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In our Homescapes analysis, we tackle a burning question in the mobile game industry. Are misleading ads an effective way to advertise a mobile game?
To answer that, I go deep into Homescapes’ advertising strategy and dissect its notorious ads.
But first, we need to understand what this game is about, who is playing it, and just how successful it is.
At its core, Homescapes is a match-3 puzzle game with a story progression and home & décor meta layers. In other words, players need to solve match-3 puzzles to earn the resources needed to renovate and decorate a home. During that, players meet many interesting characters, mainly Austin, and stories about his childhood and relationship with his parents.
Due to its simple gameplay and visual style, Homescapes belongs to the casual genre.
How Successful Is Homescapes?
Unless stated otherwise, data in this article comes from AppMagic, a leading mobile intelligence platform. Get 3 days of free access to all AppMagic’s features, as well as 10% off, by clicking this link.
All-time Homescapes downloads stand at more than 540 million, which is impressive and a testament to this game’s popularity. However, since the second half of 2021, the downloads have been dropping. This is a market-wide problem.
The majority of downloads are coming from India, followed by the United States, Russia, Brazil, China, Mexico, and Indonesia.
Want to hear something crazy?
Up until now, Homescapes has earned more than $2.5 billion in revenue.
The majority of revenue comes from the United States (more than $1 billion), which is expected. Other big markets for Homescapes in terms of revenue are Japan, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. Interestingly, even though India is the number one country in terms of Homescapes downloads, it is the 35th country in terms of revenue, bringing ‘only’ $5.5 million.
RpD refers to lifetime revenue divided by lifetime downloads. If we look at global RpD for Homescapes, it stands at $4,62. In Tier 1 East it’s $10,96 and in Tier 1 West is $12.85.
Who Is Playing Homescapes?
Homescapes being a casual game attracts primarily casual gamers. This type of mobile gamer plays to pass the time and simply wants to be entertained and have some fun during a break. Furthermore, casual players enjoy games that are easy to play and prefer shorter playing sessions.
According to data from GameRefinery, the main motivational drivers of Homescapes players are escapism (thinking and solving), expression (customization and decoration), and mastery (completing milestones).
Below, you can see a full list of features that are important to Homescapes players.
Based on these motivational drivers, Homescapes players fall into three distinct types of mobile gamers – Thinker, Expressionist, and King of the Hill.
Here’s some info on each one.
Because Homescapes is primarily a match-3 game, it attracts gamers who love challenging puzzles and problem-solving. Thinkers like puzzle-solving mechanics, and new game mechanics being introduced as the game progresses. Homescapes has all of that.
Homescapes has different meta layers like interior design, decorating, and some storytelling elements. All of these attract Expressionists. They like dialogues in games, an explanation of the game’s setting, developing a relationship with in-game characters, and everything that has to do with customization.
Homescapes checks all of those boxes.
King of the Hill
King of the Hill gamers are driven by accomplishments – they want to be the best in a game and are very competitive. The more milestones they complete, the happier they are.
Homescapes Analysis: Organic User Acquisition (ASO)
Before we get into advertising and paid user acquisition, let’s do a quick overview of Homescapes’ app store pages. I’m going to analyze the most important ASO elements that help Playrix get users organically.
Homescapes is a part of Playrix’s Scapes series, the other one being Gardenscapes. Both names are quite straightforward and reference gameplay. In Homescapes, the goal is to renovate a home and in Gardenscapes, players decorate gardens.
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Interestingly, the Homescapes icon references the ads. Yes, those notorious misleading ads that feature puzzle-type mini-games. In fact, icons for all Playrix’s games do the same.
Just like in the ads, we see a puzzle – there’s the game mascot/main character Austin, a burning stove, water, and pins. The goal is to move the pins to get water to the stove.
I’m guessing they chose to reference ads in the icon because they’re easily recognizable as Playrix’s ads. They want users to make that connection. Also, I bet they want to make it seem like the ads are not misleading.
As one Reddit user wrote:
“Players: Homescapes ads are false advertising! There is no such gameplay in the game!
Homescapes: Gameplay? The ads are about the icon! See?”
More on Homescapes false ads later in the article, let’s first see if the promo is video true to the game.
Homescapes App Promo Video Breakdown
Interestingly, the first thing I see in the Homescapes’ app promo video are the mini-games, just like in the ads. They take up the first 10 seconds of the video.
However, they are clearly marked as “mini-games”. I’m guessing that is Playrix’s effort to seem less misleading and let players know this is not core gameplay, but still use the mini-games to get more users.
