Why some adverts work, and why most don’t…

Yeah, sorry, this isn’t really related to gaming. Sorry for the length, too. Something that turned up in the New York Times today just caught my attention.

It’s no doubt come to your attention that many people are using AdBlock Plus. You probably use it. I certainly use it; the majority of advertisements served by any site are of zero relevance to me, either being for goods and services I’m not interested in, or being for something I am interested in, but prefer to rely on word-of-mouth, trusted recommendations or detailed reviews for when deciding whether or not I want to purchase it.
If a site cares enough to ask the audience not to use AdBlock Plus because the revenue for adverts helps defray the cost of running said site, they probably also care enough to make sure adverts are very specifically targeted to their audience; so I turn AdBlock off if a site cares to ask. I want the site to stay up and they deserve not to have to pay through the nose to do that.

Anyway, this start-up, AdKeeper, thinks that people will accept their product as an alternative for AdBlock Plus. They think that, in some circumstances, viewers will accept advertisements. I don’t disagree with them on this.
Sometimes a person really needs, say, double-glazing installed. In which case they look in the local Yellow Pages equivalent, or Google for a solution. Yellow Pages/Google listings are advertisements, as much as they’re directories of contact information.
So, not exactly what AdKeeper’s Mr. Kurnit is hoping for. The reason banner adverts get so little click-through is two-fold; first, the audience for advertisements like that is extremely limited, as you need to catch the right member of the audience at exactly the right time and right place, when they have a reason to be interested and haven’t already found what they’re looking for. If I urgently need a roofing specialist as the summer storms have once again caused my ceiling to start crying, I’m not going to be browsing the LP Archive, which is one reason they don’t run adverts relating to roofing. I don’t want a car, I don’t want fifty free emoticons, I don’t want a dubious offer for a free iPod if I just sign up for some scheme, and I don’t want- actually, I am interested in adverts for MMORPGS, so long as they’re not marketed like Evony was.

Second – and this is something I picked up from A-Level Communication Studies, or even GCSE English, it’s that elemental and basic – it needs to be engaging. Every single advertisement in any form needs to be engaging. It needs to catch the audience’s eye, and be memorable. This is the backup idea in some of the utter dross out there, and the primary concept for some of the best advertisements I’ve ever seen. If your actual audience doesn’t want double-glazing or a car right now, you want them to remember the advert and hence your product when they do want a car or something to occupy their time or… why do those free iPod scams even get advertising? Are they that popular?
Well, I suppose the lottery is popular.
Most advertisements out there are dross. Some are entirely dross and others are dross to the wrong audience. Some of them with a good idea of how people work try to make the advert funny in some way. People remember the good, entertaining advertisements, even if they forget all the facts. Especially if there weren’t any facts beyond the name of the product. Even if they weren’t the intended audience for the advertisement. Then they suddenly need a car and think ‘what was that advert I saw last month? The one with all the pieces?’, visit Google or Youtube, and find this again. Or this. Or even this. Two of these use car pieces in ways I’m certain were never initially intended. One only has a very tenuous link to cars, involving lots of things going down a road. I’m reasonably sure anyone reading this post can make a good guess at all three of those advertisements just from those descriptions. I’m absolutely sure that I consider the first two of those three advertisements to be the best advertisements I’ve ever seen for anything; they’re wonderful to watch and think about what was achieved with what was never intended to do things like that, and they don’t bore me with car facts. (Note: I watch Top Gear. That doesn’t bore me with car facts, either.) Most importantly, and impressively, even someone vehemently opposed to learning to drive because she’ll probably drive into some[one/thing] with her horrible reflexes and coordination, and hence absolutely not in the intended audience for any of those advertisements, finds these things incredibly memorable.

Car advertisements seem to do things like this better than most. Possibly because you can’t actually throw out any facts at all and have it still appeal to the not-immediate-audience of people-who-want-a-new-car. Or even the immediate audience, as some care about fuel economy, some care about speed, some care about appearance…
Top Gear tried to make a car advertisement, once. I liked some of the ideas that got shot down by the Alan Sugars. They sounded memorable and entertaining. Just like… Top Gear.

