Saturday, August 22, 2015

Video Games, Ad Blocking, and Distractions

Internet ad blocking has been around for a decade but is now becoming a trend. It is hard to measure accurately, but it looks like more than 10 percent of Internet ad impressions are now being blocked, roughly double the rate of last year. When ad blocking is discussed and analyzed, one curious factoid that is often repeated is that ad blocking rates are highest on video game sites. Supposedly this is because gamers are technologically savvy, but this explanation does not quite ring true. Engineers and computer programmers are equally savvy when it comes to using computers, yet we don’t see the same high rates of ad blocking at magazines and forums on these subjects.

I asked around and got some more convincing explanations.

  • People who play video games know the cost of momentary distraction better than most of us. In a game like Temple Run, if you sneeze or look away for a second or two, you’re dead. We all face the same loss of productivity when these distractions occur, but you have to play a video game to get the instant feedback that measures this loss for you and makes you aware of it.
  • Syndicated ads routinely transmit enough data volume to clog up the network connection for a few seconds. A two-square-inch ad can generate 30 megabytes of data for video, scripts, and tracking, and this happens not just when a page is loading, but at completely unpredictable times. The resulting network latency is the same kind of disaster for an online game as a sneeze is. In truth, we all face the same loss of productivity from ads, we just don’t notice it so easily in activities that are not so time-sensitive.
  • Video games have the most obnoxious ads you can imagine. A big hairy monster is ready to jump out of the screen and kill you and eat you RIGHT THIS SECOND. You are not quite human if these life-threatening moving pictures don’t upset you for at least a fleeting moment. You don’t have to be a gamer or know the first thing about computers to ask if there is a way to make these horrible images go away.

In short, we grossly underestimate the cost of the distractions that online ads pose. There are thousands of ads. In a day, the number of online ad placements you see can exceed the number of words you hear spoken to you. The degree of distraction that results is costly, but the potential for distraction is enormous. Billions of dollars are spent on basic research into making advertising more “effective,” which effectively means more distracting. Gamers are the canary in the coal mine, reacting first just because they are more sensitive to this issue. We all will have to react within the next few years to save our sanity. Ad blocking is one approach individuals might take. Avoiding computers, video screens, and the Internet is another.