From Fake Ads to Fake core gameplay – The UA (r)evolution

We are experiencing an (r)evolution in User Acquistion. Read how fake ads evolve into fake core gameplay ..

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Thank you very much for a great feedback for the latest Fake ads article. It does not stop there. I am partnering with Jakub Remiar, the co-host of two & a half gamers and head of monetisation at Traplight. He is smart, I talk shit.

Prepare to read some smart shit 🧠 💩 below! 

Increasing trend in Fake ads

You already know why is it happening. Running and growing a game is not an easy job. CPI vs LTV equation is really important. And if you are unable to drive the LTV up, then you need to do whatever it takes to lower the CPI down – below your LTV. WHATEVER IT TAKES! 

Lately we have seen many games trying to implement the practices behind fake ads into actual products which is definitely new. 

This again evolved itself as it first started as an attempt to prolong the illusion that the game is the same as the fake ads. This was done rather crude through “duct taping” the fake ads into the onboarding funnel between the levels where fake ads playables were played by the user and then the real core gameplay of the game would be inserted in between.

After a while the fake ads would disappear and the real game would take over as seen in the example below. 

Hero wars example – the fake ads OG

Hero wars pushes the first playable of a fake ad right from the start of the game, therefore the transition from the store that is full of screenshots of this fake ad seems seamless. User won’t notice any fake advertising immediately.

UA creatives

Afterwards the game takes over and there is one level of gameplay on the sagamap and then another fake ad level is played. It needs to be noted here that the playable works surprisingly well, the user can still fail and if he doesn’t want to bother with it he can skip. The fake level is quite enjoyable actually, as there is the usual trial and error phase, where you want to see what happens and how the lava actually behaves in the physics puzzle.  

After level 3 the original game takes over and shows the player the main menu hub. 

The illusion is now complete as player at this phase still expects that the fake ad puzzles would show up somewhere between the levels as they did before (spoiler they won’t :D) so he continues playing. The legend says this player is still waiting for more puzzles in the game .. 

Hero Wars guys are Fake ads OGs, thats where the Mighty Party got the inspiration from. 

Good old Mighty Party fake ads

Mighty Party is a turn-based strategy RPG that is an excellent example of combining action, strategy, battle rpg and turn-based roleplaying games. We took the best from different genres to create an amazing experience for you in the world of Massively Online Role-Playing Games.The whole history of Mighty party fake ads is written here, so I won’t bother you too much. Few highlights:
 

Game starts with a normal gameplay of it’s turn based combat. 

Then the fake ad playable comes in. This feels much more as a part of the gameplay than the previous game example because the rewards screen is the same as you would get from a normal battle in the game.

What players see in the creatives, they see in the store as well! 

Fully Tower fake and the last one looks almost the same as Hero wars. Lets look how the store looks like!

Fake ads implemented into tutorial

Afterwards the original tutorial of the game kicks in and walks you through the combat and meta game menus. 

What was the tutorial evolution? This is the original gameplay with the default tutorial from the days when they didn’t run any fake ads:

Here we have the „fake ad tutorial“ iteration:

This is me playing the game now (for research purposes🕺🏻) Turn your head pls! 

Making moneyzz

Now comes the really interesting part, Mighty Party was first soft launched on the android store in Jun 21. 2017. It was doing some nice revenue, in first 2 years of around 200-500K $ a month but then suddenly in Oct 2020 it was able to quadruple the downloads to half a million a month and in the end the game continued to scale it until it’s peak in Jul 2021 to 4,5 million downloads a month. Revenue of course swiftly followed at nearly 8 Million $ a month peak. How was it possible that a 4 year old game was able to supercharge it’s revenue without undergoing significant product changes?

Fake core gameplay is the new trend

Now we went through some of the iterations that took rather old games and supercharge their onboarding funnels with Fake ads playables that can be inserted into the core gameplay better or worse, being less obvious or more. 

But there are games that evolved this trend even further by actually building the “fake core gameplay” into the game and making it significant in the early stages of the game. 

This of course requires much more effort than duct taping a fake ad playable into your tutorial and they reap the rewards. 

Let’s look at the most recent examples and pioneers in this trend. Do you know which games are we talking about? NO? 

Of course we are talking about those 4x games you thought they are not 4x at all! HAHA! They got you as well. pcheche!

Talking about Top war and Kingdom Guard. Continue reading for more information!

Kingdom Guard

Kingdom Guard from Tap4free starts as a very simple merge game that has an auto-battling tower defense on the background. 

It’s very easy, actually it uses somehow similar layout design to merge planes. 

You merge your towers together to increase their merge level numbers and then place them on the road to beat up enemies that are approaching your egg at the end. 

