There really is no such thing as a ‘Christmas’ video game. Songs, movies, TV specials, sure. You can listen to Last Christmas, watch Home Alone, and then fall asleep to The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire. If you’re feeling a little more alternative, you can listen to Yule Shoot Your Eye Out, watch Tokyo Godfathers, then tune in to Black Mirror’s White Christmas. There are even not-quite-Christmas options in other art forms, with titles like Tis the Damn Season, Little Women and a few episodes of Fortitude. Gaming doesn’t really have that.
It should come as no surprise that video games are disappearing around Christmas. Although console launches and some of our biggest releases happen around the holiday season, gaming has the busiest calendar. When Ariana Grande recorded her EP Christmas Kisses, she knew it would be finished in December. She was even able to continue the moderate hit with the mega-smash Santa Tell Me the following December while releasing sophomore album My Everything in between.
Christmas movies, whether filmed by major studios or churned out by Hallmark, arrive on time every year. And TV shows film entire seasons and always hit their mark — as long as they air an episode from late November through December, they’ve pre-booked a spot on a Christmas special. Video games take much longer (Red Dead Redemption 2’s total development time was eight years) and are often delayed. A studio can’t spend five years developing the perfect Christmas game only to have it pushed back to February, right?
But I’m afraid there’s more to it than that. The most popular Christmas carol remains All I Want For Christmas is You, which is almost 30 years old. Home Alone, Die Hard, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Gremlins are even older. Even on TV, the most watched Christmas specials tend to be the ones that are shown out of sync and aired over Christmas, well, special. Christmas is a tradition, gaming is a young medium. Not only that, it’s incessantly obsessed with technological advances and rewriting its own history. You’ll never catch yourself doing a mariah and playing the same song for 30 years just because people like it – studios always have to remaster, remake, reinvent.
Massive development cycles, unreliable release windows, and an unwillingness to start traditions are all factors, but part of it are the players too. If I said we don’t really replay games, I’m sure many of you would disagree. But a) you’re reading a gaming website during the holiday season and you’re probably not your typical casual gamer, and b) all your replays are free. When you stream Feliz Navidad or when networks air Christmas movies or reruns, someone makes money. If you dust off an old game you played three years ago for Christmas for another dance, nobody makes a profit, so nobody really wants you to do it.
There are some vague Christmas games, I’ll admit. I’ve already written about the freedom of swinging through the snow as Miles Morales, and Batman: Arkham Origins also connects superheroes and Christmas. Saints Row has a Christmas DLC. After that I fight. Aside from Saints, a paid add-on to a game that’s always done things a little differently, any “Christmas game” you can think of is smart enough to steer away from the holiday season to make it a buy all year round and can be played.
There will never be an “All I Want For Christmas Is You” in gaming because all of the people making those decisions want a reliable cash flow come Christmas based on live service microtransactions, Battle Passes, and a steady stream of income all of it year based. In fact, these Battle Passes allow for Christmas events that never build a sense of tradition because they need to be fresh to make even more money next year. Celebrate Christmas with any game – build a tradition of repeating The Witcher 3. Just don’t expect the games to help you with that.
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