Heroes Charge Developer uCool Opens Up About Super Bowl Ad [Interview]

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Among the many car and food commercials from this year’s Super Bowl, a new trend emerged, as three mobile game developers tried their hand at advertising during the big game.

Machine Zone’s Game of War: Fire Age led off with an ad in the first quarter, starring Kate Upton. Next was Supercell, developer of the mobile game juggernaut Clash of Clans, with an ad starting Liam Neeson in the third. Rounding out the trio was uCool, developers of the MOBA / RPG hybrid, Heroes Charge, which lacked a celebrity endorser, but still reaped the spoils of its 15 seconds on-screen.

According to App Annie, all three games saw a spike in downloads after their commercials aired on February 1. Game of War, for instance, jumped from No. 39 on the overall US iPhone app chart to No. 18, while Clash of Clans moved from No. 38 on that same chart, to No. 29.

Heroes Charge, though, was the big mover, rocketing from the No. 899 top app spot and the No. 308 top game spot on the US iPhone chart on January 31, to No. 252 in overall apps, and No. 96 in games on February 2 (the app currently sits at No. 335 in overall apps and No. 119 in games, as of this writing).

On Google Play, the stats were equally impressive. App Annie placed Heroes Charge as the No. 506 overall game on the Google Play store on January 31, which shifted to No. 47 as of February 2. Overall, the app has reached the No 1. spot for card games in 130 countries, and currently sits at the No. 25 spot for top grossing iPhone apps on iTunes (up from No. 56, prior to the ad’s broadcast during the Super Bowl).

While the ad worked to draw new downloads, the ad itself was hit with negative reactions from the media and public. USA Today’s Ad Meter, which polled nearly 7,000 respondents, ranked the Heroes Charge ad as No. 61 out of 61 total ads, with an average rating of 3.12 out of 10. Meanwhile, Adweek called the ad “instantly forgettable” and “a waste of 15 seconds.”

We had a chance to chat with Benjamin Gifford, VP of User Experience at uCool, about the commercial’s design and the reaction from the media and viewers.

SocialTimes: What has the mood been like at uCool since the Heroes Charge Super Bowl commercial aired?

Benjamin Gifford: The team is pretty excited although we’re hard at work on Heroes Charge as well as other new games we’re developing! A small indie studio with a handful of people were able to do something extraordinary in three weeks that no other advertiser could do, and step up with the major advertising players. It’s putting indie developers on the map, and mobile gaming on the forefront of people’s minds.

ST: While the app’s downloads have spiked, the overall reception to the ad was fairly negative. Can you give us your thoughts on that?

BG: Remember that this was our first time with a Super Bowl ad, and we’re a studio of 12 people. We know that it might not be the best out there, and as always, we’re using this as a learning experience so we can have an even better Super Bowl advert next year.

This ad we think has given an opportunity to start a conversation about how game companies should treat players. We hope that the new players who join our community after seeing the ad will start to put pressure on other game makers to be more respectful in their monetization practices. We think it’s good for players and good for our industry.

The 15 [second ad] was a tease to the 30 [second ad] that will be appearing later this week. If anything, we would possibly run a 30 instead of a 15, localize the ad to the US audience as opposed to an international audience and maybe use a creative agency.

ST: Heroes Charge wasn’t the only mobile game represented during the Super Bowl, but your competitors, Game of War and Clash of Clans, both offered ads starring celebrity endorsers. What did you think of their ads, as compared to your own?

BG: Different ads for different games, and each of those games are quite successful in their own right. The real take-home point I feel is it was absolutely great to see 2015 as the year of mobile gaming, and that’s exciting. Mobile gaming represents the player’s desire to be entertained anywhere, anytime and on any mobile device. Technology has really advanced so that this user experience can happen.

ST: Did you ever consider bringing in a known name to trigger some instant recognition with the ad’s viewers?

BG: We wanted to showcase our heroes as well as gameplay in the advertisement rather than using a celebrity to endorse. The game has always spoken for itself; over ten million players love playing it. Maybe next time!

ST: Following the ad’s debut in the fourth quarter, reactions on Twitter were rather mixed, with many users seemingly confused as to what Heroes Charge was, or how it differed from Game of War and Clash of Clans (with all three containing elements of strategy and a focus on a mid-core or hardcore market). Do you think the 15-second spot was long enough to give users a true idea of what Heroes Charge offered, especially with only a few seconds of actual gameplay shown on screen?

BG: It’s always easier and safer to stand on the sideline giving feedback than it is getting on the field, stepping up and making a play. Our ad’s focus was never about user acquisition, it was about starting a conversation, and it did that. On this ad, maybe 15 seconds was too short. We realize that people want to watch something with a story that triggers an emotional response, and there were quite a few great examples for us to learn from. We’re looking forward to seeing how our different television creatives will perform this year.

ST: Now that the Super Bowl is over, would you have done anything differently with your ad? Would you still focus on a cinematic presentation for the ad, for instance, or would you focus more on gameplay?

BG: We did a cinematic mixed with gameplay, and find that the results were quite positive. For a small indie dev, we’ll be learning from this experience and talking with our industry peers to get ready for an even better Super Bowl 2016 showing.

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