Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ads in flash games

I play a lot of teeny little Flash games. These games are free and ad-supported. Therefore, they recapitulate the entire history of Web advertising, and we could repeat it right down the line in the comments, and maybe we will. I will try to short-circuit it with the following assertions. (Expletives have been BSGified for public consumption, but really, I wrote this with a lot of swears.)

  • People frakking hate web ads. They hate banner ads, they hate pop-up ads, they hate them all. More people hate them with silent grumbling than by jumping up and down screaming "feldercarb!" but the hate is there.

  • This is because they are noisy, ugly visual pollution which exist to drag your attention away from what you care about.

  • Ad companies politely pretend this hate does not exist. They pretend they are presenting valuable relevant content in parallel with your web-browsing experience. This is a load of bat-dren, but it lets them sleep at night.

  • Some people use ad blockers and such. This makes ad companies weep, and then you get the whole "You're killing the Web 2.0 economy! You are destroying the sites that you visit!" argument. This is right up there with the "Software piracy costs 250 billion dollars a year!" argument: there is a real concern there, but it is comprehensively snowed under by phony hysteria, which is to say, an ocean of decaying dingo's kidneys.

  • The reason this is hysteria is that, even without in-browser ad blockers, people grow ad blockers in their brains very quickly. Ad companies sit around discussing "dwell time" and "optimal ad positioning" as if they weren't staring at the proof that everybody hates them, and discussing their strategies for making everybody suffer more by breaking their brains.

  • Therefore, speaking as a consumer, I avoid lots of ads, and you can't make me feel guilty about it. No, not even if you're the game designer who makes money off the ads. I love game designers, you're awesome, kid, now shut up.

How does this apply to Flash games? Well, we have lived through the following stages of the war:
  • A game appears on a web page
  • A game appears on a web page with ads around it
  • An ad appears on a web page, and then turns into a game
  • ...and then ads appear inside the game itself (between games, or even between levels)

We hit stage 3 a couple of years ago -- managed by ad companies like Mochiads. We are just now hitting the point of stage 4.

Rather than trying to make a moral or aesthetic argument about this progression, I will describe my rules for dealing with it.

  • When I fire up a web page with a game, if I see a splash-page ad, I'm going to bury the window and wait for it to finish loading. I saw your ad, now I'm doing other stuff. I'll be back later. Sorry!

  • If you show a loading progress bar with an ad above it, I understand. I'm not watching it load with glazed consumer eyes, but I get that you're making use of dead space.

  • If you show a falsified loading progress bar, which ticks up for 20 seconds even after the game has finished loading, you're a frakking liar. This is not a moral argument about your ad, this is a moral argument about you. "You" meaning Mochiads. You're dishonest sleazeballs when you do this. Sorry!

  • The only thing that blinks on my screen is the game I'm playing. Animation is an emergency signal. Misuse it and I'll resize the window to cut your ad right the frell off. Sorry!

  • Honestly, a row of brightly-colored, high-contrast ads is pretty damn noisy even if they're not animated. I'll trim them off too. There's a reason that Google Ads are homogenous in style and blend with the overall page: it makes the page suck less.

  • You can put an ad on the "click to start game" screen.

  • Once I click to start the game, ad time is over. I'm playing a game now. The next ad I see is the end of the game. I mean that literally: the next time I see an ad, I shout "game over!" and close the window. No, I am not playing again. You lost fired me.

  • If you can't make a living this way, I'll play other people's games. I'm fine with that. Yes, I do design games for free.

  • Maybe someday ad technology will get so sophisticated that I can't play Flash games at all. Do you want to go there? No, don't worry -- I don't really expect it to happen. Web ad blockers seem to be in fine shape these days.

  • So, if you want to try to go there, you're frakked. One way or the other.

What does all of this boil down to? Seriously, this: web ads are an attention tax levied on the people who don't care about them very much. I care about them a lot, so I block a lot of ads (by various means). You cannot get me to start watching ads by making them more intrusive; you can only make me hate you more.

So back the hezmana off and be happy with the (large majority) of ad-viewers you've got now. Most people aren't juggling windows around to avoid your dren. You don't have to yotz up the game experience itself to make your garbage-spreading cash quota.

Comments imported from Gameshelf

XIX (Oct 18, 2008 at 12:28 PM):

you missed the developer side of course

once upon a time people made flash games

then along came sites that hosted games and put ads around the games and made money (the developers did not make money)

Some such as ebaumsworld, branded other peoples content as their own without permission and in the end made millions of dollars off of doing so. Go read the legalise on ebaums upload page for an example of how evil they still are.

now, with the new ingame ads the developers are scraping up some loose change, generally this isn't much. Some kids think they are making money, thats about it. However its still better than the alternative. For in game ads to really pay off, you need to get 100 thousand or more hits a day every day. This gets you around 50 bux a day and is of course very unlikely to happen.

