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Jason Toups, Creative Producer

Mobile game ads have come a long way from static banners. First, video entered the mix. Then it became rewarded video, which is a hit with both players and developers. Now there’s a new breed entirely: playable ads. Playables allow users to build defense towers and play match-3 fruit puzzles — all within the ad, no install required.

This innovative creative had challenges early in the game with limitations on streaming technologies. Today with the rise of HTML5 and optimizations in development, the time is perfect for playable ads.

Like building an actual game, getting the interaction right in a playable ad requires some knowledge and finesse. When we were alpha testing early designs of Chartboost Playable Ads, initial tests saw less than 10% of users interacting – back to the drawing board. Following months of testing and iterations, these creatives are seeing 7 times as many interactions and converting 123% more users than static ads. Since users get a realistic preview of gameplay, installers have up to 23% of increased D7 retention, too.

We’ve learned a lot to date as we continue to test and iterate on playable ad creatives. Below I share 4 vital best practices we’ve learned that game advertisers and developers can apply to optimize the design and gameplay flow of their playable ads.

When it comes to design, less is more

When initially rolling out Chartboost Playable Ads on the network, we noticed the play rate was low – people were just not engaging. Revisiting the design we tested two new variations against our original, each one reducing visual clutter and adding new call to actions to play. What we found is that ads with the highest play rates were the most minimal.

The results were extreme: an increase of by 344% and 700% on play rate, and an increase of 79% and 140% on eCPM. The main takeaway is to optimize fully for play by reducing unnecessary visual elements and making a clear call to action to engage.

Listen to your metrics

Playable ads can be the first format that give developers the chance to spot bottlenecks in their gameplay. For instance, if users take too long to engage, it may be because instructions are unclear, or a core action is too complicated. You can take what you learn — on play rates, interactions, funnel stages — and use these to improve both your ads and your game. Below you can see how we think about the funnel in a playable ad in comparison to static interstitial.

Use targeting to find users who are ready to engage

Like games, playable ads are going to have a niche. If your users are on the iPhone 6, will your ad fit to the aspect ratio? Or are you advertising to players who already lean towards your game’s genre? For instance, mobile casino developer Product Madness leveraged affinity targeting and their wide user base to find new players, raising overall conversion rates far over static ads.

We began focusing our playable ad campaigns on casual game genres (match3, puzzle, casino) and saw them perform extremely well. We’re now testing with strategy and RPG games to optimize for that first engagement. In general, player targeting is key for optimized campaigns and especially important for playable ad formats.

Create an end-to-end experience

A playable ad’s task is to condense what makes a game fun into a 15-30 second ad. Developers will only have enough time to fit in the basics. These elements will include actions players need to do to progress in-game, like swiping to transfer burger patties to frying pans, as well as motivators such as scoreboards or combo multipliers. Cut out all the excess and focus on the core gameplay elements.

Playable ads are the latest formats to drive tremendous engagement and conversions on mobile — and as developers learn the format, it will only get better. By crafting a design that works for your target audience, developers can truly use play to get paid.