John Walker's Electronic House

A Response To PAR’s Adblockers/Games Press Article

by on Apr.17, 2013, under Rants

Today Ben Kuchera, of the Penny Arcade Report, wrote an article in which he explained how games journalism works in relation to content and advertising. That gaming sites put up the galleries of cosplay babes because it’s necessary to fund the better, less popular content, all driven by a constant need for pageviews and unique hits. In his article, he writes as if he’s speaking for the whole industry, although excludes himself from the process. I’d like to add RPS to that exclusion list, thanks very much, because I don’t recognise a word of how he says my business works.

I’m not going to get into how RPS’s advertising works, because frankly I don’t know, and I prefer it that way. That’s all done by someone who works at Eurogamer, with whom we have an advertising partnership. We have laid down strict rules, they follow them, but how the charging works I’ve no idea.

Kuchera makes a few statements which I want to make clear don’t speak for me, or the business I co-own.

“People like to say that the games press is just chasing page views with certain stories, but let’s be honest: We’re chasing page views with every story.”

This is a very loaded statement. It’s both as banal as saying “Newspapers only include news stories because people want to read news,” and as sensationalist as saying, “They’ll do anything to make you click!” The truth is of course somewhere between. RPS, and I can only ever speak for RPS and no other gaming site, is a business. We make money from advertising, and we get advertising because we have people reading the site. So yes, we post things on RPS in order to run our business. But how that defines what you post is always the business’s choice, and Kuchera’s frequent inference in his piece that it automatically causes nefarious or unsightly content does not speak for me. If anything, at worst his article ends up being apologist propaganda for the sites that lazily rely on crude hit chasing, as if it were the only way.

“This is the reality of the business. It takes so many page views and so many uniques to stay in business, you find yourself going after stories you know will be popular. You may pass up covering games that don’t have a large following. You may break one long story into two chunks to stretch it out. You do anything to get people to click.”

No, we don’t. It’s central to RPS’s ethos that we do no such things. RPS has always had the policy (although that’s too strong a word – it’s just a thing we did because it was what we felt like doing) to give obscure indie gaming and AAA blockbusters the same coverage. Of course a AAA game everyone’s interested in is going to do more PR, put out more trailers and pre-release teases – that likely tips the balance. But when it comes to what we review and preview, it’s about what we’re interested in, and what we hope our readers are interested in. In fact, we do far more interviews with indies than we do with big name developers, not least because they’re far easier to interview. We review more indies than triple As, because there ARE more indie games than triple As. If a game has a trailer worth posting, we post it, no matter the budget behind it. And why? Because readers ARE interested. Certainly, my review of an obscure indie platformer is going to get a fraction of the views of a review of a big-name FPS. But we want to post it, so we do. That’s partly because we have a platform from which we can promote good games. But also, fewer hits isn’t no hits, and it all adds up.

But the last statement is the most egregious. No we bloody well don’t. Were that true, RPS would absolutely be tailored to suit the stereotypically perceived gaming audience, posting endless list features and galleries of half-naked women, because the reality is, that WOULD bring in a ton of hits. It’s gross, we hate it, so we don’t do it. There are better ways.

“How do sites justify running longer, in-depth stories that won’t bring in the huge page views? I have bad news. They write shit. Popular shit.”

Of all the claims made in this piece, this is the one that’s riled me the most. Primarily because it’s so monstrously untrue in RPS’s experience. We have never, ever, set out to “write shit”. We’ve posted trailers for games that are very popular, because we know that a large portion our readers want to see those trailers, and will complain if they’re missed out. But in doing so, we’ll comment on them, mock them, criticise them, or celebrate them. They are almost never posts that get big hits, apart from peculiar exceptions where for some inexplicable reason a bunch of other sites will link to us rather than the YouTube page, or whatever. We’ll never understand that phenomenon, but we don’t expect it, nor aim for it, because it’s rare and insane. In general, such posts aren’t big deals for us, since every other site has likely posted the same, around the same time. Just without our commentary or analysis, which we hope makes it worth reading them on RPS rather than elsewhere.

But that’s not the issue with Kuchera’s claim. The issue is that for RPS, it’s the longer, in-depth stories that see the huge page views. Looking at our most popular stories, they’re the ones that are based on our own original journalism, whether they’re our having sourced interviews or information from developers that other sites haven’t got, self-sourced news stories on topical matters, particularly well written reviews of popular games, or carefully researched editorials. (There are peculiar exceptions – one of the biggest stories ever on RPS is a collection South Park RPG screenshots, that were publicly accessible to everyone. We’ll never fathom that one.) But the rule is for RPS, the in-depth, longer posts are those that bring in the larger page views. You know – the best stuff.

And this is the important point: RPS isn’t magic. RPS isn’t a fluke. There’s this perception in the industry that goes, “Yeah, but you guys are lucky.” Piss off. We are not simply lucky. We work incredibly hard, ruled by our principles, and do our best to be very good at what we do. I’m sure luck comes into it somewhere, but it’s obviously not what brings success. The site is a successful, profitable business, paying five people’s full-time wages, along with paying good rates for freelancers, without ever having compromised our values. It didn’t start off with money (although we’ve never had any debts) – we worked very hard for very little, and were very fortunate, to get here. But we’ve never needed to post a gallery of booth babes to be able to write what we otherwise want to. Not because it wouldn’t have made it easier – it would have! But because it’s gross, and we’re not willing to be gross.

