Video ads with fake gameplay, why do they work, and will they stick around?

Mobile Games

October 13, 2022

Fake ads were really big a couple of years ago, and against all odds, they are still kicking around. Some even think their success won’t be stopping anytime soon. Will 2022 sign the big come back for fake ads, or their dreaded end?

What are fake ads exactly?

Fake ads are a kind of video ads where the gameplay depicted in the ad does not represent the actual gameplay you’ll find once you’ve downloaded the game, as you can see below from one of the most famous examples of fake ads: Homescapes.

source: eBaum’s World

2019 and 2020 seem to be the year where there were the most fake ads, but they are still around, and most of all, according to certain experts, they’re here to stay. 

Why did so many developers invest in them? Some developers also use them as a way to gauge user interest in new game mechanics. When faced with the tremendous success of their fake ads, Playrix included some of the fake gameplay as mini-games in Homescapes and Gardenscapes.

For most of them, it’s about CPI. Fake ads are designed to get the largest amount of viewers to click, and since it doesn’t have to rely on true-to-game gameplay, they have more freedom to display gaming trends and stand out from the crowd, when it may be more difficult when your game is a widely spread game-type, such as match-3.

These ads are an easy way to cast a wider net and repackage your game to attract similar-minded users who would not be interested in your game genre initially but could be. All these downloads will obviously boost your game’s ranking, but it will create a new challenge: how can you get these newly acquired users to overcome the dissonance between the ad and the game. And hope they won’t leave a bad review on their way out if they can’t. 

A mixed reception for a surprising success

Ever since they first started showing up, fake ads have been quite controversial. So much that 12 565 people signed a change petition to make them stop. This petition quotes games such as Homescapes and Gardenscapes, Fishdom, Township, Matchington Mansion, Words Story, and Hero Wars. Their goal was to “stop the false gameplay and make mobile advertising true and honest again”.

Some YouTubers have even taken to displaying the difference between those ads and the actual gameplay or making a ranking of the best fake ads they found. There are dedicated subreddits, YouTube videos, and blog posts about seemingly common hate for the medium, as well as a plethora of angry Quora questions on the topic. Consumers are very vocal about their negative feelings toward fake ads, and they transfer these feelings to the game itself, and sometimes even the developer.

source: Apptica

Despite the users’ clear distaste of this kind of ad, it’s still surprisingly effective. The main goal of fake ads (and all ads in general) is to drive downloads, and fake ads are particularly good at this. Even if not all these downloads will convert to revenue-generating users (because of the difference between the ad and the actual gameplay), some of them will.

Whatever the outcome is with the user, it will boost the game’s visibility because it elicits strong reactions. Playrix’s fake ads for Homescapes and Gardenscapes have reached meme level on social media. People mention them and it’s implied that everyone knows what these ads look like. That’s quite a reach for a brand. 

Even for people who’s been disappointed with the difference between the ads and the game, they still contributed to the recognition of the name and the brand.

Another advantage of fake ads is that they can target a larger audience and play on what Ishai Smadja calls audience affinity. Audience affinity means that players of a certain game genre may have affinities for another game genre. Fake ads allow you to cater to another audience that is adjacent to yours and may be driven to your game under new pretenses.

You may dislike them but they’re here to stay

Jamora Crawford is a Marketing Artist for Voodoo. Her job is to create mobile game ads and to stay on top of trends. We talked with her in the 12th episode of the App Marketing Snack and she told us that, for her, fake ads were still going strong and would still encounter a large success in the future. 

After all, they drive conversations outside of the app stores and even push some people to create games as they were advertised in those famous fake ads. 

According to Eric Seufert, you can’t always plan which concept will encounter the biggest success, and Playrix hit the jackpot with its fake ads.

On his blog, he argues that “sometimes audiences respond to truly curious and outlandish concepts and imagery. So part of the reason these fake ads have become so commonplace is simply that Facebook and Google have made it easier to experiment and surface the concepts that teams likely wouldn’t otherwise have the audacity to test”. 

Is it worth it?

Despite the great numbers surrounding fake ads, they may not be worth it in the long term. Sure, it’s always great to see your click-through and conversion rates ramp up. But do fake ads convert long-term users? Not only, such a strategy, won’t help you convert long-term users, but it can also take a toll on your brand image.

Fake ads inevitably create frustration and negative feelings when the users actually start trying out the game. This means they will churn pretty quickly, no matter how successful your marketing campaign was, it won’t unlock long-term paying users. Even worse, it may drive them to competitors.

There are other ways to build up your audience without alienating them. Storytelling is a great example of this. Look at what Metacore does with Merge Mansion or Tactile Games with Lily’s Garden. They’re basing their ads on their games’ characters and adding storylines to the ones already included in the game. This allows them to play on the game’s content while boosting the drama factor to drive attention. 

Remember, you can set up your game’s content to be more attractive to users, but in the long term, it’s better to show them true-to-game gameplay, so they won’t be frustrated with you and your product. 

What’s your take on fake ads, do you think they still have a future in mobile game marketing, or is it the end? 

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