Games with sexual, adult content are as old as the erect, pixelated penis in Custer's Revenge, which released on the Atari 2600 in 1982, but they've always been hard to distribute. The problem is that games have historically been marketed to boys, while porn is marketed to men.
This divide understandably prompts console makers like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, and digital distribution platforms like Steam, to ban sexually explicit content. They're places for games, not porn. The result of this divide is that the few developers that make adult games are fragmented across a number of lesser-known sites and services, where they can host and sell their content.
Nutaku, a popular site that hosts anime porn (hentai) games, hopes to bring these developers out of the shadows and create a new paradigm with what it describes as the Steam of porn games.
Last week, Nutaku got closer to this goal by acquiring Kimochi, a client for buying and playing adult games, much like Steam. Launched in 2015 by a team of eight developers, Kimochi is slick and easy to use, but never got enough content and users to get off the ground. Nutaku, on the other hand, has 50 employees and gets around 14 million visitors every month, but still mostly hosts browser games it licenses and localizes from Japanese developers.
Nutaku's plan is to integrate its catalogue with Kimochi's technology to create the definitive home for adult games.
"We've made no secret that our ambition is to become the Steam of adult gaming," Nutaku said when it announced the news. "Despite the successes of the past year, that objective has always seemed very far away. Now, between the explosion of downloadable game sales and the acquisition of a slick new client, those goals are on the verge of being realized."
Robert Mann, communications manager for Nutaku, told me the response has been overwhelming, with a spike of 20,000 users registering new Kimochi accounts since the news was announced on July 21.
"Right now the problem is most people can't sell these games through digital distribution," Mann told me over a Skype call. "Sometimes they're made almost like back in the 90s, as freeware and shareware games that then ask for donations."
Another popular solution for selling these games today is Patreon, where users can donate to creators via a monthly payment. We wrote about a project like this, Yandere Simulator, (though it wasn't quite pornographic) last year. As long as donations keep coming in, the developer keeps updating and improving the game.
But Patreon isn't a great solution for adult games either. While the company has made some progress on this front recently by allowing adult content creators to charge for their work, it still tries to hide their existence. For example, users won't find the adult game Malise and the Machine featured anywhere on the site, even if they use Patreon's search bar. They'll have to use either a direct link or Google search. Patreon will take a cut of the money, but it doesn't want to promote the content that brings it in.
Steam, which with 125 million accounts is the largest PC game distributor by far, has content restrictions that forbid adult games, but it's big enough that adult game creators are willing to compromise. Creators will censor their own game so it won't get kicked off the store, then offer a patch on another site that restores the pronographic content, though there's no good way to communicate to players that this patch exists.
Nutaku's hopes that bringing all these creators under one roof, where their content can be distributed without such restrictions, will help the adult games industry grow. With the Kimochi client, Nutaku will offer developers hosting, optional DRM, payment processing, and advertising. Nutaku takes a 30 percent cut of sales, developers take 60, and 10 percent goes to the higher payment processing costs associated with adult content.
"We want it to become as popular here and there is no reason why it shouldn't be."
"Anywhere that people are talking about this, anyone who's typed in 'hentai' to a site like Pornhub, you're going to see our ads all over," Mann told me. "They'll see our ads anywhere people are talking about anime or adult gaming, XXX gaming—our viewers are very highly targeted."
More importantly, in order to grow the adult gaming scene in the West, Nutaku has launched a $2 million fund that will invest in promising projects. So far, more than 50 teams working on adult games have applied for funding.
"We're not only looking to grow the market," Mann said. "We're investing in the most promising adult projects in the West. In Japan, the adult industry is already very mature. It's probably a billion dollar industry. We want it to become as popular here and there is no reason why it shouldn't be."
Mann told me that he imagines a future where the Western games industry isn't as prudish about adult games. Think about The Witcher 3, where the player can pursue a romance and eventually have sex with one of the characters. Nutaku's vision is that players will have have that same kind of game, only they get to see the end of that story, including an explicit sex scene, instead of just cutting away.
In an ideal world, he told me, every game that will be distributed through Kimochi would also be distributed through Steam. This, of course, would mean that Kimochi's only distinguishing feature will be rendered moot by the biggest business in the digital game distribution business.
But Mann isn't worried.
"On a personal level, one of the reasons why we started this is that everyone who works here believed in uncensored gaming," he said. "Our gamble is that a complete change to their policy is not in the cards for GOG with Steam. Even if there was a change in the policy, we still have the advantage."