We’ve wanted to write an article about the challenges of bringing adult games to the market for a long time, and as we enter the brief lull between the release of Kanpani Girls Bonjour Edition and the debut of the downloadable store, there’s clearly no time like the present.
Without further ado: Why has it taken adult games so long to get off the ground in the west? And why has a genre that is so popular in Japan failed to bloom in North America?
We’ll start with the simple premise that, regardless of what you may have read on the blogs of certain gaming pundits, people who play video games enjoy sexual content. They enjoy it so much, in fact, that they’re clamoring to see more of it - particularly well-written sex scenes animated with professional care. We can make this claim based on three trends:
If the players want sex in gaming as badly as the examples above demonstrate, it should be everywhere. Not just the PG-13 teasers found in games like Mass Effect, but full-blown Caligula-esque action. The stumbling block isn’t demand; it’s distribution... and there are two major barriers preventing current game distribution channels from working as they should.
The first problem is the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), an industry-run censor created in an era when satanic cults and Dungeons & Dragons were both seen as serious threats to society. The illegitimate stepchild of the film industry’s widely-loathed rating system, the ESRB was created with the intent of allowing the gaming industry to regulate itself rather than be subject to official government censorship. That may have been a reasonable enough goal - but like an evil spirit escaping the bindings of the sorcerer who summoned it, the ESRB would come to haunt its creators when its approval became essential to the distribution of games anywhere. Without the greenlight from this “family-friendly” body, retailers would avoid stocking your game, meaning that before the era of the internet potential consumers would never even learn of its existence.
The second barrier to distribution is the anti-adult pact between banks and credit card companies that handle transactions on the site. The power of these entities cannot be overstated: they are the gatekeepers of what content can be sold in North America in Europe, and laws regarding freedom of speech mean very little to them. The origin of these companies’ adult content policies pre-dates PC gaming, though they have been “encouraged” to aggressively target porn content by the US government in ways that were later deemed illegal.
To date, there are a few workarounds for those of us hell-bent on selling adult games despite the many barriers:
Make it and sell it in Japan. The strangely liberal Japanese views on sexy gaming means that the country has become a mecca for quality porn games. There is no Japanese equivalent of an ESRB and their banks’ code of ethics, while still strong, are blind when it comes to sexual content. That said, the vast majority of Japanese gaming is done on consoles (which still have tight content restrictions), so PC users will mostly be restricted to addictive adult web games and sexy visual novels for the foreseeable future.
Patch the sex in later. A workaround for getting your product on Steam, this loophole of releasing a game with a zero-day patch restoring the adult content is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge system that seems to be functional for now. It’s allowed a very few adult games to be very successful, but it also shapes development quite negatively: you’ll never market a game where sex as an integral part of the storyline.
Crowdfund it on Patreon. We love Patreon and we’re big fans of the opportunities it gives to indy adult devs. However, we also recognize that funding unfinished projects is the sort of burden that only the most dedicated fans are willing to invest themselves in. It also, unfortunately, encourages lengthy development cycles and endless beta periods.
Nutaku’s upcoming store is a means of circumventing these problems. We specialize in adult games and can’t be held hostage by the ESRB or advertisers. We also work through the same payment processors used by adult giants such as PornHub or Brazzers, meaning that we can push the envelope on content as far as possible without running afoul of crippling fines.
The adult store and downloadable client are ultimately aimed at doing more than just selling downloadable games: their creation will be a step toward unchaining the potential of the adult gaming market in a systemic way. When the demand is demonstrated and the distribution chain assured, we anticipate a wave of adult game development as small developers rush to fill this valuable and almost comically under-served niche. While Patreon and Steam have opened the door a crack for this industry, our desire is to blow it wide open.
All the best,
The Nutaku Team