And when you do plot new content, try your best to keep it server-side. The more you ask device owners to download and install, the more friction will push away potential customers.

Data is your guide too, of course. And in early 2019, there will be heaps of it to pour through. We’ll be doing just that, so you can check back here in the new year to see how this festive season unfolded.

1 January 2019 should be Apple’s biggest day on records for ecosystem spending. Understanding how that works should mean the New Year’s day 2020 is your game’s biggest yet.