5 Mobile Game Ad Design Tips From Zynga Pros

Insights & Best Practices

August 26, 2015


min read

Designing a mobile game is one thing, but crafting an effective creative? Quite another. Just ask the team at Zynga?s recently created Studio E, an agency-within-a-company dedicated to designing in-game ads. We asked director of design Matt Sharpe and lead product manager Agatha Bochenek to share their best practices for designing interstitials.

1. Clarify Your Goals

Before getting started, identify the creative?s singular goal. Sharpe says this is crucial for prioritizing design elements. If the goal is conversion, for example, the headline and CTA will be critically important.?When you don?t have a goal, when it?s not clearly defined, you end up designing for yourself and your tendencies and your habits, rather than delivering value to the user,? he says. ?You also may end up putting a little bit more ?sauce? in the recipe than you need to.?

Zynga Ad

Tip: Once you?ve settled on your ad?s purpose, tell yourself that the only reason the screen exists is to achieve that goal. That will help you zero in on core design elements?whether it?s a CTA, headline or imagery.2. Imagine Your Game at a Dinner PartyThe best creatives feel like a natural segue in a conversation, rather than an abrupt change of subject, Sharpe says. But when you?re advertising a game, your ad will appear in a variety of different titles and you can?t rely on clever visual allusions to the publishing app?a challenge Sharpe likens to walking into a party where you don?t know the dress code.?Present the brand in a manner that?s clear, concise, and aligned with whatever public persona or stance you may have,? he says. ?You have to play the role of brand psychologist.?Tip: Think about your game?s personality. Is it friendly? Brainy? Sophisticated? If you can translate these elements to the user via the interstitial, Sharpe says, you?ve done your job.

3. Follow The Tenets of Good Design?

Bigger titles usually have brand color palettes, Sharpe says, which consist of two to five color swatches that make up the brand?s ?personality.? The designer?s job, then, is to use these colors strategically, applying a working knowledge of basic color theory. Sharpe sticks to the following general framework: passive colors for background imagery, highly active colors for CTAs, and high-contrast colors for game titles.And when it comes to imagery, keep in mind another secret of design pros: users generally respond well to faces. Whether it?s a smiling protagonist or a furious warrior, emotions tell a story that?s instantly engaging. For strategy games, Sharpe and Bochenek have also found that weapon imagery is particularly effective.?We call it the Jerry Bruckheimer philosophy,? Sharpe says, ?If something?s exploding, then we?re doing OK.?

Adobe Color CC

Tip: Don?t have a brand color palette yet? Adobe?s Color CC tool will generate one based on a single color swatch (say, from your logo).

4. But Don?t Be Afraid to Break the Rules

Sharpe doesn?t recommend worrying too much about design ?rules,? such as maximum and minimum font or CTA sizes. If you find yourself wondering if you?ve broken a rule of thumb, he says, it?s probably time to rethink your design?you may be trying to do too much or too little with your composition.?With respect to text on a call to action, for example, I don?t have a minimum, only because the actual form and the color are just as important,? he says. ?Sometimes you?ll have a button, and the text is small, because it?s using contrast and negative space to create awareness. [That said], if you?re not confident your text will be readable, then you have a problem.?Tip: When it comes to composition, forget about the z-pattern, the Gutenberg model, and similar templates. Sharpe uses Guide Guide, a Photoshop plug-in, to divide the screen into nine equal parts to anchor the most important design elements.

5. Test and Optimize?but Don?t Go Overboard

Even if you don?t have a big team and ample budget, Bochenek recommends doing click-tests with your creative team. Create a small set of creatives showcasing different characters, plot lines and key imagery, then see which one gets the highest clickthrough rate.That said, Bochenek cautions against going overboard with optimization. ?There?s a law of diminishing returns,? she says. ?Don?t spend time trying to get a teeny-tiny incremental percentage [when] you?d really be better suited just trying something fun and different.?


Tip: If you?ve made 50 versions of one creative and are obsessing about metrics, it may be time to step back and do something more dramatic than switching out imagery?such as showcasing a completely different gameplay element.In the new Power-Up Report from Chartboost, we collected stories, data and lessons learned from some of the hottest and most successful mobile strategy games. You?ll get the story behind breakthrough strategy game DomiNations, never-before-seen retention and IAP data for strategy games, an analysis of strategy game app icon design, and so much more. This is more than a report, it?s a guide to growing your mobile strategy game business. Hit the button below to read now or download your copy (no email required)!

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