The Law of Boob
[ I wrote the article below for Wireframe, a British game dev magazine which ‘lifts the lid on video games’. And, inexplicably, lets me have a monthly column. ]
PLEASE NOTE: this blog uses 2019 Steam review scores and links to explicit sexual games. Click at your peril.
Every week I receive ICO Partners’ Steam newsletter. It’s a simple round-up of all the week’s latest Steam games, alongside their number of reviews and overall review score. As well as keeping me in the loop about new games I might be interested in, it’s also taught me a valuable lesson about nicheness, audience fit and what can be reliably termed the Law of Boob.
The single most consistent thing about new releases on Steam is that if you make a game with breasts in them you’re looking at a baseline of 80%+ positive reviews. This seems to happen with an uncanny consistency that makes me wonder if I and my heterosexual feminist principles are a blocker for good business decisions. Every week I see games called things like Hentai Asmodeus outrank games that are palpably higher quality, and while they might not make the megabucks of lower-rated but higher-grossing offerings, they show an audience resonance that many more successful titles fail to match.
This weekly trend is borne out across Steam. Monster Hunter: World is a cool 75%. Civilization VI is 71%. Once phenomenally popular, PUBG sits now at 51%. All are apparently less good than Cultist Simulator, the game my studio made in our pyjamas for £142k, which is niche and flawed and doesn’t have a tutorial and sits at 78%. This doesn’t mean AAA PC games are doomed to middling review scores, of course. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is 97%, and famously excellent AAA offerings like Fallout: New Vegas, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Divinity: Original Sin 2 are all happily 95%. But it tells me two things: one, that trying to please a wide audience tends to lower your overall review score, and two, we should all be putting colons in our games’ titles.
You know what’s better than The Witcher 3? Meltys Quest, sitting pretty at 98% positive, which as far as I can tell is about a queen’s journey to find a bra. CD Projekt Red is also put to shame by DEEP SPACE WAIFU: NEKOMIMI, another 98% positive bastion of gaming brilliance where you’re a rat in a spaceship shooting clothes off megalithic cat-women. I think. Three other offerings equal The Witcher 3 and its 800 awards: NEKOPARA Vol. 3, ‘a heartwarming cat-comedy’ set in a sexy patisserie’, LOVE3 -Love Cube- which appears to have very little to do with cubes, and The Ditzy Demons Are In Love With Me which surely needs no explanation. All of these are 97% positive because the people who like anime boobs really like anime boobs and they’re all wonderful examples of product-market fit.
I’m not suggesting that games are at their best when they’re thinly-veiled pornography. But I am saying that we indies who don’t make boob games should consider what our version of boobs is. What’s the one thing about our games that will really resonate with potential players? What will excite people into loving our products, rather than filling the generic game-shaped space in people’s lives? If you don’t have an answer to this, you might be in trouble.
Every developer wants their game to be universally loved. AAA studios have the money to sometimes – sometimes – make that happen. Indies don’t. So don’t aim for everyone and end up making Meh Soup. Aim for one particular audience and really knock it out of the park. Or, y’know. Consider hentai.
8 comments on The Law of Boob
To think that hentai games can be a prime example of how to do something right: Resonating extremely well with your target audience.
I can’t help but wonder if it’s some kind of an in-group meme to give a thumbs up on hentai games, or if there’s people out there who will like any and every game with that art style. I’ve been wondering if the whole “sex sells”-spiel really is true, even though I’ve expected better reasons than just that.
I’ve been wondering about all the dirt-cheap hentai games on Steam anyway, which go on weeklong sales as often as possible. I don’t have any kind of a problem with nudity in games, but I draw the line at poor quality games with poor quality nudity! If people are making games like that, they ought to have some pride at least! 😀
And while I’m on a soapbox here, I don’t think video games have had a watershed moment regarding nudity yet, the kind that would serve as a really good example of how to do it in an interactive media (or even definitively answer if a nude scene should be interactive at all – every one I’ve seen has been SO cringy). TV and movies have a century ahead of games on that front, but games have gone a long, long way in just a few decades. When will video game industry figure it out?
>in-group meme to give a thumbs up on hentai games
IMO this is a fun, plausible and smart thought.
Pomegranate-shaped mammary glands are the forbidden fruit of the PC gaming underworld.
If you want to talk about applied philosophy, then perhaps someone should write a het-fem screed about review-bombing the stereotyped content.
Anyway, there might be a point about the shape and shading of female anatomy as being hard to mathematically generate on a computer- but easy to draw by hand and wrist: so there’s value with the cost input of human labor.
You’re right to think of the product-market fit, but indie studios need to focus on their market share and target demographics. After those aspects have been determined, then video game consumption can be considered as semiotic neurobiology of the art-as-symbol: where the semiosis is meant to induce some higher cognitive functioning buffered with reward-dopamine-euphoria.
You can equate the highly active cognitive states with psychological profiles of the target demographic: boob games have satyromaniac consumers whereas CultSim has apophrenic literatti.
The videogame industry has limited venues in appealing to human sexuality. The best examples would be in RPG’s like Fable where the player avatar can engage in a relationship and produce offspring. Nudity has to go along with the ambiguous ‘bed scene’, just for the neurobiology to make sense in the consumer.
Isn’t it just selection bias ? People who are specifically looking for hentai games are more likely to review them, and since they’re primarily looking for sex appeal above all else, the game will review well as long as it’s at least moderately sexy. Meanwhile, there’s a much larger pool of gamers who never look at hentai games at all, and they all review regular games in more complex ways.
I think the reason those games have ‘more complex reviews’ because the way most games try to entertain is in itself complex. Because different people expect different things from, say, an RPG.
It’s fair to say that people in general are in agreement of what to expect from a porn game.
I’ve always been of the opinion that a well-written female character is good, but a well-written female character with voluminous milkers is better.