Game on: Ad Agency

J. Blake Harris is an artist, programmer and creative director living in Dallas, Texas. We found out more about how he created the iOS game ‘Ad Agency’.
Ad Agency game created by J. Blake Harris

So, you want to run your own ad agency? Now’s your chance—and you can do it all from the convenience of your phone!

Running an agency is pretty simple: you won’t make any money without projects. You won’t get those without clients. And you won’t have clients until you hire an accounts team.

Add other workers to complete the projects and get paid—otherwise, the work is turned away. Each department will require a new floor of your building, and your rent will increase.

A typical worker can only handle a few projects at a time, so keep your departments well-staffed. If your agency becomes a sweatshop, don’t be surprised if your workers resign.

Who doesn’t like to shop? Look for the swag bag and fit your office with conveniences and technology to make your business run smoother. Just keep an eye on your pocketbook—if you can’t pay your rent, your agency will be shuttered.

Encourage your staff to work faster and juggle more projects with a steady supply of coffee, donuts, and other conveniences. Make sure to keep them stocked.

Other purchases can make running your agency easier. A timecard machine can help you keep your staffing under control. A video phone will give you more insight into what your employees and clients are thinking.

If the rat race brings you down, twist fate with the mechanical fortune teller. But be warned: the outlook isn’t always rosy.

Ad Agency game by J. Blake Harris

An advertising industry stalwart, J. Blake Harris had always assumed that programming was just cold hard maths. Then he gave it a try, and to his surprise found it incredibly creative. After learning JavaScript and other languages that designers are often required to understand, he found himself wanting more coding experience…

Around 10 years ago, J. Blake started creating his iOS game ‘Ad Agency’. It began as a joke, a crudely written JavaScript he wrote in 15 minutes during a very long, unproductive meeting at the ad agency he was with at the time. He sent the link to colleagues in the meeting, and they took it in turns trying to beat each other’s score. The objective was to keep the client happy in spite of many ridiculous challenges, which was appropriate given the particular meeting the game was conceived in.

For J. Blake, it seemed like the perfect foundation to use when he wanted to start learning to code for iOS, although the initial release was ‘embarrassingly awful’ and he states that he now doesn’t know why he thought it was a good idea to release it on the App Store, or how it was approved by Apple. When Swift was introduced, J. Blake saw an opportunity to revisit the game, and this time he set out to make it something that he could be proud of.

The current iteration of the game on the App Store took J. Blake a year’s worth of nights and weekends to create, and his focus was making the maths work in an authentic way.

You can feel the influence of the SimCity genre in the strategic gameplay of ‘Ad Agency’. J. Blake’s experiences of the advertising industry are also felt, his exposure to the kind of catastrophes that can happen when bad decisions are made are an integral part of the game.

“The only games I was really attracted to growing up were of the SimCity genre, where your decisions determine the outcome of a city, tower or business of some kind.”

So, what have been the challenges for a creative turned games developer? Unsurprisingly, J. Blake found the visual aspects of the game creation the easy part, but the time it took to learn to code was a challenge. The biggest challenge though, was sorting out the game strategy, “making it interesting for more than a few minutes.”

Even though the visual aspect was one of the fun parts for J. Blake, there was still a lot to consider in the creations of the games assets. “Creative assets for a game can be nightmarish considering the number of devices and screen resolutions that exist—each graphic must be reviewed, resized, and sometimes redesigned.”

“Creative assets for a game can be nightmarish considering the number of devices and screen resolutions that exist—each graphic must be reviewed, resized, and sometimes redesigned.”

J. Blake found that Affinity Designer was the right tool for the job—“The art boards in Designer are light years ahead of what anyone else has done—exporting all the parts in the right sizes and formats couldn’t be easier.”

Sketch of a video phone for the game, Ad Agency by J. Blake Harris

“The game required lots of illustration, and while I initially tried all kinds of desktop and tablet-based software, I ultimately came back to Designer for illustration as well. The level of control I wanted doesn’t really exist in other programs, and even precise controls are very intuitive in Designer. This was really helpful as I found myself repeatedly adjusting and fine-tuning the graphics.”

What part of the game is he most proud of? “Since my career is graphic design, I have to say I am proud that I was able to create it at all!”

What’s next for J. Blake Harris? Having left the advertising industry in 2011, he is currently building the creative team at Health Union, a company J. Blake is very proud to be a part of, he says ‘our work here is very forward-thinking, and I really love the company, what we’ve created and what we stand for.’

Having found programming ‘addictive’, J. Blake still intends to use his quiet time to hone his coding skills. In fact, having found the audience for ‘Ad Agency’ to be to be limited to those who work in the advertising industry, J. Blake is using the game as a foundation for a new game with a wider appeal. ‘Metro Tower’ is currently in development, a loving ode to retro gaming with the same ‘Sims’ like approach. We look forward to playing it, and perhaps having better luck than going continuously bust in ‘Ad Agency’!

New game coming soon by J. Blake Harris

‘Ad Agency’ is currently available on the iOS App Store. Stay tuned for the release of ‘Metro Tower’ at J. Blake Harris’ website.


Artist relations
Amy is part of our artist relations team here at Serif. Amy loves going for walks with her little boy and going to the gym, which she offsets by drinking tea and eating biscuits. Get in touch with Amy if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, she always loves getting great creative work in her inbox, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.
Credits & Footnotes

All images/videos © J. Blake Harris.