Tuesday, October 1, 2019

There's a freemium puzzle game that has a bizarre viral ad campaign AND is genuinely good?

At first glance, free mobile game Lily's Garden features generic graphics and a routine premise:
Help Lily restore her great-aunt’s garden to its former glory and rediscover her roots. Dig into a story full of twists and turns as Lily interacts with a cast of colorful characters. Plant the seed of romance with her handsome neighbor Luke, and keep her rake of an ex-boyfriend Blaine off her turf. Match and collect flowers in hundreds of unique puzzle levels to earn stars and grow your garden!
But if you've been targeted by the right algorithm, you get to see advertisements like this grim one, were Lily finds out she's pregnant and is then immediately ditched by her boyfriend:

Or this longer version, where we learn Lily was actually faking being pregnant to chase her boyfriend away:

Another ad shows Lily has found new satisfaction:

Brian Feldman looked into the ads for Intelligencer and learned they are almost entirely unrelated to the game:
The targeted ads inform me that Lily, apparently, lives for drama. The reality of Lily’s Garden is even more complicated. For one thing, the fake-pregnancy story line is not present in the game itself. According to Stella Sacco, the game’s writer, those ads were created by a separate team. “All of those are all totally fabricated for, I guess, virality,” she said “And to that degree, I would say that it worked.” Lily’s Garden has a similarly intricate story line, but fans hoping for more information about the Lily from the ads might be found wanting.
As Feldman learned, the creators of the game took pains to combine traditional freemium-style game mechanics with a rich narrative to appeal to a neglected audience:
At a previous developer Sacco worked for, they apparently had an in-house category for these games called “pink,” and all the games for women fell into that bucket. “It’s all pinks, and, you know, cute animals and all of that kind of stuff,” she recalled. “But nobody is really appealing to the women out there who watch cop shows every night, who love Hallmark movies. No one is taking them seriously. And so this story was an effort to do that.”
The work has apparently paid off. Emily Short (who designed the excellent free narrative game First Draft of the Revolution) gave Lily's Garden a rave review, praising the story and the gameplay itself:
It also helps that the gameplay is excellent. Lily’s Garden is a free-to-play game, and it frequently invites you to spend money on power-ups and extra lives. However, it’s quite a lot of fun to play even if you don’t spend anything. What looks initially like a basic matching implementation soon morphs into a fairly elaborate puzzle game