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Gwern's Law: Ads cost you a tenth of your users (twitter.com)
620 points by ascertain 10 days ago | hide | past | web | 305 comments | favorite





I believe it. There are a lot of games that I downloaded from the app store and really liked initially. However, I noticed a pattern. At first, ads seemed to be optional (i.e double your gems by watching an ad!) However, after about 10 minutes of playing, I'd see an ad. No big deal. But then it got more and more aggressive. Pretty soon there was an ad after every single level, (plus the bonus ad if you want to double gems). It got to the point I was spending about 50% of the time actually playing games, 50% of the time watching ads (the levels could be beaten in 30 seconds or so).

At that point I uninstall even though the game is fun. It's not like I can just pay a 1 time fee to get rid of all ads with the type of game I am talking about. I have paid to get rid of ads for a few bucks in the past, but these games will still pester you with in game pop-ups for "diamond memberships" (outrageous recurring subscription fee for nominal and significant bonuses) and "best value" gem packs (also sold at outrageous prices going up to $100 for the biggest pack).


One of my favorite mobile games (an old Popcap title) used to have a version which cost ~$10 and was just a no-frills port of the original.

No ads, no permissions beyond file storage, no issues working offline.

But you can't buy that anymore; now the only option is a 'free' version which has ads that you cannot pay away.

Fortunately I can still download the old version from the app store; now it is called 'zzSUNSET <game>' in the list of purchased apps. But I'm amazed at how consumer-hostile game companies have gotten; I guess the ads must pay out the wazoo. It makes me really hesitant to try any new mobile game, especially since I don't really have much time for them these days. I'm not going to spend 30 seconds out of every 1-5 minute diversion watching an ad, that's ridiculous.


I think it's partly that the kind of person that pays $10 for an app is also the kind of person that advertisers actually want. So even if your average revenue/user for a free app is <$10, revenue/user for people willing to pay $10 for the app might be >$10.

The average advertising revenue/user for users who are unwilling to be interrupted by ads is $0.

If there's a heaven, and if I get to go there, and if God gives me a phone with all of the mobile games that could have been, I'll want to play the version of Plants vs Zombies 2 that would have existed if EA hadn't bought Popcap.

Your best option by far for mobile gaming (if you're on Android) is to install an emulator for an old console/handheld and download/rip some games.

It's unfortunate how bad the state of mobile gaming is, considering how powerful today's phones are.


So much this... I had paid for an ad-free version of risk (which was great, could play a few turns at a time and no messing with all the setup and pieces) that started adding ads in. Well, mobile gaming isn't much use to me if it isn't something I can do a few minutes at a time, and I'll be damned if 1/2 of that time is wasted on ads.

Ive just taken to replaying old JRPGs from my childhood, they're very compatible with that playstyle. Sure, a battle may take 2-4 days to complete, but it's much more entertaining.

I think this is a huge reason a game like Clash of Clans has done so well. I could never get into it, but my brother has been playing steadily for 4 years. He likely only spends 10-15/year, but the devs haven't annoyed him enough to quit. It's the worst sort of pay-to-avoid waiting game, which is why I couldn't stand it, but somehow still less exploitative than most of the competing mobile games.

I'm just so disappointed that I'm carrying around a far more powerful device than even a PC from my childhood, and some of the best gaming experiences are old console games.


> I'm just so disappointed that I'm carrying around a far more powerful device than even a PC from my childhood, and some of the best gaming experiences are old console games.

My theory of the awfulness of phone games is that it's more about the fact that phones don't have any input devices. So you see things like endless runners where the only possible command is "jump", which works well with the hardware where the only input you can provide is "I touched the screen". If the game had two commands, it wouldn't work on a phone.

I put ScummVM on my phones. It works fine; the only input an adventure game needs is mouse clicks with no time pressure. Interestingly, the current version is a huge step backwards in usability from the much older version available through f-droid -- the older version takes a screen tap to mean "click in the location of the cursor", and you move the cursor by dragging your finger around the screen. But the current version takes a screen tap to mean "click under where I tapped the screen", making clicking almost impossible.


> My theory of the awfulness of phone games is that it's more about the fact that phones don't have any input devices.

My theory of the awfulness of phone games is that awful, cookie cutter games on phones can make lots of money, so lots of firms are happy to churn them out on an assembly line, knowing that a certain percentage will succeed.

There's enough not-awful phone games to establish that the platform doesn't inherently mandate awfulness, so it's about the market not the inherent platform features.

> If the game had two commands, it wouldn't work on a phone.

There's plenty of games with multiple commands on phones (one or two virtual directional sticks plus a handful, often contextually switched so the total number is greater than is onscreen at any one time, virtual buttons is not uncommon.


"> It's unfortunate how bad the state of mobile gaming is, considering how powerful today's phones are."

Pretty simple reason. There's enough games that charge $0 up front that products asking for even $1 up front, get negligible downloads. Consequently, everybody has to charge $0 up front which immediately constrains you to advertising or mostly coercive business models. And this business model then ends up meshing into the game itself. It's not easy to have a game when you have this constraint of having to coerce the user into paying. It invariably lends itself to a sort of addiction + satiation pattern. And oddly what's most addictive is not necessarily the most fun; in many cases it's not really any fun at all.

Arguably it's the same reason console gaming is dying. Increasingly often now a days you're not buying a game for $60, you're buying a starter pack which is then filled out a la carte with DLC and various microtransactions. And once again this model directly impacts the game experience itself. It's stripped down to the bare bones to attempt to coerce purchase of the 'whole' game. But to further 'incentivize' people to buy the 'whole' game, the stripped out content is often not only necessary for a complete experience but also grossly imbalanced in the player's favor. It's a very myopic business model. Fortunately PC gaming is full of independent developers who've yet to grasp the sophisticated business strategy of MBAing yourself to death, and then blaming everything except your own actions for your deteriorating longterm results.


> Increasingly often now a days you're not buying a game for $60, you're buying a starter pack which is then filled out a la carte with DLC and various microtransactions.

Not just with consoles. This sort of thing is what made me stop buying AAA games altogether, and largely to stop gaming generally. Now when I occasionally want to play a game, I pretty much stick with the ones I bought a decade or more ago, or ones that I find on GOG.


I think my conscience would be more satisfied working in porn than mobile gaming.

It's similar to how prostitution seems more ethical than telemarketing - one involves voluntary exchange of value between two willing consenting parties, the other involves harassing people and, frequently, trying to scam them.

My understanding is that the people working in that industry prefer to call it "sex work."

"Prostitute" has negative historical connotations. For example, we will say that Mitch McConnell has prostituted himself to billionaires, but we would never call him a sex worker.

/ducks


"Sex worker" is a broader term than "prostitute". The former covers most every commercial activity whose objective is orgasm, the latter covers only those whose normal job is orgasm via insertion (although they may do it by other means at a client's request.)

anytime you'd like to make a claim or an argument, please put it forth rather than simply eject ad hominems and make snarky vague claims.

We wouldn't call him a "sex worker" precisely because it is an unnatural and forced piece of language.

Organized crime has been really successful in spreading the "two willing consenting parties" myth. Trust me - there is only ever one willing consenting party. No woman on earth wants to @%$! a constant parade of scumbags.

I suggest you go out and talk to some actual sex workers, with an open mind. I know (socially) a few former sex workers, and they would vehemently disagree with your characterization. The world is way, waaaay more complicated than you seem to think.

"Trust me" isn't exactly a convincing argument...

I agree with your second sentiment (although I wouldn't generalize to "scumbags"), but there are a lot of people out there doing jobs that are extremely unpleasant, for far less money than prostitution can make.

If you don't have to fear your customer because the legal system has your back (making you independent of pimps and the like), prostitution is a possible way to make a significant amount of money - on your own conditions, in your own time, without the fear of being fired and all the other stuff a normal workplace imposes.


Okay, so now there's one consenting party instead of zero.

Also consent can now be retro actively withdrawn, so if you don't keep your books, your hooks will bleed you.

I worked in mobile gaming at one point and the real "beyond the pale" moment was when I came in to work and one of our designers was reading a book titled something along the lines of "The Science of Addiction".

