Ads & Why I Don’t Use AdBlock

First post in ages, I’ve been incredibly lax about this in the last year or so but I’m finally pulling my finger out and using this blog for what it’s intended for: a blog for those of us that make up Bit By Bit Games to talk about things we’re working on, find interesting, cool or just newsworthy.

So to start off I’m going to talk about AdBlock and it’s variants (AdBlock Plus).  Best type of browser plugin ever?  I certainly used to think so.  Who wants to see ads everywhere on your favourite websites?  Why on earth would you want to take an extra 20 seconds to view an ad on YouTube before you view the latest and greatest viral Psy video or Unity3D Shader Tutorial?  Facebook recommending things to you that you might like?  AdBlock it!  I’ve used AdBlock in its various incarnations since it was first created, un-cluttering the web and seeing websites “as they were originally designed” without any of the horrible money-grubbing banner ads interfering with my browsing experience.

Then a few of weeks ago I had a thought, “I wonder if any income we make from Ads in our next game will be worth the effort it took to incorporate them without ruining the gameplay or visual style?”.  Our next game is going to have ads that can be removed via IAP, we’ll finally be saying more about that and the game itself soon.

After that, I made the connection that my livelihood, for the foreseeable future, is inexorably linked with the success of the Advertising in the game.  A few days later, Google removed the Android version of AdBlock from Google Play (ostensibly because of its need for root access to your phone for it to work) and I realised it isn’t just Websites that can be affected by AdBlocking, it’s directly possible for mobile games to have a major source of revenue completely cut out of the loop and made irrelevant.  Which is something I’ve been doing to my favourite websites for over a decade.  What did I think kept those websites running?  Kind thoughts and hugs?  No, the majority of websites on the internet live and die based on ad-revenue and ad-revenue is directly connected to how many visitors to that site actually see the ad.

The majority of ads now really aren’t anywhere near as bad/glaring/annoying as they were in the early days of the internet, I can tolerate them.  Also, I do at least as much website browsing on my iPad now as I do on my PC or MacBook and the ads don’t bother me in Safari most of the time so why should I go out of my way to block them on PC/Mac?

So yeah, I decided I really didn’t want to be hypocritical enough to release a game that depends on users seeing the adverts being served to it when I’m not even supporting the websites I make daily use of in the same way.  AdBlock’s turned off and it’s staying off.

If you’re interested in reading any more views on the pros/cons of using AdBlock and how its use can directly affect what websites have to do to drive traffic so that their Ad impressions pay them enough to be professional and keep the sites up & running, Ben Kuchera of the excellent Penny Arcade Report has a great article about it here and John Walker of the also-excellent Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a very good response to some of the points in it on his personal blog here.  There’s been some great other posts on the subject of the lowest common denominator tactics some sites adopt to drive page views in the last day or so, (for example Leigh Alexander’s post on her blog entitled “Yes, And?”), but I’m personally more focused on the AdBlock aspects of the discussion and how it ties into games.


Yesterday I found a game called “McDonalds’s Videogame”, this is a game designed to teach the player about a side of large corporations like McDonald’s that they may not be aware of. It’s a game with a very clear viewpoint and it’s not shy about getting its points across in the tutorial.

In this game you have four play screens:
1. The outskirts of San José, where you put down fields of soy and cattle.
2. The feedlot where your cows get fattened up and then slaughtered, which is just shown as the cows getting lifted off the screen by a magical crane and burger patties coming out of the machine.
3. A McDonald’s, hire people to make burgers and serve the customers.
4. McDonald’s headquarters, here you can see what the board thinks of your progress, run advertising campaigns and corrupt various officials through your PR team.

So there’s choices to be made in each area, do you want GM soy, more cattle in each field, bulk up the feed with hormones or industrial waste, keep your employees motivated which tends to be giving them a badge or firing one of them. Most of these activities, along with the advertising and corruption operations run from head office, cost you money and the only thing bringing money is selling tasty, tasty burgers to the public.

As you expand your operation you need more land (land you graze cattle on eventually becomes unusable) you’ll cut down rainforests and the environmentalists will protest you. Workers aren’t happy, get new workers! Employee rights groups protest you. Making kids obese or people ill because a sick cow became a burger before you could send it to cow heaven. More protests, the knock-on of all this protesting is less people want your burgers, so business gets drastically reduced for a few months.

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You can try and combat this with advertising and corrupting officials. But here you have to change around what you’re doing, the same advertising campaigns get old, so that boost you got wears off and the number of customers falls.

And head office, all they want it growth. You’re never expanding and growing the business fast enough so you’re pushed to try and sell more and more burgers. This in turn leads you to spend more and more money…

All in all it’s a game you can’t win, in my first three attempts the game lasted barely 5 minutes each before I was fired because I had lost McDonalds so much money because I was trying to expand, like head office demands, but wasn’t selling enough tasty, tasty burgers because I was getting protested against and fined for serving the customers bad meat, my adverts just didn’t boost business enough.

It’s stacked against you, but this just made me determined to ‘win’. So what happened in the fourth game?

I was put in charge of McDonald’s in January 2000, I surveyed my pristine farmland in San José and visited my clean, new restaurant .

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Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I started off slowly. I kept the minimal amount of cows in the fields and front loaded soy production. I hired one person to make burgers and one to serve the public. Those first few years were hard, head office wasn’t happy with the rate of growth but they couldn’t get rid of me as I was making money.

As the years went on I bulldozed the rainforest for farmland and fully staffed up my McDonald’s. Advertising was in full effect so we had a constant stream of people through that door. Protests would still have a major effect in customer numbers and we had to fight them all.

This early stage of the game was still heavy in the micromanagement, changing advertising campaigns regularly and combating negative PR with our PR machine. Employees would regularly need firing as they didn’t smile on the job and that’s not the face we’re showing the public!

