Eroticisim and videogames is a combination that raises few eyebrows these days. Sure, back in the mid-1990s, when Lara Croft was first slathered across magazine covers and subsequently took over global media, there was some shock. It’s possible to have a crush on a virtual character in a videogame? Well I never. But these days we’re accustomed to human sexuality being leveraged in order to ship more units. The most you’ll probably get these days for a naughty back-of-the-box feature is a loud tut.
However, this side of games has mostly become the purview of smaller, specialised titles. Triple-A games sometimes stretch to including unlockable sex scenes that are tastefully shot, censored, or simply fade to black. That’s your Witchers, Mass Effects, and Wolfensteins of the world – which some might call the best sex games on PC. The direction behind these games seems to be to eschew content that is deemed pornographic – but it’s alright to flirt with it a little, maybe take it out for a coffee.
Titillation remains the side salad to the main course of puzzle solving or questing, then. Unless, that is, you’re looking at a game published on Nutaku – a platform at the forefront of the rapid expansion in erotic gaming. Established in 2015, Nutaku is the brainchild of Mindgeek, the online porn specialist that owns sites you’ve definitely never heard of, such as PornHub, RedTube, and SpankWire. Nutaku’s mission: to unite the realms of unfettered online sexuality and videogames. That’s your cue to gasp.
“A couple of years ago, we only had a handful of games,” Ben Faccio, Nutaku’s product director, tells me. “We were reaching out to developers, I don’t wanna say begging them to give Nutaku a chance, but working really hard to get to that point. Now it’s kinda flipped.”
According to Faccio, developers are now throwing projects at Nutaku, which has accrued over twenty million registered users, 40% of which play a game on the platform every single day.
But what exactly is attracting people in their millions to Nutaku? Pedro Aguiar, co-founder of Gamebau, one of Nutaku’s game suppliers, thinks the answer is simple. “Sex is part of everyone’s life,” he says. “Games is one of the best mediums for entertainment, and I think together it’s an explosive combination. [Both] give different feedback for our basic needs. That’s why they exist: most people enjoy playing games, and most men like to see something spicy, or adult.”
Scan Nutaku’s storefront and the delivery method of said spice becomes clear: drawings of exposed women. “Booty Calls,” “Harem Heroes,” “Chick Wars;” the storefront is a temple to the male gaze. The content within, however, isn’t structured quite how you’re probably inclined to imagine.
“Just to clarify, our games don’t involve sex in normal gameplay,” Aguiar says, “the gameplay is totally different, it’s not sex related. And afterwards, when the player reaches a certain milestone, he’s rewarded with a sexy scene, or a sex scene.” It’s about increasing your score, before you, well, score.
Many of these titles once had a life as innocuous browser games. Gamebau’s business involves finding these “gems,” sexing them up, and then launching them on platforms like Nutaku. “We try to find a game that could already be appealing or has the hentai style, and some games already have a lot of very sexy characters,” Aguiar says. “They’re very voluptuous forms and that helps a lot. From there, we go into the process of how to unlock or add adult content to the game.”
The result is a repackaged product, where game and virtual sex encounters exist in tandem. But sex, according to Aguiar, isn’t enough by itself to keep people interested in these games beyond the initial attraction. “The appeal goes away very fast [if you just have sex in a game] so the users like to have a normal game and build a relationship with the character, meaning the more they play with the character the more they evolve and unlock the story and the sex scenes. It doesn’t mean they wanna see sex all the time, but they really love to unlock the sex story with this particular character.”
As the games aren’t just about titillation, both Nutaku and Gamebau have developed an extensive vetting process, looking for adult games that will appeal to their players on all fronts. This also involves looking out for games that go beyond the realms of acceptability.
“We do obviously have a certain set of rules that we have to adhere to as a responsible brand,” Faccio says. “We don’t want to be promoting rape or violence within sex. You’d be surprised – we do get this quite a lot. We have a lot of games that are presented to us that are centralised around rape. A great example that we rejected, but Steam actually brought on, was House Party. Steam accepted it on their platform as an adult game, and the whole game is basically you trying to get girls drunk and take advantage of them. We saw that game, we said absolutely not, we don’t promote alcohol in our games and trying to take advantage of girls or boys for that matter.”
As comforting as it is to know that rape is off the table, the way in which gender and sex are presented in Nutaku’s games is unlikely to have feminists waving the company’s banner. In one game on Nutaku, the barely dressed avatar offers to “teach you how to make those skanks put out.”
When pressed on the issue, Aguiar at least acknowledges that gender power dynamics may be a problem with the games on Nutaku. “That’s something we’ve been thinking about for sure,” he says. “That there’s a big stereotype not only in the games but in the porn scene overall. I think most porn websites are made for men and basically the woman is submissive, we know that’s not always the way. We’re trying to create new games with a different angle.”
It’s hard to imagine that said angle is vastly different when female sexuality becomes an unlockable commodity in a game like a loot crate. Another riposte to imbalanced gender dynamics Faccio and Aguiar both adopted was that it’s not just straight men who will get their fair share.
“In spite of what a couple of our games say, our actions are a little different,” he tells us, “we’re trying to be a more inclusive platform, we’re looking to open up game distributions to the LGBTQ+ community, we’re catering more towards women, our growth for our women gamers has grown…
“If game developers out there have projects that they’re working on that do cater to these audiences we would love to hear from them and work with them because that’s a big important part for me, to be able to serve as many people as possible, and serve as many orientations as possible.”
And what’s next for Nutaku? It’s already released two VR titles, and later this year will release its very own desktop client, making it a genuine Steam-lite for sex games on PC. It’s hard to imagine that hentai games will ever achieve mainstream appeal, but if the online porn industry has set a single precedent for Nutaku to follow, it’s that we should never underestimate the draw of sex on the internet.