Noped out of that and started getting a lot more critical when it comes to where I work with regard to ethics.


There are similar books catered towards social apps. Btw is there an ethical corporation? Not even LOB apps are fully ethical today.

I’d say many corporations are amoral, while the mobile gaming business is totally immoral.

Neither is good, but the latter is worse.


I've worked in (mobile) porn and the gambling industries; porn was more ethical by far, even if the weirdos were slightly more common (there are a lot of really really weird/creepy 'punters' in the FOB industry)

I worked in mobile gaming and would never work in porn (unless it was like filtering or prosecuting creators). A coworker hard a good point to say what the people who are addicted to mobile games would be addicted/spend money on if they didn't play. It's possible they would be buying meth/booze with it.

We don't hand children meth so that they behave, but we do with mobile games.

In fact this is almost exactly what happens with many children being prescribed Adderall.

> A coworker hard a good point to say what the people who are addicted to mobile games would be addicted/spend money on if they didn't play.

That is nothing like a good point at all. It sounds more like rationalizing questionable activity.


Unless the games you play are realtime, you can VPN out. When you have an IP of a country not interesting for ad networks, you'll essentially have ad-free internet. Very few ads in a language you don't understand anyway.

I've been running NetGuard with default-block on apps.... and I've been loving it. Most games don't need internet access, and no internet means no ads.

It boggles my mind that internet is not a revokable permission. Anywhere. I'd be happy to give X access to e.g. contacts, as long as it cannot upload that info, but until I ran a local VPN that hasn't been an option at all.

Why are (stock) mobile permissions so user-hostile?


The butcher owns the cattle farm? Android has googly eyes.

You are not their target market.

Most of these companies make all of their money from "whales," people who play around the clock and spend a significant amount of money per month on in-app purchases and/or subscriptions.

They have optimized their experience for finding and landing whales, and at the end of the day, you are probably an irritant to them, walking around complaining about the game while contributing so little to the developer's revenues.

This, by the way, is why I don't play very many mobile games.


I think the whales term goes only for spenders, not for dedicated players. There is so much time in a day, that you can not get a lot more from ads from a dedicated player than a regular one, but IAPs are usually infinite.

I think you're both correct. I've seen a spectrum of "whales" that include:

(1) very "casual" players who don't spend that much time, and just want to roll, or to use money as a substitute for game time;

(2) very dedicated players who want to be at the top of some ranking.


Whales have nothing to do with ads.

kids are ad whales.

from my own observations (2 pre-teen kids) they are infinently patient in sitting through ad after in order to keep playing.

I used to freely install any highly rated free-to-play educational game. Now I only install paid stuff, as those don't have these pathological ads.


I've seen a five year old play those games and talk about how much he really needs that $100 gem pack. I wonder if these will have any lasting effect on how kids of today understand value.

Parents today have to train kids early. Mine learned by age 3 that any non-animated video content on YouTube was an ad that needed to be skipped. Not perfect, but a great start. Constantly drill into them that these are ads, and ads are bad people trying to trick them, and that ads should be avoided, in apps, websites, billboards, etc.

I'm not any advertising, but the only good ad is an ad I asked to see, as when I'm using a web-search-engine for a product.


My toddler learned at about 20 months how to skip YouTube ads. It's unbelievable. I watched him evolve as he would mash the "skip ad in 5..." Countdown to waiting until it was done to skip.

He also learned through trial and error not to accidentally tap on the ads.


I certainly don't take the medical establishment as infallible, and I can imagine arguing against these recommendations, but FYI the American Association of Pediatricians recommends against allowing a 20mo the sort of screen time necessary to learn ad-skipping through trial and error[0]:

>Among the AAP recommendations:

>For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.

>For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

[0]: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages...


I appreciate the concern. I'm not going to get into a debate about this, nor do I sense you are trying for one. But my toddler is wildly ahead of his peers in almost every measure (edit: wow this sounds pretentious. Not sure what to say. He spells and assembles words he sees around the house. He just turned 2), so I'll give the facts I observe more weight than the massively simplified single sentence prescription that the U.S. medical system likes to give on things.

Heck I bet shipping your child off to daycare every day hinders them more than 90 minutes of tablet time. Particularly in a household of two full time stay at home parents and every conceivable monetary and educational advantage they could want for. But I doubt the AAP goes telling everyone that they're doing it wrong if they pay others to raise their kids each day.

Sorry... I'm ranting. I just don't like highly distilled parental advice from organizations. One size fits all culture we have here in the west, I think, is very harmful.


Another reason to limit screen time for kids is to prevent developing nearsightedness. Although this is just anecdata, I was talking to my optometrist at my last appointment and he told me he's seen far more kids coming in with myopia than ever in his 30 years of practicing and he attributes it to kids spending too much time on phones and tablets.

edit: Here's an article from nature which compiles some research on the topic. https://www.nature.com/news/the-myopia-boom-1.17120


Youtube has a YT-Kids app which doesn't have ads.

It's handicapped in a lot of other ways. To name a few, you can't disable auto-play, if you want to disable recommendations the only way to do so is by selecting some channels that you would like your kid to have access to, and that will disable search AND casting. There's an un-skippable startup animation, and a whole lot of other animations that make the app feel slow. And the android tv version of it won't allow you to type in search queries with a keyboard (which the other youtube does allow).

In other words, it's better than the standard YT app in a lot of ways but it's an extremely frustrating UI for both the kids and adults.


I really shouldn't suggest this because it is definitely a bug that I enjoy exploiting, but on YouTube, if you hit the next video link then immediately hit back on the browser, the ads all clear. As in all the yellow ad markers disappear. So no annoying mid video ads at all. My default YT viewing is click link, click next, hit delete.

This is on my Macbook and all three major browsers Safari, Chrome and Firefox.

... AAAAAAND watch as this gets fixed (I'm an idiot).


Sadly, on mobile (youtube app, ios) once the ad comes up you are locked in, and the next/previous buttons go away. I was watching on mobile the other day and accidentally clicked either next or previous. Got immediately sucked into an ad, and had to wait several seconds before returning to the content i actually wanted to watch.

most of the time i try to use the web-view instead of the app. i see way less (or maybe zero?) ads there.


Oh, that sound a lot easier than moving the scrubber to a couple seconds before the end, then hitting the replay button, which is what I've been doing.

Youtube kids/safety/restricted mode removes ads.

I'd would legitimately be less angry at my kid for pirating games or using cheatEngine than buying those sorts of loot boxes or paid boosters or pestering me aggressively about them. At least kids would pick up on some basic reverse engineering.

This is not ethical.. but here is a work-around. On Android devices, install the (free-and no ads) 'NoRoot Firewall'. Then it takes some minutes to get used to it, but you ONLY 'Allow' connections that the game needs to operate (e.g. everything that goes to port 443 is an indicator, or everything to/from Akamai, AWS, Azure, Cloudfront), and 'Block' everything that goes to port 80 (which usually is AdJust, doubleclick etc.)

It takes some trial and error, but eventually (in 1-2 minutes) you will be able to have blocked out all the ads by simply not allowing connection to download the 'ad content'.

Yes, the developer made free game and expects to be paid (via ads)

No, the developer and his/her/their ad partners don't have the right to violate your privacy when you (or your kid) play a game.


Not unethical in the least.

I don't play many phone games but DNS66 has completely removed every ad from my phone with no hassle (no root required), assuming it reliably works on games it sound simpler than having to approve individual requests.


It is absolutely unethical. If you don’t want ads, don’t install a game with ads. No one is requiring you to play the specific games that have ads. Choose from the many games that don’t have ads.

If you don't want people to play your game without submitting themselves to malware and psychological manipulation, block them.

I'd agree that it is unethical to avoid things that try and stop the game from working while you run an adblocker. I signed no contract and there is no social contract that says I have to look at the ads or let all your network requests go through. To create that social contract developers need to communicate it clearly (the easiest way being to attempt to block people using adblockers from playing the game). It's not like the existence of adblockers is a secret or something.