RPS is a commercial site, and we’re not pretending that we’re not doing it to make money. But we’re doing it for other reasons too – our passion for gaming, our desire to communicate, and the opportunity to provide readers with entertainment, information, and discussion. We love those things. We have a platform where we can do this stuff, and we’re delighted that we’ve proven that such a platform is possible if you’re good enough at what you do, and work damned hard at it. (Which is why it’s all the more galling when it’s dismissed as an ideological fluke.) That we’ve realised we get the biggest hits when we work the hardest is, perhaps, the good side of this motivational model.

I’ve only talked about RPS here, because as I’ve said, I’m in no position to talk about anyone else’s business. But I want to be clear that this isn’t unique! There are many other sites who have not resorted to the scummiest practices of the industry, and are very successful. The suggestion that commercial success is impossible without base behaviour is a lie the industry tells itself to feel better about itself. Kuchera seems to have bought into that lie, no matter his opinion of it.

There’s one other point I want to make here, regarding Kuchera’s point on adblocking. Adblocking does suck for us, and every other site that relies on advertising. At RPS we make sure that the ads we run are the least offensive options. We NEVER have ads that obscure the content, pop up, or make noise without your permission. Sometimes – not often – they can be a little annoyingly flashy, but that’s as bad as they get. We do that because we want the site to annoy as few people as possible. Adblocking us does hurt us, and we’d obviously prefer readers didn’t do it. And on top of this, I think there’s an issue with the argument so many make, including in the PAR piece:

“Whitelist your favorite sites from your ad-blocking program, and share your favorite stories on your favorite social networks. Tweet a story you like, or share it on Facebook.”

Good stuff, except approaching it in the wrong order. Whitelist EVERY site. Set your adblock to be automatically off. When you encounter a site that then spams adverts at you, repeatedly covering the text you’re trying to read with their crap, block the hell out of it. Sites should not have to earn being unblocked – they should have to earn being blocked. This idea that you should only whitelist those that you like best is incredibly selfish. Because what about the time a Google result takes you to a site that gives you some amazingly useful information? You’re not going to bookmark it, or visit it again – you got what you needed. And they got nothing for it. That’s messed up. But I totally agree with the bit about sending money into your favourite sites : )

(It’s probably worth noting that this site carries no advertising at all, and it makes no difference to the entire universe how many clicks it receives.)

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57 Comments for this entry

  • R.

    I think there’s one very important thing to consider re: the ‘distasteful content allows the rest of the content to exist’ argument. If you’re *having* to publish content that is actively damaging to people, then maybe that says something about whether your entire business deserves to survive. If that’s absolutely the only way to make ends meet using your approach, maybe that’s a sign that your ends have no right to be meeting.

    I’m sure if people considered it like that a bit more, they’d magically find a way to sustain themselves without relying on that kind of clickbait.

  • Geoff 'Shivoa' Birch

    Well said, but if I could pick your brain on one element: “You may break one long story into two chunks to stretch it out.” -PAR

    Does RPS break interviews into two articles (sometimes with a 3rd running before either halves with highlighted edits of what was said) because you’ve found people don’t generally manage to get through them or for technical reasons that the CMS can’t deal with stuff that long?

    I had kinda assumed that when the change happened it was driven by increasing the ad revenue for interviews (which are unique content even if the interviewee may have done many interviews that week and so presumably are more likely to drive links).

  • RedPoll

    Good stuff. It should also be pointed out that websites that DO slather pictures of booth-babes and female cosplayers everywhere are probably actively avoided by a good chunk of the gaming/reading population i.e. those of us who are female or not fourteen years old. These articles/websites are not ‘click-bait’, far from it. Rather, the reaction they engender is: ‘good GRIEF. Really? No thanks.’

  • RevStu

    “We are not lucky. We work incredibly hard”

    You know that’s the most Thatcherite argument ever, right?

    It’s perfectly possible to work incredibly hard AND be lucky. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    I’m not saying RPS was especially lucky, but I really, really hate to see people use that line.

  • Leigh

    I feel strongly about this. The answer nobody really cares for in the era of ‘present shock’ and instant gratification is that yes, you can make a living purely on good content, but it takes years of earned credibility, patient adherence to principles, and probably to be very, very good.

    There is some luck involved, and other stuff far less tangible than luck, and there are many, many people who want to be doing games writing — even, who feel entitled to be doing games writing — who will not have enough of either luck or the Other Thing. And if you cannot do it it’s probably not because life is unfair or your college failed you, but because it might not be for you.

    I’m of two minds. I’m sympathetic to people who say they ‘have to’ do certain things (within reason, I’ve no sympathy for people writing top lists) because they haven’t earned the seniority to say no. Or to those who say they want to change the system by working steadily on it from the inside. Or to people who work hard to be a positive presence within a site with a problematic structure because the problems would be worse without them there.