Next, we’re shown the mansion falling apart and a desperate Austin. There’s the option to clean up, replace the floor, and the furniture. Now the house looks pitch-perfect and Austin is happy. This demonstrates the game’s meta elements – home decoration.
At the end of the video, we also see a glimpse of the narrative aspects of the game.
Just as I expected, there’s no mention of the match-3 puzzles, which is the core gameplay.
Each Homescapes graphics demonstrates one game feature – mini-games, renovation, design/decoration, match-3 puzzles, and game events. While none of them are actual screenshots of the game, they represent what the game is about.
Homescapes Analysis: Paid User Acquisition
Homescapes’ success is undeniable. But how did Playrix acquire millions of users? The answer lies in their advertising strategy.
Homescapes Misleading Ads
We can’t talk about Homescapes ads without addressing something everyone is aware of – Homescapes ads are often misleading and misrepresent the game.
It’s not really a secret.
People in the industry know it, most gamers know it, and some are really annoyed by it. And it’s not just Playrix, many successful developers use this trick.
However, Playrix was the first publisher that got their ads banned by The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in 2020.
You have probably seen these ads. They depict puzzles where users need to avert disasters by pulling pins in the right order. However, that’s not a truthful representation of the core gameplay. Both Homescapes and Gardenscapes are match-3 puzzle games at their cores with some decoration and narrative meta elements.
Playrix responded by stating that the mini puzzle games users see in the ads are in fact a part of the game.
However, the issue is that there were only 10 such mini-games in the whole game. In other words, the ads represent perhaps 1% of the gameplay at most.
According to Playrix, these puzzles are on “distant levels” so most players don’t get that far in the game and stop playing at the beginning of the game.
ASA ruled that the ads are, in fact, misleading. “We understood users would play a significant amount of content which was of a different style in order to access the gameplay featured in the ads. Because the ads were not representative of the games they were purported to feature, we conclude that they were misleading.”
It has been reported that, since the ruling, Playrix has modified their games so that the puzzle mini-games appear closer to the beginning and appear more often. It’s a clever way of justifying these ads.
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You’ve probably been wondering why these seemingly simple and misleading creatives work so well? I’ve analyzed Playrix’s advertising strategy and creatives to find out.
Homescapes Analysis: Advertising Strategy
We have established that most Homescapes ads don’t feature match-3 puzzles, which is the core gameplay, but rather puzzle mini-games or storytelling and decoration aspects of the game.
Why is that?
Isn’t it logical to target match-3 puzzle players with match-3 puzzle ads?
But here’s the kicker.
Playrix is not targeting these gamers specifically. The market with the audience who like basic match-3 games like Candy Crush is already saturated.. Playrix is trying to target a much different and broader audience of gamers.
More answers lie in affinities between audiences.
According to Smadja, a product director at Moon Active, affinities refer to the “degree of likelihood players of one game would play a different game”.
Their research concluded that match-3 is a “vanilla gaming flavor easy to incorporate with other meta layers”. Furthermore, it showed that most Gardenscapes players, “originate mostly from audiences of genres who incorporate a light narrative and customization, and it is not as connected to the vanilla Switchers’ audience; further reinforcing the importance of the meta layer.” The same is true for Homescapes.
In other words, Playrix’s games don’t primarily target the ‘vanilla’ Candy Crush type audience, but a broader one, that’s further away in terms of affinity. More specifically, audiences who are interested in story adventure games, hidden object games, and even resource management games.
So they create ads that feature these elements and would attract these audiences.
That means a player who responds positively to these ads and installs the game might enjoy it. Because they belong to an audience who likes the game’s meta layers (storytelling, hidden objects, and resource management), but also don’t mind match-3 puzzles.
Furthermore, those mini-game ads attract a broader puzzle gamer audience that’s not limited to match-3 puzzles. They speak to gamers who like problem solving, brainteasers, etc. Considering the mini-games now appear more often in the game, those players also might end up enjoying the game.
If Playrix ran ads that depict just the core game experience (match-3 puzzles), they would only attract a ‘vanilla’ match-3 switcher audience. And that’s a very limited audience.
Let’s see how all of that works through examples.
Homescapes Analysis: Top-Performing Creatives
To fully understand the aforementioned Playrix’s advertising strategy, I have analyzed a few Homescapes creatives.
I’ve divided them into different categories based on the ad themes I’ve mentioned in the previous section – mini-games ads, narrative/storytelling, renovation & decoration, and match-3.
Homescapes Mini-Game Ads
This is an example of a classic Homescapes mini-game ad everyone has seen. There are so many variations of it.