I disagree. There is nothing unethical about maintaining and enforcing control over what happens on my machines.

There's nothing ethical about the way advertising invades every part of society, every corner of your home, and every available minute of human attention. Blocking ads is eminently moral, because the only way to stop their encroach is to punish their purchase by blocking them.

The advertising industry is a massive moral failure, right under annually throwing 8 billion baby chickens into a blender seconds after they're born so that our meals taste marginally better. It turns out you can commit all kinds of atrocities on a mass scale, and nobody cares so long as it's socially normalized. In another time we're gassing Jews.

So it is unethical to kill chickens right after their born but no other time?

This is not a valid inference.

Wouldn't it be simpler, more ethical, and send a stronger message to simply not play the game?

Why would this be more ethical? If I own a network connected device, I am perfectly within ethical grounds to case-by-case block any kind of web request it might make. Whatever web requests happen on my device has absolutely no connection to someone who decided of their own accord to make a game or a music channel or whatever freely available to download / stream / etc.

They may prefer that those web requests succeed and generate ad revenue, but that’s literally just a mere hope that the user will choose to allow that to happen.

Another example could be creating a little robot that floats above my shoulder and uses a computer vision system to place some construction paper in my field of vision dynamically to block the photons of light coming from ad pixels from reaching my eyeball.

I’ll just miniaturize that idea and place it into my phone either as a browser/app ad blocking program, or a root level web request blocker, etc.


It depends if you think an action that both you and the content producer agree is ethical is relatively more ethical than one that you think is ethical, but the content producer thinks is unethical.

If I was doing business with one of my friends, I'd strive to use their services in ways we agreed were fair, not just ways I thought were fair and they disagreed. My friends are reasonable and honest people, so if we disagreed I could be wrong as easily as they could.

Of course, the ad industry isn't much of an ethical beacon and an industry isn't capable of being anyone's friend, so I run an ad blocker. But the angle other people are coming from is pretty easy to understand.


> “but the content producer thinks is unethical.”

What? Of what relevance is the random thought of the content producer when it comes to my personal property.

That’s like saying using my leaf blower to blow leaves is unethical because someone somewhere else in the world thinks I should use my leaf blower as a golf club.

Some person made a game or a streaming service or whatever. They hope people will allow ads to be displayed with it on the peoples’ personal property. But that creator person, who has no connection whatsoever to my personal property, does not influence any concept of ethics about the way I use my property.


No, on the contrary. By playing the game and blocking ads you're sending the correct message that you like the game but don't want the ads. If you didn't play the game you would be sending the incorrect message that the game isn't popular and the market would work with incorrect information. Indeed, as far as digital goods go, correct word-of-mouth is the most important aspect of market information. Meaning, if you like something but it comes laden with ads, you are not only ethical in taking it and blocking the ads, it would be immoral if you were not to do so. Similarly, if a digital good is only available with draconian DRM or at too high a price, it would be unethical NOT to pirate it.

It is simpler and more effective, but not more ethical.

> On Android devices, install the (free-and no ads) 'NoRoot Firewall'.

I installed it at some point, but then I wasn't sure how it was any different from the data usage settings in the app properties? There are options to disable Wi-Fi and data there too.


As per OP, using NRF you can fine-tune what is blocked and what is not. Say, for a game with an online component you would want to allow the game to access game servers, but not the advertisement servers.

I want to buy these apps. I want to buy them for my children. I spend time every couple of weeks looking for one-time-pay, no ads, no tracking, no 'optional' micropayment ads. I can find them only very rarely (Stardew Valley was released for Android yesterday - $8 purchase, best money you'll ever spend).

If there was a well-curated newsletter that had a weekly review of new apps (mostly games, but maybe also other categories), I'd even pay for the newsletter ($10/20 a year?) for giving me a better experience than the Play Store. So if there's anyone out there looking for a side gig idea that doesn't really involve programming, and this sounds like your cup of tea, please let me know.


> Stardew Valley was released for Android yesterday - $8 purchase, best money you'll ever spend

I agree. Stardew Valley is one of the rare modern games that is actually wonderful and a joy in pretty much every respect.


I had something similar happen with a Chinese learning app. First week everything was fine, get an add every 20-30 minutes, no biggie. App was well organized (all info in it is easily available elsewhere), so I was okay with it. Then an update happened and I was getting full screen 10 second ads 2-3 times a minute. They would interrupt games where it was speaking at you (you get docked if you click for a second listen). Clearly this was a bug, so I messaged the developed and they got hostile (nice in the playstore response though) and told me if I didn't like ads I should buy their ad free one ($10 per app (I'd be happy to pay that for all 6, even a little more)).

Not one for dark patterns, I'm happy to say don't use the Chinese HSK app by Around Pixels.

I just don't get why this behavior is becoming so common. I don't understand why advertisers would support it either. If someone is clicking on your app only because they did it by accident (like this app frequently caused me to do), that's going to make the user also frustrated with your product. Supporting this behavior is actually harmful to your product.


A lot of games don't need an internet connection to play, my kids know to turn on airplane mode to disable ads.

I used to love the game Temple Run on the iPhone. I paid for it. I bought stuff in the game. And then they added advertisements.

That was the day that I deleted my favorite iOS game and never looked back. I was very disappointed in what had happened, but I am just that fed up with pervasive full screen advertisements.

Seems that other users are as well. A quick web search will show you a lot of altered .apk versions available for download.


At least on iOS, ads that you opt to watch may be unskippable, but ads that the app foists on you should be skippable after 5 seconds with a >> or X button.

That said; there are a lot of ads that violate the rules and hide buttons or even crash in such a way as to make closing the app the only option other than installing the advertised game/app.


Did you try gaming with data and wifi turned off? It might help stem the tide of ads...

That doesn't prevent the following scenario:

* play the game in an airplane mode

* switch to another activity and turn on the internet

* game prefetches an ad or even several while in the background

So next time you launch the game you'd have to see those cached ads. It's definitely better than having the game fetch and shove them in your face all the time, but still it isn't a complete solution in this case.


More detailed discussion of the 4 other datapoints: https://www.gwern.net/Ads#replication (I added McCoy et al 2007 just last night, so now it's 5 total: me, Pandora, Mozilla, LinkedIn, and McCoy et al 2007.)

It also lines up pretty well with the fact that a lot of early stage SV-style startups don't monetize before they have a lot of users. You don't want to lose 10% in the early stages of exponential growth. 10% less users later on would not be a big deal however.

I am so glad that I’ve never worked for a non B2B company. It’s so much easier having 10-20 large companies as customers that pay real six and seven figure amounts for your services than chasing after a few pennies.

I'd assume that the 10% later on is a relatively larger dollar amount in revenue, no?

But you're not sacrificing growth then. When you sacrifice growth for revenue up front, you're sacrificing not just 1 user but that user and all subsequent users they would've brought in via downstream/compounding effects plus the associated economies of scale (which may well be the only thing that will make you eventually profitable, ads or no ads).

Assuming that advertising is going to be a primary source of revenue, than you aren't going to have much revenue to lose before you start advertising.

The idea is that companies don't advertise at first to take advantage of the exponential growth and user retention when they start getting hot, and once they have market share they start to target profit rather than growth.


It depends - if you're going from zero revenue, then, losing 10% of your users to go from zero dollars to N dollars is a great deal.

If you have existing other revenue sources, then you definitely have to factor that into the equation.



First & third are already linked. Haven't seen #2 before.

It's often said that less than 10% of users click ads. If there would be way to identify those users with reasonably low false positive rate, you could annoy only small fraction of users and keep more of them (if you want to have them).

Not all ads need clicking, and the big budgets have never been in generating clicks, but in Branding (like TV ads).

The 10% that click are likely spit somewhere around 50-50 between the least valuable eyeballs (suckers who click ads) and people that actually are interested, depending upon the ad type (Search more valuable, banners less so).


Yeah, that's the thing. I will never (except possibly accidentally) click on an ad. Every single time I see an add in my Instagram feed, I mark it as "not relevant". And yet these days I see ads every 5-7 photos in my feed. I use Instagram much less now because of the quantity of ads, and Instagram should clearly be able to tell that I don't interact with ads at all except to get rid of them. I've probably reduced my use of the app by 75% or so (both viewing and posting), solely because of ads.

