Most indie developers aren't working for third parties to create something as powerful as The Snowmanand the Snowdog - a stunning game that adds to an already strong portfolio of products around a renowned Christmas brand, which has charged straight to the Observer’s Top 50 Apps of the Year list.
So is creating a Christmas game a good idea, or is it a case of putting too many bauble-shaped eggs in one basket?
Make It Last
“A year round approach of course makes more sense,” says Craig Hicks of Mad Cow Media. His game, Santa’s Sack, was borne out of a desire to create an interactive Christmas card, at the same time as wanting to make his first foray into apps. It’s popular with all who play it, but with such a short time frame in which the game is relevant, Craig says he's unlikely to invest hugely in promotion.
“Growth has been through word of mouth,” he says. Having turned to 100% Indie to publish his game via Samsung Apps this Christmas, Mad Cow Media has now seen international interest, with sales across the globe.
“I did back myself into a corner putting Santa in the title,” Craig admits. “But this was always a starter for me and the feedback has been so good that it’s been really encouraging. When the holidays come around in the summer I might go for a holiday-themed game. The burst of interest at a key time is good, but adding new sections to games that make it relevant throughout the year would probably be helpful.”
Tactically Timed Releases
Yaddick Gerometta from Salad Gamer agrees that for small indie developers, releasing games at this time of year is often about tactics, rather than profit. He admits that he first used Christmas as a way to improve his company’s visibility. Already developing generic children’s games, he launched Santa Claus Christmas and Play With Santa Claus as he knew the amount of parents looking for games for their children increased at this time of year. This has worked well, he says, as they then came across his company and he has seen uplift for his general games on the back of the seasonal ones.
Timing is key, advise both Yaddick and Craig, which is to be expected. Yaddick recommends releasing festive games a few months before Christmas so the game has the time to get a better ranking. “Releasing several games can help the previous games to get a better ranking as well,” he says, which is a good tip for developers with a catalog of digital products.
A Marketing Gift
From a media point of view, harnessing a particular season in your game does give you a chance to promote your product to the more mainstream media. Parenting and general consumer journalists will often compile lists and as well as the longstanding ‘Top Toys for Christmas’ and ‘Best Christmas Jumpers’, you can often find ‘Best Games for Kids’, ‘Best Apps for Kids’ and ‘Best Christmas Apps’. If you have time to email these journalists an overview of your game, with high quality screen grabs and visuals, then there's every chance you could be included, which is excellent visibility with a wide-reaching audience. Using SEO effectively in your website and social media will also help as parents are searching for games online.
So what advice would Yaddick or Craig give to an indie developer thinking of creating a seasonal game?
“I would say to keep the game as simple as possible, since these games are aimed at the mass market - and the mass market doesn’t want to play complicated games,” says Yaddick. “This will also help you release it faster, enabling you to focus on your other games, which will be making you money for the rest of the year.”
“I would suggest making the game easily re-purposed for other holidays if possible,” says Craig. “Having a game that can be updated for different seasons will help keep it fresh and improve its exposure. There will definitely be more opportunity to have it recognized if it’s being updated regularly.”
It’s certainly the most wonderful time of the year - and as high profile games such as The Snowman and Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure show, if your game is representing a successful property it is a great addition to a portfolio. For indie developers however, it still has a purpose, providing additional marketing and leverage to build your brand for the rest of the year.