You can’t do that with a banner advertisement. Not positively. Evony (probably) tried and got mocked relentlessly for it; I remember it, despite not being terribly interested in browser-based things like that. It’s that much more difficult to make a still image at that size amusing and/or engaging in the same way that a two- or three-minute commercial can be. It’s very easy to make it as dull as the average TV advertisement and hence just as easy to ignore and forget.
There’s one single still advertisement that I remember, outside of the Evony fiasco. It’s for a game I already played at the time I saw it. Here.

So, back to AdKeeper. Once people save an advertisement – in other words, once they’ve already shown a little interest in it already, if only by interacting with it to make it go away – the click-through rate goes up to 3.4% from 0.1%.
In other words, if they think the advertisement is in some way relevant to themselves in the first place, such that they saved it for later viewing, they still don’t click through 96.6% of the time. That article doesn’t say whether saving an advertisement replaces the one on the webpage with another, or leaves it there, or makes it vanish from the page; I think that behaviour will have more of an impact on whether people use AdKeeper than the apparent primary function of the thing, saving banner advertisements unmemorable enough that they don’t make any lasting impression.
So AdKeeper has a purpose, and does make sense, but its audience is ‘advertising agencies and networks who think they or the people using their adverts and networks can stop people from just using AdBlock Plus, or relying only on the people who will not use AdBlock Plus’.

AdKeeper and RealMedia think that most of the time people don’t want to be pulled away from the page they’re currently reading. Today, even Internet Explorer has tabs. Chrome’s had tabs all along. Firefox has had tabs far longer than Internet Explorer. A person nowadays can very easily open a link in another tab for reading once they’re done with the current tab.
I think people don’t pay any attention to advertisements because, 99.9% of the time, banners simply aren’t relevant, or interesting.

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Miniview: Fathom (Browser-based)

I love:
…the atmosphere; the music, the surroundings, what the game looks like it’s a copy of. It’s lovely in the same way that Cave Story or Shadow of the Colossus are. Or, well, Eversion.
…the final area of the game, though I’m still not sure what on Earth happened.

I like:
…that boss. That fight is interesting on a couple of levels.
…what happens after that. It’s difficult to tell with only the small visible area, but pay close attention to the areas you’re exploring.

I loathe:
…the controls for the ‘main’ part of the game. Controlling your movement is difficult when you can only see clearly in the direction you came from, and can’t clearly see yourself, let alone what’s ahead.
…how the ending is a bit ‘…what on Earth just happened?’ Scratch that. See: the second point I love.

Verdict:
Go on, just play it. It won’t take long.

Miniview: MyBrute (Browser)

MyBrute.

I love:
…um. Hm. Nothing, honestly. It’s personal taste, but I don’t even think most of the graphics top even the Dino-RPG ones. I just don’t care for most of the style. The pet dog is okay, though, I suppose.
…how you don’t have to register to play the game. I knew there was something I thought nifty about it. You CAN register and add a password to ‘your’ Brute if you don’t want anyone else consuming all the day’s fights, all three of them, leaving you with nothing to watch in the evening, but you don’t have to.

I like:
…the totally interactionless fighting. I don’t love it as much as I did for Dino-RPG, though, as whilst there are many more options available to your little AI-controlled Brute, it seems completely random what it will do next. At least the dino doesn’t seem so much like wilful underperformance or the roll of a die. There just doesn’t seem to be much in the way of intelligence in that AI, and every so often you’ll see it do something stupid like… throw away its weapon in favour of something with worse accuracy when one more attack would kill the opponent, or throw a net on a target and then immediately attack it, breaking said net. But it’s still relaxing watching the Brute fight, incidents like that aside.

