Season-specific content high on publishers' digital release plans

Seasonal game content becoming an annual trend

Seasonal products have long been a money-spinner for the domestic industries. Now game publishers are starting to release seasonal content just as regularly.

This Halloween just gone saw the release of downloadable content specially for the occasion.

Double Fine tightened their belts to get Costume Quest out in time, Rovio released a Halloween edition of Angry Birds and microtransactions treated users to all manner of spook-themed goods.

Seasonal content is not a new phenomenon, but the rise of digital distribution platforms is allowing publishers to design and package content more rapidly than before.

Ravenwood Fair, from Doom co-creator John Romero, is a social game that has been bolstered by its well-timed release.

“With Ravenwood Fair, we released a bunch of Halloween-themed content recently. Our top-selling building in the game was a skull cart building, which was part of the Halloween-themed content,” said LOLapps co-founder and VP of product Kavin Stewart.

“Seasonal content is a great way for us to keep games fresh and interesting for users. Games are all about having fun, and novelty is a big part of that. From a purely financial perspective, we’ve also seen that seasonal content monetizes extremely well, so it’s something we expect to continue to leverage.

“The games we produce continue to be developed well after release. I’d go as far as to say seasonal releases and additional content are key to keeping the game alive. As a player, a major reason why you return is to see what new developments have occurred in the game. If you were to come back to the same game over and over again, you would quickly become bored. In this respect, social games have more in common with MMOs than classic casual games.”

This is a trend indie developers too are beginning to utilise to their advantage.

“Seasonal releases are like fashion to gamers. While partygoers dress themselves up in different costumes, most gamers will love to get into the mood by playing their favourite game with the seasonal contents,” said Koh Siang Leng, co-founder of Real Inverse, makers of Paper Ninja for the iPhone.

“It is not a must, but definitely good to have, especially if we are targeting casual gamers.

“We will try our best as two indie developers to work towards preparing special free versions for every season, even though it takes up more effort than providing a lite version.”

The total number of free downloads for Real Inverse’s Paper Ninja Halloween! was almost 30,000. The subsequent number of paying consumers pushed the original game back into the US top 200 action and adventure chart. And the developer already plans to release a Christmas version.

ngmoco, too, published a selection of add-on content during the run-up to Halloween and received a healthy return.

“We launched over 10 Halloween items in We Rule, GodFinger, We City and We Farm – and also opportunistic items around the World Series between San Francisco and Texas – and return per user increased by an average of three times across each game for the Halloween period,” said ngmoco’s VP marketing Clive Downie.

“Releasing around large inflections in the installed base of devices and being visible to those new user bases is where we see positive results. Seasonality only comes into play on that strategy around holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas are large gifting moments when devices increase so when possible we like to synch with those.

“But with additional content in our live game services it’s absolutely a factor all through the year. We launch between one and two new content items into those communities every week and when we can orientate around an event that has mindshare and meaning with the players then we see exponential benefits.”

This kind of fast, iterative development is well-suited to these online platforms. Angry Birds Halloween and Plants vs. Zombies both stayed in the iPhone and iPad top 10 in the days leading up to Halloween.

Themed add-on content and virtual items look to be positive impulse buys in much the same way as Easter eggs and mince pies.

Publishers plan to exploit the benefits of this growing trend in the online market. ngmoco see seasonal content as an “imperative” part of their business plan, helping them to glean more from their communities at key moments.

Downie said: “We use it extensively. The challenge is you require systemic live planning and pipelines at the heart of the business. ngmoco has matured those over the past 12 months in the mobile environment. Live tuning and distribution is key as it untethers you from app approval times and allows you to be nimble and opportunistic.”

Stewart concludes: “I’d definitely expect it to become more important. The industry is still in its infancy, so many of the things we’re just beginning to see start working now will likely be expanded upon as the industry matures. I’m sure seasonal content is one of these things.”

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