Last year around Thanksgiving I released a Christmas themed application called “Be Santa.” The whole point of the application was to gift real Amazon.com products to friends and they would sit on your friends’ profiles until December 25th at which point they would all open, revealing the gifts Christmas morning. The twist was that we would actually fulfill some of the virtual gifts, turning them into gift certificates for the amount of the actual product. We monetized through banner advertising and Amazon affiliate sales. The whole project was breakeven at best. In the month between Thanksgiving and Xmas we grew to about 45,000 daily active users and spent all the advertising revenue we had raised on gift certificates – plus probably some revenue from our other applications. We were happy to give some people a very merry Christmas, but this was certainly not a sustainable business model (though we made a pretty penny when someone bought a GPS system on Amazon using our affiliate tag). We learned building a seasonal application is hard since you have a very short amount of time to monetize users and you have to fit your application into a pre-existing narrative users can relate to (Christmas, Halloween, etc).
This season I want to take a look at two Christmas applications and point out perhaps goes into developing a successful seasonal application.
Christmas Cookie exchange (59, 752 MAUs):
This application has the most active users of any Christmas application. And, this is the big surprise: it was built using a gift creator app. This was not built by a big application development agency or even a highly skilled individual developer. It’s a simple and straight forward gifting application in which you can unlock a number of different types of cookies. There is really nothing about this application that deeply ties into social Christmas narratives, except for gift giving (which is already known to be a popular genre of application no matter the theme). It most likely succeeds because it is just like thousands of other applications users are already using, complete with 4 horizontal banners running across the page. Interesting to note though, the gift app creator used automatically has an application to user notification sent to new users right after authorization, a practice I don’t seen employed very often, but may be a cause for their success. (FYI: the second most popular Christmas application is called Santa Clause, about 56k MAUs, and was built using the same gift creator as Xmas cookie exchange).
Regift the Fruitcake (29,500 MAUs) :
This application was developed by Context Optional for Paypal, and from a developer perspective I appreciate the work that was put into the game, design, and the applications goal of to raise money for charity via a sweepstakes. It fits well into the Christmas narrative, hitting on regifting and fruitcake (YUM), as well as celebrity charities. But, compared to the simple gifting apps it seems to be much more complicated and less popular with users. I’m not sure if Context Optional/Paypal has been purchasing traffic or this growth is organic, but the levels interaction required to use the application are most likely the barrier to retaining users – despite the deep relationship with contemporary Christmas narratives. Context Optional has also developed two applications and Facebook page for Palm, which have gotten some recent blog coverage: Naughty or Nice (14,500 MAUs) and White elephant party (3,500 MAUs). Like the Paypal application they tie deeply into the brands sponsoring the applications and well known Christmas themes, but unfortunately have also seen slower growth than the Paypal application and nothing near the simple gifting app.
What conclusions to draw from comparing these two types of applications?
Get to market earlier than your competitors. Christmas cookie exchange has wall posts going back to Nov 30 is by far the most successful. The Context Optional applications were released in December, and I’m sure would have benefited from some more time to build a user base as activity is sure to increase closer to Christmas. There is no reason to wait until Black Friday to launch a Christmas app; in fact our plan was to launch BeSanta in the beginning of November, but were delayed in development.
Piggyback on what users are already doing rather than trying to create the hot new Christmas game. Facebook users are already gifting. Getting them to gift using your application is a lot easier than getting them to do an action they are not familiar with. As much as we as developers like to be creative and innovative with our applications, with a seasonal application playing follow the leader may be your best bet.