Adult game maker bets that you want more than "massive [breasts] flopping on the screen"
An interview with a dev looking for a more discerning audience in Naughty List News #79
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.
Last week, I spoke with the maker of Private Dick: Lipstick & Lies, a noir-styled visual novel about a private detective and the seedy underbelly of modern-day sex work. Cisco Donovan is the name, and he has grand ambitions indeed. If he’s successful with his Kickstarter campaign, he wants to tell more than just the three stories he has already planned for this game and expand the world of Private Dick even further.
Every Sunday, I have a new sex-positive story for you about the people behind adult gaming. Almost two years running. 💌
In his own words, Cisco says that Private Investigator Sam Steele will have a number of run-ins with beautiful, dangerous, and manipulative women in Private Dick: Lipstick & Lies. The player will have to endure and occasionally even enjoy the many twists and turns in this gritty tale of sex work in the modern world. Although Cisco does all of the writing and the coding of the game, he works closely with a team of artists on a contract basis to do the artwork.
I spoke with Cisco via Discord and, with his consent, recorded his part of the conversation. I’ve edited his answers for length and clarity.
Mr: Hands: Why did you turn to Kickstarter for your game?
Cisco: The original idea was a very big game with a simple and lightweight cartoony art style. I’ve plotted out about forty stories in this world. It would be very text and dialog-heavy, which would mitigate some of the cost of all that artwork. But the art style has become more detailed, to better cater to the erotic scenes and to carry a bit more emotion.
Cisco: I did balance for a long time to take the erotica out [of the game].
Even with fairly light artwork, it does take a very long time to get something that actually looks right and has the right nuances. So what I’m going to be kickstarting in a few days’ time (Ed: The Kickstarter campaign for Private Dick is currently running) is a much-reduced chunk of that forty-story plot I envision. Depending on how you count it, out of those forty, there will be three or four stories in the game.
It will take players probably a couple of hours to get through, depending on how quickly they go. So if this Kickstarter goes well and we get to make the game, then I will be able to take another three or four stories out of the ones I have planned and put them in their own standalone game. If it goes well beyond that, then I can really start thinking about the bigger picture.
Mr. Hands: Who is the target demographic for your game?
Cisco: Me, haha! What I mean by that is that Private Dick is very much a game made from a heterosexual male perspective. I like to think that it’s a game for a more mature and discerning audience and that it’s a bit more intellectually challenging.
Which is a slight worry from a marketing point of view, because I look at the games that are available, and I’m not particularly interested in what they’re selling. I’m often frustrated by the quality of the writing and the game design. And I know that if I feel that way, other people must as well.
I hope that I’m able to drag people that don’t play adult games into the adult gaming world. I’m hoping to expand beyond that, you know, core adult gaming audience.
Mr. Hands: You mention that you would like to attract a more discerning audience. How do you hope to achieve that?
Cisco: Well, I haven’t cracked that one yet, haha!
I hope to attract people like yourself, who are a bit more aware of adult gaming and are more interested in diversity in this space. People who think a bit deeper about things, and who don’t just want to see a massive pair of tits flopping on the screen. People who are left wanting a bit more from their adult games.
Cisco: So to get the game further, frankly, I’m out of money.
I know there are communities where people like that gather, like on Reddit, Discord, and Twitter. I’m trying to find them, wherever they are, and reach out to them. I think there’s probably a much bigger audience of people who are interested in the potential of erotic games but don’t really know where to go. And they may be put off by what they see when they browse those channels. I don’t really know how to tap into audiences like that, except perhaps through more mainstream gaming channels. But putting erotica up there is a bit dodgy.
Advertising an erotic game as not being an erotic game is also not going to work. I did balance for a long time to take the erotica out and just have a straight noir story. But I certainly found that what was left was lacking, so I didn’t pursue that idea further. I also found that adult gaming communities showed much more enthusiasm for the screenshots I posted, which gave me the confidence to just go for it.
Mr: Hands: Do you think the erotica is an important part of the story you want to tell?
Cisco: I do. In the story I’ve conceived, the whole 40,000 words of it, I really zoom in on adult content creators and online pornography. Really, the exploitation of sex workers, but ordinary people as well, who have porn thrust into their faces all the time.
What I want to talk about with Private Dick is the sexualization of absolutely everything. It’s a real contradiction, especially in America, where nudity is considered worse than violence and it’s easier to buy a gun there than it is to buy porn. It’s a country that exports so much of its culture to the world but is at the same time so conservative about these issues. And when you put video games and porn together, it’s just a recipe for trouble.
You could take the sex scenes out of the game and still have a story around those themes, but I think a lot of traditional players would be uncomfortable with those themes, and adult gaming players would be left disappointed with the lack of sexual content.
Cisco: And I know that my major motivation for progressing through the story of other erotic visual novels is to see scenes with the characters I’m attracted to. I really just want to see the characters with their clothes off! That’s what it comes down to.
It may seem silly, but those kinds of stories have been more motivating than, you know, AAA mainstream video game stories about saving the world. So for me, having that erotic content in the game makes the story much more interesting.
Mr: Hands: Do you think there’s a tension between the noir and erotic content in Private Dick?
