Why are Mobile Game Ads SO BAD? (And Why Only 2% of You Will Actually Read this Article)

If you download anything from free top charts, you are likely to get bombarded with ads every 60 seconds, and its likely to be a knock-off of a clone. The current trend being weird puzzle runners where you collect a certain item and have to dodge obstacles to make sure you have as much of the item as possible. 

High Heels being one of the most successful examples, and the clones include anything from growing your hair, keeping your nails long, or this very weird one where you lick different types of food. If it’s not the current hyper-casual star of the moment, you will probably run into the play-to-win-so-buy-all-the-in-app-currencies-or-watch-an-advert trap. It makes finding something to play very hard, with approximately 300 new games getting added to the Google Play Store daily.  

Game ads where initially created to show off the game and give you an idea what it’s about. Occasionally using playables to highlight the game mechanics.  If forced to watch an ad, you might as well be entertained. Then in 2019, we reached a new level of competitive copying thanks to Matchington Mansion and Homescapes.  These ads became so similar, it would be easy to confuse the two.  

These ads quite often have very little to do with the game play itself and might be a misleading and not what the user expect.  More about that a bit later…

Since then, the ads went downhill from there as more advertisers are trying to manipulate the behaviour and vanity of people. Yes, I am talking about gems like these: 

Gems that I found on a subreddit dedicated to bad mobile ads.  

The ads play on (often harmful) stereotypes, beliefs or emotions and reinforces questionable behaviour.  

For example, in most ads for Project Makeover, which is targeted at a female audience, the make-over ads focus on body areas that should be adjusted to arbitrary social standards – like removing glasses or shaving body hair, added to that the outcome of these are that the character is trying to impress a man, and that regardless this is a negative experience for the character. 

The character always loses out every time, whether it’s getting her teeth pulled out, ridiculous clothing items or the boyfriend character running away or fainting. Implying that this game is all about how to make life as miserable as possible.

If you play the game, you will notice that its quite different than what the ads sell, overall being a little less judgmental, and a lot more task orientated. You can style characters, but there is no game mechanic where the characters look can be altered to into the situation represented by the ad.  

An 11-minute compilation of Project Make Over’s sad ads. 

Matchington Mansion and Homescapes suffer from the exact same misrepresentation syndrome. I’m using these as examples, as you are guaranteed to have seen at least one of these. (Or five in the last three minutes depending on the game you are playing at the time).

What all of these ads have in common, is that at some point the in the ad something ridiculous happens which goes against all logic and grabs your attention because I, as a player wouldn’t make that mistake.  Similar versions of this theme include, only 2% of people can solve this puzzle, or 97% of people will fail. It’s in our inherent human nature to try and prove the ad wrong.  

Is being inflammatory or controversial the only way to draw in people to your game? I would love to know what the success rate is for these ads, are they all about brand awareness or do they actually draw in users. On the other hand, if they weren’t working, I guess they would’ve tried another approach.  

What is the way forward? Let’s start with some regulation of ads, the advertisers should be transparent about what is real gameplay, and there should be checks in place to make sure that they are not harmful. And a way to be able to report these ads – but considering how hard it is to close or skip and ad, I won’t get my hopes up.

So here is to hoping that the advertisers try something else for once, if I’m going to be bombarded with ads, I would prefer to enjoy it! 

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