Holiday-Themed Virtual Goods Expand Social Gaming Revenues

FarmVille ChristmasVirtual goods have hit the United States this year — 11 million people a month are buying them, leading to  $1 billion in revenue this year, according to our Inside Virtual Goods report.

But are holiday-themed virtual goods going to be a significant part of this revenue? Absolutely – seasonally themed virtual items are becoming just as common as their physical counterparts, and quite a few social game developers already selling them.

PetSocietyOne of the companies doing it best is Playfish. Two of its largest games, Pet Society and Restaurant City, are using the more classic sales technique of limited time offers. Pet Society, with its 21 million monthly active users, is offering items such as a “Countdown Christmas Calendar” that grants a new surprise gift each day until the 24th, as well as sets of clothes, and dozens of decorations and furniture. What is worth noting, however, is that none of the items are terribly expensive for a veteran player. In fact, almost every single one could be purchased rather easily, but due to the sheer volume of items available, purchasing too many would quickly run most players dry. Since they are limited, a sense of urgency is established, coaxing the user to buy the extra coins needed before the items are gone.

Restaurant City is also selling a plethora of Christmas-themed virtual goods too. Unlike Pet Society, however, many of the items are not limited. However, two are: The Festive Fridge and Stove. These are not only decorative items for your restaurant, but since the game is about running a business, they also allow you to prepare your dishes 10% faster, thus granting players a competitive edge.

Festive FridgeLike the Pet Society goods, the Festive Fridge can be purchased with in-game currency. However, it is extraordinarily expensive – 25,000 coins, while most items are around 5,000 at the high end. In this example, many players will not have enough coins to buy the item before it is gone – thus, they purchase more coins from the developer with real cash. The Stove, on the other hand, is only available through purchased virtual currency.

This is the approach usually taken by Zynga, bringing us to its major title, FarmVilleZynga offers two forms of tender in FarmVille – Coins and Farm Cash. The first is what can be earned through play, while the second must be bought. Zynga not only provides an exorbitant amount of Christmas items (igloos, presents, Santa’s Workshop, etc.) for purchase, but it makes them limited, makes some cost in-game cash, and makes the best cost Farm Cash. However, nothing offered is something that the user feels they actually need.

FarmVille XmasOf course, even though these items are less needed, with over 72 million monthly active users, it is obvious that many people are going to convert and purchase the items.

The last example worth mentioning is Fish World. As a matter of fact, of all the virtual aquarium games, this one from Tall Tree Games offers one of the widest varieties of holiday items. Unfortunately, it also feels the least effective when compared to the previous three. The problem is two-fold. Yes, they have Christmas trees, and stockings, and Santas, and even snowman fish, but nothing is marked as limited. Halloween came and went and those items are still there. The same held true with Thanksgiving. Why is this a problem? There is no urgency. Players have grown accustomed to this and because they do not say “limited,” There is no rush to buy extra money before everything is gone.

Fish World ChristmasThe second issue is that Tall Tree Games makes a tremendously large amount of its items available only through the Fishbucks virtual currency. Plenty of users have already complained about how everything of use or significance costs Fishbucks. From music, to special fish, to fish feeders, and so on, too much was expected to be bought with real cash, and not enough items of equal caliber have been offered to the average, non-paying player. This, in turn, hurts holiday sales, because it can often frustrate users and drive them away.

Regardless, it will be curious to see how the sales numbers for these holiday goods pan out once the holiday season is past. As it stands, we can only speculate based on hard numbers centered around recent virtual sales near Thanksgiving – specifically, Black Friday. Mobile payments company Zong told us that that coveted day led to a 27% increase for them in regards to virtual goods spending.

Will Christmas virtual goods will see the same success? We’ll let you know as more data comes in.

A Few Games Currently Offering Holiday Virtual Goods:

  • Happy Aquarium – Crowdstar: Christmas trees, candy canes, Charlie Brown Xmas tree, menorah, and a snowman squid. Roughly half cost virtual currency while the others can be earned in game. Limitation is unknown.
  • Mafia Wars – Zynga: “Marshmallow Overload” Item – Limited (24 more hours) and costs virtual currency.
  • YoVille – Zynga: 174 holiday items. Limitation is unknown, but the vast majority of items can be earned in game.
  • Fish World – Tall Tree Games: 14 Christmas songs, 17 holiday fish, 22 premium decorations, and 24 non-premium ones. Not limited, and only 27 out of 77 items can be earned in game.
  • Cafe World – Zynga: 19 different holiday decorations. Limitation unknown. Roughly half cost virtual currency and half are earnable in game.
  • Farm Town – Slashkey: 47 holiday decorations such as lawn elves, lawn Santas, nativity scenes, and menorahs. Limitation unknown, but only 12 cost virtual currency.
  • PetVille – Zynga: 21 Christmas and Hanukkah costumes and furniture. Limitation unknown. All can be earned in game.
  • Restaurant City – Playfish: 11 interior holiday decorations (two limited and functional) and 19 exterior holiday decorations. Only one costs virtual currency: The Festive Stove.
  • FarmVille – Zynga: 43 holiday items. All but one are limited. 21 cost virtual currency.
  • Pet Society – Playfish: 81 different holiday goods, including foods, clothing, furniture, and functional items. Limited. All can be earned in game.