How Summertime Saga keeps its players snacking on new stories
Learning from soap operas in Naughty List News #70
This week’s edition of Naughty List News was sponsored by Paradise Lust, the erotic dating sim about a stranded pleasure yacht full of beauty pageant contestants looking for a way home.
Summertime Saga is the most successful adult game of all time on Patreon, according to the rankings found on Grapthreon. In fact, it is the most successful game project on the platform period. As of writing, Summertime Saga pulls in more than € 70,000 every month from 32,300 patrons. By comparison, the highest-ranking non-adult game on Patreon has 16,138 patrons.
Every week I strive to bring you sex-positive reporting about the people behind the adult games you love.
But such massive success on the crowdfunding platform begs the question: Will the game ever be a “full meal”? Or do fans just want to keep snacking on new stories?
What is Summertime Saga?
Summertime Saga is a dating sim and visual novel with an open-world design. In active development by Kompas Productions since the summer of 2016, you play as a male protagonist who tries to uncover the truth behind his father’s sudden and unexpected death.
At the start of the game, you’re taken in by an old family friend. Unfortunately, she’s being pressured by crooks over your father’s supposed outstanding debs. At the same time, you’re trying to get on top of your school work and generally want to get laid.
According to the official wiki, the game was initially very limited in scope. For example, the plan was to have only one interactable character, Roxxy, and the game did not feature any adult content. However, when the developer started live-streaming the game’s development, they found an audience eager to pivot the game into an adult one.
By now, Summertime Saga now features an incredibly rich cast of characters, with many stories and adult content to discover. However, unlike other adult games of its type, the game is not released as distinct episodes. And this gives the developers a unique advantage.
Episodic releases are slow
The main challenge with releasing a game in episodes is that you have to release everything in sequence. You have to have your complete story thought out right from the start. That’s because it’s next to impossible to go back later and fix plot holes in earlier episodes or write a new ending to certain character arcs.
But when you write the entire game up front like that, you can also run into technical problems. Sometimes the writer wants to do things with the tech that are either impossible or just not very economical. That’s not their fault at all; that’s just the nature of working in a creative field.
In the 1970s, a competition between screenwriters came up with the most expensive scene description possible: “The fleets meet.” For games writing, I suppose the equivalent would be something like “Their fingers interlocked.”
When you structure your game releases around distinct episodes, another challenge is that new players will not see any of the new content right away. Instead, they will likely prefer to start your story from the beginning. Meanwhile, your most dedicated fans have already played through everything on offer. And they are always ravenous for more.
And so, as a developer, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place: You have to assure your most dedicated fans that new content is just around the corner. But you also have to make sure that you don’t alienate any new players in the process by focusing too much on the content they won’t see for a while.
What Summertime Saga (very smartly) figured out is that it is possible to accommodate both new and returning players at the same time. They do this by making their narrative a sandbox to weave in new storylines continuously.
Weaving in new storylines
When a new character is introduced in Summertime Saga, they are new to both the veteran and newbie players. And this new character can appear at any point in the game, including at the very beginning.
But this does mean that the narrative structure of Summertime Saga is different than a typical dating sim. For example, the writers can’t rely on a standard Hero’s Journey structure. This type of narrative is where you have an arc where an unlikely hero character overcomes a specific challenge or threat to their way of living.
Instead, Summertime Saga is structured more like a soap opera. Individual stories can have a narrative arc, but the main story is extended indefinitely. There is no status quo to return to in a soap opera; there are new revelations about existing characters, new conspiracies uncovered, and new characters introduced every week.
Because the game takes place in a small town, the makers can always have new characters move in or open up additional locations to tell different stories. Similarly, existing characters can have new storylines when they interact with new characters, or the writers can even extend their existing storylines with new revelations.
This narrative structure is why I question whether it’s even desirable for Summertime Saga to be complete. After all, soap operas only end when they are canceled. And fans already love the game in its current state.
In an interview with LewdGamer, DarkCookie admits that fans dictate a lot of the content that goes into the game. Including the specific fetishes that they would like to see. And what fans seem to love, above all else, is that Summertime Saga keeps adding new stories and characters.
So maybe it’s time to rethink what we consider a “finished” game?
When is a game “done”?
My view on when a game is “done” is that it’s the moment that it becomes available for purchase. Any updates after that are just a bonus. So it doesn’t matter to me whether I buy a game in Early Access or as a “full” release.
The good thing about living in an age of digital distribution is that developers can update your favorite games indefinitely or for as long as it remains profitable to do so. But of course, not everyone agrees with this mindset.
I once met a junior game designer in Canada who worked at a large studio. He talked about the game he was working on, and it reminded me of indie darling Risk of Rain 2. When I asked how he would compare the two games, he gave me an astonishing answer.
He said that he hadn’t played the game yet, because it was still in Early Access at the time. This junior designer said he never played games in Early Access because he would rather wait for the “full” experience.
Reader, you can be assured I gave him an earful. Part of a game designer’s job is to be aware of what people are playing, especially when it comes to games that target the same audience. You can’t hide behind the excuse that a game isn’t “finished” when people are playing (and enjoying!) the game already.
Of course, if you’re not a game designer, you’re under no such obligation. You do you. But keep in mind that the best and most interesting games coming out right now are going to be in development for long after you purchase them.
Remember Risk of Rain 2? That game did eventually have its big 1.0 release. But its Early Access was already so successful that the developers started working on an expansion for the game. So if you’re jumping into Risk of Rain 2 now, you’re not exactly late to the party, but you did miss a lot of interesting conversations between the developers and their audience.
The same applies to Summertime Saga: The game may never be completed, but I think both the developers and the players are okay with that. Adult games are uniquely well-positioned for this type of soap-opera storytelling because they can use individual storylines (and fetishes) to hook players into the game as a whole.
Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments!
Writing Wrap-Up 📖
The BBC wrote about how children can access stripclubs in virtual reality apps. Researchers posing as underage children witness grooming, threats of sexual violence, and worse.
Cheeky chuckle 🤭
Artist spotlight 💡
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Until next time!