    But at the same time, it gets hard to deal with people who say “I hate this stuff too” yet promote it implicitly if not explicitly and then say “pay me more.”

    I am cautious not to claim anyone seems “entitled”, because it’s more complicated than that, but it is incredibly difficult to work my ass off in adherence to certain values, and to be one of the rarer independent freelancers, and then just be told I am simply lucky.

  • John Walker

    Geoff – the reason we do that is because otherwise they become unwieldy pieces no one would want to start reading once they’d seen the tiny scroll bar. Anything longer than about 3,000 words is horribly threatening!

    But no, it’s never been about page views. Purely because it’s a better way to present the content. A typical comment in Castle Shotgun’s secret lair will be,

    “Oh gawd, I’m 5,000 words in and only halfway done transcribing! This is going to have to get broken into two.”

  • friccish

    “Because what about the time a Google result takes you to a site that gives you some amazingly useful information? You’re not going to bookmark it, or visit it again – you got what you needed. And they got nothing for it. That’s messed up.”

    When did I enter into an agreement with a site that I would view their ads in order to gain access to their content? They contrived this model, not me. If it fails because too many people blocked their ads, so be it.They’ll have to find a different model or close down, and I agree that sucks. But that’s the fault of their business model, not the user’s fault who simply didn’t conform to the behavior the business model needs them to.

  • Axel

    Hear, hear. I actually don’t adblock sites at all, but this ethos is why RPS is one of the few blogs I keep track of and frequently visit (without someone posting a link to a specific article).

  • John Walker

    friccish – While I’m not claiming the two situations are equivalent, because they’re not, when did you enter into an agreement that you’d pay for things in shops? Or not punch old ladies in the street? Is it just because there are laws that you avoid such behaviour?

    As I say, not equivalent, but the argument doesn’t hold water. How about you just leave the ads on, so they don’t have to find a different model or close down? Seems like, maybe, that’s an option too?

  • Phil Nelson

    @RevStu: I think it’s obvious that when people say that they mean “You got lucky and that’s the only reason for your success” and what gets John’s (and my) goat about that is it totally pisses on the hard work (the other part of the equation- you have to work hard AND get lucky) with a shrugging of the shoulders.

    It is MUCH MORE WORK to stick to your principles than to give in.

  • Nobody

    “Good stuff, except approaching it in the wrong order. Whitelist EVERY site. Set your adblock to be automatically off”

    The problem with this, and the reason most people block them in the first place, is because it’s been run into the ground. Most sites have terrible, intrusive advertising, and sometimes that advertising can even be malicious.

    There’s just too much of the bad to leave it off.

    That said, I would love to see a moderated ad-filter list that specifically allows the less intrusive kind of advertising (no sound/flash/obscuring elements), which would be a nice compromise.

  • RodeoBob

    Love the response, except for this bit:

    “Whitelist EVERY site. Set your adblock to be automatically off. When you encounter a site that then spams adverts at you, repeatedly covering the text you’re trying to read with their crap, block the hell out of it. Sites should not have to earn being unblocked – they should have to earn being blocked.”

    I’m sorry, but that position is wrong. It’s ignorant of history, it’s ignorant of context, and it’s ignorant of prior precedents.

    History first: the internet was widely used and popular for over a decade before any kind of ad-filtering software was developed. Ad-blocking software was created in response to the web environment that had developed, a place where the default approach was invasive, unwanted advertising interfering with content. In other words, white-listing everyone was how it all started; the position we’re in now didn’t appear out of nowhere. Users have been methodically driven to it by advertisers who consistently acted badly.

    Context next: ads, especially flash ads, are often used as an infection vector for malware and viruses. If my default setting is “allow everything”, then by the time I’ve “blocked the hell” out of an offending site, it’s too late. If I want to vote with my dollars (or ad-impressions in this case) blocking that invasive pop-up/pop-in/roll-over/autoplay ad AFTER it’s shown up is also too late, as they’ve already gotten their impression from me.

    The prior precedents are really where you miss the boat. Email spam and comment spam both exploit the “always white-list everyone by default” approach. How’s that worked out? In a “allow-by-default” system, bad actors will find ways to circumvent blocks.

  • sinister agent

    I get your point, but the reason I leave adblock on by default is that the internet is an unholy, unreadable abomination without it. It’s hard enough to read a lot of sites even with it switched on (thank god for things like Readability, that translates idiotic layouts with 20 adverts smothering an article displayed in sections no larger than an ant’s lung into something fit for humans).

    I subscribed though, so nyerr nyerr nyerr.

  • KfZ

    “How about you just leave the ads on, so they don’t have to find a different model or close down? Seems like, maybe, that’s an option too?”

    But should we really artificially extend the life a model? If a model does not work when readers do what they want to, perhaps the model needs to die?

    By the numbers I hear a page view valued at, I could pay the amount you earn off of me a year every month without betting an eyelid. It is not the responsibility of the reader to make your business work, when a model dies the winner is the one that finds the next one quickest, not the one who can get it on the best life support. That’s not sad, it’s just healthy.