Sound like an interesting tower defense concept? WRONG!!! Let’s see what happen next. 

The game later unlocks more slots on the merge board, more tower slots to occupy and eventually ads even an auto merging (later monetized with ads or IAP for the comfort of also placing units on the towers) mechanics. 

So playing the games is now reduced to just the spawn button which already spawn a much higher level of towers on the initial spawn. This way the game is played just by clicking the spawn button and the whole gameplay plays itself. 

So what would you do for the rest of the game? How about a little 4X? 

This is the time where the game introduces classic 4X march battle map and in the end unmasks it’s true core gameplay which is the classic 4X game of upgrading buildings and battling players on the server map. 

You still can’t use all of the feature as those are level locked based on you tower defense level progression, which works nicely as a pacing mechanism for unlocking of the features once you hit the current merge cap on your towers.  

One of the things where this illusion breaks a little is the overall gold amounts that you have. (this is the geek game design Jakub talking because I wouldn’t notice shit!)

First when the game was teaching you the tower defense part, you run out of gold super fast, as you were not supposed to spam the train button. But later on you are pretty much using millions of gold on daily basis and the button cost 10 gold.

The main focus of the game switches to getting resources from the march battle map and upgrading your base, where the gold amounts are actually relevant. This is the real game that has now taken over. The tower defense part just loses its use and you can just go and get some “merging” dopamine from there.  

May the fake money be with you

Different tools, different revenues. Still loooks like an upward trend! Hitting anything between 5 Million and 9 million USD monthly revenue. 

What about UA creatives? 

I am glad you asked! You are awesome. Kingdom guard uses a lot of fake ads showing mostly the „core“ tower defense. Taking inspiration also from hypercasual genre.

Top war!

Looking at another example of a similar setup we can also see that heavy iteration of the onboarding itself is done similarly as you would need a new creative winner in UA

Top war also uses a merge gameplay that is the center of the onboarding and later on it also transitions into 4X game. 

During the initial year the game just started simple with you merging troops and fighting auto battle on a big one island map. 

Later the game would push you toward the march battle map and more base upgrades and research trees. This was the initial setup of the FTUE

Initial tutorial

In 2021 they completely changed this and the game used a more merge+tetris like gameplay. 

Where you would win battles on small blocks floating on water which would absorb and merge enemy units. 

This was again consistent with the UA strategy of creatives and screenshots of the store where this block merging tetris like gameplay was featured.

Tutorial

First Screenshot

UA creative

Eventually when you would absorb enough block a Helicopter would take you back to the main island. From this point on the onboarding would be same as the previous version. 

Currently in Sep. 2022 there is a third version where you start on the big island again but this time there is a spin. After merging few units and going into auto battle you find a strange device. 

The game tasks you to basically play the fake ad creative, where you need to cut the cables on a device that controls weather and prohibits your progress by keeping parts of the island in fog. 

This is a great example how a playable creative was smoothly implemented into the onboarding. Afterwards the game goes again into the old island unlocking tutorial. 

The carrot on a stick are those weather machine puzzles which you can see in the fog of the island as I expect few more will be introduced on the way of you unlocking the island.  

The real 4x gameplay

Top war UA & creative team is mastering the hypercasual visuals and game mechanics integration into their game’s creative. Just look below:

So what about User Acquisition creatives? 

There is actually plenty more, but you get it by now. Right? I see you are shaking your head. Here you are another super fake creative example. But that’s it. No more!

Still here? Okay, last one .. 

Looking at the charts Top War performs again very well and probably the bigger spikes in downloads could be correlated with the discovery of new winner fake ad creative that was then implemented into the onboarding. We would never know if the game makes 22 or 40 million monthly revenue, right? Anyway, seems like a win!

What to expect?

Have you seen the pattern here? No? Okay, let’s unpack a little bit. 

We are mainly talking about RPG or 4x genre, which have primarily super HIGH CPIs. How to tackle this? We discussed the fake ads already, but implementing fake ads into the gameplay seems to be a solution. Creating illusion for players and keeping them engaged in the game a bit longer. 

" I'm still interested in doing puzzles that pop up once in a while. However, I'm on the mobile version and the puzzles seem to be gone after Chapter 3. This website says there are puzzles in Chapters 4-7...but I can't seem to find them?"

Puzzle excited Hero wars player Tweet

X-Hero did it well recently, but Kingdom Guard and Top war seem to be masters of this. 

In the upcoming months and next year, we are going to see more genres implementing this strategy to tackle the ever increasing CPIs. 

FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT BRO (still relevant)

Thank you Social Peta for providing all the creatives insights!

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