Obviously this is the time for the gamers to get angry and stop these lazy profiteering developers.

well done

The main gain from in game advertising is being able to then negotiate a price for its removal before your game can be included on some of the bigger sites. That it is still there on the smaller sites means at least you might cover some expenses.

Today people such as spill group, ( and more) demand the removal of developers ads so they can replace them with their own without paying the developer anything. They have also recently been making noises about stopping developers from even linking to their own sites from within flash games.

This attempts to cut off developers from the gamer, making it harder to even build up an audience for your work. Which is not an easy act at the best of times.

Maybe you would like to get angry about that sort of thing instead?

I'd like to remove all advertising, however its the only leverage point I have and right now its even covering hosting fees whilst my development acts cause me to spiral further into debt.

Andrew Plotkin (Oct 20, 2008 at 8:10 PM):

You're putting words in my fingers. "Stop those lazy developers" is not even well-defined, much less an argument I made.

I didn't mention developers or publishers. I don't need to distinguish them, speaking as a player, because they come to agreements and I get to eat the result. I can do this passively or I can make my point of view known.

Naturally, if the publisher is giving the developer a bad deal, that is something the developer is going to have to solve.

Cookieboy (Oct 21, 2008 at 12:59 AM):

Actually, distinguishing developers from publishers is very important. Developers make gains for the sake of making games. Publishers exploit said games for the sake of making money and more money, often at the expense of the developer. XIX in particular needs money because making games for free has him in a big debt. I'm talking about real-life poverty here. So naturally he has a valid reason to place in-game ads. As far as I know, in-game ads have never actually gotten in the way of gameplay.

Andrew Plotkin (Oct 21, 2008 at 11:17 PM):

Really, you're in the wrong argument.

Sure there are important issue between developers and publishers. Do players care about them? 99% of the time, no. Players care about whether the game in front of them is acting like crap. That is what I was addressing. If the developers and the publishers can't take care of that first, they're both in a sinking canoe, and I'm not going to climb in there with them in order to discuss whose fault it was.

As far as I know, in-game ads have never actually gotten in the way of gameplay.

Sure they have. I wrote a whole post about it, with lines and circles and a "Camelopardis!" on the back of each one.

Cookieboy (Oct 22, 2008 at 4:22 AM):

Actually, developers and publishers DO matter to the gamer.

A lot more than you think.

If the gamer won't see things beyond the game, the gamer won't see a lot of things. Developers have their reasons to place ads in games. They have their reasons why gameplay is what it is.

I think it would be better if the gamer can actually understand the developer. There would be less whining if only gamers would do something other than say ''1/5''.

Apathy towards game developers is not healthy at all.

Mr. Lat (Mar 12, 2010 at 8:41 AM):

What we need to do is get a band of game developers and set up our own site, and put are own games on it. And if we did have some type of add 100% of the profit should go to the game makers according to contribution.

Dante (Oct 20, 2010 at 1:09 PM):

I don't like ads in games. Period!

jitendra garg (Jun 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM):

So, you are saying, developer trying to earn money so that they can continue having food, and live long enough to complete next game is an idiot. Bravo sir. You really are a mastermind. Oh, and advertisement doesn't really make a big impact on your experience. That's why advertising companies do all this strategic planning. For a regular user, advertisement will never impact experience, but for new user, they will provide related info. Heck, even I didn't noticed any adverts on the forum I frequent, while new users always sees the adverts too. No one is an idiot to spend millions on researching a way to lose visitors to their site. Also, nothing is free, advertising is just indirect way to subscription fee. You have to pay for any and every experience, you have. Also, if developers started taking note of your points, you will end up paying subscription fee to even use google. Their whole company earns money because of advertising. You think, just because you paid for the internet fee, you deserve to see every site for free. Take the same argument to cable tv providers and let me know their response. Everyone will discard your argument believing you know nothing about business, cuz, frankly you don't.

Andrew Plotkin (Jun 14, 2011 at 1:16 PM):

I'm saying that the developer is responsible for the presentation of his game. If the presentation ruins the game, the player doesn't give a crap how it got there.

Everything after that, I believe, is you trying to squirm to avoid the point.

rubel (Sep 21, 2011 at 2:53 PM):

To the fucker author, why do we allow you to play our game if we dont have any profit? as you are going to play the game only lazily as you guys have no brain with you and you say lazy developer. grow up. grow your brain. dont live without a brain

Andrew Plotkin (Sep 21, 2011 at 3:57 PM):

I don't think you're adding to the argument here. If you think I oppose profit for developers, you need to re-read the post.

End User (Apr 19, 2013 at 2:39 AM):

To the whiney snot nose developers and publishers who take offence at this article - [...DEL...]

[This comment consisted mostly of swearing. I have deleted the body -- not because of bad language per se, but for excessive contempt. Be respectful of others on this blog. --Mod]

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