I loathe:
…the complete and utter randomness of it all. You don’t control the fights; it’s soothing to watch, though. Less soothing is the almost utter lack of interaction everywhere else. The only ways you can have any effect on your Brute are in choosing who to fight – based on very incomplete information – or through recruiting new players. Both of which give your Brute experience, win or lose in the case of a fight. You’ll lose a lot; the AI is dumb, as mentioned above, and you can’t choose what your Brute gets on level – if there’s any logic to what stats, weapons or bonuses you get when you gain a level, I can’t see it. If everything were fair and balanced, this would be a screensaver, and boring at that. However…
…the sheer unbalanced-ness of some of the level bonuses. Some of the things a Brute may get when they level are just plain unbalanced; take… the pet Bear, for example, essentially an ambulatory Club. Or the axe, which does close to one-hit kills on Brutes with normal HP for their level and only just edges out the Club. Or Pugilist, which lets you get a free hit much of the time after you’re attacked. Thankfully, due to the whole ‘randomness’ thing, you don’t face things with these or other broken stats all the time, but it also turns out very frustrating when you find your Brute facing any Brute that, by luck, got a Halberd at the same point yours got something like a fruit knife. You can guess that anyone without high stats or HP has weapons or pets or further invisible bonuses instead, but other than that, you’ve no idea what you’re getting into.

Verdict:
Well, it’s from the same people who brought us Dino-RPG. Still not quite as bad, though it’s still rather ‘meh’. It’s Progress Quest with graphics and a limit on how much you can do each day.

Miniview: Dino-RPG (Browser)

Dino-RPG

I love:
…interaction-void battles. They’re simplistic – you always know what attack your dino is going to do next, if you can remember the highest-strength to lowest-strength order of its elemental attacks – but they’re just nice to watch.

I like:
…the art. It’s cartoony, yes, but it looks like Pokemon bred with Jade Cocoon; there are races of monsters, and then there are monsters within the races that focus on different elements, and as such have different appearances. The map isn’t bad, either; visitable locations are obvious, even if the routes between locations aren’t always what you expect.

I loathe:
…the slow-as-molasses and/or expensive recovery of HP. Okay. My one dino has 100 HP maximum. It is currently at 10 HP. Recovering to maximum without spending extra gold requires doing nothing for ninety hours. Because you only recover one point an hour. As for the ‘expensive’ part, you get around… 200 to 300 gold for a fight, and healing items cost 700 gold minimum… which gets you 10 HP, and you probably took damage in that fight, too. Apparently eventually you can find an item that lets you recover 5HP at midnight in a specific location. Wow. [/sarcasm]
…the inherent slowness of the game in general, come to think of it. Sure, you could buy extra dinos – at between 16000 and 20000 gold – to direct around, but it’s still only one action – one fight, one movement – every… five hours, now, and still ramping up. I think it’s eventually supposed to plateau around one action every twenty-four hours, barring buying an expensive item that gives you one extra action. From here, we leap to…
…how the game is seemingly designed to make you pay real money to get anywhere in any decently-quick length of time. The three ever-present labelled links on the left bar of the UI? The highest one is ‘Get Coins’, which takes you to a screen where you can spend real money. People moaned about how the Zork online game seemed made to take your money, but this one is worse. Zork, at least, grew on me and became soothing, even if I still can’t decipher how your chance of winning is calculated for a fight. Decent online games allow more than a single action a day – Legends of Zork allows 25 to 30 turns, stacking to somewhere around 99 if you don’t spend them. Kingdom of Loathing offers 30 to 50, unspent turns collecting up to 200 total. Billy vs SNAKEMAN depends on your rank, but can give you over 50 if you plan things well, but they don’t rollover. This game gives you one and one only, unless you buy those potions.

Verdict:
…meh. Initially promising in concept, but the incredibly-low limit on how many things you can do in the day is a real turn-off. Nice art will never save you from that. Go play Jade Cocoon, Azure Dreams or absolutely any other monster-raising game instead; nice art and good gameplay.

Miniview: Bars of Black and White (Browser)

I love:
…the barcode reader. I’ve always been interested in the use of machine-readable patterns – such as barcodes, or QR codes – to convey or, more commonly, act as a link to person-readable information. So I love the idea of using them as a variation on the ‘writing on the wall’ technique.

