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Where have all the Christmas-themed games gone?

Christmas movies are such a big part of the overall holiday experience. Whether it’s watching Elf on the evening before while waiting for Santa to arrive, hitting the sofa on the big day to laugh through Home Alone with another glass of mulled wine, or trying to swallow down that lump in your throat when angel Clarence gets his wings in It’s a Wonderful Life: the season just wouldn’t be complete without our festive favourites.

We’ve come to expect the launch of a couple of films decked in tinsel-and-fairy-lights each December, alongside the release of the gaming industry’s grandest and most-anticipated titles. So how come incredibly few of them are festive in any way whatsoever? Where have all the Christmas-themed video games gone?

A quick look at 2016’s big-budget offerings doesn’t yield much in the way of seasonal good tidings. Dead Rising 4 may be high on many gamers’ wishlists but it’s not going to give you the same fuzzy feels as Love Actually. Steep may fare a little better with its gorgeous backdrop of evergreens and snow but it’s far behind The Snowman in the festive stakes. And although The Last Guardian may have a lovely, fairytale-like quality to it, you’ll find yourself riding a giant dog-bird-cat-thing rather than a reindeer.

While there are more relevant options in the indie category, there’s still a lot to be desired when it comes to quality. You could ‘team up with the world’s biggest goblin on his quest for gold and be a total Christmas bastard’ in The Night Christmas Ended; or perhaps joining Tom de Cat, master swordsman, in his ‘one cat stand against the Turkey menace’ in The Turkey of Christmas Past will be more to your liking. Unfortunately, it seems as if neither big or indie developers will give us the video-game-equivalent of A Christmas Carol this year.

Maybe the lack of good Christmas-themed titles has something to do with the perception of a video game’s worth being closely linked to its length. As an example, consider The Order: 1886: although widely acknowledged as one of the best-looking console games ever upon its release in February 2015, it received many negative reviews for a comparatively short gameplay time of five to six hours. As mentioned by Ben Kuchera in an article for Polygon:

Many players demand longer games as a sign of value, where more hours for the money is a better bargain and thus a better product.

Whether that view is right or wrong is a separate subject and regardless: it makes developing a seasonal title an extremely tricky project. You’ll need to produce something that’s going to deliver many hours of quality entertainment in order to meet expectations; but bigger games result in more potential for delays and whatever you do, you can’t miss your holiday deadline. On top of all that, you’ll need to persuade gamers to continue playing and completing a title featuring Santa once the lighter days of spring come back around – perhaps an almost impossible task. It’s easy to see why many developers opt for festive downloadable content (DLC) rather than a fully-fledged seasonal game.

Does that mean I’ll be resorting to one of the many Christmas-tagged DLC packs available on Steam? I think I’ll go for a game unrelated to the day instead, but which never fails gets me in the festive mood. Give me something with a bit of fantasy like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Fable, a plateful of mince pies, a cosy blanket and my other half, and I can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays.

Whatever you’re playing this Christmas, have fun!   🎄

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

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