Why Don’t We Have Any Christmas Video Games?

There isn’t really a ‘Christmas’ video game. Songs, movies, television specials, sure. You can listen to Last Christmas, watch Home Alone, then fall asleep to 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 into Black Mirror’s White Christmas. There’s even not-quite-Christmas options in other art forms, with the likes of 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 duck out on Christmas. Though console launches and several of our biggest releases build themselves around the holiday season, games have the most frenetic calendar. When Ariana Grande recorded her EP Christmas Kisses, she knew it would be ready for December. She was even able to follow up the moderate hit with mega smash Santa Tell Me the next December, all while releasing sophomore album My Everything in between.

Christmas movies, whether filmed by major studios or churned out by Hallmark, arrive on time each year. And television shows film entire seasons and always hit their mark – as long as they’re airing an episode in late November to December, they have a place pre-booked for a Christmas special. Video games take far longer (Red Dead Redemption 2’s total development time ran to eight years), and are frequently delayed. You can’t have a studio spend five years making the perfect Christmas game only for it to be delayed into February now, can you?

But I fear there’s more to it. The most popular Christmas song 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 those shown out of sync and aired over Christmas, well, specially. Christmas is a time of tradition, and gaming is a young medium. Not only that, it is unceasingly obsessed with technical progress and rewriting its own history. You’ll never catch it doing a Mariah and playing the same song for 30 years just because people like it – studios always need to remaster, remake, reinvent.

Massive development cycles, unreliable release windows, and a lack of willingness to start traditions are all factors, but part of it is the players too. If I was to say ‘we don’t really replay games’ then I’m sure a lot of you would refute that. But a) you are reading a gaming website over the holiday season, and probably not indicative of the typical casual player, and b) all of 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 at Christmas for one more dance, no one’s making a profit, so no one really wants you to.

Some vaguely Christmas games exist, I admit. I already wrote about the freedom of swinging through the snow as Miles Morales, and Batman: Arkham Origins also ties together superheroes and Christmas. Saints Row has a Christmas DLC. After that, I’m struggling. Other than Saints, which is a paid expansion of a game that always did things a little differently, every ‘Christmas’ game you can think of is smart enough to lean away from the holiday season so it can be bought and played all year round.

Gaming will never have an All I Want For Christmas is You because all the people who make these decisions want for Christmas is a reliable cash flow built on live-service microtransactions, battle passes, and a steady flow of income all year round. In fact, these battle passes allow for Christmas events, which never build a sense of tradition because they must be fresh in order to make even more money next year. Celebrate Christmas with whatever game you want – build a tradition out of replaying The Witcher 3. Just don’t expect the games to give you any help.

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