Robert Mann is the Creative Director at adult game publisher Nutaku.net.
What does your company do?
Nutaku is a publisher for premium adult games, many of which are created by Japanese game developers. We provide translation and hosting services, as well as helping with culturalization. In Japan, the majority of PC gaming is done through web portals, so all of the games we bring over are available online.
Recently, we’ve also begun to reach out to small North American developers interested in creating adult games.
What is the current state of the adult gaming industry?
In North America, it’s non-existent. If you want to play a serious game with adult content, your only option is exploring the modding communities around RPGs such as Skyrim or Dragon Age. These mods are often very high quality, with millions of downloads and a dedicated fanbase, but the time and complexity of installation means that most players will never experience them. It does prove, however, that the audience for adult material is there – companies are just failing to deliver.
On the other side of the coin, what we’re seeing now is mainstream companies getting less shy about including “romance” plotlines – the Mass Effect games are a good example of that, where you’re working to complete quests and unlock sex scenes with various human and non-human members of your crew. The screen still fades to black at about the same time as you’d expect if you were watching a movie from the 1950s, but a quick look through their forums will show you how immensely popular this content is. CD Projekt’s The Witcher is also a series with a lot of great, sexy material – and it’s no surprise that it came from a European studio, and proved such a hit.
What was the first ‘adult’ game you ever played?
I was a big fan of the Baldur’s Gate series, and I quickly got involved in the modding community’s attempt to ‘expand the storyline’. The quality of work ranged from abysmal Mary-Sue productions to stuff that was actually pretty good – and I also noticed that there was a tendency among fans to make the game extremely explicit. Interestingly, the development teams for several of the most popular mods were almost entirely women.
Why is there so much angst directed towards games with sexual content?
Games, like graphic novels in the 1950s, are one of the most heavily censored mediums of entertainment because of two ‘big lies’ – one, that they’re for children, and two, that seeing something portrayed in a game will make you want to do it. The reason we’ve begun the Nutaku project with importing and localizing Japanese games is because it’s one of the few countries in the world that has a gaming industry doesn’t operate under the burden of these assumptions; they’ve got popular, sexy games that are ready to ship. Unfortunately, PC gaming for them happens mostly on the web, which is taken somewhat less seriously by North American audiences despite the increasingly robust capabilities of platforms such as Unity.
What makes video games with sexual content so appealing?
They’re appealing for the same reason you want watch a movie with a sex scene, or read a book with a ‘romance’ plotline. It’s a part of the human experience, and a story that omits these elements seems far stranger than one that includes them. We’ve had games with implicitly sexual themes since the beginning of the industry – it’s why you’re rescuing Zelda from Ganondorf or busting Princess Peach out of Bowser’s castle. Love (and the sex that’s implied to go along with it) is a great motivator for gameplay.
Do you see the adult genre as a way for small developers to really make their mark?
Yes and no. Most major distribution channels will still be closed to indy devs who want to include anything too erotic in their games – we saw that recently on Steam with the hit graphic novel Everlasting Summer, which despite being greenlit and receiving thousands of positive reviews, was still forced to disable any content above PG-13. Part of the Nutaku project is going to be giving people who make those sort of games an opportunity to publish without worrying about some corporate censor breathing down their necks.
Importantly, we don’t want to pioneer an “adult genre”, which is often just another way of putting sexual content into a ghetto. We want to help people make games that can stand on their own merit, without having to worry about whether consensual sexual themes will cross certain ill-defined boundaries of respectability. To trot out an old argument, it’s absurd that I can hack off a bandit’s head with a greatsword, but can’t get oral sex from an elf as a quest reward. We want to change that.
You mentioned that you were surprised that so many adult mod creators were women. How do you think female gamers will react to this new influx of adult games?
I think that there are a number of people who make a good living off finding these games problematic. But there are also female gamers who love playing through romance storylines and enjoy it when the plot gets erotic – it’s fun to have a sexual element in the conclusion of a quest, as it often feels much more fleshed out and interesting than the sex you see in porn. Context is sexy, and I think our audiences will appreciate that.
Will there be any female protagonists?
Yes, undoubtedly. Our numbers show that men don’t have any problem playing women in adult games. Make of that what you will.
Thanks for your time.