> Yeah, that's the thing. I will never (except possibly accidentally) click on an ad.

I've noticed more and more dark patterns to trick users into accidentally clicking on an ad. Showing an "x" in the top corner before the ad is allowed to be closed/skipped, for example. I'm not sure whether it's game developers or advertising agencies who are responsible but it's definitely frustrating.


What are you trying to accomplish by clicking "not relevant"?

My (naive) hope was that after a while they'd give up.

Is there a better response, you think, that would possibly decrease the number of ads I see?


The "not relevant" button certainly means "please, show me other kinds of ads".

For what is worth, this does work on Twitter (by straight blocking the account which posts the ad). I started seeing noticeably fewer ads after doing that.

Are we controlling for SEO effect? Having ads on your site probably nerfs your Google ranking a bit.

Wouldn't the incentives go the other way? I'd imagine Google wants people to get to sites that serve ads from Google so they can collect fees.

Ads don't affect SEO. It would allow websites to essentially pay for higher search results.

There are tools that come with using ads that allow for insights into better SEO though - e.g. Adwords keyword planner.


> would allow websites to essentially pay for higher search results. //

Isn't this exactly what Google does? Paid placements put you above organic results in the SERPs, presumably other search sites do that too.


Yes, and they mark them as ads so users know that they're promoted and not organic search results. Allowing websites to buy ads to affect their organic placing would affect the quality of search results.

My SEO knowledge is a few years out of date, but when I ran sites with AdSense, it hugely increased the page weight and load time. Google's own tools would ding me PageSpeed Insights score for some of the scripts, even though they were loaded async. GA would tell me I had 8+s average page load; when tested from slow connections, it would never be more than a couple sec.

Google's core business is letting people pay to be the top of search result.

For paid ads. SEO is not about search ads, but about organic search results (which is what I'm referencing).

If a game doesn't offer any way to pay to remove ads, it's an instant uninstall for me.

If a game does offer it, but doesn't let me play for long enough to decide whether I like the game before it starts serving up unskippable ads, I uninstall it.

Most games simply don't give enough time to decide if you even like it before they start throwing ads at you. That seems like a terrible policy in general, regardless of whether you have a "skip ads" IAP or not. You want to wait until the player has made up their mind about your game before you start degrading the experience. This seems like such an obvious thing I don't know why so many games are so bad about it.


I’m about to release a fun little ambient physics based puzzle game on iOS and have been debating this. To me ads are a stain on what I consider my art. But at the same time I want to monetize and wonder if people will skip over a $1.99 download. What do you think? Ads with the option to unlock? Seems gross though... maybe free with paid version that includes level editor or additional level packs?

I think the classic "shareware demo" model is a good one, have some free stuff to introduce the user and make sure they like the game, then give them a wall and tell them to pay if they want more. It's fair to them and fair to you. It doesn't violate their privacy, it makes sure your customers actually want to be your customers (reducing chargebacks because the game has an issue for someone) and you get paid without polluting your art.

I actually like a "skill shareware" (my made up name) model in puzzle games. When you have lots of levels, you split them into groups. You can only advance to the next one if you solve all previous ones perfectly, (3 stars / 100% / some other metric) or pay for full unlock.

I've never been on the other side, so I don't know how well that converts. But as a customer, I love the idea. "Euclidea" does this for example: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.hil_hk.euc... They also have IAP for dark mode.


As a customer it may be great, but this isn't great for the developer in my opinion. Perhaps it's just the way I play, but I will already refuse to advance until I've got a level fully beaten, so I'll basically keep at that until I get bored of your game or beat it fully and you'll never see a penny from me.

To add to this a bit, it also provides a motivation for developers to make games that are too hard and will force users to pay if they want to enjoy them, but people who play like I do will get bored quickly.

This is why I loved the old Peggle games from PopCap but hate the new mobile one.


I miss this model for games. Demo disks were my favorite thing in the world. I'd play a demo a dozen times or so before I decided that it was worth begging a parent to buy the game for me.

It has been a long time since I played games, but I thought games still had demos. In Steam, do you have to buy a game before playing it?

Some games do have demos, but not that many.

To summarize the other comments:

Yes.

-Very few games provide demos.

-Steam allows refunds under certain conditions, but also reserves the right to ban accounts that abuse that system, and declines to define abuse. Therefore it's generally advisable to avoid using refunds to try games, and save them for when there is a issue.

So there is definitely a gap where demos would serve well.


In steam you can return for a full refund if you have played less than 2 hours within the first 14 days, so you effectively get a 2 hour demo.

Unless it is a Free to Play game, you pay before you play. Some Early Access games start out free, but less and less now days.

I love the shareware concept. I think ads and baiting people into MTX due to the psychology of humans is making companies too much money to ignore.

Yes. As long as you clearly indicate upfront that it's a demo.

For a productivity app I have seen night and day difference in earnings between "paid upfront" and "free with iap". I started with the paid model and switched to freemium. In the months after the initial boost due to "apps gone free" scrapper sites I got as many iap sales in a month that I had accumulated in two years while the app was paid.

Paid upfront model is dead on iOS, unless you are some big shot company that will have their application featured on day 1.


Unless I know of your earlier games or I've had it recommended to me either personally or if you're lucky enough to be chosen for the Editor's Pick on the App Store i'm not very likely to pay for a game or apps in general.

I think level packs are pretty much a match made in heaven for puzzle type games, as are selling credits for hints.

Be sure to include at one or a few hours of gameplay for free, that seems like a nice balance. Updating with new level packs every now and then (both paid and free) is a good way to keep people excited and get additional income from people who really enjoy the game.

Selling additional color/texture themes might also be a way to increase sales.


Free with donation/extra for features.

I don't know why people even consider ads for games.

If a game/application has the "have ads" under the install button, i don't even install it to check it out. Because I know that even if i am not seeing ads, the framework is underneath the game, collecting data just the same.


I just released a (beta) puzzle game on Google Play, and what I decided to do was make ads 100% opt-in but also have an IAP for removing even those.

It definitely will not generate as much revenue as an aggressively ad-monetized one, but hopefully it's still profitable.


Free features to get the user to get used to the game and figure it out, and paid features that are unlocked.

App pricing is somewhat tricky, since most people hesitate to even pay $0.99. I personally wouldn’t just buy something without knowing if I’d like it or not. Descriptions and reviews may not always help in knowing that. Actually playing it certainly would.

Also consider keeping some exciting or challenging parts in the free set so that users can know what more to expect if they pay.


My personal opinion can be distilled from what the OP said. Let us try the game first. I'm happy to buy games, especially since I can get playstore credit from surveys. But if you bombard me with ads (at any point) I'll actually take the time to rate your app. I don't have a problem with ads, I have a problem with intrusive ads and dark patterns.

But lure me in. Show me your game is fun. With a puzzle based game you can have the first couple levels be free then make a popup about continue with ads or upgrade. I'd respect that a lot.


For what it's worth, the only Android games I've ever paid money for are Snakebird, Ending, Super Hexagon, and a chess training app, and if I remember correctly all four were free no ads with paid additional levels. I am the type of person who deletes apps with too many ads. Look up Ending for a good model to emulate (it was a pleasant experience and it has a level editor) though I remember it having too few levels since I played through them very quickly.

Publish it with ads; don't push enough ads that they take a relevant share of the player's time; if you have calm periods (like changing levels) prefer quick full screen ads on those periods; offer the option to pay for making the ads go away; make sure the ads really go away after somebody pays.

That is the best "user friendly, but viable" option I've seen in the wild.


As a user, that wouldn't work for me. The problem isn't the ads themselves, but that the presence of ads is proof positive that I'm being spied on.

> the presence of ads is proof positive that I'm being spied on

There is such a thing as non-targeted advertising. An app developer can solicit money from sponsors to have their ads included in the app and displayed at particular times without sending any data back to either the developer or the advertiser. This is how advertising worked back before every app started demanding a continuous Internet connection even for basic non-network functions.


