Trending Now: 2011 Holiday Content in Social Games

Seasonal promotions and Christmas campaigns are nothing new to social games, but this year Facebook game developers seem to have invested even more effort into holiday content.

We did a quick survey and found that 21 out of the 25 most popular Facebook games have incorporated holiday themes, items, quests, giveaways and content this year — a massive increase over last year, when we saw less than half the most popular social games put in the effort. Here’s a breakdown of the various ways in which these developers have introduced holiday-related content in the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Timed Holiday Quests

As seen in: Pet Society, CityVille, Animal Town

As most developers are already aware, adding new objectives and goals can maintain or raise retention rates in social games. Christmas offers the perfect excuse to roll out new quests that coincide with the holiday. In previous years, these themed quests had no time limit — but in 2011, most holiday content is now specifically timed to expire if the player doesn’t complete the quests before the holiday itself. These limited time quests may actually produce better retention rates as players feel pressured to log more time to complete the quests. This year we’ve seen games with lighter campaigns, such as Animal Land’s holiday plant and shop quests; and much more engaged campaigns that add to the overall plot of the game, like CityVille’s Holiday Saga.

Themed Decorations

As seen in: The Sims Social, Gardens of Time, The Smurfs & Co.

While social games monetize in a variety of different ways, one of the most common is through the purchase of premium decorations and items. Just as people decorate their homes and workplaces in real life, developers assume that some players won’t mind spending a few extra Facebook Credits on holiday decorations, particularly if the game has already made seasonal cosmetic changes that make those extra items seem even more appropriate and desirable. As with quests, the type of decor a game adds can range from something minimal but Christmas-inspired, like Tetris Battle’s present shaped tetriminos, to The Smufs & Co’s Christmas themed decorations that provide additional bonuses besides looking festive. The Sims Social’s in-game store is so far the only game we’ve seen that offers Hanukkah decor items like dreidels and menorahs.

Cosmetic Changes and Gifts

As seen in: Triple Town, Ravenskye City, Car Town, Bubble Witch Saga

Cosmetic changes and holiday giveaways are probably the lowest impact way for developers to incorporate Christmas into their games. This is a trend we’ve seen far more of this year as mid-market and smaller developers have invested more in art quality and presentation. Gifts are useful because they keep players logging in every day, and we’ve seen quite a few games doing 12 days of Christmas-themed events. However, what might be the most common theme of all this year is snow — a simple decoration that developers can automatically add to games without involving the player. Most cosmetic changes we’ve seen this year have been paired with premium decor items.

Seasonal Sales

As seen in: Tetris Battle, The Sims Social, FarmVille, The Smurfs & Co.

It’s a common practice for retailers to discount items in December to take advantage of relaxed credit card limits and increases in spending behavior, and we’ve seen a lot more developers add seasonal sales this year. Ubisoft has introduced a discounted Christmas decoration kit into The Smurfs & Co. that bundles together a value pack of the game’s new Christmas decor items and buildings, and Tetris Battle and FarmVille are taking an even more straight forward approach, discounting the amount of Facebook credits required to purchase in-game currency until after the holidays. The Sims Social offers less of a discount on holiday items in the Specials section of the store.

Charitable Efforts

As seen in: A Better World, FarmVille

Last but not least is a trend we’ve seen some developers pick up on — converting in-game items and quests into results for real-world charities. While there are a few social games that were created specifically with charity in mind, such as Sojo Studio’s new game WeTopia, this year we’ve seen a couple of games incorporate specific holiday giving campaigns. Toon Ups’ A Better World has challenged its players to perform a million good deeds in real life and report them in the game. If the goal is met by January 31st, the developer will donate $10,000 to Cure.org. Zynga has also incorporated its charitable arm, Zynga.org into FarmVille’s gameplay this year, allowing players to purchase special holiday themed decor items for their farms, the money from which will be given to Save The Children.