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Soapbox: About the Industry

Pushing Limits

by 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:

  1. Is knowing that this course exists, in itself, something minors should not see?
  2. Should such a site have to pay premium "porn site" web rates?

The obvious extension to games or other media is, of course, the pair:

  1. Should adult-themed games be displayable in 'ordinary' game shops?
  2. Should such products require paper wrappers, ID verification, or other market hurdles?

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,
Sandy Antunes
sandy@zapdeliver.com TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Soapboxes

  • See What Sticks by Sandy Antunes, 06jan06
  • Simple Gifts for Pre-Gamers by Sandy Antunes, 09dec05
  • Col vs Blog by Sandy Antunes, 04nov05
  • Running a First RPG for Kids by Sandy Antunes, 07oct05
  • Making It Pay by Sandy Antunes, 02sep05
  • The Hazards of Non-Combat Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 05aug05
  • Just-in-Time Pre-order Hell by Sandy Antunes, 01jul05
  • Cassandra's Industry Report by Sandy Antunes, 03jun05
  • Fiction or Non-Fiction by Sandy Antunes, 05may05
  • I am not a Storyteller by Sandy Antunes, 08apr05
  • A Better Job by Sandy Antunes, 01apr05
  • Advice For Working Writers by Sandy Antunes, 04mar05
  • Startup Fever by Sandy Antunes, 04feb05
  • Why Blogging is Lame by Sandy Antunes, 07jan05
  • Being a Pro Writer by Sandy Antunes, 10dec04
  • Viral Marketing Invitational by Sandy Antunes, 05nov04
  • The 24 Hour RPG Challenge by Sandy Antunes, 08oct04
  • A Decade of Distilled Advice by Sandy Antunes, 03sep04
  • Go Ahead, Hit Me! by Sandy Antunes, 06aug04
  • Promoting Yourself by Sandy Antunes, 09jul04
  • 10 Hurdles to Selling Your Game by Sandy Antunes, 11jun04
  • Let's Team Up! by Sandy Antunes, 07may04
  • Beyond Role and Pla(t)y(pus) by Sandy Antunes, 08apr04
  • Slow Improv and the Post-Kilgallon by Sandy Antunes, 05mar04
  • Paradox Redux by Sandy Antunes, 06feb04
  • Mad Scientists and the Kilgallon Paradox by Sandy Antunes, 09jan04
  • It's Not Your World, It's Mine by Sandy Antunes, 05dec03
  • Murphy's Law for Adventure Writers by Sandy Antunes, 07nov03
  • Eigentesting by Sandy Antunes, 09oct03
  • Atomic by Sandy Antunes, 05sep03
  • Is Writing a Commodity? by Sandy Antunes, 06aug03
  • Designing Amidst the Tides of Gaming History by Sandy Antunes, 08jul03
  • Buy This Book by Sandy Antunes, 05jun03
  • Hobbies by Sandy Antunes, 08may03
  • The Websites That Wouldn't Die by Sandy Antunes, 10apr03
  • The Path to Atrocities by Sandy Antunes, 06mar03
  • Cattle Mutilation: The Game Design by Sandy Antunes, 06feb03
  • Gaming With Children by Sandy Antunes, 09jan03
  • How To Be An Industry Poser, Part 1 by Sandy Antunes, 05dec02
  • all i game with, i learned from kids books by Sandy Antunes, 19nov02
  • TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 10oct02
  • Game Publishing & The Law by Sandy Antunes, 06sep02
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Sandy Antunes, 01aug02
  • Buying Time by Sandy Antunes, 04jul02
  • April 10, 2002 13 New FAQs
  • March 1, 2002 Give Me A Closet
  • January 2, 2002 Let's Go Shopping?!?
  • December 13, 2001 Conflict, Ethics, Winning, and Money
  • November 13, 2001 Secret RPGnet Operations Document Leaked!
  • October 16, 2001 Leadership and D&D
  • September 4, 2001 Leading Industry Site Reports Secret: Sex Sells!
  • August 7, 2001 Any, Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?
  • July 3, 2001 Fine Print, Part U
  • June 5, 2001 Fine Print, Part I
  • May 8, 2001 Pushing Limits
  • May 4, 2001 RPGnet State of the Union special feature
  • April 6, 2001 The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets
  • May 9, 2000 Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party
  • April 14, 2000 First to Market
  • March 20, 2000 Labor Pains
  • February 15, 2000 One Trick Pony
  • January 6, 2000 Creativity is Bad, Hard to Sell, and Great for Business
  • December 14, 1999 Oranges versus Bananas: Entertainment Costs
  • November 2, 1999 Why Editors Lie
  • October 5, 1999 How to publish a quality game, accept criticism gracefully, and lead a happy life: Pick Any Two
  • September 7, 1999 It Takes a Village (to publish an RPG)
  • August 3, 1999 All Gamer Money Isn't Equal
  • July 6, 1999 Tides of Cash Flow
  • June 1, 1999 Ad-itudes
  • May 4, 1999 Who, What, Give me a Guiness
  • April 6, 1999 The GAMA Trade Show '99
  • March 2, 1999 Roleplaying would have saved Millions
  • February 2, 1999 Games That Won't Suck
  • January 5, 1999 Dangerous Games
  • December 1, 1998 Making Gamers the Old Fashioned Way
  • November 3, 1998 The $1K Company
  • October 1, 1998 So You Want to Start Your Own Company...
  • September 1, 1998 Holy Grails and Marching Morons
  • August 4, 1998 Gamers Must Die!
  • July 7, 1998 Profit versus Prophet
  • June 2, 1998 Acquire! Acquire!
  • May 5, 1998 Power
  • April 21, 1998 The GAMA Trade Show Report, Part 2 (eventually)
  • April 7, 1998 Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report
  • March 3, 1998 Culling the Herd
  • February 3, 1998 Horatio Hornblower's RPG Company
  • January 6, 1998 Double Feature (Us and Them/A Clash of Images)
  • December 2, 1997 "How to Scam Games for Free"
  • November 4, 1997 "Women in Gaming?"
  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg