The other day, I watched an interesting GDC conference by a man named Jake Birkett from Grey Alien Games. In his conference, he explained his struggles of being an indie game developer for 11 years and how he managed to barely get by making mostly holiday themed match-3 games. It was an interesting watch and it got me thinking, is it worth making video games based around holidays like Christmas and Halloween? First, let’s discuss how it fared for Jake Birkett.
Here is the full conference by Jake Birkett if anyone is interested in watching. He gives some really good tips and an interesting perspective about surviving as an indie dev:
(Still taken from video-14:18)
One of the most important issues with creating holiday games is that most holidays only come once a year. Your audience will most likely only take an interest in your game in the small time frame leading up to that particular holiday. Looking at the graph Jake showed, the spikes in revenue demonstrate that the main interest in his game was during Christmas time, and all other times of the year were revenue dead-zones for him. He managed to keep an interest in his game every Christmas due to seasonal promotions and distributing his game through more platforms each year. When making a holiday game, you have to go in expecting it to not make any money 11/12 months of the year. Unless you already have another means of making money to compensate these dead-zones, making a holiday-themed game for your first indie project is a huge risk if you are developing games full-time.
Deadlines You Can’t Move
(Still taken from video-23:35)
Another important thing that Jake pointed out in his conference is that you can’t move your deadlines with holiday games. The graph in this still shows that as he got closer to his deadline, the more he realized he had to rush to make it. The consequences of not meeting the deadline, of course, is having to post it late after the holiday (when interest in that game will have dropped significantly), or wait the following year to release it. Anyone who knows gamedev also knows that setting a deadline is also pretty arbitrary if you are first starting out (or sometimes even when you’ve done it for years). Things can end up taking longer than expected and you can easily run into complications when treading new territories. Making a holiday game with such an immovable deadline can be really hard to work with if you don’t give yourself the extra time to prepare for anything that can go haywire.
Are Some Holidays More Profitable Than Others?
(Screenshot from Costume Quest)
When it comes to certain holidays, some appear to be more fleeting in public interest than others. Easter, for example, most people don’t give a second thought about until April. Christmas is usually more flexible in the public eye because there are those who will buy their Christmas gifts in the summer just to avoid the December rush. Not to mention that Christmas usually feels like a month-long, never-ending ordeal!
Halloween, however, is an interesting case. Halloween is tied to themes of horror, and, well…horror is a gaming genre that has increasingly grown in popularity on PC *wink, wink*. The rise of Youtube let’s players like Pewdiepie and Markiplier in recent years have made the horror gaming genre thrive on PC as audiences enjoy seeing which games can horrify their favourite personalities in hilarious ways. Or, if you are like me, you are too scared to actually play the games yourself so you like to watch others play from a safe distance (with the light on).
The point being, I think that if done right, a Halloween themed game can have better longevity than if you were to choose a different holiday to base your game from. If the game isn’t too “in-your-face” about being just for Halloween and incorporates a good amount of horror or gothic themes, then you might not have to worry as much about people not buying your game outside of October.
Other exceptions to making your game overly scary and horror themed is to incorporate a lot of content and (awesomely) cheesy comedy. I think the Costume Quest games do this excellently in a way that makes the game playable at any time of the year. The fact that this RPG/Adventure game focuses so much on gameplay, means that the themes about kids trick or treating and changing costumes doesn’t make me forget about it when Halloween is over. I even think that a game like Costume Quest could stay relevant using any holiday as a setting because of how the game is executed. Another new game I saw on Steam called Halloween Forever (an 8-bit side scroller) actually seems appealing just by its name alone. The “Forever” might make people feel a little less awkward playing the game outside of the designated October! The developer says in his Steam description, “I love Halloween and wish it could never end”. It seems like he got his wish because people are still posting reviews for his game in January.
Utilizing Holiday Updates to Peak an Interest in your Non-Holiday Themed Game
[That hat–that shiny, balding head–so worth it (Screenshot from Crosscode)]
As an alternative to making holiday-themed games, I think that holiday updates to a regular game can be a blessing. Crosscode, an early access game by Radical Fish Games, released a Christmas update where they added a Santa-resembling NPC that provided a couple new quests. Because it was for Christmas, I new the content in this update would be temporary, so I immediately jumped into the game to experience this limited content. Even Niantic’s Pokemon Go jumped on the Christmas bandwagon with a holiday pikachu that players could catch for a limited time. It must be the overwhelming joy of festivities–and maybe the immediacy of experiencing exclusive content that can keep any game’s interest thriving.
While there are some drawbacks to making games for a particular holiday, I think that with good preparation and a Plan B that it might not be such a bad idea. If you give yourself enough time to prepare for things to go wrong and have another means of making money, then focusing your time on a holiday game may be worthwhile. You may not be loading with stacks of cash per se, but maybe too many indie developers are reaching for an unrealistic goal of riches. That being said, I think that making the holiday less of a focal point and more your game’s setting can add to its longevity so that it’s not confined to a profit peak 1 month out of the year.
What do you think about making holiday-themed games? Can you think of your favourite one to play? Tell me your answers in the comments!