Misleading/False Advertisement in Mobile Games
While false advertising has been an issue for mobile games for some time now, things began to get ridiculously worse in 2018 when ads began to show content that was nothing like the actual gameplay. This problem is continuing to this day.
Common formats of false mobile game advertisements
NOTE: The nicknames are obviously not official.
- Drag-and-drop tasks - False ads of this variety typically have an area, such as a room in a house or an outdoor location, in utter disrepair, and a selection of items are given to fix the situation. In most cases, an on-screen hand will eventually flunk the task by selecting an incorrect item that usually triggers an explosion or flood, with text reading "FAIL" popping up shortly after.
- Extreme environment survival/"Save them" - One variety of this format has two characters, usually the main protagonist and another major character, trekking through an extreme environment such as a desert, deserted island, or ice cap climate, and, like the drag-and-drop tasks format, a selection of items are given to assist them in surviving. Another variety shows a character being chased by something dangerous or encountering dangerous obstacles, and items are also given to help the character escape safely. Also like the drag-and-drop tasks format, the hand will inevitably select an incorrect item that ends with the characters being put in harm's way or even dying.
- Prerendered/exaggerated trailers - These type of ads will show a highly cinematic or exaggerated dramatization of the game being advertised that, typically, hardly reflects on what the game is actually like. One example of an exaggerated dramatization would be showing the player getting an extremely high amount of resources that cannot be obtained in such amounts via normal gameplay.
- Pin-pulling puzzles/"How to loot?" - A character is shown along with a stash of gold, a liquid such as lava or water, and, occasionally, a wall of spikes, all of which are separated by pin-like barriers that can be pulled on. The onscreen hand will either make the puzzle unsolvable or put the character into a situation where they are taking damage or are otherwise about to be injured or die, and the character will typically look distressed or saddened and say "What's next?".
Examples of mobile games that have engaged in false advertising
- All of Playrix's games - The more recent ads for almost all of their games, most notoriously Gardenscapes and Homescapes, typically use the "drag-and-drop tasks" and "extreme environment survival/"Save them"" formats, although they sometimes dabble in other formats like "pin-pulling puzzles". All of their games are match-3 games except for Township, which is a city building game.
- Hero Wars - The false ads for the game very frequently use the "How to loot?" ads, often starring the main character, Galahad, and, occasionally, a princess named Aurora. Similar ads for the game have Aurora being shackled or tied up with a dangerous trap closeby, and the on-screen hand has to rescue her. The real game is an idle RPG, but bonus levels very similar to the ads can appear after a level is completed, although this seems to rarely happen.
- Hustle Castle - The real deal is a combination of an idle RPG and Fallout Shelter.
- Idle Capitalist
- Mafia City - The false advertisements for the game, especially the phrase "That's how mafia works", became a meme because of the bizarre nature and hilariously bad quality of the ads. The real thing is a city building and strategy game.
- Matchington Mansion
- Sweet House
- Words Story - The ads use an artstyle that copies the artstyle of Cyanide and Happiness and show words being spelled or other puzzles being solved to give items to a prisoner to help them escape from prison. While word spelling and a prison setting are parts of the real game, the gameplay consists solely of word spelling puzzles that have little or no impact on the story, and the game has a generic stick figure style. The story itself is basically The Shawshank Redemption Lite.
- Bob's World - A Super Mario rip-off infamous for spamming ads 24/7 which include random gameplay clips of Super Mario and not advertising the game. Once, they shamelessly showed an ad which was basically a Level Up video. How come the developers of that game not been sued yet?
- DAFU Casino and many other slots games - The ads claim the game is better than real casinos and make it seem like you are always very likely to win a lot of real money. They often also include very obviously and poorly staged reactions from people who "won". However, you don't actually win real money in the games.
Why It Sucks
- Most obviously, they tend to completely lie about the content of their games. You could get an ad that looks like an intense game where the safety and wellbeing of the world depends upon your actions while the actual game is the everyday tile-matching game.