Cisco: Absolutely, it’s a huge tension. One day I’m really happy and proud to be doing this game, and other days I’m just panicking. Is the erotic content going to scare people off? I’ve already had comments from people saying they’re turned off, just by the hint of some tension between the noir and erotic content.
Some players have said to me: “I clicked through the screens and I wasn’t really reading the text. But I think it said something about being against sex workers? I don’t think that’s okay.” And it’s like, if you don’t read the story, you probably are going to take away some bad impressions.
People who want to play it for the porn may skip through the story without knowing what’s going on. It’s very hard to straddle those two worlds. At the end of the day, I’m just hoping to get away with it, I guess!
Mr. Hands: You have said that Private Dick is not a dating sim or a harem builder; what makes that distinction for you?
Cisco: Private Dick is not a harem builder because the game is not about controlling women. The typical tropes of that genre are that you acquire and level up your women in order to have increasingly explicit interactions with them. Nothing happens in those characters’ lives without your direct involvement, right down to what clothes they’re wearing.
As an erotic fantasy, that is of course quite appealing. But for my game, I wanted to do something different, and have characters with their own lives. You may cross their paths, but they have their own interests, and they manipulate and corrupt the player character as much as the other way around.
Cisco: That was quite important to me, to have a genuinely developed story with well-rounded characters rather than just a bunch of pets. Which is kind of what a lot of these games do. And I’ve enjoyed those types of games, but it’s not what I wanted to do with Private Dick.
And the game is not a dating sim because those games often have a shorter story and you choose which character you like the most. At the end of the game, you see yourself and that character having a picnic. Or if it’s an adult game, having a sexy picnic. And then you replay the game and try to seduce a different character.
Private Dick isn’t about choosing a favorite. You can choose which side characters you want to explore but it’s not really about building a relationship with them. It’s more about enjoying several slices of a story, more like watching an old noir film or a Bond film. It’s about those slices of interaction.
Mr. Hands: Why are you looking for funding?
Cisco: Since January-ish I’ve been working on the game full-time, self-financing it. I’ve paid for all the artwork produced so far but my landlord won’t let me live here for free for some reason. It’s a weird thing we do in this country. And the supermarket doesn’t like it either when I take apples without giving them coins in return.
So to get the game further, frankly, I’m out of money. I need the money to pay the artists to finish the rest of the artwork. Everything is mapped out, I just need to throw the cash at them to let them do it. I also need to keep myself fed and clothed for a few months until I have a finished game. It takes a lot of time and money to make a game! I’m really optimistic that I go to the point where I can finish the title in two to three months. But I can’t afford to go that long without some outside backing.
Cisco: I think erotica is better when it’s visual. I haven’t even really enjoyed much written erotica.
Cisco: The Kickstarter campaign for Private Dick will be for the main story. I’ve planned a stretch goal for the soundtrack, and one for a new character. There’s also a stretch goal for a voice-over as well, but I’m conflicted about this.
I think the voice-over will be really cool and appeal to a lot of players, but there’s a lot I’m worried about when it comes to implementation. It’s very easy to do a bad voice-over and it’s very hard to do a good one, so I think it will take a lot of my time to make a voice-over work. But it is still something I will commit to doing when I make the stretch goal.
Mr. Hands: Would you be directing the voice actors?
Cisco: Yes, that’s what I would do. And directing voice actors is something I’ve done before. But not for an adult game. In particular, getting the sounds right on the sex scenes without just making them sound awful, I don’t really know how I’m going to do that, haha.
In the writing of the game, I put quite a lot of narration into the sex scenes. So you hear the main character’s voice as it’s happening. There is a bit of “Oh oh oh!” in there but I try to mix that up a bit. Whether that will work with voice acting, I just don’t know.
Mr. Hands: Why did you decide to make a visual novel?
Cisco: I think erotica is better when it’s visual. I haven’t even really enjoyed much written erotica. I have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of writing erotic literature, it’s actually some of the most exciting writing I’ve done. That’s largely because of the pictures in my mind, and when other people read my writing, they don’t see the same pictures.
What I really want to play with in a visual novel is the visuals of erotica. And I reject a lot of the visual novel staples like multiple endings and leveling up your relationships with characters. I’m writing a very linear and mechanically boring visual novel where you just click a button to proceed. A lot of players hate that, but I think it’s genuinely the best medium in which I can express this story.
It could work as a point-and-click adventure, but I don’t want to write the puzzles, haha! And by cutting out the point-and-click puzzles, the player can get straight to the good stuff, which is erotic words and pictures.
Mr. Hands: Thank you so much for your time!
Cisco: Pleasure talking to you!
Writing Wrap-Up 📖
We here at Naughty List News believe that sex is the ultimate fun two (or more!) consenting adults can have. So I was deeply saddened to learn that the Supreme Court of the United States decided to revoke the right of millions of Americans to access safe, affordable, and life-saving healthcare.
Although I do not live in the United States, the news underlined to me that these rights are still not set in stone. That’s why I will be setting up a monthly donation to Women on Waves, who provide access to crucial health interventions, like birth control and abortions, around the world.
Keep it sexy, friends.
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Until next time!