Mobile Gaming

How to Succeed with Fail-State Ads

data.ai Insights

How ‘fail ads’ have helped Royal Match to become the 3rd most downloaded and 2nd highest-grossing US iPhone game in Q3 2023.

A guest post by Liquid & Grit, the market-leading product insights firm in mobile gaming. The opinions and views expressed in this blog article are Liquid & Grit’s own. 

Video ads that show players failing simple tasks motivate viewers to download the app to fix the player’s mistake. These “fail ads” show players making obviously terrible decisions during gameplay that result in failure. Seeing other players fail makes viewers feel smart and frustrates them into downloading the app so that they can complete the task correctly—which has helped fail ads become the biggest trend in ad creatives.

To make a successful fail ad, apps should:

  • Include an obvious goal so that viewers understand what leads to success and failure.
  • Add a simple narrative to give failure an emotional hook.
  • Create a sense of urgency to keep viewers engaged.
  • Use humor or surprise to make failure more fun.
  • End with a call to action to prompt players to download the app.

Half of the 20 Top-Grossing US iPhone Games Used Fail Ads as Part of Their User Acquisition Strategy in Q3 2023

Most of these titles were either match-3 (Royal Match, Gardenscapes, Homescapes, Fishdom) or 4X strategy (Age of Origins, Evony, Puzzles & Survival). Both genres primarily use mini-games rather than core gameplay in fail ads, likely because mini-games are more eye-catching and easier to understand than core gameplay. There’s a major opportunity for other genres outside of match-3 and 4X strategy to experiment with similar ads. 

For more on designing mini-games to target user acquisition, see Liquid & Grit’s Mini-Games Toolkit.

Dream Games' Royal Match is the Most Prominent Fail Ads Success Story

Royal Match used fail ads to become the 3rd most downloaded and 2nd highest-grossing US iPhone game in Q3 2023. 

According to ad creative data from Data.ai, Royal Match’s most-run video ads across all networks were fail ads. In these ads, players clear blocks in a match-3 mini-game to save the king from impending danger, such as a pool of acid, a fire, or a snake. The player makes wrong moves or takes too long, causing the king to meet his end.

An example of Royal Match’s fail ads, showing the player failing to save the king. 

Looking to Employ Fail Ads? Here are Your Essential Fail Ad Strategies for Success

Make sure the player’s goal is obvious.  

Viewers must understand what success means and what the player is doing wrong that causes them to fail. If an app’s gameplay mechanics are too complicated to communicate in a short ad, developers can use simplified gameplay for ads or consider making mini-games specifically for UA. For example, Age of Origins ads showcase the app’s hypercasual mini-game rather than its core tower defense and strategy gameplay.

Add narrative to create an emotional connection with viewers. 

Adding a simple story gives stakes to the gameplay, making viewers more invested in the gameplay outcome. For example, Gardenscapes ads feature a pin-pulling puzzle in which players attempt to gather resources for a freezing mother and daughter.

Create a sense of urgency to make viewers more engaged. 

In Travel Town ads, timers are used to show a barista failing to fulfill orders in time, and a fail state results in the player character getting fired. Viewers can slowly see mistakes pile up as the player fails individual orders, which both adds to the urgency and makes the ending feel justified.

Fail ad from Travel Town showing a barista failing to fulfill orders in time and getting orders mixed up.

Use humor or surprise to make failure more interesting. 

Failure alone can be boring or even sad. However, if the failure leads to an interesting outcome, players will get the feeling that even losing at the game is fun. Project Makeover’s ads emphasize players’ poor choices with funny and unexpected outcomes, such as a hair dryer electrocuting a character. In a Mystery Matters ad, a villain breaks into the player character’s house when the player fails to board up a window, shocking the viewer. 

End ads with a call to action that connects viewers to the failed gameplay. 

Subway Surfers and Chrome Valley Customs ask players if they can do better than the players in their ads. Wordscapes prompts viewers to challenge their brains by downloading the game. Project Makeover prompts viewers to help the character who was put in a bad situation by the player in the ad.

Chrome Valley encourages ad viewers to download the app. 

Looking to Go Beyond the Essentials? Here Are Optional Fail Ad Strategies

Ending ads before failure occurs encourages viewers to download the app to get closure. 

Parking Jam 3D shows a player making many mistakes but cuts off before the level ends. PUBG Mobile implies failure by suggesting the player call for backup. Candy Crush Saga has a player ask for help after giving up on a difficult level without even trying.

Live-action reactions add a humanizing element and additional context.

One Evony ad has an actor talk through her gameplay decisions, emphasizing the game’s narrative and the player’s experience. Another Evony ad features a scenario in which a stranger helps a distressed man play the game. The ad shows the pair playing the game, but it also tries to create an emotional connection between viewers and the man, who is trying to keep a character from freezing to death. Both of these ads give additional information about the game, which can create a smoother onboarding process.

Evony’s ads coach on different elements of gameplay, layering in emotion to help ‘save’ a character.

Wordscapes uses voice-over to contextualize gameplay and communicate how puzzles can sharpen players’ minds. The ad ends with a live-action grandmother character shaking her head at the player’s poor performance, prompting an emotional reaction in viewers who know they can do better and don’t want to be shamed.

Adding visuals that measure players’ success can help clarify the stakes and make failure feel more personal. 

AppLovin’s creative studio SparkLabs found that the most common measurements were the player’s brain age (21%), a meter (15%), a timer (15%), and a reaction from a character (8%).

Fail ads for multiplayer games can be shown from a variety of player perspectives to help viewers fantasize about winning. 

UNO Mobile and DC Heroes & Villains: Match 3 both show the losing player’s perspective but overlay images of the winner celebrating for dramatic effect.

DC Heroes & Villains: Match 3 show the full gameplay to the point of ‘failing’ but then challenges the player to build a better team and to download the app. 

Coin Master uses a live-action short to emphasize the game’s revenge mechanic. Like other fail ads, these ads end with a call to action and a challenge to the player, respectively. Stumble Guys takes a different approach, switching between a variety of characters making mistakes but ending on the winning character.

By showing both winning and losing perspectives, these fail ads entice viewers to perform better than the losing player to experience the social thrill of winning. 

Following Fail Ads with Playable Ads Can Encourage Viewers to Immediately Engage Their Desire to do Better than the Player in the Ad 

Dragonscapes Adventure’s fail ad shows a video of a player failing a moderately challenging level and then follows it up with an extremely easy playable mini-game based on the level shown in the ad. 

 

Although the level is easy, completing the easy level gives players a sense of accomplishment and makes them feel like they can beat the difficult level shown in the ad.

Paper.io 2 does the opposite by having an actor explain the best strategies to employ in the game before running a playable ad in which the player is likely to fail due to the app’s learning curve rather than its difficulty. This encourages players to download the app because they have the right strategy to complete the level—they just need experience to do so.

According to AppLovin, playable ads have a 15% higher CTR when players fail than when they succeed. 

This could be because players want to download the game to try again when they fail—the impulse that many video fail ads try to trigger—but feel content when they succeed.

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February 6, 2024

Mobile Gaming

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