March 8, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Developers aim to lure women to adult games

SAN FRANCISCO--They might not think of it this way, but the designers of adult-oriented video games are a little bit like nightclub owners: they're always trying to figure out how to attract women as the ultimate lure for larger groups of male customers.

That dynamic was one of the major topics of discussion here Wednesday at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) during a roundtable on the business of sex in video games.

"Right now, the (adult video game) market targets mainly straight white guys," said Brenda Brathwaite, chair of the International Game Developers Association sex special interest group. "And straight white guys aren't the only ones having sex."

Indeed, the developers of several leading adult online games said that there are major design problems built into trying to please multiple market constituencies, and that as a result, they have tended to focus on the straight male market.

"Right now, the market targets mainly straight white guys. And straight white guys aren't the only ones having sex."
--Brenda Brathwaite
panel moderator

One of those design problems, said Noah Dudley, the producer of Naughty America, an online adult game that will launch later this year, is that women don't approach sex in games the same way men do.

"When we started, it was pretty much sex land," Dudley said. "You could have sex anywhere you wanted. Our marketing people said, 'We can't sell this to women.' So we cut way back on the sexual content. Now you can have sex pretty much in your apartment. This shows that it's a lot more appealing to women."

These days, the number of adult-oriented video games is growing, but they are overwhelmingly aimed at straight men. Among the titles on the market or expected soon are Playboy: The Mansion, the Leisure Suit Larry series, Virtually Jenna--which licenses porn star Jenna Jameson's likeness--Naughty America, RedLightCenter and a few others.

There are also the virtual worlds Second Life and World of Warcraft, which, while not overtly about sex, make it fairly easy for users to engage in sexual activity.

"If you see two avatars (lying) down (in World of Warcraft), they're not just tired," said Brathwaite, who moderated Wednesday's roundtable discussion.

There has even been a Sex in Video Games conference, which was held here last June.

But while the video game industry appears more ready than ever to take on adult content, it still is grappling with how to get women interested. And it's not just an altruistic or gender equality equation: marketers want women involved because women attract large numbers of male customers.

Brad Abram, the president of XStream3D, which publishes Virtually Jenna, said his game's user base is actually around 50 percent women. He said the company has achieved that by building in more story, albeit erotic story, into the game.

"We're evolving story like Penthouse Forum, and you finish it off, so it gets more cerebral," Abram said.

Despite some advances, it still seems that there is a long way to go, particularly because many sexually oriented video games are geared to giving their male audience what they really want: a way to almost instantaneously have sex.

And that doesn't go over well with some women.

"I want to be me when I'm in (an adult game)," Heather Rothwell, a writer for GamersInfo.net, said during the discussion Wednesday. "I want to do more than log in and have sex. If I want to do that, I'll log on to a sex site."

Brathwaite agreed and said that adult game designers need to take such sentiments into consideration. They must, she argued, build in a way for women to achieve the arousal they desire before they engage in sex, even virtual sex.

"It's the thrill of the chase," Brathwaite said, making a somewhat awkward analogy. "When the animal just (lies) down dead and says take me, (it's not erotic). No, I have to kill you first. It's really important. Women want that degree (of erotic advancement), that chemical whatever that builds up over time...

"'Make me think I'm hunting'--every woman I talk to, that's what they say," Brathwaite said.

Of course, women are not the only demographic that adult video games have trouble reaching.

Several participants in the discussion said that gay men and women are also underserved. And one main reason, it was agreed, is that because straight couples have different body movements when having sex than do gay men or women, there's often too much animation work required to satisfy those markets.

"Everything we want people to be able to do has to be animated separately," Dudley said. The way that men interact with men differs from how men interact with women. So if we're going to deal with gay sex, which we do, then the amount of work we have to do" skyrockets.

Abram said that Virtually Jenna allows players to highly customize their characters, including giving those wanting men with different size genitalia the ability to get what they want.

The same goes for what Abram called "ass physics," essentially the firmness of the male buttocks.

"I guarantee you, 'ass physics' has never been said at GDC before," Brathwaite said.

