Soapbox: About the Industry
Pushing Limitsby Sandy Antunes
May 8, 2001
Soapbox: About the Industry
Pushing Limitsby Sandy Antunes
May 8, 2001
Given that I've was under a non-compete during 2000 as far as RPGnet was concerned, I'd been forced to make important decisions with my other (non-game) startup projects. Decisions like "red nine on black ten?". Or, in one case, "How adult is 'Adult'?"
Earning the "Adult" label, versus merely "mature content", is a fuzzy line, yet it turns out there's strong economic forces at work here. I'll be talking about an 'mature content' startup that may or may not be 'Adult', and the weird web barriers I ran into with it. It'll raise issues of self policing and just how one can push the limit on what is deemed 'adult', and what is kid-friendly. The implications to games is, how far can we push the limits on our material?
Of course, you might wonder why a game business writer is talking about 'adult' in the first place. Games are for kids, right? Well, except for that Ironwood one... and the list of erotic games at Dr. Brian David Phillips' Shakespeare Eclectic... the Xenophile card game... and the fact that a large number of game writers make their salary writing porn.
In fact, making money doing porn is pretty key here. It suggests that the game biz doesn't pay nearly as well as the sex biz. "Don't quit your night job" would be my first piece of advice to up-and-coming game freelancers, in fact.
But let's get to the economic forces. Fact 1: Sex sells better than anything. Fact 2: In many markets, selling sex gets you ghettoed out to the 'adult' area, limiting market reach. So clearly there's a fine balance between enticing the masses (aka 'mature content'), and getting slapped with a plain brown wrapper (aka 'Adult Site'). Fact 3: the rpg game business pays very poorly.
Fact 1 ("sex sells") comes into play because of what our startup did. Fact 2 ("mature or adult") is the gray area we tried to skirt in doing so. Bringing it on home, we hope we can raise issues on how to do sophisticated adult content in any market (i.e. Fact 3).
The idea is embodied at ThePhotoCourse.com [site has since changed hands -ed], our startup. Which is also aliased as "Shoot Your Girlfriend" (.com). Put simply, it's an online private course teaching individuals how to shoot glamour and nude photographs, either as a personal hobby or professionally. It's inexpensive, fun, and there is one-to-one online teaching involved.
Now, the barrier we did not hit was whether this was this mature content? I mean, it requires you be 18 years or older to join (due to US law), so we admit we're mature content. No, the problem was, are the "ThePhotoCourse/ShootYourGirlfriend" Adult Sites, in terms of Web Hosting contracts and as determined by Filtering Programs. After all, we're not providing adult content, we're teaching others how to create adult content-- a clear gray area.
Officially, an Adult Site in purely economic terms is "a site that ISPs charge an arm and a leg to host because they know you're a scum-sucking pornographer and can afford it." When we did hosting, RPGnet/RWS (like many sites) had a specific contract provision that 'we do not host adult sites'. Adult Sites are notorious for using lots of expensive bandwidth and for having odd legal hassles.
We, on the other hand, are a web-based photography course (that only adults can sign up for), with fairly low bandwidth needs and no general public access. So, ask yourself:
The obvious extension to games or other media is, of course, the pair:
Now, issue #2 was decided on a case-by-case basis by talking with ISPs. The one we settled with, "cedant.com", quite rightly (in our opinion) said "you're not adult enough to be porn." Yay!
But this sort of personal negotiation doesn't work for games. Getting our webspace was a one-to-one deal, us and an ISP. Getting an adult product onto regular game shop shelves is a one-to-many situation: one publisher having to get many, many individual shopkeepers to agree to a standard. So for marketing a product (as opposed to gaining a web foothold), you need to orchestrate your release to pre-label yourself.
Imagine you make games. Lots of RPGs... more than a dozen. And one of them is "Porn Star", or "Vixen Adventures". Are you suddenly an "Adult Site"-- the economic kiss of death? Or are you simply "mature content"?
This isn't a hypothetical, really. What it is, is a fairly untapped niche. Look again at "mature" list at Shakespeare Eclectic's' http://www.rpg.net/larp/bookstore.html#Adult>adult section. Woah. I bet they sell better than "Hackmaster" (apologies to KoDT).
Can RPGs be marked with 'mature themes' without being blocked by filters, without being ghettoed as 'sex stuff'? The answer right now is a tentative "Yes", based on past market products. White Wolf's Vampire is all about eroticism and socializing in RPGs. They've brilliantly kept in the 'game' line while marketing (among other things) adult fiction (including pornographic line art). So this is possible.
It's all a matter of approach-- which is to say, Sales and Marketing. It depends on who is your web host, and how you make the pitch. It depends on how you package it and market it. It depends on how well you sell your distributor and your retailers on the concept.
My god, look at the T&A on television these days, and it's pretty clear that the only limit on 'mature content' is the name of the sponsor and how you sell it. RPGs right now really are a niche hobby, because any RPG that actually succeeds is instantly 'promoted' into being something else. "Oh, Masquerade LARPs are something else. Laura Corn's books are something else. D&D isn't for real gamers."
Act like RPGs in general are a 'geek niche' and we're doomed. Play it like RPGs are "a rich art stepped in psychodrama theory by which adults can engage in social behavior in a safe space" and, hey, you may have a winning ticket to success!
The lesson from our "learn to photograph porn" bit is that, if you are doing mature themes and mature content, you can't let other people define your niche. You have to proactively go out and self-brand yourself as different-- not adult, but different.
This sort of pre-emptive strike means you are letting the game shop owners or consumers off the hook. They don't have to make a judgment call. You're making it for them. You're saying "Yes, we're different" and setting things a little harder on yourself-- but you're preventing them from perhaps judging you even more harshly.
The advantage is this lets you get into the existing mainstream market with a product that will outsell its competition because it's pushing the limit with its adult nature. "An (adult) Game". Which is far better than getting into the adult/mature market with a product that isn't really targeted at such hard core devotees: "An Adult (game)".
Okay, we did our 'learn to photograph porn' bit. Now it's time to take our lessons, and see about bringing more adult play into the RPG field. Be idealistic about the kids-- but get the adults involved and you'll be taking that deep plunge into sweet virgin territory.Figuratively speaking, of course. Until the next soapbox,