I find myself (Chris) dealing with an ethical dilemma here at Soma Games as we get ready to launch Wind Up Robots. Should we include ads in the game as a way to help pay for the development costs – and hopefully keep Soma Games in business long enough to make another game or two?

On the one hand is the reality that the app marketplace expects rock bottom prices ranging from free to maybe $2.99 for a slick tablet app. Very few companies without serious brand recognition can charge more. So that forces us to find creative ways to pay for this endeavor – ad revenue is a real possibility. And in a world where so many apps are consumed and tossed in 30 seconds, our generally story heavy games might play at a disadvantage. All that just to say that I really do see why it makes sense.

The problem is – I hate and resent advertisements.

I think I lost it the first I stepped into a bathroom stall at some restaurant to find an advertisement staring back at me saying I should go white water rafting. I am trying to performa very private human function and some idiot is trying to sell me something. Here? Really? And I suppose it went downhill from there. The content of the ads is one thing and despite that cute suicidal pig noted here I’m really not thinking about the ad content at all. What I’m bothered by is the seemingly unstoppable encroachment of ads into every possible piece of our world.

Let me also add to the conversation that fact that I am only resentful of advertisements when they actually penetrate my formidable defenses against them. Over the years the constant inundation has created a kind of visual and auditory callous where I totally tune out 99% of all ads as an autonomic self-defense mechanism. Ads in general have become meaningless background noise and I know I’m not alone in this. The few ads that do break through will occasionally amuse or interest me but most often I’m just ticked that I was interrupted by another freaking ad.

For the sake of clarity I don’t doubt that  at some level and in some way advertising “works” though anecdotal evidence suggests a rapidly diminishing portion of ads actually effect buyer behavior – regardless it’s beside my point. What I’m really thinking about, and what I am generally resentful of is the constant  noise. Whether they work or not they are everywhere and at all times and I for one am increasingly likely to assign negative emotions to the company who just polluted my mental green field. (begging a whole different discussion on permission marketing…but that would be digresing…again)

Soma Gams has done very little advertising – like almost none. For us it started as a simple economic necessity – we couldn’t afford it. Then things got busy but nobody is really thinking about that stuff and now a couple years have gone by and really still no advertising to speak of. Almost all of our ‘marketing’ would be characterized as ‘social’ or ‘branding.’ One of the main reasons or that, though it was accidental not deliberate, is the deep value we all hold for personal relationships. It’s not that I’d stop a stranger from buying a game but it doesn’t occur to me to go looking for strangers to buy our games. I don’t have any problem with a company tooting their horn and telling people what makes them good – I just resent that kind of anonymous, out-of-context, in-your-face stuff like the ad in the urinal.

So – back to my dilemma. If I find myself resenting ads why would I want to be part of the problem by propagating the same kind of thing in my product?
Is this really an ethical issue or am I just personally bent on this issue and no longer objective?
Maybe ad revenue is a necessary ‘evil’ that facilitates the greater ‘good’ of continuing to do this thing we love.
Maybe there’s a compromise somewhere in here since I’m not so much opposed to ads in general, just something we might call ‘pollution ads’ either by frequency or volume.

Going back to the title, I can imagine a world not too distant where shotgun vomit advertising has gone away simply because it doesn’t work. Where ad-avoiding tech like TiVo and Safari Reader reduce the clutter. Where more companies take after Pandora and turn ads off for a nominal fee – that feels pretty fair to me given that I also understand that we don’t operate in a bubble and we do have to pay the bills somehow.

I don’t know what we’ll wind up doing here but I’m open to suggestions.

PS: Here’s something I find interesting. I had the inspiration for this post driving home from the city the other day and the title seemed both clever and new. What I didn’t know was that there is apparently a not-at-all-new movement talking about this kind of thing already. I found this article on Q ideas just as I started to write this called “Toxic Culture”  and he links to other resources like AdBusters and stuff all the way back to the mid 1800s (!) – so as the saying goes there is nothing new under the sun. I can’t say I agree with the basic message I seem to get from AdBusters, namely a generalized anti-capitalist vibe but I find the idea of  ‘mental environmentalism’ pretty interesting.

Anyway, just so you all know that I know that I’m new to this thinking – it’s not new thinking.


  1. Good day! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I guess I should say that while the concept of “make something people are willing to pay for” is simple in complexity, the difficulty is very high!

    It’s hard enough to make a product that’s a videogame. 😛

  3. Several indie game developer friends of mine have sold their games at a flat $2.99 and were able to do well. I don’t think that’s out of the question.

    I think you just have to learn how to simply make a product that people are willing to pay for.

    All these tons of ad dollars can only exist because at some point, someone is willing to pay real money for something. And that is because a producer can make a product that’s worth actually buying.

    I think I’d rather learn how to become that producer myself instead of existing further and further down the line and giving that power away.

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