Yes, there is indeed. But it's very rare, and I can't tell whether or not those are the sorts of ads being used, so I have to assume they're all bad.

Almost all app developers who include advertising are using third party libraries to do the ads, after all.


IIRC the stats from the last time I published a mobile game, iPhone users were significantly more likely to actually pay for things so it's probably ok to just charge money. Personally, I did ads with paid feature unlock and ad removal because I was publishing on Android.

Maybe release a couple of levels for free and if they like it they can buy the full game?

I have made an app for iOS, and it is about helping children between on the ages 4-8 read. It took me 1 second to decide "free with ads" vs "0.99". It costs 0.99, and I don't regret the 'small' sales. I prefer that people's children are not tracked by advertisers, facebook (that bloody ping on 31.13.x.x) and other trackers.

I'm surprised that COPPA allows devs to have geo-tracking of users who haven't confirmed they are over 13.

Is sales income less than you'd expect with ads?

I'm working on an iOS game as well, and my plan of attack is to have a 'donate' button with different tiers ($1, $3, $5) that gets treated internally as an in-app purchase.

Free, with $pay option for cosmetic upgrades, bonus levels, more save-game ability, and another non-core gameplay features.

Gentle house ads to upgrade to the paid version for more fun.


All this feedback is great. I'm working on a little competitive multiplayer game for Android (and soon iOS) as a side project.

I was thinking about showing ads after every other match w/ the option to pay out and now I think I'll only show them past a certain rank, or just put up a pay wall.


Keep in mind that the HN crowd is not always reflective of the broader population. There is a reason apps show adds they way they do - it's very effective in making a lot of $$.

The highest-grossing apps on the app store are not the ones that are crammed full of unskippable ads. Don't mistake that being a popular model for being an effective one.

Just keep mind that doing what you're proposing will probably cost you 90%+ of your revenue. I'd recommend simply not being abusive with ads (either showing excessive numbers or working with shady ad networks) and offer the small segment of your users willing to pay an IAP to opt out of the ads.

> If a game doesn't offer any way to pay to remove ads, it's an instant uninstall for me

You're more lenient than I am. I uninstall any application the instant I see an ad.


I feel like advertisements ruin everything. I remember driving onto the my air force base and being thankful that all the visual pollution was gone. It was like stepping into another world. Now the internet has ads everywhere. I find the attention economy awful and dystopian. I'd gladly pay to never see another ad.

How many years do you think it is before someone pays to put ads on the Blackhawks and Humvees?

(I think this was a throwaway idea in Snow Crash)


I get your point, but in the US, I don't think military leaders would ever let that happen. Being in the military feels like living in a heavily socialist country within a heavily capitalist one. The experiences could be amazing (good and horrific), but what I most noted was how different it felt from being a private citizen. It is a strange dichotomy.

You'd love visiting Vermont. They banned billboards in 1968.

I’ve come to hate ads for how much they try to get me to buy things I don’t need.

Sure you can say something about willpower whatever, but constantly being bombarded by them is horrible.

I’m pretty happy with what I have, I don’t need all this stuff. But advertising makes me want stuff I don’t need.

I don’t feel bad about blocking advertising to improve my quality of life.


I don't even pay attention to them; they are just there as visual noise. I worry a lot about the world we've created and where this is all heading. I like to wrangle some of these problems, maybe create a "no ad" network. You pay into a pool and the money is doled out to various businesses based on what you spend your time doing: games, websites, etc.

Flattr? Patreon? Google contributor?

I remember reading about someone that built a system where you put $X in to a pot every month, and every page you visit gets $X/pages_visited. This allows you to directly monetize creators without ads.

I cannot for the life of me find it - does it ring any bells with anyone?



So this is how I originally thought Brave was going to work, but it’s unclear to me now if that’s actually the case:

https://brave.com/faq/#do-i-have-to-pay


Flattr? Brave?

Blendle, perhaps?

I felt the same way when driving through Cuba: some billboards, but all with government propaganda, and none advertising products.

Is it ads, or slowly-loading ad-sized content?

One thing I've noticed is that ads seem like an afterthought in most apps. The New York Times iPhone app displays ads, even if you pay for it, and occasionally the entire app will freeze while it's waiting for ads to download. (The app works offline, but if it gets a hint of network availability, it will stop the world to try and download them. Usually as your train is leaving the subway station with a 4G signal entering the tunnel without.) The Wall Street Journal app is similar, except instead of freezing completely, scrolling starts to run at about 5Hz instead of the expected 60Hz. Obviously, the developers of the apps develop it with ads turned off (or with sample images loaded from servers they control with no DNS lookup latency, etc.), so probably aren't even aware of these issues. That is going to reduce subscriptions, even if the images weren't ads.


I tried to get my young son into original Angry Birds, thinking it would be a nice simple physics lesson for him, but it has become absolutely unnavigateable for his age level. So many pop up special offers for magic birds to solve the level, cut scene product placement, and other in game purchases, that I can't trust those games to not get him lost in a maze of advertising bullcrap.

I paid for this game, a kids game I thought, why can't I just enjoy it with my son?


Basically, everyone that makes games now knows how insanely lucrative it can be. I am not sure if this is caused by sales/marketing/executives but games now can generate massive cash.

Many games now offer micro-transactions, casino style loot crates where you can open them by buying keys to have a chance of wining something. Even I bought a few things in games. However, many others young or old drop massive amount of cash on some games. My uncle drops thousands of dollar in world of tanks(or whatever it is called) to have the best tank. Plus, those game can create gambling addiction in kids, I think it is quite sad.


Oh man, sorry for your uncle blowing that amount!

Speaking of training kids to gamble, I'm gonna thread jack with a public service announcement, please avoid letting your kids see any "Surprise Egg" videos all costs. I downloaded "you-tube kids", their supposedly safe curated experience, and almost half of the recommended videos on a completely clean user install was this moronic kiddy click bait that turns youngsters into drooling dopamine rinsed zombies, primed for our loot-box overlords.

Un-install, go play outside.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-minds/201703/...


Meanwhile Amazon got rid of the Underground Apps program that made available many mobile "staple" games without ads.

And it wasn’t that bad before.

The difference between the original Angry Birds and Angry Birds Go with all of the in app purchases is stark.


Just like they crapped all over Plants vs. Zombies 1 and 2 Android versions. PvZ1 Android version ran beautifully on a 600MHz ARMv6 Android phone but they updated it, to include ads if I remember correctly. PvZ2 is just microtransactions on top of microtransactions, horrible mangling of the original game.

I believe it. I've stopped playing games with ads altogether. I'd rather pay $40-60 for a game that keeps me in the story. I don't have time for ads. Apparently 90% of users do though, so they'll continue to fill up the "top games" lists and make it impossible for us to find good ad-free games in the app stores. Even worse now that google removed the "contains ads" tag from the play store top game lists. sigh

What bothers me is imagining what board room conversation led to that decision. Here's a piece of information, that benefits the consumer, and they took it away. It's hard to see much motivation beyond "it makes money, by selling more ads, because the user is uninformed". If you have a job in that position, yes I know money, but how the fuck do you justify that to yourself? Are you really that blind?

> I'd rather pay $40-60 for a game that keeps me in the story. I don't have time for ads.

Old-fashioned console and PC gaming is still a thing, though mobile inspired microtransactions are starting to creep into the market.


Yes and I am very appreciative of companies like Nintendo who keep the art alive. I feel the phone market has untapped potential still.

The Nintendo Switch's start screen has ads on it. When you turn the console on from sleep mode, it shows flashy images entitled "Featured News" on the left third of the lock screen. [1] I tried to disable it, but apparently you cannot unsubscribe from the preloaded "news" channels.

When I play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the in-game experience is mostly ad-free, but there is a side quest on my quest log that appears to be a cross-promotion with some non-Nintendo game.

It's really frustrating that Nintendo is also doing this bullshit now, even if in moderation.

[1] Representative example: http://www.bearingnews.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/IMG_49...


I think an ad outside of a game is fine if it's not too excessive, but I too was disappointed to see cross-game "ad" content being baked into The Legend of Zelda DLC.

