"We talked for two hours about where to put a mermaid's vagina"
An interview with a naughty pirate gamedev in Naughty List News #90
A few weeks ago, I sat down for a phone interview with one of the makers of Pirate Booty, a new adult free-to-play title that’s up on Kickstarter right now. Pirate Booty is a resource management strategy game starring kinky pirates from both lore and fiction. Promiscuous pirates are eager to reward you with erotic scenes when you explore the seas to raid island caches, steal pirate treasure from enemy ships, and manage your base and resources.
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I had a really fun and insightful conversation with Eric about the unexpected joy of making adult games, why the mobile games industry is what it is, and why Naughty Pixels is not telling their moms what they’re making just yet. They’re based in Georgia, USA, “a little bit north of Atlanta,” so I tried to preserve Eric’s unique Southernisms as much as possible.
I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I did talking to him!
Mr. Hands: What is Pirate Booty all about?
Eric: Pirate Booty is a resource management game, a base builder, and exploration game that we’ve got going on here. It started as a quick idea, a mobile game. We did a quick whitebox (ED: internal gameplay prototype) and tested it with a few friends that we trust dearly because it was a bit of a different project for us. (laughs) Like, “Hey guys, we need you to test something a bit different from our usual stuff!” And that went off pretty well.
At its core, the game is really simple. It’s about gathering resources, managing those resources, and it follows some pretty typical mobile strategies. Which we’re used to from several years of making these kinds of mobile games. Just with a bit of a different theme involved. Which, oddly enough, we found is way more fun! (laughs)
Mr. Hands: Why is the adult theme more fun?
Eric: If I had to put an answer to it, I would say that it’s because you kind of just let loose. There’s really no rules, besides some common sense ones, right? There’s a couple of themes that you just don’t touch on, but as long as you’ve got common sense, as we like to say here in the South, you’re pretty safe.
And there’s so many puns! We love puns in general, and due to the adult nature, throwing pirates in there? I mean, it’s hard not to put puns in the game everywhere! (laughs) The theme lets us kind of have some freedom with our humor. We try to put humor into everything, so we have a lot of fun with that, yeah.
I was a little timid at first with our initial whitebox prototype. Anybody familiar with making games is that those initial demos look pretty awful. It’s built just to, you know, get the point across, the core stuff. But one thing we spent a lot of time on was the rewards for the sex scenes. And I had drawn some stuff already, but this was the first scene we had mocked up, and I was like, man, this is way easier than it should be! And I thought to myself, this could be our calling.
I was very nervous because the team is small. It’s just two artists, me and another guy, and I passed the scene to him to see what he thinks, and he said something like: “I’m uncomfortable with how good this is!” (laughs) It was a new adventure, for sure!
We have had some very interesting talks around the developer couch, that’s for sure. I think the most memorable was me and the other artist having a two-hour conversation about where a mermaid’s vagina goes. It was a lot of back-and-forth, a lot of weird Googling. I won’t tell you what we landed on because you’ll see that in the game, but it was a neat conversation.
Mr. Hands: Is it just the two of you, or are more people involved?
Eric: We have two artists and two programmers, and then we have Mike as kind of our in-between guy, who helps me wrangle everything. So a very small team, but we have two very talented programmers.
Mr. Hands: Gotcha. And what kind of tech are you guys using?
Eric: We’ve built all of our games in Unity, and Pirate Booty is no exception.
Mr. Hands: What is your background in game development?
Eric: I can’t really talk about everything, but two of us started working at the same company as artists. We both started in 2009, and the company basically gave me my own studio in Atlanta, and from there I hired two programmers in 2012. The four of us have been together for going on ten years now.
And then our newest programmer came in at 2015, so we’ve got a deep history with all of us working together. We’re basically brothers who fight, yell, and scream at this point but get the job done. It’s always good when you can fight with the people you’re making stuff with because you all want to make the best thing possible, and then turn around and have a beer together. (chuckles)
Mr. Hands: So you’re one big happy gamedev family?
Eric: Pretty much, yeah. Some days are happier than others though, heh!
Mr. Hands: And what was the inspiration for Pirate Booty?
Eric: It kind of came out of nowhere. I had started my own company just a few years ago, and since then we’ve been working on contracts, just helping others make their games. I have a business development guy, and he came to me with this idea to talk to some people at Nutaku. I was like, “I don’t know what that is.” But I took the meeting because you never know how these things will go. And we started talking, and I realized this could be interesting. I knew that this type of gaming was out there, but not to the level that I’ve now been inundated with, and I dove way into the deep end with how much is out there in the past couple of years.
But I started looking around, and it’s interesting what we could make when it came to potential returns. We started in mobile games, back when it was just Angry Birds, so we’ve been doing that for a long time. Back then, it was a little bit more fun, but in the past five or six years ago the mobile gaming space has become just assembly work. You work with a publisher, and if you don’t hit insane KPIs (ED: Key Performance Indicators) you don’t get anything and you’ve just wasted your time. That’s not a viable business strategy by any means.
