Christmas, fireplace, fire, logs, candles

Why Christmas games suck

Gamers have it good at this point in the year and it feels right to buy a Christmas game to pass a bit of time. But contributor Timlah is here to tell you why they’re usually rubbish.

Tim, contributor

Contributor overview
Website: GeekOut South-West
Description: Some men just want to watch the world burn – but that quote certainly doesn’t fit the eccentric Timlah. Geek culture has completely consumed this chilled-out cosplaying conundrum. Regularly smiling and keeping it geeky, he’s hugely fond of indie games and alternative gaming systems.

Timlah says…

Christmas is upon us: a time of cheer, plenty of beer and perhaps a video game or two. So you’d better watch out as developers and publishers are aware that the holiday season means they can whack on a bit of downloadable content (DLC) to your favourite titles. When this happens, you’ll see people wandering in multiplayer titles dressed up as jolly Saint Nick himself or perhaps an elf. Maybe they’ll be receiving presents instead of health packs or something along those lines. If you don’t have this DLC, you’ll look like a Scrooge.

But have you noticed so far that I’m not discussing any actual Christmas games? I’m just talking about reskins, or textures, for an existing release. It’s easy to make a few quid off your title if you’ve already got an established fan base around this time of year: people pay because they want to support the developer in a small way… and DLC and themed items are an instant hit!

A blatant example is the game I recently reviewed over on GeekOut South-West: Garden Rescue: Christmas Edition. This is a simple tower-defence title which sees you defending your garden of two trees from bugs who want to take them away from you. These are, naturally, Christmas trees and the maps are themed with snow and presents strewn across them. The enemies may be wearing a stocking to wriggle around in or maybe a little bobble hat.

In terms of gameplay, it’s not different than any of the other Garden Rescue games. There’s no advances in the way the Christmas Edition is played, nothing unique or special about it. Even the little towers used in the release are the same as the usual plants: Peas, Sundews, Corn, etc. It was easy enough to shove little hats on things and put some snow over the land. I’ve not played the other titles in the franchise, but I wonder if the maps were actually exactly the same as others in the series.

Getting away from skinned games however the crux of the problem with actual Christmas games is that they generally suck. I mean it: they suck! This is a time of good tidings, joy and peace to all on Earth. It’s when there’s a jolly man dressed in red and white, with a big belly and presents for good boys and girls – and parents keep that image alive so their children are on their best behaviour. It’s commercialised, or it’s religious depending on who you ask and your beliefs.

When you make a video game based on Christmas, naturally you’re going to lean towards the commercialisation side of the holiday. But it doesn’t make for a damn exciting title. There was an exception to this: when GAME made a game for the season called Christmas Shopper Simulator. The aim was to smash through people, getting flash-mob dances and the likes – Goat Simulator all over again but it was funny because it was meant to be silly.

You have the ability to offend millions of people on the one hand, whereas on the other you might just make a dull game.

Countless companies make the mistake of making a serious title for the season, which means you’ve only got the religious route to go down. When you do this you’ve got to be really careful as it’s a tough subject. You have the ability to offend millions of people on the one hand, whereas on the other you might just make a dull game. This was certainly the case for many older titles which depicted the story of Jesus.

How would I make a Christmas game?

First of all, I’d probably try to steer away from monopolising off the holiday season, but if I ever made a game where updates were planned I’d probably put in a free package for a Christmas theme. I’m just that sort of person, but that’s not answering the question very well. So for any budding developers out there looking for an idea, this one is yours for free because ‘tis the season to be jolly, fa la la… la la… I think there’s at least one more ‘la’ in there somewhere.

Contrary to many Christmas games that already exist, we’re not going to save Santa or tell the story of Jesus Christ. Instead, I’d make a title where you played as a bad kid and your goals are to cause as much carnage as possible; but as you do so you see those around you disappear until you’re all alone. Then the aim changes to become as good as you possibly can, to bring the home back together. It’s not a great concept for a game but hey – at least it’s a little more original than ‘deliver Santa’s presents on time’.

In short then, games about the holiday season are in short supply and it’s no wonder too. They suck and it seems as if companies are aware of it. I’d quite like to see a successful Christmas video game at some point in the future, but in the mean time we’re stuck with reskins. With this in mind it’s simple to see why they suck: this is a holiday where releases are a plenty, where we’re spoiled rotten with Steam sales and gifts from friends and family. Perhaps they suck so we spend more time with our loved ones?

I invite you to let me know if you agree or disagree with me. Do check out Christmas Shopper Simulator though as that game is hilarious! Let me know: do you know of any particularly bad seasonal video games, or even any particularly good ones? From me to you then: have a merry Christmas! ☃

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