> I think an ad outside of a game is fine if it's not too excessive

I don't, if the ad is on a device or program that I've paid cash money for.


I will even pay for mobile games. Because I do enjoy them, and sometimes you don't want something so complex. It's just feels impossible to find them because they don't get millions of downloads.

Honestly the thing that kills mobile games for me more then ads is waiting. I like tycoon style games, a genre destroyed on mobile by timers.


This is interesting and valuable analysis. Despite a lot of people in this thread saying "See! I told you ads are user toxic!" I'd easily make this tradeoff if I had no/limited other sources of revenue.

Two additional questions I have are: 1) Which 10% of users churn because of ads? Are these just average p50% actives or are they power users who evangalize your product? 2) What's the effect on annual growth rate?


I think the real key takeaway is the graph he has about what type of ads are served. I'll deal with inline ads, but I'm closing the window if you think a popup is okay.

> I'd easily make this tradeoff if I had no/limited other sources of revenue.

Not me.


I assumed this would be the case and removed ads from my web game about a year ago. But didn't see a difference with traffic or retention (granted, I didn't A/B test it! I removed them 100%). Which was disappointing. The only difference I noticed is that I lost that revenue (5 figures).

But probably depends on volume and/or type of ads?

[EDIT] Clarified re: traffic


'Revenue'!='users'. EDIT: and 10% is, while important, a pretty subtle difference compared to the enormous variability of traffic. Traffic is a time-series which drifts and has many potentially large jumps. If you removed ads only once, how would you ever notice? The effect is very noticeable if you look at samples with _n_ in the millions, or if you remove/add scores of times and model it statistically, though.

A very good point -- if you don't have other sources of revenue aside from ads, and can't run the site/game/whatever without that, 10% of your users gone might be a perfectly reasonable trade off for the ad revenue that keeps the site running.

I think you mention later in the Twitter thread that Patreon has given you much more recurring revenue than ads? I wish operators would spend the time to look at the effectiveness of ad alternatives as you've done.


Isn't this the inverse experiment? The theory that removing ads will increase your user base?

I mean, he's not making a prediction on revenue. Gwern is making a statement about traffic. Did your traffic increase ~10%?

From the Pandora paper, (which showed that as more ads were played during pandora sessions, subscriptions were boosted but free users left) it sounds like there's an "optimal advertisement" rate for revenue. Enough to not push away users, but not too much to deter users altogether.


> Did your traffic increase ~10%?

It followed the same pattern as I've seen for years.

> Enough to not push away users, but not too much to deter users altogether.

That could be. I might've had a goldilocks amount.


Instituting advertising is guaranteed to reach your existing user base right away; those who hate ads will see them right away and quit right away.

Removing advertising doesn't have the same kind of immediate effect because the "audience" for it is people who haven't even heard of your app yet, and have no idea whether you're ad-free or not. (Here I'm discounting the possibility that there's a bunch of people waiting, hoping you eliminate ads so they can finally join.)

So the effects of removing ads probably have a much longer lag-time, governed to a significant degree by the usual mechanisms and rates of user acquisition.

Edit: you can also argue that the pre-existing users of an ad-free app have to some degree self-selected based on a hatred of ads, and that in a more general sample, the proportion for whom ads are a deal-breaker might be lower than 1 in 10.


Well said. Plus, there are us diehards who simply gave up on all mobile gaming entirely, because the vast majority have ads. That makes it hard enough to find acceptable games that it's just not worth looking for games.

>web game

Possible the 10% were using adblockers, and so didn't notice the change.


I really do think the way ads are presented and how they are embedded matters. E.g., a static banner, embedded statically server-side without tracking and targeting, respectfully sitting besides the content may be not offensive to anyone. We may even appreciate that the advertiser is supporting the content we like, a positive image transfer besides the needs of last week's shopping list (of which we're kept reminded just too often by common advertising practice). On the other hand, what we mostly see, is advertising going off-the-rails, competing with the content (reading a news site is often some of a glimpse of war of its own today, at least visually), aggressive tracking and targeting, in combination fostering the feeling that the ad-networks and by this also the hosting site are actively working against you, providing the content just as a pretext for exploitation. Something has gone terribly wrong. (I've actually not bought products, I would have bought else, because of advertising practices.)

Edit: As an ethical workaround, I find myself increasingly opening a site in broser A without blocker and then copying the URL to another browser B with blocking, because I can't concentrate on the content anymore, or maybe switching to reader mode to consume the content. But, does presenting the ads to me make any sense at all? Most interestingly, this would result in inflated user statitistics. Maybe, we're seeing a combination of both?


That would make sense. Ads are designed to be visible and clicked on, but on the other hand you can't go too far without annoying the users. It's a fine line to walk so it's not surprising you'd lose some users as a result. The unblockable ads they had on Facebook at some point is what finally pushed me to close my account.

but on the other hand you can't go too far without annoying the users

Back in the ancient history before Google and search engines, a web site I built was submitted for inclusion in DMOZ. At the time, all web sites were hand-approved by an editor who also wrote a description of the site.

The site was included, but the description noted that it was "covered with too many ads" or something similar.

The site had one 468x60 static image banner ad, and one 236x60 static image ad.

My how our standards have changed.


Maybe your standards have changed, but that's still too much for me. I don't mind guest posts or (mentioned) sponsored content, however I will always use ublock to remove ads.

It would be different if the typical ad experience were a related, useful product. But it's always unrelated hot garbage - distracting and annoying at any pixel size.


that's still too much for me

Reasonable ads don't bother me.

I don't long for the day when I can install an ad blocker in my car's windshield so I don't see billboards or the names of car dealerships on the backs of the other cars.

Then again, when I drive someplace where there's too many billboards I find it annoying.


I would absolutely love an ad blocker for my car's windshield (or, since I don't drive much, some sort of AR glasses that block ads). I find advertising unbearable. People's tolerance levels are different.

I wouldn't say that your old site, with its two image ads, was "covered with too many ads", but I would still expect an ad blocker to remove them.


Everyone's different. I'd probably pay as much for that windshield ad blocker as I did for my car.

Billboards are banned in Maine

It's beautiful


I believe Adsense policies allow only up to 3 ad units in a page. And after all ads below the fold do not perform that well. I see a lot of ads in long form content/news websites though, which do not receive a lot of pageviews. It's a tradeoff for most

That can't be right, we have Google AdManager deliver to more than 3 slots.

Right, the limitation was lifted in 2016

Most web ads are designed to be clicked, but I firmly believe this is the wrong model. Ads should be designed not to get you to click/buy now. Ads should be designed to make you think about buying it latter. You see/hear a car ad, and next time you drive you think wouldn't it be nice if my car did X.

I think they do partly still retain that effect, but internet advertisers don't rate it so highly because it's hard to measure the effectiveness of.

You can't measure it for any other ad at all yet TV, radio, newspaper, billboards, and other ads are all common because they work.

Also, at the risk of stating the obvious: clicking on the ads takes you off the site in question. Some of the people who would have been clicking around your site more are now at someone else's site.

Click rates (CTR) are usually quite low, if you get 2% you can open the champagne. Or at the very least, keep it at the ready and look at your conversion rate.

What? Ads open in new tabs.

The focus changes to that tab, typically. It’s not a big difference hitting a back button or closing a tab/window, is it? Some users are confused by this, being less familiar with the browser interface, and the effect of interruption is the same.

I guess that's a possibility, I'm not good at thinking like non-technical users.

Wouldn't it depend on the default behaviour of your browser?

Not if they use target=_blank or use JS to open a new window/tab

I don't have the data anymore, but based on my memory of the time, I don't think reddit saw any difference in traffic when we launched ads (which was more than 10 years ago).

That's not to say that it wouldn't change now, but just throwing out there that it didn't make a difference then.


Reddit lost me with the redesign to track and monetize. maybe 2-3 years ago? I had 250k karma all from mindful comments.

> So now there are 4 independent quasi-/experimental datapoints (me, Pandora, LinkedIn, & Mozilla resp) showing that a standard load of ads vs no ads decreases total consumption/activity by 10–15%.

