Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 08, 2020
Game design by algorithm - The curious case of Hero Wars

There are so many browser and mobile games out there, it is very hard to get noticed. So these games hire advertising companies to attract new players. The advertising companies get paid by the number of people who download the mobile app / start playing as a result of their ad. So the advertising companies design different types of ads, and then use algorithms to measure which ads are the most successful ones. And because players *staying* in the game is not a requirement, the algorithm quickly learns that the best way to attract new players is to lie. The number of mobile game ads in which the gameplay shown in the ad can't be found in the actual game is staggering.

Now of course many of those ads lie by exaggeration. What is a boring click fest in the real game becomes an epic combat sequence in the ad. But some advertising companies went further: They put completely different gameplay in the ads, gameplay that had absolutely nothing to do with the game in question. By the time the player interested in that ad gameplay has downloaded and played the game and finds out that the game is something very different, the advertising company has already got the money.

One of the games that got advertised with completely misleading gameplay is Hero Wars, which is yet another boring "collect heroes and auto-combat monsters" mobile game. For quite a long time this game has been advertised with ads showing a puzzle gameplay, in which the player needs to pull levers in the right order to "defeat the goblin". In the ad, the player always gets it wrong, which encourages the viewer to think "I can do this better!" and download the game. Only that, until December, those puzzles weren't in the game at all. But over time Hero Wars attracted so many players who wanted to play these puzzles, and kept complaining about those not being in the game, that since end of last year some of those puzzles got actually added to the game.

Now this must be the weirdest way to design a game I ever heard: You design gameplay A, advertise it by showing gameplay B, have an algorithm tell you that B is more fun than A, and then add a diminished version of B into your A gameplay.

Yup, it worked on me. I even played the game for a month-ish, as I got one of the puzzles pretty early on, so figured they'd be sprinkled here and there throughout it.

Nope. Saw 1 more puzzle the entire time. And I'd already played and quit several other of the same style of game, so this one didn't have anything to make me want to continue as it was just more of the same, so....
I doubt whether the advertising company invented the puzzles - probably the publisher showed it to them without telling them only a couple were done (and maybe the developers promised the publisher that lots would be ready soon!)
Nope. The advertising company used the same puzzle ad to advertise different games from different publishers.
Welp. That's pretty bizarre. I'm not sure how a publisher would benefit from using an advertiser like that - surely customers who get some game different to that advertised are not worth very much...
YouTube video showing the same puzzle game ad used for many different games.

I think the problem is that the incentives are all wrong. The advertising company gets paid per game download, even if the player realizes 5 minutes later that he was deceived and doesn't want to play that game.
Yes, but why is the publisher paying for that? I guess some customers must stick anyway even if the game isn't as advertised...
I saw an ad recently that literally showed footage stolen from the upcoming Command and Conquer remaster and tried to pass it off as a Clash of Clans style mobile game.

It's stuff like this that makes me never even consider downloading mobile games unless I hear about them from other sources.
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