Why the biggest mobile games are released in December

December 2017 was one of the best months of the iOS App Store. We saw versions for iPhone and iPad of Inside, Gorogoa, Life Is Strange, Civilization 6 of Sid Meier, Reigns: His Majesty, Arena of Valor and Fez come to the App Store in the span of a few weeks.

Nintendo released Super Mario Run just before Christmas in 2016, and joined other great games such as Bully: Anniversary Edition and The Walking Dead: Season Three. While many of those games are ports or reimagined shots of popular console titles, they are important new releases for the mobile market. And they often reach iOS and Android almost at the end of the year.

What makes the final quarter, and December in particular, so attractive for mobile games? We asked the developers and took a look at some of the mobile games that were launched towards the end of 2018.

And yes, it has also been a great December of this year.

Revenue and exposure

App Store and Google Play Store are not physical locations, so it is not necessary to have products on the shelves before the holidays for gift buyers to consider them. Why, then, is the release of a well-known or highly publicized game during the holiday season different from launching in the spring or summer?

It’s about money and visibility, and the confluence of the two. The week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve generates huge income for Apple, thanks to the piles of gift cards from the App Store and iTunes delivered as gifts and stuffed in stockings.

Apple reported spending $ 890 million on the App Store between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in 2017, with another $ 300 million spent only on January 1, 2018. People who receive a new iPhone or iPad as Holiday gift can also be in search of new games to show off their new hardware.

What games are you likely to see when they open the App Store? The biggest and newest, of course. That’s why developers launch their games in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and why there has been a growing wave of notable mobile releases in recent times.

“The biggest advantage is exposure,” explains Ryan Holowaty, director of operations for mobile device developer and publisher Noodlecake Studios. “During the holidays, the number of eyes in the app stores increases substantially. This is due to a combination of sales recognition, activation of new devices and redemption of gift cards. Suddenly, many players are looking at the store and have a shiny new device they want to load with games or have a lot of credits to spend on games they do not normally buy. ”

It is an avalanche of interest that may not be present throughout the year. Holowaty says his company’s games typically see a 20 percent increase in revenue during December. The CPI (cost per impressions) rate also increases during December, which means that free games that are based on ads can be more profitable for a short time.

Granted, the value of the ad is affected in the subsequent quarter, but the additional revenue is there for companies that adopt the holiday rush and try to put their games in front of as many eyes as possible. The competition between mobile games, in December, is as much for attention as for sales.

Another factor is the annual App Store holiday limit for developers. Apple stops approving new shipments and updates for games during a small window, and the highlighted applications are blocked for a short period of time. It’s a vacation break for the Apple team, in essence. The window extends from December 23 to 27 this year and has landed on similar dates in the past. If you are lucky enough to reach the charts during these dates, the competition can not fail you.

Game developers compete to have one of the great mobile titles that ensures a focus of attention during that time, ensuring that many additional people see their game. However, Holowaty suggests that hitting this window may not be as critical as it used to be.

“During this time [in the past], the features would not change for an additional week and would allow you to get more for your money,” he says. “However, over the years, Apple has changed this period of time and how the blockade works. “With the new dynamic showcase that the Today tab has and the changing characteristics, I would not be surprised if we see more rotating content during the blocking period.”

However, if there is the possibility of obtaining additional attention and sales during this time, you will see that the developers compete to try to win.

Lost in the flood

The highest bets in December mean that reputable companies invest large amounts of money and effort in the promotion during this period, creating a situation in which games with a large audience, or a potentially large audience, have a great advantage in resources when competing for store placement and attention.

The December rush benefits games whose publishers can invest money in promotions, or titles that are ports of play that people already know or may want on their phones. It’s a time for big games to get bigger, not for smaller games to make a name for themselves. Players notice that many of the games that were released in December for that circular reason: they already know the games and recognize the name or property behind them.

It’s no wonder that the indie games or the more outrageous titles decide to really stay away from a December release so they will not be trampled on by the giants who rush for a bigger slice of the pie.

“There is a lot of” noise “with a large number of competing titles being released at the same time,” explains Andrei Hanganu, business development manager at Atypical Games. “Without proper visibility, a game is doomed if it is released during the holiday season.”

His studio creates the Sky Gamblers flight simulation games, with Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders 2 released in November.

“High-profile games are easier to gain visibility, so they can avoid the noise problem and capitalize on higher downloads,” says Hanganu. “Sometimes this means that the smaller games are drowned, so we try to never throw a game in December if we can.”