From the tweet itself, this is 10% of activity, not users. Kind of suspect that someone misinterpreted their own data so significantly.


I disagree about it being a misinterpretation. They are measuring different things because they have to, but if you read the papers, you see that that's the net effect and most reasonable way to summarize them: an 11% reduction in intention to visit, a 9% reduction in total traffic, a similar reduction in total web browsing per individual, and in the case of LinkedIn, you can see both a decrease in users and activity per user, which net to the >10% reduction in total activity. This is as it must be (what is a web browser user going to do - stop using web browsers completely and quit the Internet entirely...? Not likely! Reduction in web usage is their only possible response.) How else could one reasonably summarize that in a few words?

In analytics there are ways to discuss activity like: visits per month, pages per session, time on site, conversion rate, etc.

It's possible for any of those activity metrics to go down 10% without losing any active users.


This is pretty interesting. I'd love to see the analysis broken down by some measure of the ads' "annoyingness." For example, what is the harm from an animated gif ad vs. a text ad?

A site with ads is guaranteed to not care about how you use it. A site that takes your money is one that will care about the experience. Seeing an ad is an instant “if I can’t use reading mode I just block the site”. Life is too short to waste your attention on people selling you crap.

While ads may cost you 10% of your users, it may also be responsible for up to 100% of your revenue.

That’s your own fault if that’s the case.

> @Piccirello: What viable alternatives exist that don’t directly charge the user and therefore disadvantage the less privileged? Is JavaScript-based crypto mining feasible?

That leads to an interesting thought. Ads are definitely one of the more egalitarian ways of getting payment from people, as they sap time and attention somewhat equally (or randomized along a fairly predictable spectrum not affected by most differentiators, I would think), and in proportion to how much you use something.

Also, the ones problematic form a privacy perspective likely screw people over equally as well.


I might be one of the 10% mentioned here. It was sefinitly true for instagram since facebook took over. If every 5th image in my stream is a sponsered ad by nike or some startup it doesn’t feel like my stream anymore. There is weird content coming out of nowhere that I didn’t ask for. Effectively I just ended up using it less and less, till I sropped using it entirely.

This is exactly why I quit pinterest. A good 10% of the content are ads.

Could just be an effect of page load time?

Any attempt to rule out confounding parameters - on the web ads increase pageload a heap.


I was a long time mobile Chrome user (until my recent switch to Firefox which allows me to block ads). My rule then was to move onto another source if I couldn't find one place on the page unimpeded by ads or spammy shite from Taboola et al. News sites are definitely the biggest offender here.

You can block ads in chrome too. Ublock is on both ff and chrome or you could install a chromium based browser with native ad blocking like brave or opera.

He meant mobile Chrome, which doesn't have extensions.

I assume they are referring to Chrome on mobile.

I have been seeing Squarespace ads on YouTube nearly for every video. I hate it and I just gives thumbs down hoping it will go away. Nope.

Although the echo effect is real, I have to say I do not and will not use Squarespace simply because of the ads. It's insane. Same music, same video over and over.

/rant


Why don't you use an adblocker or pay for YouTube premium to support your content creators.

At least in my case, the SquareSpace/NordVPN/Audible/etc ads aren't preroll - they're embedded in the middle of the video by the content creators. Which is really irritating, because I DO pay for YouTube premium... (by way of GPM All Access, grandfathered in)

Yes, that's supremely annoying. But, at least that sort of advertising doesn't track you, and given that YouTube has seriously restricted the ability for content creators to monetize using YouTube mechanisms themselves, I cut them a little slack on this.

My conscious choice NOT to pay premium. Content creators already get $$ for views.

Why do you think youtube is willing to pay for views?

Aren't youtube ads pay per click? In which case adblock doesn't cost the creator money (if you weren't going to click an ad), and their viewer/subscriber count is still normal (important for non-youtube sponsors)

Pretty sure they aren't -- on my PS4 for example, YouTube shows ads just like on PC/mobile, but they're totally unclickable. There's no button for "see more on this ad" or anything.

I know this because it has shown an ad for something that I was interested in buying, and I tried everything to get to the ad and couldn't. Ended up having to Google it on my phone!


Content creators get paid for ad views.

> I feel like I'm on crazy-pills with this topic. No one links to my page, hardly any orgs run these experiments, no one upvotes them on Reddit or HN

Gwern is on crazy pills because this is a feature not a bug. Your users are there to generate ad revenue - not the other way around.


Are the 10%-15% who bail free users, or paying users? Number of free users is only a good metric if you have ads. Without ads, a better metric is needed, like revenue.

The other thing we need is a real alternative. Ads are more or less unanimously not beloved, but bootstrapping revenue and funding are real problems. Worse than losing 10% of your customers is losing 100% of your customers because you can’t afford to stay in business. No matter how much everyone dislikes ads, they aren’t going away until there’s a way to fund your site/org/business.


> No matter how much everyone dislikes ads, they aren’t going away until there’s a way to fund your site/org/business.

The problem isn't that there aren't other ways of generating revenue. There are lots of them. The problem is that carrying ads is the easiest way -- it requires almost no development effort.


That doesn’t answer my question. The question isn’t what ways there are to generate revenue, it’s what is the right metric. Number of users dropping doesn’t mean that revenue is dropping, so it’s not a great metric to demonstrate that ads are bad. If we want to show that adding ads to a site is damaging, we have to show that it’s actually damaging, rather than you lose a fraction of the people who were mooching anyway.

I’m not sure I agree there are lots of ways to generate revenue, and more importantly that there are reliable ways to generate revenue when bootstrapping a small company. If there were reliable ways to do it, ads wouldn’t be such a big problem. The scourge of ads is evidence that finding revenue sources isn’t reliable.

The main sources of funding for small companies are: loans, grants, personal savings, friends & family, angels, VCs, sales, and ads. Sales and ads are the only sustainable long term strategies unless you’re going for government funding of research or a public service. Sales requires a product with market fit, i.e., a bootstrapped company. For most early stage companies that leaves only ads as a potential positive long-term revenue stream. What other options are there?

Making money with ads requires an audience, which requires having something of value. In that sense, it does require development effort. Maybe installing the ad into an iframe is easy, but getting enough people to your site isn’t trivial.


> The main sources of funding for small companies are: loans, grants, personal savings, friends & family, angels, VCs, sales, and ads.

Funding a startup is an entirely different, and more complicated, topic than what I was addressing. However, I would mention that what you list there are not the only options.

For instance, I've started a number of successful companies without requiring more than a small amount (four figures) of seed money from my own savings, and bootstrapping from there, growing the companies from the revenues streams they create.

Admittedly, this isn't an approach that appeals to everyone or is feasible for all sorts of business. It requires a lot more work and causes initial growth to be very slow (but the payoff is no debt), but it works for me and demonstrates that in the real world there are numerous workable approaches.

> In that sense, it does require development effort.

Yes, but that's precisely the same amount of development effort required no matter what your revenue model is.


If any app or service offers me the ability to pay them money in exchange for removing ads, I do

I do this even if the price is rather large. I think the most I've ever paid is $25 but I'd go higher.


I'm curious about the numbers for websites automatically playing videos. I find these even more annoying than 80% of ads and they often don't get blocked. And I personally run a domain blocker plugin just for these sites. Playing a video I didn't ask for? Bye forever. Most sites with this problem have 10 competitors just on that page of search results.

The guys who built RealClearPolitics built a sort of "pay to eliminate ads" feature.[1] I wonder if they saw Gwern's Law in action.

[1] http://subscriptions.publir.com/


Ads strike me as a laughable local maximum on our ability to monetize spare brain cycles of the human mind. Critical thinking cycles, arguably the most precious resource, is subverted for single digit clickthrough rates. Ad tech makes me cry, and after reading science fiction, depressed. Let's please please gtfo out of this paradigm and figure out how to bootstrap these things between our ears for creation, than consumption, of something.

