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Christmas Time: The Paid App Strikes Back
by james vaughan on 12/26/13 05:11:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This article originally appeared on

We are gathered here today to examine the Christmas Paid Spike.

During Christmas, in between family time, drinking and copious consumption of mince pies - I found myself keeping a mildly guilty eye on the mobile charts. It's fascinating to see how the charts react at such a turbulent time of year and I want to discuss one observation in the hope that other people may be able to provide additional insight.


Observation: The Christmas Paid Spike:

On 25th December 2013, the number of Paid apps in the top 100 Grossing chart leapt up by 250%
There were significantly more Paid apps in the Grossing chart than at any other time in the year - 28 over Christmas vs 8 for the rest of 2013 and these apps were higher up in the charts than normal. (Perennial top grossing game Minecraft had its highest grossing day in a year (since the last xmas spike)
In 2012, we saw a similar (but lesser) event where the number of Paid apps in the top 100 Grossing increased by 70.8% to 41 over Christmas vs 24 for the rest of 2012. (Side note - interesting figures re the decline of Paid apps in the top Grossing generally...)
 (all stats US iPhone top grossing - courtesy of Apple / App Annie - comparison of chart snapshot end of 25th vs Apple Best of 2013)

Potential Causes of the Paid Christmas spike

After a bit of thinking - I came up with 6 potential causes:
Paid apps are viewed as a 'luxury good'
People receive money / gift cards at Christmas and so feel richer than normal. They decide to treat themselves with luxury premium apps that they would normally not get
Apple Editorial team focus
There is a heavy paid app skew in Apple Best of 2013 awards / featuring. People want to install the Apple recommended apps - the fact that the apps are paid is irrelevant to their decision making. 
New consumers with existing paid bias
People getting devices over Christmas may be new to the Apple ecosystem and may default to paid apps as they are more familiar with traditional purchase models. Also - they may not download many apps in the future after the initial xmas surge.

New Paid app Christmas releases
Lots of large releases just before Christmas means there are lots of 'launch day' sale spikes. e.g. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Walking Dead Season 2, Cut the Rope 2. However, potential counterbalance would be big Free app releases e.g. Angry Birds Go
Paid App Christmas sales
Lower than normal prices for paid apps may cause sales spikes. e.g. Infinity Blade III, Call of Duty: Strike Team, NBA 2K14. However, potential counterbalance would be big premium games going free e.g. Angry Birds Star Wars 2.

Pre Christmas Paid app updates
Big new updates (often themed) before Christmas increase attractiveness of apps and offer more purchase options. e.g. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Infinity Blade III. However, potential counterbalance would be Free game updates e.g. The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Clash of Clans

Bonus potential cause identified here by @MattRix and it feels like a significant one:

"Paid apps earn all their money on the day they're downloaded. F2P spread it out"

It will probably prove to be a mix of all of the above - however, I find the concept of paid apps as a luxury good particularly interesting. Shout in the comments if you think there are other explanations or you can find me on twitter here
James (developer of Plague Inc.)

Bonus questions:

  • Are there other potential explanations for the spike?
  • Is this an aberration or significant? Will this sort of christmas spike become even more pronounced.
  • Could this spike be significant enough to tilt the balance of profitable vs failure for some paid app game devs

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Luis Guimaraes
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I think it's mostly the 1st one you mentioned: paid apps are viewed as a 'luxury good'. It's Christmas, let get us the best food, and the best apps!

Peter Eisenmann
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Yeah, I feel generous tonight, let's spend hundreds and hundreds of CENTS on those ridiculous expensive apps!

Chris Clogg
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This joke is great haha. It speaks to how ridiculous pricing is on the app store lol.

Kheng Chew
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On the Luxury good point, sometimes its not the price but rather the access. I'd imagine kids that don't have a credit card tied to their account and get itunes gift cards would go out and buy the apps they've been watching for a while.

Also, I wouldn't discount sales as having a massive effect. Do you know out of the apps that were lifted, how many were running sales?

Tuomas Pirinen
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There were also some very good Premium Apps that just came out during this period, often optimized for the latest hardware. No doubt many people got a shiny new iPad Air as a Christmas gift, and wanted to see how good it could be with the latest and greatest software.

I would also hazard a guess that more core gamers now have pads, and these consumers have both the money and willingness to spend it on games, and tend to gravitate towards Premium.

Anyway, nice to see some variety on the top-grossing list, and I agree that it would be nice to see some financial success for the Premium app devs -Supercell and King are juggernauts, but it would be nice to see some variety.

Roman Uhlig
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There is also the matter of time.

Around and after Christmas, many people have a lot more free time on their hands than during most of the year. Of Course there are holidays around the world all the time and people take vacations, but nothing is as widespread and concentrated around a certain timeframe as the Christmas/New Year combo.

This might be important, because a lot of people are willing to spend some money on a game they plan to play for a few hours or even days at a time. But for the game I just use to pass the time on my way to work? Not so much. For those times, the quality and longevity of the game is rarely important.