The days are getting longer, school is out and work is done — this is the time of the year when users love to play and pay more. In December 2016 we saw strong uplifts on Google Play globally: installs of games increased by 24% compared to the average month in 2016. Consequently developers managed to leverage this momentum as consumer spend increased by 30% vs. the average month.
Last year we had record-breaking days over the holiday season in terms of overall numbers and active players. We are anticipating with more devices being gifted or handed-down that the 2017 holiday season will be another record breaking one for us.
– Saad Choudri, CCO of Miniclip (8 Ball Pool)
To make the most out of the holiday season you want to optimize the acquisition and onboarding of new players as much as the re-engagement of your existing audience. This article will share some proven strategies and best practices for making December a jingly month. Even if you have planned your holiday activities already, there might be one or two ideas you can still integrate into your game. And don’t forget, this is much more than just a time period with highly engaged users: it is your chance to show your players that you care. Pay attention to details. Take the opportunity to demonstrate that your game has a soul and is more than just another icon on the home screen. Listen to the feedback of the community — they have had a wishlist for long and the holiday season might be the best time to make it come true.
Holiday season is very important, yet we see this time not only as a source of additional income and audience attraction, but as an opportunity to bring joy to players and make their playing time more diverse.
– Alexander Shilyaev, COO of Melsoft Games (My Cafe)
It’s not just about the wrapping
Before we dive into what is happening in the games during the holidays, let’s remind ourselves of the overall funnel — it is not different in December: new players will go through the same stages of attention, discovery and download. However, at this time of the year, a festive store icon, screenshots with snow and wrapped gifts plus an updated store description might help you to get even more users into your games. Google Play developer tools such as store listing experiments will enable you to assess the impact of updating seasonal assets on user behaviour.
We use store listing experiments extensively for testing seasonal and generic content. We have been able to incrementally grow our funnel conversion by optimising our store assets. This is a definite must do.
– Måns Wide, Product Lead of Rovio (Angry Birds 2).
After the download, think of the onboarding process: what about adding some more snow in your tutorial or integrating some festive elements into the loading screen? Admittedly, in the end, your game will still be judged by its quality. Plus the snow should be integrated for the sake of decoration and not become a distraction. But imagine somebody is attracted by your winterly store listing; how will that user recognise the conveyed mood in the game? Does he or she need to play until level 15 to indulge into the holiday experience or is it integrated from the beginning? Updating store assets is building up a value proposition. In the past we have seen some examples where the value proposition did not match with the reality of the in-game onboarding and experience. So put off those rose-tinted glasses and play your game as it would be for the first time. Or even better, ask someone else to give it a try and go through the acquisition and onboarding experience step by step. Only a consistent holiday integration will keep up its promise and will give you the chance to secure an uplift in sustainable installs.
Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow…
The holiday season is obviously not just about downloads and new users — mobile games have increasingly mastered the art of re-engaging users frequently with regular LiveOps, community events, competitions and gameplay updates. Games as a service have turned games into a destination. At Google Play, we have recognized this by optimizing our algorithms for user engagement and app quality. In the next weeks you should think of utilizing these key elements of re-engagement for the festive period.
Firstly, you can re-skin items, buildings, avatars, decorations and characters for getting them into a festive mood. You will delight users with a rather low effort. Even if your resources are stretched you can probably crunch this in. But whilst holiday skins are nice to look at, they contribute just a little towards longer-term engagement.
Secondly, you want to think of doing a bigger holiday event which is turning all these elements into action. For making the most out of this opportunity you can scale and adapt your most successful event of the year for the winter time. There is no harm in building on the basis of your most successful mechanics — this season is too crucial for experiments! There are plenty of ways to make your top event more festive, such as a scavenger hunt in a casual title or a winter battle between kingdoms in a strategy game. Just be sure to only re-use the mechanics but not the whole event.
An important lesson for any seasonal promotion is to provide something unique to the users that ties in with the holiday.
– Saad Choudri, CCO of Miniclip
Another option is to play around with the idea of gifting. By enabling your users to earn and to give away presents to friends, their alliance or even to strangers you are perfectly mirroring the season in your game. And if you have no daily log-in reward in your game yet, December is the best time of the year for finally applying this re-engagement mechanic.
Thirdly — and this requires a lot of planning and project management beforehand — the holiday season is a great time to launch big new features in your game. As an example, Rovio found success by introducing key updates such as PvP arenas and the Tower of Fortune in “Angry Birds 2” during the holiday seasons in 2015 and 2016. Perhaps this is something you want to plan for next year. Wouldn’t it be great to already have a first present for your game, your team and your investors in 2018?
Do less, engage more
Beyond driving user engagement, in-game content and events accelerate seasonal sales and IAP offers. Try to connect your updated shop with what is happening in the game to maximize your results. When it comes to pricing, play around with your most well-known price points. And since scarcity is still an accelerator for demand we recommend to include time-limited offers and items. At the same time try to make things easily understandable and accessible for your players.
We have seen that keeping it simple is the best way forward. Adding too much complexity to the design of any promotions to players has not always worked that well.
– Saad Choudri, CCO of Miniclip.
With the opportunity to increase in-game revenues developers can also consider higher investments into user acquisition across various advertising channels and social platforms.
You might also want to expand your holiday activities outside of the game: as an example, Melsoft Games is utilizing social media for making announcements, holding contests and giving away prizes to players. Another smart and proven way to increase user’s attention is to do some winterly cross-promotion across your entire game portfolio.
The final countdown
After you have thought about how a great holiday package for your users can look like, it is worth to consider timings as well. We can broadly segment the holiday season into three main periods: gearing up for the festivities in early December, celebrating time with family, friends and phones the weeks after, and leading over to the happy new year at the end of the month. This is reflected in the traffic on the Google Play Store: we are seeing the strongest peaks on the 25th/26th of December and on the 31st of December/1st of January. Be sure to have something special in place and track your in-game activations accordingly. What about an event with special offers and a free giveaway for your most loyal users?
Lastly, do not hesitate to go global; whilst the world holds different religious beliefs, developers are seeing uplifts in many regions around the world. One important caveat to consider is the New Year’s peak though. Compared to the relative uplift in the rest of the world, the demand will be much smaller in Asian markets such as Japan or Korea. So get yourself familiar with the Lunar New Year to delight these users in early 2018. You can never be short of reasons to celebrate. Happy Holidays!