My Favourite Scam: Holiday Specials

Can I just say how much I love holiday promotions in video games?
I mean, sure, they’re silly, unnecessary, and often shallow ploys to draw in more players during vacation times. This ploy, however, is supremely effective, and I fall for it every time.

For most games, the changes are simply aesthetic. It can be as simple as a changed texture or skin (with varying levels of tact); right now in Minecraft, all my boxes are nicely wrapped presents. Sometimes it’s a bonus costume piece, like in Guns of Icarus Online (where they gave us masks for Halloween, and elf ears and a Santa-style beard for Christmas). Sometimes even taunts will change: during Halloween in Team Fortress 2, there’s a chance that your character taunt will turn into a fragment of the iconic “Thriller” dance. While these tap into the holiday cheer, they aren’t necessarily that effective. In order to see the changes or get your free stuff, you’ll have to log in once during the holiday period – you often don’t even need to play. It’ll get you to return once, but that’s it.

The next level up for ability-to-lure-Caitlin-in-again is having holiday-specific items that are only acquirable during this time period. Look at TF2’s “Naughty” and “Nice” crates – you can only find them during this season, and if you find them, you can only open them during the season as well. If you wait too long, the crate may disappear. This is definitely effective (at least for me). A better example is during TF2’s Halloween celebration, “Scream Fortress 2.” During the season, there’s a specific level where you can find Halloween presents, often containing a handful of random items that you can use to craft into Halloween-specific items – and sometimes you can even craft those into items that you can use year-round. How genius is this? The more you play, the more stuff you get, and the more stuff you get, the more likely it is you can wear the resulting item year-round instead of being limited (in this case) to Halloween and full moons. It’s ridiculous, but it works.

Most effective, though, is when the game itself changes (slightly), but only for the holiday period. Often, this means that there are specific events that only happen during the right time frame. While I don’t play any MMORPGs, from what I gather this is what happens in both Guild Wars and WoW. In Scream Fortress 2, a new King-of-the-Hill level comes out, and is periodically interrupted by a single boss that, if defeated, will drop a new hat for you and your buddies. The game changes from Red vs Blue to a cooperative game where the two sides put away their differences and fight the boss – and I think that’s absolutely fascinating. While this new mode is available all year, the gifts and prizes dropped are not.

I fully understand that holiday specials are, for the most part, about getting players to come back and play more, hopefully pouring all their time of the season into that one game, or at least spending some money. I understand that these are usually just marketing ploys. I also know definitively that they work on me.