  • Clavus

    I understand your argument against adblockers, but the internet is just way too unreliable and unsafe to traverse without an one (accompanied by javascript blocking wizardry). I do unblock every site I regularly visit and which relies on ad revenue, but I think it’s a bad idea to whitelist everything by default.

    Whoever invented cross-site scripting ruined ads for everyone.

  • friccish

    @John: I didn’t want to start an argument. I actually agree with your post on the whole, and appreciate what you and RPS are doing. And I don’t ad-block RPS for that reason. I just have a hard time when people tell me how I _should_ be interacting with the open/free web.

    It is my opinion is that people who ad-block don’t make the difference that people think they do. If I use some kind of ad-blocking, I am very likely a person that is annoyed by ads and who would never click on one for pretty much any reason. I know that ad revenue is based on views generally, but the economics of advertising, in the end, is based on people who do click on them. If nobody ever clicked on them, advertisers wouldn’t pay for them to be put on sites.

    If I now decide to disable all ad-blocking due to my moral ethos, I’m not going to start clicking on ads. When you scale this out massively (“hey everyone, stop ad-blocking”), then ads actually become worth less. Now the $5/1000 mentioned in Kuchera’s post goes to $3/1000 because a smaller percentage of views are clicking through. An advertiser can’t afford to pay $5/1000 because they aren’t getting the value back. It evens out in the end.

    End opinion.

  • Axel

    Judging by a lot of these comments, if any site that comes up in a google search isn’t making money off of answering my question, that’s their own fault for using the ad-based model.

    I’ll keep that in mind the next time I search for a solution to my computer issues, and every result wants me to pay 50 cents before I see whether or not they have anything helpful to say.

  • Tuba

    Well, I started a gaming website around 1 year ago with some friends and we try to follow something very close to RPS’s ethos: write stuff that we found interesting, try to talk about indie games as much as AAA titles and no cosplay bullshit. We also try to keep ads to a minimum. With that we got a nice group of inteligent readers that don’t troll or spam in the comments and even some respect from other jornalists.

    But, that’s not profitable… it’s hard to resist the urge to fill your website with ads, sensationalist headlines and bikini cosplay girls when you see other sites doing that and getting money and more readers with it.

  • kieron Gillen

    Friccish: You’re aware of Ads in print mags? No-one ever clicked on them.

    Point being, putting whatever you’re selling in front of the eyes of a demographic is what they’re paying for for, not just the click through.

    Your maths is based on the assumption that everyone who adblocks is like you, which probably isn’t true. I never clicked through ads and I never ran adblocker*. It’s all percentages.

    (The past tense there is important. Since I’m no longer following games as intensely as I was when I’m on the site, I hit the occasional advert that intrigues me now for a game I’ve never heard of. The Don’t Starve advert on RPS would be an example.)

    *Well… in the unseedy parts of the Internet.

  • JD

    I’ve blocked the Outbrain ads on RPS because the majority are exploitative click-throughs. The main site ads I have no issue with.

  • Dudebro87

    …yet when the criticism wasn’t really aimed at RPS or your model, why are you answering to it such hostile matter? As far as I picked Kuchera’s text, he criticize the system he is annoyed of delivering bad content. If you ain’t doing that (bad content), why so mad about it?

    (Also ad-blockers, ftw? How crappy porn sites you people visit that you actually have to use them? Raise some standards, man.)

  • Andrew Doull

    Everyone ‘needing’ ad blockers is ignoring the tools out there such as Ghostery and Flashblock that block the bad (tracking software, intrusive flash) without explicitly targeting ads. Shame on you for not doing the due diligence before stealing from content creators.

  • PleasingFungus

    John, what’s your defense of these “Outbrain” ads that have started showing up between the comments & the article in the last few weeks?

    http://i.imgur.com/SLxlMhR.png , etc

    They’re really kind of astonishingly awful, and not what I’ve come to expect from RPS’s advertising, which is at least generally games-related.

  • sinister agent

    @Kieron Gillen

    Why on earth would you be on the unseedy parts of the internet?

  • Michael K

    John Walker – Let’s get something straight; readers as product, sold to advertisers, is a business model and not an agreement. It’s only an “agreement” in the sense that readers may or may not agree to take part in that business model as a commodity to be sold to advertisers.

    It’s been that way since newspapers, then magazines, then radio, and beyond. Readers don’t even really pay for the medium in most cases – they pay for the distribution/reception. The only big difference here is that the readers can shut out the ads, and advertisers can see when they do it.

    And since it’s a business model, there’s no inherent moral imperative for people to agree to be part of it or support it, regardless of how long it’s been around. That business model worked for a long time, until the internet broke it.

    If this business model isn’t working for you anymore, it’s time to find a new one, not beg people to prop up the one that doesn’t work. Last I checked, newspaper circulation and display/classified ad revenue weren’t really going back up. It didn’t matter how they plead to save the local “institution,” appealed to nostalgia, or just plain wished for things to level out or readers to come back. Don’t be newspapers.

  • Brian

    My take on Adblock – the rotten apples spoiled the bunch.

    As Kuchera asserts, probably correctly, the tech-savvy video game readership likely relies heavily on the web. From pop-ups to videos to porn to scams, ads are a nuisance at best and a liability at worst.