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11 comments

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Attack Decay Sustain Release: Sex Is Music
The technology isn't at issue. Yes, the avatars aren't particularly good for this activity, but that and how much work the animators do are different problems, and face it, the graphic models they need to emulate are to put it mildly abundant.

1. If you want to make love to a woman at night, you must make love to her all day. That is the single best advice I was given. It it a bit like a well-played note: pay a lot of attention to the Attack Decay Sustain Release curve.

2. Music matters. Enable that to be selectable. Women's tastes there are very different from men's. Women want to dance AND listen to lyrics. A 24 hour feed of rave loops won't do it. Engage solid professional songwriters and singers. The voice is tremendously important.

3. Enable the woman to tutor. Women teach men how to have sex with them if they can. Over the course of evolution, they have evolved very subtle means. Games have to reflect that subtlety. This is particularly important where there are age differences.

4. Women hunt and women choose. Men conquer. Women see men as territory and men see women as appliances. These are not compatible points of view. We are not good at defining that as a game of compromise. On the other hand, note that the exclusively sex-oriented chat sites host online marriage.

It may be the case that a points-oriented persistent database is not the best framework for creating a sexual adventure. The very technology we rely on creates a mindset of design that is inappropriate for the experience.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
in a nut shell
I think if women and men were looking for the same things from their sexuality, there would be no need to retreat into a game for it.

I think this endeaver is doomed.
Posted by Vince66 (27 comments )
Link Flag
What's really sexy
What I find really sexy is one man and one woman together,
married for life. That's why I'm saving my virginity for the one
woman that will be with me for the rest of our lives. And that's
why I'm avoiding video games like these: my wife will appreciate
that I give 100% of my undivided attention and my affection to
her and not to some porn stars on a computer screen.

You might want to check out xxxchurch.com sometime for some
really great info on the porn industry. You may come to some
surprising conclusions.
Posted by Jared White (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not really
To me being with only one woman in your entire life would be like only ever getting to eat one kind of food.

I am not into one night stands or anything, because that would be like eating good cheese cake without slowing down to really enjoy it.

Maybe you don't think that is natural, but personally I don't think our DNA is wired for total monogamy.

You can still be "serially polygamous" and give someone 100% of your undivided attention.

People who seek total monogamy usually do it because of strong religious belief.

They look down on people like me can call me immoral, but people like me are not the ones tagging alter boys.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Link Flag
You're talking more about a fantasy...
yeah, the perfect girl and you, the perfect boy. Reality may not be
so picture perfect, but if you want to hold out for your ideal lady,
it's your choice. But let's face it...just because you say, "I do"
doesn't mean in two years you won't be saying, "get out." So it's a
gamble whoever you wind up bedding. That's a fantasy.
Posted by grtgrfx (221 comments )
Link Flag
Oh yeah, good luck with that.
If you want women to play this stupid game, you're going to have to pay them.
Posted by larryc92039 (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good one. Here's another suggestion.
The developer will have more luck finding men who want to pretend to be women than they will finding actual women. How would you like to play this game knowing that "Lulu" might actually be a 300-pound trucker name "Lou"?
Posted by fcekuahd (244 comments )
Link Flag
luck
I think women would try it.
They wouldnt admitt it, but I bet they would be interested.
I would try it.
Posted by RUNFAR (1 comment )
Link Flag
Try Listening and Patience
Virgin until marriage: monogamous forever after. Noble goal. Tough shot to make. Possibly the wrong choice but a choice nonetheless.

What women want? Ask them. My experience is that they want the same things men want, but at a different pace. On the other hand, you'll find many reversals of that over a long life. Possibly a problem for the game designers is that they are too young to know the long cycle facts of life. We change. The games need to change with the age demographic.

Spend some time on sites run by women. Listen to what they have to say. Read their chat logs. Above all, quit buying into the 'women are mysteries that men don't understand' meme or 'women are the virgin mother's of our race' meme, or the 'women need a man to be complete and a baby to be a woman' meme.

Acceptance and refusal are the key events. Play for both and remember that games consist of characters, characters have histories and those histories have more to do with those two choices than any other single gameable strategy.

Listening is everything. Timing is everything else.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
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