Rocking playable ads like a pro

By Danielle Blumenstyk Peterman
rocking playable ads like pro

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last months, you’ve probably heard about playable ads.

They are the hottest ad format since videos came into our lives. So why are playable ads so great?

Three main reasons: they drive the most engaged users, they deliver higher eCPM to the publishers, and they are fun. In this article I am not going to review the value and benefits of playable ads (you can read more about that here if you’re interested).

Today I’m going to offer tips and tricks on how to build a successful playable ad and what needs to be taken into consideration along the way.

playable ads
Click the image to check out the playable ad we created for GardenScapes

Where to start:

There are several parameters to take into account, here are some of the most important ones as I see it:

  1. Ad script – which part of the game you would like to highlight, and how? This is the first impression that users will have with your game (make it count!)
  2. Ad’s style – should it be “freestyle” or a tutorial-based game?
  3. The extra mile – social, deep linking, and localization

Before you dive in, I want to share my thought process and a few real examples for each of the steps listed above to set the stage for your success.


Getting started with mobile attribution: The complete guide


Ad script

As the developer of your game, you have a lot of insights about what your users enjoy and engage with the most – what makes them excited (and converts). These insights should be at the core of the thought process while creating your playable ad.

Most games have more than one layout design. For example, in social casino games there are different ‘rooms’ – showcasing differently styled slot machines. When we create a playable ad for a developer, we ask him or her to provide us with the best performing style, even if that style is exclusive to the more advanced levels of the game.

For example, with Jackpot Party we used Zeus, a prominent and popular theme in Vegas, and for House of Fun we used an Egyptian theme, which is available only in advanced levels of the game.

Playable ads by
Image from House Of Fun’s playable ad created by

However, it’s definitely not just the design of the layout that’s important. The user has to understand what he needs to do at any given time. You don’t want to get your users overwhelmed with too many complicated features, cool as they may be. So you might need to exclude certain features that require some game experience and are only available to users in advanced levels.

As much as we love them, playable ads are still advertisements, so keep it relatively short and focused.

The ad should give users a taste of your game, not the whole meal. Your goal should be creating enough engagement and curiosity to drive the user to download your app. Find those ‘sweet’ moments that make your users love your game and build the rest of the experience to compliment them.

Image from Panda Pop’s playable ad
Image from Panda Pop’s playable ad created by

Try to be as loyal as possible to the game’s look and feel (that’s what drives high retention), but do not hesitate to simplify things. If it can be done with three clicks in the game itself, it should be done with one click in the playable ad.

Multiple scripts are a great way to make our playable ads dynamic, while leaving room for the user to shape his/her own gameplay. For Panda Pop we built a bubble shooter engine to let the user enjoy a different game layout each time he or she interacted with the ad.

This is also a useful method for capping purposes. Unlike video ads, which show all users the same script and experience, a playable ad can automatically generate different layouts and keep the user interested even after engaging with the ad multiple times. In some of our playable ads, we created both a win and a loss scenario.

For example, in Mobile Strike, the user needs to attack the enemy’s base while the enemy can attack back. We always want to keep the user fully engaged with the ad, and curious about what’s going to happen next.

Don’t be afraid to let your users lose since difficulty can sometimes be the motivation to download the app and try again.

Another important element we use to improve conversion rates is a custom “Call to action” button that is tailored to the ad’s script, so instead of a stale “Install”, try to use “Next Level”, “Fight More Monsters” etc. We found that it can highly improve conversion rates.

Ad style

It’s common to use tutorial elements in a playable ad, especially at the starting point, so users will be able to get comfortable with the gameplay and understand the idea of the game. However, it is also important to let them feel and explore the game on their own.

For example, in Gardenscapes (a match-3 game), we designed the first two steps as a tutorial, and then we let the users play freely. By using this method, we ensured that new users who aren’t familiar with the match-3 logic could learn it quickly and adapt, while experienced users can briskly run through it and start having fun almost instantly.

Advanced tips:

Going social:

One of the biggest challenges in playable ads is delivering features that are available post-download. In Pirate Kings by Jelly Button Games, for example, the social element is key: users can connect with Facebook and attack their friends’ islands, a feature that dramatically boosts their engagement with the game.

We wanted to bring the same kind of social feeling into the playable ad, so we built a location-based feature that simulates playing with “real” rivals near the user’s location.