    Sorry to say it, but personally I find ads equally offensive as “Top 10 Most Deformed Tits” articles. At least RPS has the sense to allow subscribers; hopefully it counteracts your decision to use a compensation model everyone despises.

  • kregano

    Ad/Javascript blocking is totally impractical in an internet filled with intrusive ads that upload malicious software into your system and reduce your browser speed by activating fifty different scripts at once. It sucks that the ad revenue model is doomed because of that, but that points to the need for a better way of monetizing online content, one that’s actually a result of the content and not third party junk that readers have to click on for the site to get their cut. And I definitely don’t want to see advertorials either.

  • noclip

    I have to say, the first time I saw those Outbrain ads I genuinely became concerned that my computer had been infected with malware (which was injecting the ads client-side). I actually got on my phone and went to the same page to compare it. When I saw the same ads I started to suspect that they were actually being injected by my ISP. Only after disconnecting my phone from my wi-fi connection and loading a different article on RPS did it sink in that the ads were actually coming from RPS. Say what you will about my naivete, but I think this episode should illustrate just how good a reputation RPS has cultivated and what you put at risk by running these misleading ads-not-labelled-as-ads.

  • Jambe

    Kuchera was being overbroad but it was a fluff article anyway. I’ve always liked RPS because you only deliberately pander to the pun-crowd.

    wrt ads: I blacklist instead of whitelist. I even make a point of clicking through every so often if an ad’s at least mildly interesting. However, I have a Flash blocker as well, and I don’t turn that off for any sites. I enable instances of Flash only if there’s no other alternative, e.g. for some flash games, Twitch, etc. YT, Vimeo, Comedy Central, among many others do Theora or WebM with HTML5, bless ‘em.

    My habit is to read a few favorite sites via RSS, skimming through and opening interesting things in background tabs. If there’s lots of Flash instances being pooped out of those tabs things can quickly go to shit, even on a modern PC. If you want me to consider your ad, don’t use Flash or otherwise animate it (I’ll ad-blacklist a site if it regularly displays GIF ads).

    I have a good few sites blacklisted because of obnoxious moving and/or dayglo/neon ads. That crap’s just rude; you won’t make a customer out of me by gyrating and blinking and burning in my peripheral vision. I’ll just end up hating your company/product, and I’ll also think less of the site that’s running (or merely tolerating) such ads.

    My interest in usability and standards also leads me to dislike Flash, but that’s another issue. I suppose we can hope the trend toward mobile-friendly web design will finally kill it and heave its fetid carcass into the sea of hateful internet tech.

  • Warskull

    A good response, but “whitelist every site?” In an ideal world we could do this. In reality it simply isn’t feasible. It isn’t about ‘earning’ or ‘deserving’ to be whitelisted, but more about practicality. There are more sites that abuse advertisements (and sometimes attempt to deliver malware) than there are sites that tastefully manage ads. There are many sites you only visit once or twice. Whitelisting by default simply doesn’t work.

    I imagine you run some sort of ad blocker. Can you honestly tell us before you wrote this article that you had the ad blocker off by default? Heck, are you going to whitelist by default after writing this article?

    Scumbag advertisers have ruined it for everyone, but that’s the reality of the internet now. The sites that are good about their advertisements have become collateral damage. You aren’t so much ‘earning’ whitelisting, but reminding us to whitelist you.

  • RPS Reader

    PleasingFungus, I was curious what John thinks about those ads at the bottom of every article as well.

    Looking at your link:

    http://i.imgur.com/SLxlMhR.png

    That ad for the Britney Spears article is almost as bad as booth babes.

    I even remember when I read John’s great article about sexism, a couple of the ads at the bottom were stuff about celebrities and their boobs.

    Kinda hurts the message.

    Ads are everyone’s problem from top to bottom. I would gladly pay for my favorite sites’ content and have absolutely zero ads.

    Their effect on content and the credibility of content is terrible.

  • Alexis Kennedy

    All you people going ‘your business model is doomed so it’s not my problem’: this is a rhetorically neat way of sidestepping responsibility. You’re moral actors and your actions have outcomes. Those outcomes may include the decline or death of sites you like. If you think the modest inconvenience of browsing with ads outweighs that, then perhaps you’re being short-sighted.

    And it is modest inconvenience. I browse without adblockers and the web is far from unreadable. You just get used to ads, and if very very occasionally you click on one – as statistically speaking you do, even those who think they don’t – big deal, you haven’t lost your punk license.

    FWIW, I think RPS’ equivalent of sexy cosplay articles are those long rants about how DRM is evil or release dates shouldn’t be staggered internationally, which are basically outrage porn. It’s not exactly all architecture essays and investigative journalism over there. Ofc that’s still a huge step up from boob galleries.

  • matt

    Adblock is piracy, simple as really. That whole “I’d never click the advert anyway” argument is no different to the whole “I’d never buy the game for money anyway” thing pirates always say. I call BS on the “There’s too many sites using ads for malware!!” argument too. I never adblock and don’t have any issues with malware.