I like:
…what the barcodes translate to. They’re nice, but it seems like it’s trying too hard to impress a message on the player, but it’s difficult to tell exactly what it is; it’s definitely trying to tell the character you play something, though. ‘Paranoia is sometimes justified’? ‘You’re imagining everything’? ‘Pay more attention to the world around you’? I read short science-fiction a lot. I get those messages all the time. It’s getting a little dull.

I loathe:
…that the ‘puzzles’ are very simple, and all you really need to solve them is a keen eye. In short, there’s absolutely no challenge to simply completing this ‘room-escape’ game. There isn’t even much challenge in finding all the barcodes. This is probably why there are no badges.

Verdict:
If you read 365 tomorrows, any other short science-fiction site, or even short fiction in a book at all, you may have heard all this game will say before.
It’s still an interesting play, as though the concept of barcodes and QR codes to link to people-readable information is old, I’ve never seen it used before in a game. It’s also really, really short, and low-challenge, so it’s quick to beat.

Bars of Black and White @ Kongregate

Miniview: For The Win Lite (Browser)

I love:
…that everything is a pop-culture reference, all mockingly. Every single figurine is a reference to something or other; in the Fantasy set alone, I’ve picked up Mr. T in a blue dress and his little poodle, a strawman, the head of the Disgruntled Postal Service Union, a witch allergic to water, and a foreigner from a distant land. That little group is fairly obvious, but it’s still a nice feeling working out what exactly is being mocked. It’s not just the figurines, though; the ‘sidekicks’, who throw mostly-useless advice at you, are also references; there’s Babi the Fairy and Old Timer, both from a famous series of games, and then there’s Penny the Safety Pin, from a certain word-processor. In the words of the ever-present Old Master… ‘Ah, she… she very… special. You take good care, give medicine daily three time, and make sure not to anger.’

I like:
…low interactivity, in this case. FTW Lite is only barely more interactive than the likes of Progress Quest; you pick whether you press a green or a red button, three times every three hours. You set up duplicate figurines to (automatically) fight other figurines set up to fight. FTW Lite, like many browser-based games, isn’t meant to be played for hours. It’s just something you return to every three hours and see what you manage to pick up, and unlike Kingdom of Loathing it can’t eat up half an hour with extra turns.
…the art. Some of it’s great – mostly the sidekick graphics – and much more of it simply decent. Figurine images probably count more as part of all the mockery that takes place, though; this is just a note on the general quality of the work.

I loathe:
…needing to pay – in-game currency, not real currency, happily – to unlock additional sets of figurines as collectable from the vending machine. Okay, so it’s probably yet more meta-mockery of the ‘collector’ gig, and I appreciate it as such, but… when you get, at most, 10 Stars for an ultra-rare figurine, and new sets cost 300 or 500 Stars, it takes a while to get there, and you can only pick up figurines from three sets, initially.

Verdict:
As you can guess from the ‘Lite’ in the name, this isn’t the full game, which hasn’t been completed yet. I don’t know what that’s going to be like, if and/or when it materialises; possibly a bit more interactive, but probably not to the degree of interactivity Kingdom of Loathing or Neopets have.
I’ve been playing a lot of browser-based games like this recently; Kingdom of Loathing, Billy vs Snakeman, and Ikariam. FTW Lite is hands-down the least time-consuming, and currently the most amusing.
Surprisingly entertaining for something with very low interactivity. I guess it taps into whatever part of my mind that GINORMO SWORD did.

For the Win Lite | Let’s play figurine-collecting game

HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR NIN NIN

Protect your NIN NIN from physical damage. Do not overload electrical circuits. Make sure your NIN NIN is functional before entering battle. If NIN NIN consistently fails to heal, gently clear air intakes. Keep your NIN NIN away from sources of heat (Efreet, Gargoyles, Gas Clouds).
Store in a cool, dry place. Do not submerge. Do not feed after midnight.
If your NIN NIN has a fever, you should talk to your doctor.

Ginormo Sword