Why MMO Christmases never stack up to Halloween

christmas

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:

Decorative

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.

Baggage

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.

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7 thoughts on “Why MMO Christmases never stack up to Halloween

  1. Sylow December 1, 2015 / 9:28 am

    It might be just me, but for the two MMOs i play, i only see one affected by what you write. I mean, for sure GW2s events are exactly what you describe, christmas-PvP included and any actual inspiration locked out of the house.

    But i am very curious on what TSW delivers for christmas this year. I mean, we had the end of the Mayan calendar and thus the expected end of the world (it did happen, you just didn’t relize… *grin* ), we had Krampus, Hel and a visit to Niflheim and we had the Christmas Conspiracy, a very nicely done mission with music riddles. As they reliably delivered high quality material over the games lifetime (see other events, including last Halloween with it’s morally troubling mission), i am quite confident that they will still leave the candy-cane-weapons and grind-events to GW2 and other MMOs and bring us interesting content instead.

  2. bhagpuss December 1, 2015 / 9:39 am

    Not my experience at all. Halloween isn’t even a Holiday for one thing. You don’t get any time off work for it for a start! It also has very, very little cultural traction where I come from and it has no more to do with most of the MMOs I play than any other real-world festival.

    I’m really looking forward to both Wintersday and Frostfell this year. Last year I put a lot of time into both of them and I hope to do so again this time round. I did chip around the edges of the two halloween events a few weeks back but they aren’t a patch on the midwinter festivals and never will be in my opinion.

    I know Halloween events have their strong supporters but I have never seen any clear evidence in any MMO I play that Halloween gets more resources or attention. Devs know that the Christmas-analog events fall during a lengthy period of leisure time that often co-incides with inclement weather and provides a captive audience that’s hungry for entertainment. Halloween lasts one night and most years you have to go to work or school the next day. Which would you prioritize?

  3. Grant December 1, 2015 / 10:14 am

    I really enjoyed the way the original Guild Wars handled Wintersday, as opposed to what they do now in GW2. The focus was less on gifts and candy canes, and more on the struggle between Grenth (the god of winter and death) and Dwayna (the goddess of spring and life) Wintersday back then had more in common with groundhogs day than it did with Christmas.

    That said, I absolutely love seeing LA covered in snow and the music that goes with it. I can’t wait to see what the new LA will look like.

  4. Wilhelm Arcturus December 1, 2015 / 10:31 am

    I will not give up my jaunty Frostfell cap. I wear it year ’round on a couple characters.

  5. Tyler F.M. Edwards December 1, 2015 / 10:49 am

    @Sylow: Sadly, TSW isn’t doing a Christmas event his year. I mean, they’re bringing back the old stuff, but there’s nothing new.

    Anyway, I think it’s a less case of why Christmas doesn’t work and more why Halloween does. I’m of the opinion that trying to shoehorn real world holidays into game worlds always ends up being cheesy and ridiculous (exceptions given to games set in some version of the real world, like TSW). I would much rather developers come up with some holidays that fit their own lore.

    Halloween does manage to be a cut above, though I still find it a bit tacky at times. There are a couple of reasons for this, some of which Syp outlines above. I would also add that the fantastical nature of Halloween makes it a bit easier to come up with stories that fit within fantasy worlds (for example, WoW’s Headless Horseman holiday boss actually has a pretty interesting backstory when you dig into it), and of all modern holidays, Halloween probably has the most connection to its pagan roots, so that makes it a bit more at home in pseudo-medieval, often polytheistic settings.

  6. Nick December 1, 2015 / 11:35 pm

    The Xmas events I’ve always enjoyed were STOs Q’s Winter Wonderland, because it always felt like the kind of thing Q would do. It suffers from being too Grundy, but the whole of t, from the races to the absurd snowball weapons to the Borg asymilating snowmen was just great.

    I’ve also always enjoyed Frostfell in EQ2 because it had the random gifts, gathering, and crafting stuff. Plenty of options for the non-pvp types to enjoy, and given that I play the game mostly to craft and decorate, it works out well for me.

  7. Sylow December 2, 2015 / 5:06 am

    @Tyler F.M. Edwards:

    Seriously? It was announced that there’ll be no new christmas concent this year? Hmm, that’s kind of a letdown, despite my christmas time probably will be very busy (moving to a new flat and not sure how much internet access i will have during that time), i was looking forward to the new christmas content. On the other hand, from an outside view, the only reason it is a letdown due to the super-high standards they maintained up to now, despite their dire financial situation. Many other established and well founded MMOs just dust off and reuse the same christmas content for many years, while TSW delivered new high-quality seasonal content. I have to admit that it makes much more sense for them to rather invest their ressources into their next issue to make them more money.

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