About 2025 I hit a tipping point where things mostly started running themselves. I had no soy fields any more, I had a huge stock pile, and all my land was given over to cattle. Head office still wasn’t happy with the growth but they never will be. I was running all the advertising and PR (corruption) campaigns, it was costing a lot of money per month but it didn’t matter since I was raking it in. The general population finally got the message about my tasty, tasty burgers and they couldn’t get enough.

Various groups and officials were constantly protesting my operations, but it didn’t matter because the public wanted burgers. I could let sick and mad cows become burgers, but it didn’t matter because the public loved burgers. I could fire any employee that wasn’t smiling and just hire a new one, but it didn’t matter because the public needed burgers.

The machine was running itself, all I had to do was get rid of unhappy employees. People like a smile with their burger.

Then, one day in March 2054 there was no more land and there were no more cows.

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But that didn’t matter, we had plenty of stocks of burger patties!

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Eventually all the patties were made into burgers, waiting to be sold to the public who just couldn’t get enough of my tasty, tasty burgers. The preparation staff got let go at this point, as there simply wasn’t any work for them to do. They protested us, along with environmentalist and health groups but we couldn’t hear them over the sound of people buying burgers.

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May 2063, the burgers run out. There’s nothing to do except turn away the customers and fire the remaining staff.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

All PR and advertising campaigns are shut down. No money is going out and no money is coming in. There’s no where to move my farming operations so in August 2065 I’m force to leave McDonald’s, taking with me my share of the massive profits we made.

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Bit By Bit at LAUNCH

So months after starting Bit By Bit, I’ve actually pulled my finger out and written a blog after “letting” Matt do them all so far, and the topic is……..writing a blog!  More specifically why writing a blog is a good idea.  Or to put it another way: “What I learned at LAUNCH: Meet the Games Press”.

Last week Matt and I made the trip up to (surprisingly snowy) Birmingham to go to the LAUNCH: Meet the Games Press event, (  The idea behind the event was to give small and new developers some advice and perhaps a little experience at talking to the media, so that when we start trying to talk to people about our new games we actually have a vague idea how to get any attention.  You can find more details of the event and a video of the talks and panel at  It’s one of those things where we get good at telling people about our games, they get new and interesting things to report, everybody gets new and interesting stuff to read/watch/play and everybody is happy!

It’s well worth watching the videos and there’s way too much to summarise in a short blog post, but here are the main points I really picked from it, most of which are directly opposite to my experiences working for Lionhead, where programmers were very much programmers, not PR people:

Make Some Noise

  • Speak to journalists and other game developers on twitter and in real life.  Don’t pester them, don’t harass them, just get involved in the conversation and try and get yourself known.
  • Write blogs!
  • Have opinions and be willing to explain and defend them, either on twitter, via email/Facebook or via articles.  This ties into…

Know Stuff

  • If you’re making your own games, you should probably have a good idea what you’re doing, what other people are doing and what you think others should be doing.
  • Let other people know about it,
    • Get involved in technical discussions on public forums like Twitter if you’re technical
    • Get involved in discussions about where games are going as a creative medium
    • Give talks at Events on interesting work you’ve done or are currently doing.  (If you’re like me and not the worlds most experienced public speaker, probably best to work up to it gradually.  Do things like talk about it to people in social groups, then groups where you don’t know everyone and so on).
    • Basically, if you have useful information that you think other people might want to know, share it!

Be Yourself

  • Don’t try and be corporate press officer #6734990.  Trying too hard to be “professional” will just result in you blending into the hundreds of big corporation press releases released every single day.  Not only that, but the big-name pro’s are just that, professional, they have the training and the corporate support to make that approach work for them, you probably don’t.  (I definitely don’t!)
    • This applies to everything you do.  For example, if you host events they don’t have to be huge but it’d be brilliant if they’re different to the bog-standard image of a corporate press event.  They could be pub nights with fans & journalists, games nights, random picnics, whatever you think would be fun.
    • Mass mailing every single games-related website or publication you can find with the exact same press release really won’t do you much good.  Tailor your emails to the people you’re emailing, both on a personal level and a category level.  A site like or Gamasutra isn’t going to be interested in the exact same aspects of your news as somewhere like Eurogamer or Kotaku.  You don’t like getting generic mass-mailed spam, why should journalists?
      • This is something we actually got a bit wrong when we released Trail for free, too much generic corporate speech and not enough tailoring of the message.

Try To Make Everyone’s Lives Easier

  • Don’t watermark your images, it makes it a pain for sites to rebrand them or use them in print
  • Be nice, unless you really really screw up you shouldn’t have any enemies in the press.  We all love games, we all want as many other people to enjoy games as possible.
  • Use  it’s a very useful central site that many journalists use as a resource.  Make sure your news and your asset are on there.

Keep Working At It

  • Creating interest in your games and your news is an on-going conversation.
  • You should be:
    • involved in twitter conversations,
    • releasing updates regularly
    • Making use of every cheap/digital avenue for creating interest you can
      • Sometimes that can even include jumping into someone else’s conversation.  A tweet or mention in a podcast or blog by someone with a lot of followers can be a huge boost for the level of awareness people have over who you are and what you’re doing.
    • Use as much analytics as you can to track your online presence and how your efforts are progressing.  It’s motivating by showing when you do well and perhaps giving you an idea of what does or doesn’t work

People Are Interested In Stories

  • Who are you?
  • What have you done?
  • Why are you making this game?
  • Why should anyone care?
  • Was there anything about the development/tech/design/funding/origin of the idea that people may find interesting or amusing?

This is hopefully me taking this advice and maybe getting better at doing all of the above.  It’s a start anyway!