Deep linking:

Creating deep links is a great way to create a meaningful connection between your playable ad and your app. For example, a playable ad for an eCommerce app can offer the user a coupon or a special deal within the ad, and a social casino app could offer a “welcome” bonus, and those will be granted to the user once they download and open the app.


There are some countries that convert 100x times better when the content is in their own language. If you’ve made it this far with the creative (and harder) part of the playable ad, you should definitely consider localizing it. However, keep in mind that some countries prefer to consume their content in English, like Germany for example.

In conclusion, try to come up with an attractive playable ad that is simple on the one hand, but induces curiosity and encourages creativity on the other.

Adding elements of surprise along the way will keep the user engaged up to the end card, and can help users fall in love with your app and get them to download it. It’s a delicate balance – but the improved performance justifies the time required to get it right.

It moves! Or how do we make the user understand that this isn’t just a static ad?

Making users understand that they are about to interact with a playable ad is not as easy and straightforward as you may think.It’s a relatively new ad format and many users that encounter them for the first time might think they’re just an animated gif that will kidnap them and throw them in a trunk on their way to the app store the second they click on it (sounds familiar, right?)

To overcome this challenge we’ve adopted some techniques that make the playable ads more obvious to the user. Note that this challenge is definitely more common when running the ads on non-rewarded placements.

When it comes to rewarded playable ad s, the context is much clearer since users are told that they are going to play a mini game and they chose to opt-in.

So how do we improve ad-start metrics on non-rewarded placements?

  1. By adding a text-box telling the user what he or she needs to do in order to start playing.
  2. By adding animated hand pointers or arrows.
  3. By adding another layer to the design emphasizing the playable ad ’s starting point.

For example:

Cookie Jam playable ad
Image from Cookie Jam’s playable ad  created by

Measure everything – why you need events on every part of the flow

You might think you got a hole in one and created the perfect script for your playable ad, but don’t fool yourself until you measure every part of the ad’s flow.

Usually, when running static interstitials, you will most likely focus on the CTR and how many users who clicked the ad actually downloaded your app.

In playable ads, there is another layer of optimization to take into account – what we like to call ‘in-ad events’ which help us measure the user’s progress in the game. We also recommend using heatmaps to get an even better understanding of each user’s interaction with the ad.

Right after the initial test campaign, we can draw valuable insights from the data indicating if users liked the creative, and whether they understood the game flow or got stuck on parts that are a tad too complicated. Moreover, the in-ad events also help us find the best traffic sources, as well as figure out segmentation, targeting and placements, in order to optimize according to the advertiser’s KPI.

Below I’ve shared some inside data about the performance of Pirate Kings’ playable ad on the user’s retention rate and IAP (In-app purchases) rate:

 State of App Engagement
The State of App Engagement by AppsFlyer for the 2nd Half of 2016 (iOS)

How do playable ads skip over fraud and bots?

Playable ads take the user through a short journey where he or she needs to be very aware of the context in order to make progress.

Since there are many scripts and game flows for a playable ad, and each is different, it is very hard to simulate fraudulent clicks. It also takes several clicks on the ad for the user to get from starting the playable ad to the app store. This kind of interaction and awareness makes it very hard to manipulate.

Playable ads aren’t just for games

While it’s true that the biggest adopters of playable ads are mobile game developers, many other verticals such as eCommerce, Gambling, and Travel apps can enjoy the benefits of playable ads as well. In those verticals, the playable ad will not necessarily try to mimic the app, but rather deliver the experience and value proposition of using the product in a creative and engaging manner.

What’s next:

According to a recent survey conducted by AdColony, while playable ads are among the most exciting and discussed ad formats in 2017, so far only 31% of advertisers found these ads to be significantly effective.

This means that the market is still small but has a lot of potential and promise.

As this ad-format keeps growing and improving, there should definitely be more focus on standardization of best practices for all parties involved, marketplaces especially.

Danielle Blumenstyk Peterman

Danielle is a marketing professional with extensive experience in PR and communications. After a few years in the non-profit and education sectors, she found her true calling in Tech when she joined the ranks of Blonde 2.0 in 2014, where she had the pleasure of heading PR efforts for some of the best tech companies out there, such as Waze and Playtika.

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