Ever seen advertising videos of poor gameplay, such as repeatedly selecting the wrong options, even if the answer is ridiculously obvious?
It’s almost like an insult to the user’s intelligence (why choose a bomb)! Many have sought social media and community pages to express their annoyance towards these advertisements.
So, contrary to public criticism, why are companies deliberately bad mobile game advertisements? Despite all the bad reputation, bad gameplay advertisements are actually working for companies like HomeScapes. Its cringe-worthy advertisements and usage of fake gameplay sharply increasing its revenue having been downloaded over 438.5 million times and making $1.49 billion in less than 4 years.
The mobile gaming industry alone generated $77.2 billion in sales in 2020, making it one of the most profitable industries in the world.
With such fierce rivalry, it is only natural for game developers to optimize their advertising methods to attract a larger audience. Unlike traditional advertising, which aims to present a product in a favorable light, gaming advertisements show the capacity of executing the opposite.
Given the rising popularity of implementing such advertisements, these purposefully bad advertisements are unfortunately likely to be around for long.
How advertisers do bad gaming advertising
Some advertisers prioritize creating advertisements that drive viewers to take action, that is, to download the game. They, therefore, use certain tactics to make viewers feel challenged, provoking emotions that would trigger them into pressing download. One widely popular technique involves using a caption that typically says something to purposefully provoking the viewer like
'I bet you can't do this or 'only 1% can beat this level,'
Using such strong phrases like these makes a strong emotional appeal that has been proven to work in advertisements and provide crazy-high engagement. As a result, some users may click on these advertisements in the hopes of finding a challenge, which overall increases the number of downloads for the game.
Another approach that many have fallen victim to recently is the incorporation of false gameplay. The graphics and content in the advertisement are suggested to have no apparent link to the actual game. It deceives many into downloading the game with high expectations but eventually leaves them feeling cheated.
However, what is surprising about this is that even if the majority of people uninstall the game after being tricked, they will still be profitable since there is a small minority who will stay to play. This allows the company to push these users into becoming active gamers and paying customers.
This strategy, despite facing much public scrutiny, is a way for game developers to do market research. It involves an optimization scheme that tests many ad creative variants against every segment of the potential audience. This helps developers determine how many people are interested in the game as depicted in the advertisement. For example, it allows game developers to experiment with certain themes and styles that potential consumers would like.
How Bad Gaming Advertisements Become Profitable
When a large number of people download the app after seeing the advertisement, it helps to boost the number of players in the game. This enables companies to generate ad revenue, by inserting more advertisements from other mobile games in between levels. Users are also often enticed to view an ad via an incentive, such as earning more money or unlocking a new character.
This involves a business metric known as ARPU - Average Revenue Per User. This money might come from
- direct sources (users buying upgrades and subscriptions) or
- indirect ones (users watching advertisements, paid for by another company).
As long as the ARPU exceeds the CPI (Cost Per Install), companies will hold a monetization strategy that becomes extremely lucrative.
One of the most prominent examples comes from Homescapes, a company known for its cringe-worthy advertisements and usage of fake gameplay.
Despite garnering widespread criticism for their poorly executed advertisements, the game had effectively profited on them, sharply increasing its ARPU. As of today, it has been downloaded 438.5 million times. In less than 4 years, they also made a total of $1.49 billion.
It's therefore not easy to make fun of these companies for their silly advertisements when the results demonstrate that they're doing rather well.
Why will these bad gaming advertisements continue running?
With how effectively these gaming companies benefit from their advertisements, whether we like it or not, they are here to stay.
Some of the finest advertising efforts in history were effective not because they were directed at users, but because they irritated them. They leave an impression on the person’s mind, making it difficult to forget.
This becomes even more potent due to the little psychological aspects we have as part of being human. We believe that certain things will work on others, but not ourselves. While seemingly small, it actually significantly influences our decision-making processes. This stems from the social psychology of decision making, where we are biased to believe that others would fall for these tricks much easier compared to ourselves. However, chances are we are equally prone to falling for these advertisements.
At the end of the day, advertisers want to reach as many individuals as possible with their advertisements. The gaming companies won’t care if users find it annoying or aggravating if they will remember it.
That's unless the regulators banned them. BBC UK reported that two misleading ads for HomeScapes and GardenScapes that bear little relation to the actual product have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) despite a brief warning at the bottom of the video that "not all images represent actual gameplay". In the end, the gameplay was modified to bring the advertised gameplay earlier to the players.
The high response rate and strong reactions help the game in gaining the attention of users who may actually be interested in the game, subsequently downloading it to try it out for themselves. This allows game developers to earn more revenue through displaying advertisements and getting consumers to pay for game upgrades. These advertisements are so cringe-worthy that it prompts users to continue talking about and remembering the advertisements.
Hoping to become the next big game, companies are compelled to use more aggressive promotional strategies to get more people to download their games. However, what makes these strategies so unique and surprising is that they are deliberately terrible.
However, this does not imply that other companies should blindly follow suit and do the same. There might be significant risks involved that would harm the company.
Socialpeta - ‘Mobile gaming industry statistics and trends for 2021’ https://www.businessofapps.com/insights/mobile-gaming-industry-statistics-and-trends-for-2021/
The Mercury News - ‘Annoying ads can be effective’ https://www.mercurynews.com/2007/01/05/annoying-ads-can-be-effective/
Wordstream - ‘The 4 Emotions that Make the Best Emotional Ads [DATA]’ https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2015/11/09/emotional-ads
StoreMaven - ‘Why do mobile gaming companies use fake ads? One more point’ https://www.storemaven.com/mobile-gaming-companies-fake-ads/
Mobiledevmemo.com - ‘Mobile ad creative: how to produce and deploy advertising creative at scale’ https://mobiledevmemo.com/mobile-ad-creative-how-to-produce-test-and-deploy-advertising-creative-at-scale/
Quora - ‘Why are every mobile game ads getting worse to the point where they have to show fake gameplay in their ads and using the formats that 97% of people can't beat this and mom vs dad and an LVL 100 boss?’ https://www.quora.com/Why-are-every-mobile-game-ads-getting-worse-to-the-point-where-they-have-to-show-fake-gameplay-in-their-ads-and-using-the-formats-that-97-of-people-cant-beat-this-and-mom-vs-dad-and-a-LVL-100-boss
Blog.udonis.co - ‘Homescapes Monetization: A Strategy Worth $1.49 Billion’ https://www.blog.udonis.co/mobile-marketing/mobile-games/homescapes-monetization
Thinking.umwblogs.org - ‘Those Ads are annoying on purpose?’ https://thinking.umwblogs.org/2018/02/28/those-ads-are-annoying-on-purpose/
Reddit - ‘Why do commercials seem deliberately annoying?’