    It’s the small sites that suffer the most. Half the readership of a niche site using adblock is enough to either close the site or force the webmaster to look elsewhere for money. All very well saying “find a new business model” but how does me going to flip burgers instead of writing more content help make the web a better place?

    I guarantee those of you that rant on about your rights to Adblock will be the first to complain about sites that stop you reading them if you have Adblock on.

  • Geoff 'Shivoa' Birch

    John: thanks for the reply.

    On the topic of whitelist vs blacklist vs using the web without adblocking anything (except possibly for porn sites, because those sites don’t deserve to survive with the same revenue model?) that is coming up: “The ASA regulates UK ads to ensure they are truthful and socially responsible.”

    Except they don’t. They don’t do a great job in the old world of TV/newspaper/radio (where the cost of the fine may still work out within the budget for an ad and they give people the impression that adverts tell the truth even if 3 months later they are banned for definitely, explicitly lying) and they don’t operate on web ads. But they give a viewpoint to what ads should be, at least for those of us who grew up in the UK where it was considered normal.

    As someone who has, on occasion, paid rent with content for the web (which ultimately meant that investors expecting future ad revenue or ad revenue itself gave me somewhere to live), I have always tried to support online content*. But we have these accessible hosts lists that redirect domains to my localhost so they can never be integrated into the page that wants their content on my machine. So over the years I slowly added new domains based on that simple idea of what an advert was.

    As I’m sure anyone who uses the web without an adblocker knows, this quickly took out all of the major ad networks that serve up most of the ads used to monetise the web. “Find out one awesome secret to let you rape someone!” -A common advertising format message from DoubleClick (and so many others). The rules of this blacklist policy were simple: you accept money to send adverts to me that are not acceptable in the UK, you get added to the list. The block list is about the advertising servers, not the content sites that use them so some will cry foul. That sometimes adverts get through the cracks and that individual sites can maintain a blacklist and categories they do not want from the ad servers.

    Adverts never get through the cracks. If an advertising network does not approve every ad before pushing it to end users then it is an infection vector and has no way or preventing future ads that will be unacceptable. So ad servers that do not approve ads before hosting should be on the blacklist anyway and the only ones left must have approved an ad for serving first. I block the network, not the site (which obviously doesn’t approve every ad but they used a provider who is untrustworthy and they’re taking a financial hit from it as I use technology to bring them in line with my local laws and customs for acceptable advertising content; it’s a real shame there isn’t an ethical major ad network I could tell them to move to).

    Sites that police their adverts and try to use the major ad networks are admirable, but also are wasting their time trying to prune a list of terrible, offensive crap after it hits their site (and so hits the user). “If you see something unacceptable then contact me and I’ll blacklist it”. Yep, I feel a bit bad but hosts is a simple blacklisting system and the entire ad server domain pays the price. Valid point, I think we can all agree there are no saints in this huge mess.

    At least that used to be how it went. Over the years literally hundreds of domains got added to the list. The web was certainly advertising-lite but wasn’t quite at the levels of adblock. But recently my professional ethics (software engineer) have moved towards being slightly harder line in the view that executable code is a guest on someone else’s CPU. This obviously colours the discussion of advertising as it is basically all now done via client side code to remove extra server load customising the html to be deployed for each request and provide far more data back to the advertiser as they can ask a lot of questions of the machine as they also trigger the call to the specific ad (often tailored to the data they gather from the machine and any logging they have via cookies, IP records, etc).

    When I moved to a position that javascript was something I would run without and only whitelist on sites that made the case for being allowed to run code on my machine (even sandboxed) then the internet kinda stopped showing me ads. My intent was not to block ads but because I was tired of dealing with programs trying to breach the sandbox, of looking for new methods to hijack my browser’s behaviour where it did not block them from rewriting some interface features. The kind of code that I could not write myself because I think it potentially violates the rights of the end user. So I guess I moved from being a kinda-freeloading blacklist ad blocker (with a big black list) to a focus of hate, as bad as someone who uses white-listing adblockers type who I’ve heard many a crusade against. I just wanted ctrl-c to do what it should do unhindered (so I could grab a sentence from a page to quote with a link to it via social media), I wanted my middle mouse to be new tab, I wanted the code that runs on my CPU to be the code that I authorised to run on my CPU. And now I’m one of those guys, who doesn’t understand what the latest trends are in online ad templates because I just don’t see ads. And the reasons are basically mirrored above for people using adblockers, I didn’t want to eat the shit that came with the nice food that the restaurant called the internet was delivering to my door. I installed a device in my letterbox that filtered out the shit; to make sure no shit got through it also filtered out some amount of non-shit but it was the stuff I didn’t really want to eat anyway. And now I’m the reason why I can’t easily get work as a chef. But I really don’t want shit to be posted through my door.

    * preferably via subscriptions to ad free versions of sites but with the same issue as $60 games – if you pay more to the individual item then your pot of cash runs out sooner so it becomes hit-based and that can be a driving force to conformity or polarising content; $10 games would (via Steam sales & indie this is now ‘does’) allow me to spread the same cash over 6 times as many products but no single product would get as much. Subscriptions allow me to focus my money on only a few sites as if every domain I ever visited was monetised this way then I certainly wouldn’t pay every monthly subscription fee and so we’re back at advertising revenue. Micro-transaction web content failed over a decade ago, which is kinda a shame in my eyes but not surprising.

