Gaming

Why The Hell Are Mobile Game Ads So Damn Chaotic These Days?

From the 'Merge Mansion' grandma's arson-murder storyline to the fake pregnancy in 'Lily's Garden', mobile game ads have truly lost the plot.

Game Ads Chaotic misleading Merge Mansion Lily's Garden

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

Chances are you’ve fallen victim to a chaotic mobile game ad auto-playing while innocently tapping through your Instagram stories, watching a YouTube video, or scrolling on TikTok.

These game ads appear without warning, and the stories do a really good job at pulling you in with tales of deceit, crime, and sometimes even murder. The juicy plots are so good that, before you even notice it, you’ve watched a two-minute ad for a game about gardening.

But the issue? Well, these chaotic mini-movies ads, while interesting, barely have anything to do with the actual game itself. Take Merge Mansion, for example, and this riveting tale of a broken marriage, a burnt-down house, and a guilty granny that went viral this week.

Merge Mansion Is A Liar

In the Merge Mansion ad, no characters speak. But we see a distraught woman in a wedding dress come home to her house on fire. And despite the ad only rolling for 57 seconds, we get a thriller film full of twists and turns.

We see that “grandma” confronts the sad bride, gives her a key to a fixer-upper, and together they build the house of her dreams. Then granny suddenly gets taken away in handcuffs with no explanation. As the cop car drives away, grandma smirks and reveals the message on her hand: “He is alive”.

Now, firstly, what the fuck? And secondly, did this old lady kill a man?

I have so many questions. Did granny burn down the first house? Why did the new house look exactly the same as the original home? Was grandma trying to commit insurance fraud? Also, why was the woman left at the altar and returning back in a cab without family around her? And why wasn’t granny invited to the wedding? Plus, how self-obsessed is this woman for her not to notice her missing husband until the wedding day and not ask any questions about it?!

But wait, there’s more. If the original plot of the Merge Mansion ad wasn’t already confusing enough, the ad actually has an alternate ending. Instead of granny sharing “he is alive” as the cop car rolls away, she actually reveals her involvement with the words “I planned this”.

Oh, and you thought Merge Mansion was finished with the twists there? Wrong. There’s yet another alternate ending where grandma now sets her sights on her granddaughter with the ominous message reading: “You’re next.” The DRAMA!

Personally, I’m all for drama and I love chaos. But if you were sucked in by the Merge Mansion ad and actually downloaded the game, you know that there is no fraud involved. No scheming. No arrests. No missing person plot.

Instead, Merge Mansion is just a Candy Crush-style match-three puzzle game about cleaning a house — well, a mansion to be specific. Despite the ads making the game look like it could be a Cluedo-esque murder adventure, Merge Mansion just has you cleaning up yards and garages virtually.

On the AppStore, Metacore Games — the Finnish studio responsible for Merge Mansion — describe the game as a “mysterious puzzle” with “decade-old family secrets” as “Maddie’s grandmother has something to tell”.

“This mansion is full of stories unheard of! Help Maddie discover what her grandma has to reveal about the family’s adventurous past,” the game description reads. “Wipe off the dust and find new items, merge them into useful tools and earn surprising treasures. You never know what awaits behind the mansion’s next corner.”

But even with all this talk of family secrets and mystery, Merge Mansion reveals nothing during the gameplay beyond “Maddie” trying to understand how her grandma hid a whole-ass mansion from the family. Really, the only mystery here is how Metacore had such a huge budget for their fake ads and not for the game itself.

Lily’s Garden Did It First

While Merge Mansion’s fake game ads seem chaotic, this isn’t the first time a mobile game has been called out for its misleading advertisements.

Back in 2019, everyone was obsessed with the drama-filled stories used to advertise Lily’s Garden, another match-three puzzle game all about landscaping for someone old to get some free property.

Tactile Games describes the mobile game as a “story full of twists and turns as Lily interacts with a cast of colourful characters” — and if the ads for Lily’s Garden are anything to go by, the gamemakers aren’t wrong.

In one of the most popular Lily’s Garden ads, Lily finds out she’s pregnant but it’s not all good news. Her hunky, strong-jawed, cheating boyfriend, Blaine, doesn’t take the announcement well and literally scooters off into the sunset leaving Lily to be a single mother. The gag? Lily was never pregnant and reveals this by rubbing off the “positive” line on the stick. Iconic.

In another, Lily’s mum tries to grab our main character’s groceries as they fall out of her shopping bag. As the mum bends to grab the fallen food, she gets hit by a bus that’s carrying Blaine, who is making out with his personal assistant.

If the mum’s luck isn’t already bad enough, while helplessly laying in a full-body cast in hospital, someone unplugs her life support. At the funeral, Lily goes to pay her respects but sees her mum’s hands twitching. But instead of letting literally anyone know her mother is still alive, Lily just shuts the open casket. Again, iconic.

Of course, there’s also the one where Lily just randomly sits on a washing machine that won’t close and cums on camera. Then she brings her friends to her local laundromat to do the same, but this time sets the mood with candles and wine. Even more iconic.

Then there’s the 30-second clip where Lily casually compares the dick sizes of her ex Blaine and her neighbour-turned-lover, Luke. Probably the most iconic of all, really.

Just like Merge Mansion, all the characters in the ads for Lily’s Garden are technically part of the game. But the drama and plot-driven ads that get served to people minding their business on social media have very little to do with the actual gameplay.

“All of those [ads] are all totally fabricated for, I guess, virality,” Stella Sacco, the game writer for Lily’s Garden, told Intelligencer. “And to that degree, I would say that it worked.”

With the ads having at least a slight character and story relation to the actual game, the hope is that the ads convince potential players, who want to know more about the dramatic narrative, to download the game. Basically, the more chaotic the ad, the more likely people will be to download and play.

Not All Game Ads Are Created Equal

However, while the ads for Lily’s Garden and Merge Mansion at least have some link to gameplay through similar storylines and characters, not all ads bother to do the same.

Two games notorious for misleading potential players are Homescapes and Gardenscapes, which are unsurprisingly more home and garden renovation plots played out through match-three games. The difference is that both Scapes ads — which are both products from developer Playrix — advertise by making people solve puzzles to “free” characters in sticky situations.

You’ve probably come across them: You need to pull a pin to lure a swarm of bees to a hive before letting the guy safely walk down a ladder. Or you need to help a man escape a shark while being stuck in the sewer drain. Maybe you’ve seen the ad that features the freezing couple in the forest who need fire and shelter.

There are so many versions of these puzzles that actually make Homescape look like a very good game. But, of course, they were too good to be true and the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) slapped Playrix with a ban on the misleading ads that didn’t match the core gameplay.

While Playrix originally argued that “around 10” puzzle-solving mini-games did exist in “distant levels only” and are available around every 20 levels, the developer has since moved these games closer to the beginning to satisfy the ASA.

However, that ruling clearly hasn’t stopped developers from continuing to push these baffling ads to sell their games — at least if Merge Mansion and Lily’s Garden are anything to go by.

But when the plots are as juicy as a potentially murderous grandma with pyromania, or an avid gardener who drives away her trash boyfriend with a fake pregnancy so she can get off in a laundromat with her besties, can we really be mad? Bring on more horny gardeners and villainous grandmas, I say.


Michelle Rennex is a senior writer at Junkee. She tweets at @michellerennex.