- Many false mobile game ads are highly repetitive and can easily be summed up as "Incompetent moron doesn't know what they're doing and screws everything up for the characters". The constant, and almost intentional, screwups by the on-screen hand and the "FAIL" text popping up can also become infuriatingly irritating. Additionally, many of the "drag-and-drop tasks" ads typically end with explosions or floods.
- Sometimes, the hand is even set up to fail the task at hand, as either none of the given items are the correct solution to the problem or an item that should solve the problem doesn't solve the problem at all.
- When it comes to the "I can't reach pink color" type of ads, most ads do not have any pink on them. However, when there is a sign of pink, the ad shows that you are either painting on it, or other things that do not involve "reaching" said color. Most VOODOO games have these types of ads.
- On at least Google's Play Store, a number of games (most notably those by Playrix) have started to put up trailer thumbnails, store page images, and even icons that misrepresent what the gameplay is actually like. This shows just how weak the quality control on the Play Store can be.
- Many of the "drag-and-drop tasks" and "extreme environment survival/"Save them"" ads are extremely mean-spirited because of the characters constantly being put in dangerous situations and facing all sorts of distress or cruelty thanks to the idiocy of the on-screen hand.
- Some of the "drag-and-drop tasks" and "extreme environment survival/"Save them"" ads contain violence or other inappropriate content.
- One fake Homescapes ad showed Austin the Butler with his hands and feet tied up to a bed. To make things worse, the game has an E rating on the Play Store, and last we checked, showing people tied to a bed is not exactly E-rated content.
- Another fake ad, this time being for Matchington Mansion, showed a cat being chosen to stop a rat infestation only for the rats to put the cat in the oven and the room to go up in flames.
- One ad for a game called Sweet House showed a cartoon woman appearing before a vacuum cleaner is used to suck up debris. It sucks up water in the process, which causes it to explode, and the woman is shown scorched and twitching a few times before going still, implying that she died.
- The mean-spirited nature and violent content of some of these ads, combined with the distressed reactions of the characters, can also be upsetting to those viewing them, especially kids.
- Some ads in the "drag-and-drop tasks" and "extreme environment survival/"Save them"" format use very stiff, simplistic, and bland 2D animation.
- Annoying sounds and music in some ads.
- Like game ads from companies like Voodoo, some ads will contain crappy and/or clichéd phrases at the top of the screen, such as "Why is this game so hard?".
- It has been noted that a number of false mobile game ads are very similar to one another in areas like outcomes, certain choices made by the on-screen hand, and even certain assets such as the "FAIL" text. See the linked i3Stars video below to see for yourself.
- Some advertisements engage in asset theft or rip off things from popular media.
- One of the Play Store images and fake ads for Homescapes shows Austin being endangered in a room very similar to the Simpson family's living room.
- Some ads nowadays use Spongebob.
- Some ads use the old version of Facebook's reaction emojis.
- In some cases, footage is even blatantly stolen from YouTubers or even other games! One example is Bob's World stealing a Level Up parody about Mario and advertising it for their own game.
- Two ads for Fishdom show a regal blue tang accompanying the clownfish in the ads. Sounds familiar?
- Hustle Castle's artstyle rips off the artstyle of Seth McFarlane's shows enough as is, but one ad for the game shows a king character impregnating Lois Griffin from Family Guy, Marge Simpson from The Simpsons, and Turanga Leela from Futurama. And what does this have to do with the gameplay?
- Recently, some false ads for Homescapes and Gardenscapes have the disclaimer "Not all images represent actual gameplay", likely to try and avoid facing scrutiny or criticism for their deceptive nature.
- Misleading Homescapes and Gardenscapes ads were banned in the UK by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after 7 complaints from people who believed the ads were misleading. Even though they said "Not all images represent actual gameplay" in fine print, the ASA sided with the complainants, and told Playrix to stop using such ads.