  • Mike McQuaid

    A good alternative to the “if you AdBlock you are evil” is offering people an alternative. Ars Technica, for example, allows you to disable ads if you pay a subscription. I’m a current subscriber to RPS but would happy to pay more if it means I could enable AdBlock guilt-free (which I do anyway).

    There are various ways of detecting and block AdBlock users. If sites feel that these users are just leeches then they can redirect them or shove them to a “Terms and Conditions” page on first access of a page.

    Tangentially: I wonder how you reconcile your “punch old ladies” line with TV piracy?

  • Simes

    I think flattr, at least with the changes they’ve recently made to their model, has a chance of making micropayments for things you like a workable model because it requires very little additional effort on the part of the user in order to make it work; it uses the existing Like buttons on Facebook, Youtube etc. It’s interesting, at least.

  • DBL

    “This idea that you should only whitelist those that you like best is incredibly selfish.”

    Well I have the freedom to be selfish, and you’ll just have to deal with it, just like I have the freedom to be selfish with my time and not read your article at all, and you just have to deal with that, too. Selfishness isn’t a crime; it’s the way of the world. And you know what else? I don’t even whitelist the sites I do like best. I just read them without ads, because ads suck and I’m not a fool. I guess you’ll just have to deal with that, too.

    If the only way to stop me from doing what you think is so wrong, would be to turn society into an absolute dystopian fascist enterprise, then you kind of have to question your own ethical pronouncements.

    A user who blocks ads is exercising precisely the same freedom as a user who chooses not to read at all. Both are selfish decisions; you do realise, I hope, that it costs me valuable time in order to read all of this stuff, and the more you complain about the *way* I do it the less likely I am to donate further time.

    In fact I was quite liking this article and considered adding RPS to my RSS (I was just linked here on Twitter), but you completely lost that opportunity with me, by ending with a massive guilt trip over how my browser is configured — a guilt trip I want no part of.

    So you can take your pointless moralising about my technology and this whole web site and… well, you know what you can do with it.

    On the plus side, I will probably not be blocking any ads on this site in the future, since I will no longer be reading it.

  • crawlkill

    I’d been wondering just the other day how to explain the constant stream of unthinking nonsense and reblogs he himself had tldrd that are Kuchera’s bread and butter. everyone knows the way to show you really care about your work is to announce that you don’t.

  • Pod

    I used to 3*sub to RPS (£4?), but then I became poor so I stopped. I never restarted because I’ve never really seen much reason to. RPS does not advertise/ask for subs very much, if at all. It never promotes all of the bonuses that subscribers get. I would give examples of that bonuses but I can’t remember them and the ‘supportrps’ link is just as unhelpful.

    Also, I guess most people are pretty apethic to the fates of people who write about games for a living because, in their(aka my) eyes, it’s a pretty cushy job that I imagine most people would love to do. Who wouldn’t like to play games all day and write some words for money? I do that anyway (e.g. this comment) and no one pays me a dime ;)

  • GrandGranini

    Great article. I just disabled adblocker for RPS and your site.

  • sinister agent

    @Kieron

    HOW DID YOU KN.. oh. Ohhhh. I get it.

  • JuliusMagnus

    I don’t use addblock. I don’t see a reason for it. None of the usual suspects of big gaming sites have any annoying ads.

    They aren’t annoying and I just read over them (but that’s a different discussion on the actual effectiveness of ads). It’s alsmost like they are not there so for me an adblocker wouldn’t change much.

    I do see annoying ads when I’m on sites for downloading freeware/shareware, the ads try to trick you with fake ‘download’ buttons all the time. Now if all ads were like these I could understand why people use adblock.

  • Dean

    Ad-block isn’t magic. It blocks adverts from certain places: those of advert providers that it has on its list. So looking at this from a perspective of blocking or unblocking certain sites is a little off. Because if the sites were curating and providing their own ads, they likely wouldn’t get blocked.

    And sorry, but pretty much every advert provider has proven itself not worthy of being unblocked. If there’s a single ad provider that’s never had a malware scare and never delivered intrusive adverts then let me know and I’ll whitelist that.

    It’s definitely not RPS’ though as I’m fairly sure I remember an issue at some point.

    Also I’m a bit confused, as I thought sites like RPS didn’t make their money off ad impressions? That was one of the arguments used against the whole ‘click bait’ accusations. If that’s the case, then adblock shouldn’t matter either (if we take it as read I’m not going to buy anything).

  • chodelord

    Advertising itself is evil, blocking it everywhere is good.

    The point of advertising is to alter a person’s mind without their consent to increase the likelihood of a particular behavior. This is done without regard to whether or not the desired behavior is beneficial or harmful to the individual.

  • MattyFTM

    John, is the nature of RPS’s RSS feed a result of driving page views and ad-revenue? Your RSS feed displays the top header image and the first paragraph of the article. As someone who discovers a lot of content via RSS, it’s annoying. Once I know I want to read an article, I always click through to the site because I know that page views are important, but sometimes it takes more than a paragraph to know if an article is interesting to me.

