Indie developers and gaming sites: stop breaking the web

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been looking at a lot of independent developers’ websites. It’s quite surprising how many of them go out of their way to make their site unusable – clearly thinking that they’re achieving the opposite. But also, today, Wikipedia started actively doing a very minor (but no less irritating) content-block on mobile users. And last week, I found one of the main games-news sites is also actively *hard*-blocking mobile users.

This was annoying (and stupid!) 5 years ago, when sites added the “smartphones” to their content-blocking, even though smartphones could (and happily would) render full-fat webpages perfectly (tabbed browsing worked fine in Opera on Windows Mobile back in 2005 – I used it a lot).

Now, with the iPhone added to the list of clients that these sites are blocking, it’s a bit worse: Apple won’t allow you to purchase any web browser other than their version of Safari, and Safari won’t allow you to lie to the website and tell it you’re not using a cell phone (this was the standard workaround on windows mobile/opera for stupid web design teams: tell Opera to claim your cell phone was a Windows desktop). The iPhone, with a better quality web-browser than many desktops currently run? That’s just insane…

Wikipedia: mobile users, go away

Until/unless they decide to fix it, it’s now too much hassle to read WP pages unless I do it on my laptop. Since I’ve probably just followed a link from google, that would mean emailing myself the link from my iPhone, and going to WP via my desktop. More wasted time. I’ll just stop using wikipedia, thanks.

So far this morning I haven’t been able to access WP short of manually changing the URL to go to a country-specific Wikipedia mirror, switching to a “slow” (non-broadband) internet connection, reloading the page, and hitting the stop button before they redirect me to a “cut down” version, and no link to escape from it. There’s a link for you to “comment” on the new “feature”; my commentary would have been unprintable, so I declined.

Gamespot: we don’t want money, money is for wimps

The other week I noticed that Gamespot – one of the big ad-driven news + reviews/cheats/etc websites for games – is still locking-out all mobile users. That’s probably a fairly substantial load of ad revenue they are literally throwing away every day.

The web, HTTP, and HTML…

Why do people do this? I don’t know. But here’s a few points you should bear in mind:

  • No website should ever block content based on the user’s device
  • No website should ever have a flash-only front page
  • Since the very first versions of HTTP and HTML in the mid-1990’s, the web has been designed to avoid these problems; this shouldn’t be happening

Content Blocking

Gamespot checks your web browser when you fetch any article, review, etc. If it finds you’re coming from an iPhone, then it refuses to let you view the content. Instead, it serves up a custom “news page” that is identical no matter which link you came in on. There is no way for you to see the actual content you tried to view – literally: they do an auto-redirect that wipes it from the URL.

I can see no reason for this other than the bizarre assumption that an iPhone was launched 10 years ago with a tiny black-and-white screen and an inability to scroll and render web pages. I would love to ask the Gamespot web design team: have you ever seen an iPhone? You do realise it has a better web browser than most desktop PCs, yes? So … why are you manually blocking them from your website?

Amazon has for a long time done a similar thing with any mobile device (again, sadly, the stupid bit is that they apply it to devices where it’s completely unnecessary) – except that Amazon has three essential features which Gamespot lacks.

Firstly, they do actually show you some of the content you were trying to view (not all of it. ARGH!)

Secondly, there’s always a link on the page to view the real version of the page. If you click that, it gives you a warning something like: “YOUR MOBILE PHONE MAY NOT RENDER THIS PAGE … ARE YOU SURE!!!!????!”. Of course, this is somewhat inappropritate when applied to most smartphones, especially iPhones. But hey – at least the option is there.

Finally, they have a link something along the lines of: “Do you want to permanently stop seeing the broken, cut-down version of pages on amazon.com? You can re-enable them whenever you want”.

Irritating, patronising, and foolish (the default should be “view the website normally”, not “don’t view the website”) – but at least you only have to fix it once, and you never again get problems. Gamespot et al offer no such option – they just block you, dead.

Flash-only front pages

About 50% of indie studios have decided to put a massive flash on their front page, most of them with *no* link to “skip intro” or “go to website” or any kind of navbar. About 50% of them (in my sampling over the past few weeks) have made that flash NON clickable: you cannot (you are “not allowed to” ?) view the “real” website until the flash has loaded, you have seen the self-promoting advert for the studio embedded in it, and clicked some internal link at the end. This was foolish, unnecessarily slow, and contrary to the spirit and standards that drive the web even 10 years ago when it first started happening.

Games industry companies please take note:

The 1990’s phoned – they want their web-designers back.

