Now that December is here, we’re gearing up for the second of two major MMO holidays that pretty much every game celebrates: Christmas. Or, due to these being incredibly detailed fictional universes with thousands of pages of intricate backstory, Merry Yule Wintertide Wintersday Winter-home Winter Viel Solstice Lifeday Snowbelle Krampus Frostivus Snowdown Starlight Festival.
#waronMMOchristmas — let’s make that happen!
Anyway, most all MMOs celebrate Halloween in some form and most do Christmas as well, and we can debate the merit and marketing value of mimicking real world holidays in-game another time. What I want to do today is share my observations that Christmas in MMOs is almost always a sub-par holiday when compared to Halloween.
This has nothing to do with me favoring one actual holiday over the other. I love both, but for different reasons. But I’ve noticed that no matter how hard MMO studios try, they can never seem to pull out the same stops and creativity for Christmas that they do Halloween. It’s kind of a bummer to end the year on the weaker of the seasonal game holidays, although that’s just when one compares. On their own, Christmas festivals can be a welcome (at least for me) change of pace.
So what’s the deal here? Why does Christmas suffer so?
The way I see it, there are three categories that hurt it:
Halloween lends itself to practically anything spooky and scary, and there is so much of a wide variety here that one MMO’s Halloween can look very, very different from another (although there are some thematic elements shared).
But Christmas? It’s a much more narrow list of decor: snow, red-and-green, trees, candy canes, presents, grinches, etc. Making an MMO’s Christmas look distinctive from others is quite difficult if (and here’s an important point) they’re trying to cash in on the real holidays.
Christmas and other surrounding holidays are steeped in traditions and significance and a million Hallmark Channel specials. What Christmas is is quite specific to some people, and having to dance around that when making a festival for a universal crowd is more constricting because of it.
MMO Christmases suffer from an overabundance of generic tone, contrasted to MMO Halloweens, which are far more free to do what they want and come up with their own lore because no one sings Halloween songs apart from those people who just won’t let Nightmare Before Christmas go.
Combat and Costumes
Halloween has the home field advantage in MMOs because so many of that holiday’s elements fit in perfectly with online games. We’re already dressing up characters, so the costume thing is a great match. MMOs always have scary zones and it isn’t out of place to add one more haunted castle into the mix. And fighting evil, why, it’s part of a grand tradition stretching back to Van Helsing.
But Christmas? That takes a lot more adapting. It’s not completely jarring; snow zones and gift giving work in MMOs, but how do you gamify togetherness, family meals, and peace and joy to the world? Usually the devs throw up their hands and create another snowball fight, because not having combat somewhere in a holiday is apparently very scary.
I’ll even throw in one more disadvantage from MMO Christmases, which is that rewards gained from it are so painfully seasonal that you have no desire to wear/use/equip them come January. Halloween stuff? I’m rocking that year-long.
I have ideas how to spice up Christmas events, mostly starting with a more sincere effort to create an in-game holiday that matches the virtual world its in and isn’t trying to just ape Christmas without slapping the label on it. But that’s a post for another day.