    RPS isn’t the worst for this – some sites just provide a one sentence summary which is extremely annoying and I always unfollow sites that do this. But it’s still an annoying practice that impedes the experience of some of your readers, which is presumably driven by the drive for page views.

  • discoriggall

    I read RPS, love it, and a whole lot of the rest of the internet. Sometimes ads are annoying, but it’s rare.
    I can, you know, focus on what I want to read.

    Adblocking is pissy and done by self important wankers who think they are somehow above the rest of the world.

    They are also probably too stupid to be able to ignore ads using their tiny brains.

    Grow the fuck up.

  • mister k

    Um, is fast forwarding adverts on television wrong? It seems weird that avoiding ads obtains a moral status when one gets online. It does seem reasonable to support websites you like by whitelisting them, but doesn’t seem reasonable to just put up with ads from any random site you stumble on. Of course, I don’t use ad block anyway, and somehow manage to survive the perils of the internet.

  • Geoff 'Shivoa' Birch

    discoriggall: Now steady on chap. There are good arguments to be made on both sides of this debate and implying that someone who disagrees with you and favours an unblocked internet would only be capable of trolling with ad hominem attacks is not the way of having that debate.

    While you may consider ad blocking as an obviously worthwhile act to which no sane person would try to mount an attack, implying that someone who has the opposing view would simply lash out with senseless attacks is simply not cricket. Please temper your sarcasm so both sides of the argument can be heard here.

  • Tetracycloide

    I’m sorry John but I will absolutely refuse to whitelist by default as long as visiting a site without blocking advertising is interpreted by the site owners and their advertising partners as permission to track what sites I visit online.

  • Dia

    If I wanted to pay for news relating to video games, I wouldn’t have cancelled my subscription to the gaming magazine I read for over 10 years. So no, I won’t be whitelisting gaming sites.

  • RandomInternetGuy

    Most of the truly interesting content I see on the Internet is written by people who don’t get a dime out of it. Forum posts, obscure ad-less blogs, and so on. Shivoa’s comments are the highlight of this page. Is he going to get paid for it?

    The day professional writers step up to that level of quality, and not just overwhelm the media with quantity, I might start to feel guilty for blocking ads. Up until I unblock them and end up assaulted by a barrage of celebrities, tits and psych tests, anyway.

  • RandomInternetGuy

    The blogger / commenter relationship isn’t a teacher / pupil scenario. Even within your own articles, you’re not the only person creating worthwhile content, and your readers aren’t unwashed masses who should be unanimously grateful for the enlightenment you bring to them. If you consider this relationship as a strict, one-sided venue where you deliver a service to customers, then I’m going to treat you like I would any business: if you give out content for free, I’ll take it. If you have any concrete expertise on anything, you can probably get people, including me, to give you money for it. Turns out many don’t think being really opinionated about social issues and video games makes one an expert, shocker I know.

  • Jack

    Has RPS officially commented anywhere on those Outrider ads? They’re crap really, aren’t they.

  • Jack

    … wait a minute. They’re not there anymore! Or our tin-cans-on-a-string internet connection is failing to display them somehow. Thanks RPS, you’re the bestest.

  • monkwon

    This is all interesting stuff and relevant to me as I do use a ad-blocker. Do I feel guilty? Well no, because I never agreed to be the product. I much prefer to be a customer.

    Besides that surely there is a network effect from having people like me view the site even with ad-block on. I personally have referred several of my friends to the site and some of them don’t use ad-block.

    I am not completely cold to what you are saying though. So by way of making amends I have subscribed to RPS.

    Out of interest, how do the figures compare between a subscription and letting adverts through?

    Does the £1.36 a month amount to more or less than adverts?

  • Consumatopia

    I’m having a philosophical “double-effect” problem here. I don’t run software that’s explicitly labelled as “ad blocking” software. I used to run NoScript–but I think there’s a huge difference between saying the content creator has the right to show me ads and the content creator has the right to execute scripts on my computer. It so happens, though, that by blocking the latter you block most of the former.

    Nowdays, I don’t even run NoScript (computers are faster and web browsers are better than they used to be, and it got to be kind of a pain to enable and disable scripts appropriately). I just run Ghostery like Andrew Doull mentioned. I don’t run Flashblock, but I do have third party cookies disabled (Safari always has by default and Firefox soon will). So now I’m saying to content creators, you have the right to show me brainwashing ads and even to run your own scripts on my computer, but you don’t have the right to *spy* on me–or at least, I have the right to make it slightly more inconvenient for you to spy on me.

    I think that’s about as far as I can compromise here. Ghostery does end up blocking some (probably many) ads. But I can’t bend any further–this is a matter of principle rather than convenience. TV and magazine ads don’t keep track of when I have the TV turned on or the magazine opened, so web ads shouldn’t be spying on me for reading your website.

    I mean, fine, maybe we should abandon AdBlock. But *everyone* should be running Ghostery or something like it, and they shouldn’t whitelist anything.

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