(real web companies don’t do this kind of thing any more)

But now, with the iphone, it’s particularly dumb: it is de-facto content blocking – because the iPhone cannot / will not run Flash. If the Flash is clickable, you can at least (if you know what the studio did – which many people won’t guess) access the site anyway. I’m amazed how many sites don’t even give you that small fillip.

If this post persuades JUST ONE web designer, somewhere, to wake up and smell the roses, and spares us yet another self-blocked website, then I shall be happy.

Of course, maybe I should be grateful that we’re even this far “ahead” … I heard from someone the other day that he still has to explain to web design teams that websites don’t need to be hardcoded for rendering at 800×600 any more (i.e. that – OMGWTFBBQ! – everyone has rather larger desktop screen resolutions than that these days; or else so much smaller that hardcoding to 800×600 isn’t going to help at all).

10 thoughts on “Indie developers and gaming sites: stop breaking the web

  1. CaesarsGhost

    ..but..but..but.. flash is the de-facto of web!

    I can’t tell you how many job interviews I’ve sat down to talk and it’s basically a Flash Sweatshop. I even chatted with a man making a full on game engine, who’s scripting was ActiveScript… specifically because “so many people know it”.

    As for standard websites?
    I, personally, think they’re looking for a kickback. They realize that many people with iPhones have actually given up using their regular computers… and JUST use the iPhone (I know at least a dozen people who use theirs exclusively, one friend wrote her senior thesis on hers). By blocking content from this extremely controlled device, they can demand a little money from the maker and service provider.

    Much the same as you see Bandwidth Caps ignored for certain “Partnering” Websites/Services. ESPN360 is a grand example of how to squeeze a little cash from people who appear to have it.

  2. Jason

    I hate how so many blogs still use that little narrow single column strip of text. It just looks so odd when I view it on… well, on any computer, because as you say, 800×600 is pretty much a thing of the past.

  3. Andrew Crystall

    No website should ever block content based on the user’s device /or browser/.

    No, I am not going to go on a crusade to convince my friend I’m showing your games-related page that he needs to change from IE8 to Firefox.

  4. adam Post author

    LOL, yes. Guilty. I have never been reliably able to get CSS to consistently render non-fixed-width pages properly without using javascript tricks, so I’ve given up and waiting (hoping) that CSS 3 or 4 might finally make it easier…

    EDIT: just to be clear: A) I’m sure there’s a way, just my fault: I never manage to do it properly, and B) this was a “solved” problem in 1990-something, with HTML 4 and framesets – but sadly the CSS spec people decided to dump the simple, easy to use syntax for fixed+relative+mixed layout areas. I keep hoping it (the easy syntax) will return … one day!

  5. adam Post author

    @Eric

    Love it. I’d like to think that that was Dell … I suffered at the hands of their lazy / stupid “we only write HTML for Internet Explorer; all other browsers are forceably banned from our public websites” for too many years…

  6. Matthew Weigel

    Regarding 800×600… Plenty of netbooks have gone back to resolutions like 800×480, and they are EXPLICITLY for web-surfing, so supporting an 800-pixel-wide screen is probably a good idea.

  7. nugget

    :( It’s not always the web designers’ fault, that horrible, stupid, arghghghgghgh SKIP INTRO … front page (and general misuse of Flash).

    Sometimes, clients just want the darn things, and cannot be talked out of it.

    I recently worked on a project for a photography studio, where they originally wanted Flash. I managed to talk them out of it, because I pointed out that the nifty (and simple) animations and functions they wanted for their site could be done via javascript. I also mentioned that it would mean their specific pieces of work would be bookmarkable, updates would be easier (just replacements of images), and the site would be fast.

    And so, a nice, modular, deeplinkable, fast-loading photo gallery site was built. Yay right? YAY!

    And then did the client declare that they wished music to highlight their leetness, and demanded that we put up a 20mb mp3 for ‘ambience’. -_-

    …and no, I/we (company), have yet to successfully talk them out of this. Yet. >.<

  8. AMCerasoli

    My tiny laptop has a resolution of 1024X600, For that reason I always create my non-dynamic websites with a width resolution of 1001 pixels. But 800 pixels is too much… I wouldn’t never base my website on that resolution. If you’re seeing my website with an smaller screen… Well… Just resize the entire site as the iPhone uses to do.

    I also hate the stupid Flash presentations, which are so 2002 when people were all exited about it. Now you can do the same using the canvas tag, I have to admit that I have seem some performance issues, thought.

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