The Halloween season is upon us, and I’m sure you will have started to see the spooky game updates and DLC content rolling out throughout the month. This has had us thinking about seasonal themed updates, and why they can be a good idea to put into your game.
Themed updates are a fantastic opportunity to give some love and attention to your existing player base, focusing more on engagement and retention than just player acquisition. In turn, their excitement will have the knock-on effect of tempting new players into your community. So with that in mind, when planning to release a themed update, think about what your players have been asking for from the game, and see if there is a way that you can tie this into the theme.
Themed updates are also a great way to bring your community together and give them more reasons to talk and play with each other. Bringing the community together over a common real-time shared experience can see a real boost for your game, as players will be eager to not miss the action while it is current.
“I feel part of a community of fellow people, getting excited about the updates in real-time.”
I spoke with Emma from the Etch Growth team, a new Animal Crossing addict, about the latest Halloween update in the game:
“Playing a game with seasonal updates, especially in its first year of release is, in my experience, pretty great. The playing field is somewhat leveled as the regular updates are new and exciting, so everyone is experiencing things for the first time. Not only can these updates renew your excitement for a game, they can also give you a reason to start playing again if you’ve lost interest, and make it feel brand new. But for me, it also means I feel like I am part of a community of fellow people, getting excited about the updates in real-time.
In Animal Crossing: New Horizons (with the exception of a time-travelling mechanic to skip portions of the game), the game is played in real-time, so a day in the game is as long as a day in real life and the calendar runs parallel with the real world. This means that the seasons are reflected, and will match what you’re seeing in real life, with options to play in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. Everyone got the latest fall update at the same time, giving them the same time period to collect new items, harvest pumpkins and enjoy things getting all autumnal and spooky.
Let’s not forget this is a game that, thanks to its endless list of daily and weekly tasks (such as hitting rocks and buying turnips) is already addictive. I’m now thinking ahead to the Christmas update, but in the same breath, I can’t wait for the cherry blossom. Animal Crossing, what have you done? I’m absolutely addicted, but absolutely fine with it.”
If you’ve been following along with us over the past year or so, you will have no doubt heard us talk about long-life games. If you haven’t, what we mean by long-life games are those that maintain a strong player base and sales growth years after the initial release, for example, games like GTAV and No Man’s Sky. DLC and updates can be a great way to extend the life of your game, bringing lapsed players back, or sparking your existing players to be more evangelic about the game to bring in new players to join the fun.
“Not only can these updates renew your excitement for a game, they can give you a reason to start playing again if you’ve lost interest, and make it feel brand new.”
Doing a themed update can act as an additional revenue source if you decide to put it out as paid DLC. However, you will need to make sure that if you are asking players to pay for the update, there needs to be significant content to justify it and not just a few pumpkins dotted around!
Putting out a free update eases some of the pressure on what the content for the update will be, and this can then lean to more of an aesthetic update, rather than adding more to the story. However, if you do add a more meaty update for free as a reward for your community, this also lowers the barrier to entry for a new player to buy the game. It is unlikely they will purchase the game, to then immediately make another purchase of DLC, but if that DLC is free, then it may be enough to convince them to buy.
Screenshot from the No Man's Sky Halloween Update 2020
The beauty that themed updates have is that they are relevant to large portions of your player base. Tying updates around things like Spring, Summer and Autumn (or Fall, for our friends across the pond), sees the vast majority of players experiencing these at the same time. The same can be said for themes based around holidays, as in westernized markets occasions such as Easter, Halloween and Christmas are celebrated by large numbers of the audience.
While seasonal content based on weather can be quite generic, it does offer developers scope, giving them the ability to tie almost anything into them. Links can be more tenuous. While this works for some, unless you have a really great hook, tenuous connections can sometimes fly a bit more under the radar, and not pick up quite as much buzz. Players are also not necessarily waiting for a weather season update, which means more effort will need to go into promoting it to ensure it gains traction.
However, on the flip side, with the holiday-themed updates the content can be much more focused, and the player base are already tuned into the themes in their everyday lives. Holidays are hallmark occasions, and with more and more themed DLC every year, players have become accustomed to receiving these updates, so will be ready and waiting for updates in their favourite games.
There is always a lot of competition for attention in gaming, and seasonal updates are a growing trend, with many games getting in on the festivities. And there will only be so much spooky, Christmassy, or otherwise-themed content that a player can consume. So if you are going to engage in seasonal festivities, make sure you’ve given yourself the best chance to succeed. Always ensure that you're doing something original, quirky, or paying off a desire that your community has.
There can be plenty of legs in a seasonal themed update if you can find the sweet spot and cut through the competitive noise. The opportunity is there, to reward your community, re-engage the player base, and just have a lot of seasonal fun. With Spooktober now as good as over, you'd better start thinking about those Christmas updates. Ho ho ho.
At Etch Play, we help games businesses think about, plan and execute on their extended experience. That means delivering value to players beyond the traditional boundaries of a game. If you would like to talk about how you can get the most out of seasonal themed updates in your game, please get in touch.