Stateside: Should developers avoid launching games in time for Christmas?

How do holidays affect the app stores?

Stateside: Should developers avoid launching games in time for Christmas?
Chicago-based Carter Dotson is a senior writer at, which was recently acquired by publisher Steel Media.

On December 21st, Apple shuts down iTunes Connect for the Christmas period, ensuring that no more apps can be released or modified until 28 December.

This essentially means that Thursday 20 December is the last big release day of 2012, with the last major Apple feature before Christmas, when undoubtedly plenty of new iPhones, iPods, and iPads will be unwrapped.

In the US, the holiday marketing blitz has been going on since even before Thanksgiving, and for app developers, this is a potentially lucrative time, with plenty of potential new customers coming on board after Santa comes down the chimney.

So, for developers who have finished up their titles around this time period, it would make sense to release their game before Christmas and the shutdown, right?

Well, for some, it actually makes more sense to release afterwards. In particular, several indie developers who want to ensure their games are seen by the world are waiting until early January to avoid the Christmas rush.

Just super

Last year, Vlambeer waited to release its iOS port of Super Crate Box until early January, despite the game being approved in late December.

This year, Adam Saltsman, best known as the creator of Canabalt, has scheduled his new collaboration Hundreds to release on 3 January.

"The last few years, around the holidays, the bigger publishers have kind of dominated the App Store as far as marketing goes," Saltsman told me.

"We definitely felt like we would make a bigger impact if we avoided that this year - hard to know if that was really the right decision or not though!"

Of course, it's possible that he never really will know just because the App Store is in constant flux.

The holiday rush

He's not the only prominent indie developer holding off.

David Frampton, known for the Chopper games and MajicRank, has decided to hold his new game The Blockheads until 10 January, though the game is not yet approved as of writing.

The Blockheads

"For me it was going to be a bit too much of a rush to commit to getting it out before Christmas, so I decided to wait," said Frampton.

"Previous years have always shown that there is an increased period of sales for a good few months after Christmas, so I will still see some of the advantage from that.

"But to me missing out on the big week or two of increased sales during and immediately after Christmas is worth the trade off for the increased chance of coverage in the quieter period afterwards."

Is this necessarily true, though? Well, a year ago, there was evidence that it was indeed the case. Fiksu reported that daily downloads for free apps that they tracked increased 6.04 million in December 2011 to 6.78 million in January 2012.

If this holds, then it shows that these new iOS users still in the honeymoon period of their new devices are actually downloading more apps. Granted, a year is an eternity on the App Store, but there is precedent for success to be had in the months afterward.

Big hitters

The current crop of new releases is a high profile bunch to go up against - there's Anomaly: Warzone Korea, ZeptoLab’s Pudding Monsters, and Ravensword: Shadowlands, to name but a few. And there's forthcoming titles to worry about, too.

As if all that competition wasn't off-putting enough, major publishers often drop the prices on their games for the holiday period, including EA, which just dropped a recent high-profile release, Need For Speed Most Wanted to $0.99 only weeks after release.

As such, cracking the charts may be next to impossible for anyone but the biggest of developers and publishers.

Time to think

There's also the added benefit of allowing for wider PR campaigns.

"We were only approved for sale quite recently - it's nice to have some lead time after approvals to announce release dates and stuff, and at this point it would have left us in the middle of when the App Store locks down for the holidays, which would limit our options - a kind of fire and forget scenario, which is not really our style," added Saltsman.

David Frampton says that "…given I am not really in a position to out-jostle the big names and big budgets involved, it makes sense to wait until the dust settles and review/news sites aren't so overloaded."

When you consider that, not only last year's data, but also the fact that Super Crate Box was only able to crack the top 25 once the holiday dust settled, developers who choose not to have their app waiting under the Christmas tree may actually be giving a gift to their app's potential sales performance.

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!