And to go a bit deeper for a moment, it seems likely to me that what we now call critical thinking is the same thing as what Chomsky and Berwick mean when they use the word "language": an ability to hierarchically represent the world using symbols. Our "external representation" or ability to communicate ideas to one another, according to them is a byproduct of that effect. This was from their recent book, Why Only Us, and go on to point to the specific gene, FOXP2, that they believe caused this ability for the mind, and then assert that this emergence caused us to leave Africa (Out of Africa Theory). And if that's even remotely true, then the human mind is inherently more able and creative than we will ever know. Or said another way, the cross product of Dunning & Kruger with Berwick & Chomsky suggests an almost infinite unawareness of our own potential. - How do we know that the 10% drop off in traffic isn't "just" due to the increase of latency by the nature of adding additional the additional ad package that dispatches and draws on the main thread, slowing everything down (Linden, 2006)?

http://glinden.blogspot.com/2006/12/slides-from-my-talk-at-s...


Ads cost a tenth of my users, but I gain 100% of my income. No regrets.

In a similar vein. Anti-adblock measures will pretty much guarantee I never come back. I'd love to be able to filter them from my search results. Plenty of domains I would blacklist.

Only if they are done intrusively. Nobody cares about the ads on CrossMe, for example...but Jewels Jungle, the interstitials may aggravate a small number.

I have troubles with the concept of a "non-intrusive" ad - If you don't notice it to any degree, it's not doing its job, and if you DO notice it to any degree, it's intrusive and disruptive (to a matching degree)

I think you mean "Nobody cares ENOUGH" rather than "Nobody cares", and that's a big distinction.


I think "intrusiveness" is pretty subjective and has a lot to do with the content of the ad.

If HN ran native ads for reverse mortgage companies instead of job ads for YC startups you'd feel very different about them even though the format is the same.


You may have a point. Maybe we need to draw a distinction between "non-intrusive" and "non-distracting".

Ads should not move, period. No animated gif's, no video. And for $DIETY's sake, no audio. NONE. No audio. EVER.

Slicing up the reading in the middle. Covering with spashes, etc. I just close the tab.

But a non-distracting static ad? It is easy to ignore if I don't care, but if, in fact, it is something I care about I will see it. Ads that relate to my needs at work or to my hobbies will likely get clicked on. Non-distracting will keep me from closing the website, relevant and timely will get me to click on the ad.

The human mind is funny that way. A non-intrusive, non-distracting ad for, say, carpet, I likely won't even notice. But display a non-intrusive, non-distracting ad of exactly the same size for a piece of shiny, new, ham radio gear... it will get noticed. It might even get me to think about my credit card limit. Basic psycho-perception at work.


Some ads are intrusive in the way that they highjack my thought processes. I'm reading about hard-drives, I don't want to think about science fiction right now, and vice versa. So unobtrusive also means matching the content in spirit. (I might be fine with related tech, for example.)

At that point there shouldn't even be any point in user preference tracking any more. I even click these ads on occasion if they seem trustworthy (another important point - there is still too many 'You won a car!'/'Lose weight with one simple trick!'/'Doctors hate him!' kind of ads).


Actually, I'd have different concerns about ads that I didn't consciously notice.

Good point - while I'd still lump that in as "disruptive", it's more accurate to be a bit more granular.

One of the things that I think got completely overlooked in the recent Cambridge Analytica (and related) scandal was the idea that microtargeting actually WORKED to some degree. (Granted, it's easy to be manipulative when you aren't accountable for anything, but still - the idea went from vague promise to actual implementation). We've paid attention to the CONSCIOUS effects of those ads, but not so much to the subconscious ones. Even the ads that I dismiss as ridiculous are affecting my impressions of certain groups, and when the ads are primarily there to increase division, dismissing them still has the same result.


Yeah, it has more power than one can think.

Every-time I go for groceries in one of the Costco equivalent here, they have an alley to funnel you into the self-service machines area. This path has on both sides sweets and at the very end the bakery stuff before you are free to do your checkout.

Every single time, despite being well aware of the trap, I can't help but grab either some muffins or cookies.


Where did this myth that if we don’t process things consciously we are not impacted? There is no such thing as a reasonable ad, except a person to person recommendation where no money changes hands.

Intrusiveness depends on the ad's relevance and value:

An ad for a product you don't care about is disruptive.

A 30% off promotion for a rarely discounted product you've wanted for a few years is amazing.


In that case it is intrusive...but relevant and welcome.

Not all intrusions are unwelcome, but they remain intrusions.


A targeted ad is intrusive, but in a different way. When I see an add that is eerily relevant to me, I know it was served to me because of data surreptitiously collected about me. That is no less intrusive. Honestly, I find irrelevant, non-targeted ads more acceptable because I am more confident that the advertiser has not intruded on me personally to serve it!

> If you don't notice it to any degree, it's not doing its job

That's a subjective statement. The giant billboards of pepsi with a celebrity doesn't register as an Ad as much as a recognition of someone of interest with a subliminal associative positive reinforcement of a brand. Nobody cares about what Matthew McConaughey thinks about cars, but everyone knows he's associated with a specific brand. Ewan McGregor, in contrast, is quite the motorcycle aficionado (https://moneyinc.com/five-celebrities-love-motorcycles/).


Similarly, the toxicity of ads in your daily life is nearly possible to perceive without completely disconnecting from the internet, cities, tv, etc.

Additionally, 26 percent of desktop and 15 percent of mobile users block ads, so those studies already exclude the most ad-averse part of the user base.

but can you rephrase that in terms of revenue? and tbh 10% is right about the amount of pain you 'd expect to inflict to monetize your traffic.

No, because that will depend on the purpose of a site, what alternative revenue streams there, the site owners' utility preferences between traffic and revenue, what sort of ads there are, what sort of clickthrough rate they have, what the advertising rate is, and so on. At best, you can make a directional generalization: given that people systematically appear to underestimate the effects of ads (they just don't know), there is probably a large but unknown number of people who have overshot the optimal number of ads by an unknown amount, which will be different for each person.

In contrast, the binary variable ads/no-ads appears to have a (surprisingly) consistent effect on general metrics of users/usage, as measured by 5 very different large-scale studies.


Life hack for stopping ads on mobile games: Turn off internet connection.

So far this has worked for me with solo games.


Surely any user that's going to bail because of advertising is already blocking the ads anyway?

Seems unlikely - if they're running adblock they won't notice that you added ads.

I don't object to advertising - it is how free news sights should pay for themselves. I understand and accept the deal. However this is a two way deal, they give me "free" content in exchange for me seeing the ads. If the ads are too intrusive they have violated their end of the contract and I leave.

I actually don't really block ads, I block tracking and by-default scripting (I whitelist pages), plus enforced https. That gets rid of almost all of the ads. If they can't give me ads without these things, their problem.

You would think so, and yet...

It’s easier just to remember the ad free places.

It's probably subconscious.

(sardonic) True, but did you want those users if they aren't even willing to spend money?

Sometimes. Those users are potential advertisers for your site.

I mean, sure, but they also often fund 100% of your users.

Not having ads costs you 100% of your members if it's the only way to monetize your content (not all content is suited to be supported by paywalls or Patreon).

Is the content worth anything then? Why not just distribute it through torrents or ipfs or something?

I guarantee you that you read tons of content that you wouldn't pay for. Hacker news itself is a big ad for Ycombinator.

This may help explain why many companies focus so much ad budget on brand awareness and generally inserting their brand into the zeitgeist or popular memes and conversation.

Corporations rarely prize loyalty of any type: loyalty from employees, loyalty from customers... they don’t care.

Creating loyalty requires sublimating your own short term desires for the sake of promoting someone else’s interests instead. Corporations, as sociopathic legal constructs meant to encode ruthless pursuit of short term financial gain, are essentially incapable of acting this way.

This is why you have to pay so much to get new employees to join your team, or pay so much to acquire new customers. The corporation never cares to proactively reward existing employees or proactively improve products or reduce prices for customers.

So all short term attention is paid to seeding the necessary details required to acquire new supply of employees / customers / whatever.

Holding on to / valuing what you already have is just not a concept modern corporations have the ability to understand or articulate, despite lots of lip service about it.




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