One of the most universal experiences when mobile gaming is the ad that you will inevitably have to view. This could be a video you’re forced to watch, your eyes on the countdown clock until you can play the game again. Or it could be a continuous banner at the bottom, that doesn’t get in your way but takes you out of the game somewhat. While ads are the price to pay for freemium games, what issues can we face when seeing these ads?
Ad fraud has been on the rise across mobile apps and online gaming platforms that require players to have to watch advertisements. In other media, there are ways to verify that ads are valuable and accurate. Ad verification on other platforms refers to ensuring each ad impression is compliant, provides an impression of quality, and most of all is displayed as intended. Game ads should still abide by this, especially when the ads are on platforms such as other apps and websites.
Let’s take a look at some examples of misleading ads in gaming. A series of online game ads, for instance, took headlines in 2020 when it was revealed that the gameplay depicted made up a tiny sliver of what players could actually expect. And many others attested to times when they saw a misleading ad, which inevitably eroded trust in genuine ads.
But why is this happening? Surely the game developers realize that any downloads expecting a certain style of gameplay will immediately delete the app when they realize the game isn’t as advertised.
Indeed, ads for the Playrix games Homescapes and Gardenscapes depicted a series of conundrums that players faced. These seemed interesting and exciting and could have enticed people to play. Yet, the gameplay actually resembles Candy Crush – matching colored items together. Playrix fought back and suggested that the puzzle elements were there. And advertising standards agencies agreed – they were every 20 levels. Ultimately, the ads were ruled misleading and were banned in the UK.
— Eric Vanderburg (@evanderburg) October 12, 2020
Misleading audiences with video game ads isn’t new to mobile apps. For instance, the Nintendo Wii’s ad for Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 All Play featured misleading footage of the game. Not only did the gameplay on the TV ad not reflect the actual game, but Tiger Woods’s endorsement seemed like another attempt at subterfuge.
The X-Men Legends trailer featured hardly any in-game footage, merely focusing on the game as one that Marvel fans have been waiting for. So, it’s no surprise that the eventual gameplay brought upon disappointment. Halo 3 was also accused of being misleading in trailers. Fans eventually enjoyed the game, but trailers oversold the dramatic nature of the game.
Even the Pokémon game series has come under fire for misleading ads. Many feature huge representations of the Pokémon mingling with real-life footage. While the trailers were supposed to reflect how the game felt and not how it was played, there was still something off-putting about the ‘Not actual gameplay’ testimonial at the bottom of the screen.
There is a fine line between creating ads for a game that reflects what the game is supposed to be by using extra footage and simply trying to mislead audiences. FPS might evoke emotions tied to their real-life locations, such as World War 2, in a more cinematic way, for instance. Some games expect their fanbases to understand that the ads aren’t exactly representative of actual gameplay and are just taking artistic license for the marketing. Others seem to genuinely be out to trick players. Ultimately, it can all lead to growing mistrust in the industry.