Playable ads have evolved over the years from gimmicky interactive display ads to genuinely useful marketing tools for mobile game developers. Playable ads give users a chance to trial a simple app-based game without downloading it, letting developers showcase their games to new users.
And cloud-streamed gaming could allow substantially more sophisticated and graphically complex ads. With cloud streaming, the game itself is processed remotely while video and audio feedback is live streamed to the player’s device. This allows very complex games to be played on basic devices, without the need to download the game.
This tech can be applied to ad units too, allowing even the most graphically complex games to run short demos as playable ads. Theoretically, we could see AAA titles like Call of Duty or FIFA create short playable levels which would pop up as ads during a video ad break.
But in the short term, it’s likely to be mobile-app style games which see the benefits of cloud-streamed playable ads.
Playable ads not appropriate for all titles
Facebook hinted at this future last month when it announced its move into cloud gaming. The social giant already offers a playable ad format, but games have to be written in HTML5 and processed on the user’s device. This limits the complexity of games which can be run as ads, since they need to be light enough to load quickly, and to run on mobile.
With its move into cloud gaming however, Facebook will also offer cloud-streamed playable ads, opening up possibilities for new types of playable ads.
Facebook’s cloud gaming features could theoretically enable AAA titles to be run both within Facebook’s gaming platform and as playable ads. But for the moment Facebook is focusing on fairly simple free-to-play titles, which might otherwise be found in a mobile app store.
Facebook says this is partly because there’s still technical work to be done before the most graphically complex games can be cloud streamed. “Cloud game streaming for the masses still has a way to go, and it’s important to embrace both the advantages and the reality of the technology rather than try to oversell where it’ll be in the future,” said Facebook’s VP of Play Jason Rubin when announcing the new product.
But for playable ads specifically, simple mobile games are likely to get more value out of the format than AAA titles.
“The cloud-streamed playable ad format isn’t right for every game,” said Guilherme Lachaut, SVP of strategic partnerships at Gameloft, a mobile game developer which partnered with Facebook for its cloud gaming release.
“If you’re talking about a hardcore game where you need to be very engaged with the game to enjoy it, you can’t hook people in with a thirty-second playable ad,” he said.
Games with complex strategy elements or tricky-to-learn controls for example can’t just be picked up and immediately played by people who aren’t already familiar with how the game works, limiting the effectiveness of playable ads. And games which lean heavily on storytelling might struggle to convey their strengths in a short playable format.
And Lachaut said one of the main benefits of playable ads is that they attract ‘high quality users’ to download the full game. Users who have played a demo and then gone on to download a free mobile game are more likely to spend money on extra content in the future, since they’ve already proven they enjoy the game.
But AAA titles rely less on these models. Once a user has spent $60 on a premium release, the developer is less concerned whether they spend one hour or one hundred hours actually playing the game (though many mainstream titles will release additional paid content for their most enthusiastic players).
Faster development and quicker loading
But while the immediate benefits for major game studios might be limited, free-to-play mobile games stand to gain from the format.
For a start, while mobile games are less graphically complex than most console titles, some are still too resource heavy to run on HTML5.
Lachaut says Gameloft’s racing title Asphalt 9: Legends for example simply couldn’t run as an HTML5 playable ad, as it would take too long to load and not make for a smooth experience.
And even for games which do work on HTML5, cloud-streaming will simplify the process of creating an ad.
Creating a playable ad is never completely straightforward, as developers have to design a level which shows off the game’s strengths in a short time, and which can be picked up and played without prior knowledge about how the game works.
But cloud-streaming at least lowers the barriers.
“Developers need to create a separate playable version of their game in HTML5, so it does take some time to make the creative and get it set up,” a Facebook spokesperson told VAN. “But once cloud playable ads scale beyond our beta, it should take less time since the ads run from a game’s native code vs. a separately created mini-game in HTML5.”
Gameloft’s Lauchaut said that in the past, the need to convert games to HTML5 has meant that gameplay within playable ads is quite different from the game being advertised. But cloud-streaming will eliminate this issue.
Integrations with consoles could be key
While cloud-streamed playable ads will likely be used mostly by mobile developers in the near future, bigger titles might adopt them further down the line.
For a start, monetisation models for mainstream titles are converging with those used by free-to-play mobile apps. Fortnite, one of the most popular games in the world at the moment, is entirely free-to-play. The game instead makes money by selling in-game skins and items. And we’ve seen older blockbuster franchises head in the same direction, with Call of Duty’s ‘Warzone’ mode entirely free-to-play.
With this change in monetisation mechanics, AAA developers will similarly be looking to identify potential players who are most likely to spend money on the game, in the same way that free-to-play mobile titles do. This will make playable ads, and their ability to target high-value potential customers, more appealing.
And further integrations between social platforms and games consoles may make it easier for mainstream games titles to create interesting playable ads.
A Facebook spokesperson pointed VAN towards Facebook’s integration with Microsoft’s own cloud gaming platform xCloud.
In a world where users can jump seamlessly from Facebook onto an Xbox cloud gaming platform, a playable ads doesn’t have to be a self-contained experience. Instead, the ad could drop a user into a certain point of the game, and give them a few minutes to explore that level or scenario Then, if the user wants to continue after that time runs out, they could be led to xCloud to carry on playing.