With the release of a Super Mario or Civilization game, or even critically acclaimed indie favorites, such as Inside or Fez, coming from other platforms, what is the chance of a smaller mobile exclusive to compete in one of the exceptional slots of the App Store?

“These companies also have the weight to get rid of the smaller indie teams,” Holowaty says, citing mobile gaming giants such as Disney and Supercell. “They can also invest millions in marketing outside the store, and bring their titles to the top of the charts, which maximizes exposure for organic gamers looking for the top 10 to get recommendations for downloading. The stores are a business, in the end. They know that if a high-profile title comes out with a great marketing machine behind it, they will get many more rewards by putting them in front and center on a small independent game. ”

There is an incentive for these companies to focus on larger games: Apple and Google take advantage of each sale of games, so it benefits from having games that they believe will reach most players.

Holowaty points to Supercell’s Brawl Stars as an example. Supercell is the developer behind mobile successes such as Clash Royale and Clash of Clans; The company tends to get a lot of promotion from the platforms when it launches a game.

“The last time Supercell released a title, the App Store gave them all the main features, so it would avoid the 12th of the month as the plague,” Holowaty said before the launch.

“I have prevented many developers from launching in December for the same reason,” he continued. “When there is a wide variety of options, you really have to be sure that both stores will give you a decent location and that your game can defend against the first level mobile developers, which in many cases are now AAA studios that have an arm mobile “.

The big December releases of 2018

The Elder Scrolls: Blades was about to be the highest-profile mobile game of December, translating an AAA-caliber RPG experience to smartphones and tablets, but Bethesda has returned it to 2019.

It could have been a wise decision, especially considering the problematic launch and the brutal criticism of Fallout 76, but it is also likely to come at a cost. A new Elder Scrolls game is the kind of title that makes the most of the December calendar. Blades also showed up during an Apple presentation, which means he’s likely to get a prominent location in the App Store when it opens.

In contrast, the aforementioned Supercell Brawl Stars is currently the biggest release of the month. Brawl Stars is the latest original offering from the successful mobile publisher, which has produced only a few games, but has won a large bank of all of them.

This particular free game, a 3-on-3 sand-style fighter / shooter with a potential sports hook, spent more than a year and a half in a period of smooth release before Supercell thought it was fit for launch.

“Since the soft launch, we have changed the game from vertical to horizontal, we have completely renewed the controls, important changes have been made to the progression system, 2D to 3D environments have been improved and maps created by the community have been added. the development process, “says Frank Keienburg, leader of the game team, says.

Brawl Stars will surely receive a lot of attention this month, but according to Keienburg, vacation time was not a factor in Supercell’s programming. “We launched our games when they’re ready, and vacation time has not affected our decision-making,” he says.

However, the game’s debut in December will surely not hurt.

Electronic Arts has just launched Command & Conquer: Rivals on Android and iOS, and the exclusive mobile service uses the classic real-time strategy franchise as a starting point for a simplified, Clash Royale-esque experience. Our own Colin Campbell participated in E3 in June, and wrote that “it seems to be honoring the legacy of more complex PC-based games of yesteryear, while explaining the limitations of a smaller screen.”

The acclaimed indie adventure game Gone Home, ranked # 31 on Polygon’s list of the 500 best games of all time, has just moved to mobile devices last week.

“There’s something really good about being able to cuddle up with Gone Home like you would a good book,” says Polygon, co-founder of Fullbright developer Steve Gaynor. “We love Gone Home on the PC and the console, but there is something really unique about being able to hold this small window in another place in your hands, I think there is a greater intimacy in the experience when you can take it with you to your favorite place and more. cozy and enjoy the experience in those terms. ”

Other ports that made their way to mobile devices in December are Tropico and the independent coding game 7 Billion Humans, along with Tony Hawk’s brand new Skate Jam. Japan will also participate in the holiday action of the app store, with Professor Layton and the Diabolic Box and Romancing SaGa Re: Universe launching in the country this month.

November also provided some notable games, such as the continuation of Tower-defense Kingdom Rush: Vengeance and the aforementioned Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders 2, along with Assassin’s Creed Rebellion and NBA 2K Mobile Basketball.

The launch of a holiday does not always make sense for mobile games, but it is an opportunity to capture an additional rumor for a debut for well-known games and established brands.

That’s Scopely’s plan for Looney Tunes: World of Mayhem, a team-based fighter that was launched last week. The developer expects the licensed brand to help drive the game on many devices, even in the midst of more intense competition.

“It’s a competitive market,” says Jori Pearsall of Scopely, “but if you believe in your product and brand, the holiday period is a good time to be part of the crowd.”