Adobe Plug-ins in 2017: A Tale of Five Browsers (on two operating systems)


Ian here—

Some of this material used to be over in the “Practical Pedagogical Notes on Games” section of the site. I’ve decided to migrate it to a blog post, however, for logistical reasons.

It’s an HTML5 world out there. The plug-ins that used to define the landscape of the internet—Flash, in particular—are a dying breed.

If those previous two sentences don’t mean anything to do: Congratulations! You are like most people. This guide is for you. It is a practical, logistical resource to take a peek at when a browser-based game doesn’t work.

Adobe Flash

For years, Adobe Flash was the undisputed king of online, browser-based gaming. Newgrounds and Kongregate built empires off of the platform. But those days are dying.

In December 2016, Google released Chrome version 55. For the first time in the browser’s history, Flash is disabled on most sites by default. As a practical matter, Flash has been waning in favor of HTML5 for years now. But this decision on Google’s part—while completely understandable from the standpoint of security—has introduced headaches for students who use Chrome as their primary browser when it comes to some games I frequently assign for classes. Mozilla, too, has made moves to make Flash “click-to-enable” in Firefox, and may soon go Google’s route of disabling it by default. Across the board, browsers are moving toward a “suspicion-by-default” attitude towards embedded Flash objects.

Here are some browser-based games built in Flash, which I have assigned for students, and sometimes talked about on this very blog:

Try clicking on any of those links. Did the game load? If not, then follow these steps.

Adobe Flash in Chrome

Open up your Preferences/Settings menu. (This is called “Preferences” on a Mac, and “Settings” on a Windows machine. You get to it a little bit differently in each operating system’s UI, but the menu is the same either way.) At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see a little link that says “Show advanced settings…” Click on that.


The section you’re looking for in the advanced settings is called “Privacy.” Right at the top, you’ll see a button that says “content settings.” Click on that.


A new window will pop up, showing settings for many different types of web content. Scroll down until you see “Flash.” There are several options you can set this to. In theory, “Ask first before allowing sites to run Flash” should provide the best balance of security and usability. However, I have found that sometimes when this option is checked, Flash content simply does not load, and Chrome does not do a good job of asking your permission to run Flash. The site just looks broken. For the purposes of teaching, then, my advice for students is to change this setting to the blanket “Allow sites to run Flash.”


Adobe Flash in Firefox

On the top of the screen, toward the right, you’ll see a icon that looks like a stack of horizontal lines. That’s your settings/preferences button. Click on it, and then click on the puzzle-piece icon that says “Add-ons.”


Under the add-ons manager, there is a specific section, indicated by what looks like a purple Lego brick, devoted to plug-ins. This is where you want to be. Flash here is referred to as “Shockwave Flash.” There is a drop-down menu here. The options are similar to Chrome: “Never Activate,” “Ask to Activate,” and “Always Activate.” Again, if students are having trouble, my go-to advice is just to select “Always Activate.”


Adobe Flash in Safari

To my knowledge, Flash is enabled by default in both Edge and Safari, if you are using these browsers you’re less likely to have Flash-related headaches. Still, though: due diligence.

In Safari, you’re going to want to first hit “Preferences” in your main menu at the top. This will open up a box with several options. Hit the lock icon to go to “Security.” Here, make sure that the box is clicked to enable internet plug-ins in general. Then hit the “Plug-in Settings” box.


You will see some familiar options in the drop-down box for Adobe Flash Player: “Off,” “Ask,” and “On.” In Safari, though, you can set these settings individually for web pages, or globally for the entire internet. (See the button at the bottom righthand corner of the box to toggle between these options globally.)


Adobe Flash in Edge

Edge is similar to Chrome, but a bit simpler. First, hit the icon that looks like an ellipses in the upper righthand corner of the screen. Hit Settings at the bottom of the meu that drops down.


As in Chrome, you are going to want to hit the button that says “View Advanced Settings.”


Unlike all the other browsers we’ve looked at, Edge doesn’t have a “click to enable” setting. Its “Use Adobe Flash Player” options consist of a simple toggle switch, with “On” and “Off” modes. Obviously, we’re going to want to set it to “On.”



Adobe … Shockwave???

Remember how Firefox referred to Adobe Flash as “Shockwave Flash”? That term is a bit archaic. Flash was originally created to up-end the dominance of Macromedia Shockwave, an older web multimedia plug-in. The name “Shockwave Flash” was meant to ease the transition between these plug-in standards, with the plug-in changing to the name “Flash” as a way of signaling that it had fully superseded Shockwave.

Flash has, at this point, completely superseded Shockwave, and is the midst of being itself superseded by HTML5, as browser plug-ins gradually go the way of the dinosaur. There are, though, a few classic browser-based games that were created in Shockwave, and have never been updated to Flash (let alone HTML5).

The obstacles to running Shockwave are more considerable to those running Flash. Although Adobe continues to update Shockwave Player (as of this writing, it is currently on version, the security trade-offs associated with it have been considered too great a risk for many modern browsers. As a result, Adobe Shockwave Player is just straight-up not compatible with Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge. This means you really only have two options for running Shockwave content: Safari, on mac OS, and Internet Explorer, on Windows.

So, first off: The only games I assign to students that require Shockwave to run are two early-2000s works by Gonzalo Frasca. They are:

Alright, so, there’s no point in trying those links in any browsers but Explorer and Safari. Are you getting anything? If not, here’s how to troubleshoot.

First, be aware that your browser might not even be equipped with the Shockwave Player plug-in at all. You can get it here.

Next, make sure that it isn’t blocked. In Safari, do that by once again going to “Preferences,” then to “Security,” and “Plug-in Settings” box.


We’ve seen this box before, but this time look to the list on the left, and choose “Adobe Shockwave Player.” Given Shockwave Player’s ancient age and well-documented security flaws, I would recommend only green-lighting the necessary sites, as I have done here.


Next up: Microsoft Internet Explorer. I didn’t even bother including this in my Flash section above, because really, in 2017, you just shouldn’t be using it. Edge is Microsoft’s own successor to the Explorer crown. But, sometimes, old games require old plug-ins, and old plug-ins require old browsers.

Click on the gear icon in the upper righthand corner to go to your Settings. In the resulting drop-down menu, click on Manage add-ons.


Unter “Toolbars and Extensions,” make sure that Shockwave is enabled. As you see here, Microsoft is a little bit more fussy in how it handles and names things than Apple is with Safari, but you can still pretty much tell at a glance if it’s on or not.


That’s all, for now. I was planning to also add a section on the Unity Web Player here, but it turns out that one of my favorite games to assign to students that runs in that is no longer online. Drat. In any case, I have a less pressing need to create a troubleshooting document for that.

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