The premise is always the same – help a character avoid a catastrophe by moving the pins and solving the puzzle. The ads always end up with a fail, even though the puzzles are mind-numbingly simple. It most likely makes viewers think they’re smarter.
The only thing that changes from ad to ad are the puzzles.
This is another mini-game ad. However, notice that it’s visually different from the previous example – this one is a bit more 3D, we could say it’s 2.5D. It looks a bit less cartoony.
I have noticed this trend recently in Playrix’s ads. Some are fully 3D, like the one below.
This ad is also puzzle-based, but it has some decoration elements, which speaks to the game’s meta elements. And it’s three-dimensional, which is a new thing for Homescapes ads.
It’s a big departure from the move-the-pin puzzle ads Playrix is famous for. However, it still doesn’t represent gameplay.
My guess is that those ads became less effective over time, considering Playrix has been running them for a couple of years. Not only that, but many other publishers copied these move-the-pin ads. That’s where ad fatigue comes in.
When players see the same ads over and over again, they simply stop working. I can see how that might have happened with those Homescapes ads, making Playrix try something new.
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A significant number of Homescapes ads focus on narrative elements, like the one you see above. It’s sort of related to the game, considering it has storytelling.
The story is about a mother fighting for custody, kind of a dark theme for a mobile game ad. Her house needs to be fixed so that she can get her daughter back.
But the renovation ends up being a fail, as you might expect from a Homescapes ad. The purpose of showing a failed renovation is to make the viewer think they can do better. Plus, there’s emotional involvement, particularly for the targeted female audience.
In a way, the ad challenges them, which is also reflected in the CTA. It says, “Accept the challenge!”.
This 12-second Facebook ad is all about decorating, the most prominent meta-layer of this game. It targets players who are into home & décor games.
I’ve found a couple of ads that showcase match-3 puzzles. However, the puzzles are different than those in the game, but they still target the match-3 audience.
There’s a cheeky moment where the girl’s body is almost revealed as the blocks disappear. It’s a tease, which makes you keep watching.
Of course, just like any Homescapes ad, it ends up with a fail.
The final ad I want to include is the most truthful representation of the game. It’s not misleading in any way.
It starts with some storytelling elements – we learn about the background story of Austin and his parents. Because they want to sell the house, he is determined to renovate it.
Next, we see gameplay footage of the match-3 puzzle. Finally, the core element of the game is featured in an ad. It shows players that they need to solve puzzles in order to earn stars for renovation.
Finally, we see Austin decorate the place, which now looks amazing. Both he and his parents are happy. That’s another unusual thing for a Homescapes ad – it doesn’t end with a fail, but rather with a happy ending.
I would say this ad speaks to many different audiences at the same time because it features the narrative, decorating, and match-3 aspects of the game.
The Results of Homescapes Advertising Strategy
We have established that Homescapes’ creatives, whether misleading or not, are made to attract a much broader audience, which is what Playrix is after. It has allowed Homescapes to continue to grow in terms of downloads and revenue. Engagement KPIs like user retention DAU are also good.
This means that Homescapes’ advertising strategy works, and that’s what’s important.
Additionally, there’s another thing these ads accomplish that’s not as obvious – they drive organic user acquisition.
Increasing Indirect Visibility
Since Playrix started employing this strategy of attracting a broader audience with misleading ads back in 2019, there was a clear increase in downloads and thus in app store rankings.
It improved Homescapes’ organic visibility in the app stores. Plus, Homescapes became an Editor’s Choice game on Google Play. That means more installs came organically from users who had never even seen the fake ads.
This is another aspect of why these ads work – they increase visibility indirectly and boost organic user acquisition.
Is It Worth It?
Reaching a broader audience with misleading ads comes at a cost.
Many players that were targeted with these ads might end up enjoying Homescapes – it’s a fun game. However, some players might be disappointed. That results in bad reviews – Homescapes gets plenty of them.
Furthermore, it’s a bad look when so many people are bashing your brand online.
The question is – is it worth it? For Playrix, it is. The positives seem to outweigh the negatives.
Will it all come crashing down one day? It’s tough to say, but it might. That’s the risk.
Final Thoughts on Homescapes Analysis
Homescapes’ success is undeniable. Whether you agree with Playrix’s marketing strategy or not, you can learn powerful lessons from this top publisher.
Mainly, try to broaden your reach and expand your audience if you have a match-3 game. If you want to steer away from misleading ads, which would be my advice, use creativity to make them appealing for different audiences. It’s possible!
For more mobile game analysis, check out our dissections category.