Video games have a funny relationship with sex. Mainstream "mature" games, like The Witcher 3 and BioWare's stable of Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles, take great pleasure and put a great emphasis on their indelicate-but-charming romantic subplots with a variety of potential in-game partners. They love having you pursue your co-stars and unlocking steamy cutscenes the developers have stowed away, and we—at least, judging from the fan art—love trying to seduce our partner of choice and buying into the sexual fantasy these games provide, however limited.
Outside of these big-budget romances, and a few more niche porn games, gaming culture tends to be quite coy about sex, reveling in fun listicles and giggly discussion. It tends toward the adolescent. But while it might seem like options for a lust-driven gaming experience are limited, there is a swiftly growing third option: the thriving world of crowdfunded adult visual novel and adventure games.
As of this writing, six of the top 50 most funded accounts on crowdfunding subscription service Patreon are NSFW game and game porn creators. To put that in context, these developers and artists share that list with writer/musician Amanda Palmer and several well-known YouTubers such as CGPGrey and KindaFunnyGames. Videogame porn is hardly novel—we've all seen some creative fanart—but these teams are cultivating a large community which is actively funding their work to the sum of tens of thousands of dollars.
"We never expected the support we are receiving," Knot Games, the makers of Elana, Champion of Lust told me via email. "Of course we dreamt about it, almost joking around between us, but our expectations were of earning some money to support the project and to be able to gradually engage in each other which way to expand."
Knot are a team of two, a programmer and an artist, working out of Barcelona, Spain. They're currently using Patreon to fund the ongoing development of Elana, their first proper game, which started early last year. After posting on developer forums to get early feedback and tips, they hit the ground running and have since begun earning over $8,000 a month from patrons.
Elana is an adult adventure RPG built around sex and lust. Players control Elana, a fairy with powers of lust and passion, whose mission is to restore the sex-drive of an entire fantasy island. Using familiar adventure game and RPG mechanics, the aim is to travel and teach various fantastical creatures and NPCs to have passionate sex again, all realized with a simple anime-esque aesthetic.
Elana is largely what you'd expect from a lo-fi adult production: lots of nudity, unsubtle dialogue and a general lack of polish. But the game is a legitimate fantasy, with appreciable mechanical depth for the genre and a still-expanding wealth of lore. There's an actual story to the game, which is currently on chapter 2 of a planned trilogy. Sure, it's an "adult" game, but it lies far from the stereotype, its developers clearly have sincere, aspirational intentions for the form.
But while the game's popularity challenges the idea that "nobody watches porn for the story," not every player enjoys such a robust experience with their titillation either. Some just want a basic mechanical interface. "There are people who are in it for the story, others are in it for the art and animations," Knot replies on what makes a good adult game. "But I think that in this type of project, variety and decision-making capabilities by the player are most appreciated."
To some, Elana is overlong or even boring. Many people are simply looking for, as Knot put it, a "simpler product," something that's still a game, but much more straight-forward—like a visual novel. Adult visual novels are just like regular visual novels, like Hatoful Boyfriend, except the dialog exchanges eventually lead to sex. They build tension through basic interaction and allow players to pick the characters they'd like to see get it on. The format is easy to follow and the games can be turned out reasonably quickly.
Of the adult game devs on the Patreon top fifty list, Fenoxo Fenfen currently has over 4,500 backers contributing over $25,000 monthly. The rest sit at a little over 2,000 backers each. The community is steady and dedicated, if you can get their attention.
For such a large audience though, it's hard to tell what's actually popular and what isn't, outside of the Patreon chart. Posts on NSFW gaming subreddits and forums are barely commented on, and though the tone is light and welcoming, the community don't seem to actually commune all that much. Some folks, understandably, prefer privacy around their adult gaming habits. There's still a stigma about sex and games in the wider culture.
Though, little by little, awareness has been getting out there, thanks to the rise of retail sites like Nutaku and MangaGamer (which specialize in porn games), along with emerging media outlets like Lewd Gamer.
For this piece I had contacted another two popular adult devs for interview, and both ultimately gave me a polite no, citing concerns over "scandalized" coverage. And to be honest, I understood entirely—this feature, as far as they're concerned, could've easily been punching down on a subculture.
I asked Knot about this and whether they held any insight one way or the other. They said it involves several issues, but it's the overarching issue of sex as a taboo that's the problem. "Society is still uneasy with these issues and especially in regard to games, which is something fairly new," they wrote. "Things will change over time and it will be accepted as mere entertainment or simple works of fiction, but I doubt this will happen soon."
The sheer dollars that these games attract in crowdfunding means that more attention is inevitable, both positive and negative. These are games that couldn't have existed ten years ago, or if they did, would have been in much more limited capacity. Creators and their audiences can now engage in a very fruitful co-celebration of sex, whether you're playing for the story or just the kicks—there's no need to be shy, there's plenty to choose from.