Eric: So not only does this project make sense from a business perspective, but it makes sense from the creative side as well. Because there’s no way on God’s green Earth that four or five guys could make what’s essentially a pirate-themed mobile game in today’s market. That’s just not going to happen. This deal with Nutaku allows us to make something we enjoy doing. And it’s a cliché, but the more you like what you’re doing, the better the end result is going to be.
Obviously, you want to make money, because money does buy happiness to some degree. (laughs) At least it buys the potential for happiness. But from the creative side, the adult theming is the most exciting thing for us. Because when we were making that whitebox, we really saw the pieces coming together. I was like, “Nobody tell their mothers what we’re doing!” (laughs)
Mr. Hands: Understandable! But don’t you think there’s a market for adult games geared toward mothers too?
Eric: I’m sure there’s potential there, too! But Georgia is square in the Bible Belt, so it’s a little different here. (chuckles) I mean, probably new moms could be into our game, but we’re on the older side of things, so we’re not sure if our moms would be down for this. Or, at least, I hope not. I wouldn’t want to make assumptions!
Mr. Hands: I read on your website that you’re releasing on Nutaku. Are they your publishing partner?
Eric: I’ve kept in contact with Nutaku, but I don’t think we’re locked into them yet. I’ve enjoyed every meeting I’ve had, and I’ve got a level of trust with them, but they’re not locking us into an exclusivity deal. We have a limited exclusivity window with them, and from there we can branch out to other platforms, like Steam and GOG.
What we like about Nutaku on the business side is the marketing. Marketing is the thing you don’t want to think about because making a game is already hard enough! Getting eyeballs on your game is such a perilous journey, and it’s turning into the movie industry. You make a $500 million dollar movie, and you’ve got to put in the same in marketing. That’s just the budget now.
Obviously, that kind of money is for the big boys, but it’s the same on the App Store. Mobile game development just turned into such a slog because publishers would have to dump at least a million dollars into a game’s marketing to have any traction, and now you as the developer are in the hole for that. But Nutaku pulls the marketing directly out of earnings, so you can keep churning if you’re doing well. That’s a huge benefit for me, I can’t even quantify how helpful that is.
Mr. Hands: Is Pirate Booty going to be a premium title or free-to-play?
Eric: We are going free-to-play, but without pushing too hard on the monetization. We don’t want to say to players: Hey, play for 20 minutes, and now you have to pay 17 bucks for everything you want to do. There are going to be some minor pushes for monetization, some content is going to be gated, for example. But it’s not going to be as extreme as what is now expected in the mobile games industry.
What we are really trying to do is make money from our events. We’re going to have a twice-a-month event cycle, which introduces new characters and new storylines. Once that storyline is past, and they come in for free, as long as you’re a current player, you’re going to experience that too. You just keep coming back, and play through the story, and there you go.
And let’s say that event lasts for a week, then once it’s over, it will be unlockable with a purchase for anyone who missed it or wants to complete that storyline. Those minimal purchases, that’s what we think will be best for our players too. Nobody wants to be bogged down with that kind of stuff.
Mr. Hands: Do you think that kind of monetization will be sustainable?
Eric: Developers don’t like the free-to-play model either. But we know it works right now. I was at a GDC conference in 2010, I believe, where the mobile ecosystem really started to fall apart. And it was unfortunately the Android phones that really caused this issue. We all had to switch over to a different monetization strategy because it was just too easy to pirate our games. No pun intended.
Unfortunately, the market drives development into a certain direction. We wanted to dip our toes in adult game development with this game, and I think we’ve got something here that’s going to be successful. My goal is that if this works for us, our business model becomes making adult games. And making a premium adult game is completely doable, even in this market. But I would be scared to make a premium title in the more traditional games space right now. Without a backer, it’s a risky proposition. Yes, you have the hardcore gamers that will pay for a premium experience, but we have to get to a point where we can make that financially viable.
Eric: I think people forget sometimes that while we love to do this, we have to survive as well. We can’t just constantly clip coupons so we can get a meal for 59 cents at McDonald’s. Because who wants to eat McDonald’s all the time? (laughs)
My long-term goal is that this game makes it financially viable to shift our business model into adult games, and yes, make a premium title. Whether that’s for Nutaku or for someone else.
At the same time, I don’t want to annoy players with our monetization. So we want to shift that into more of an ask, where we say: Hey guys, if you want to pay, please do, if not, you can still play as much as you want. And every once in a while, if you want to drop a dollar for this, that, and the other, that’s great! But I think our money should not come from pressuring our players, but more from a desire for more story, so we offer the ability for players to pay for that.
Mr. Hands: How integral is the adult content to your game?
Eric: Oh, very! We’ve got a lot of fun little ideas. So obviously the game is pirate-themed, and we’ve genderbent most of the historical pirates because most of them were dudes. We are including some female pirates as well, but it’s really cool how much we have to dive into. You have your actual historical figures, like Blackbeard, but we’ve got our own version of Treasure Island and other fictional characters.
Eric: In fact, I’ve got a three-season arc for Captain Clit, our version of Captain Flint. And she will be our Thanos-level story arc throughout the three seasons. And we’ve also got characters we created ourselves. But making these characters more adult-themed, it’s not even been a challenge, it’s just been excitedly fun. We’re going to have fully-animated character portraits, and lose a couple of stages of clothing as you evolve their storylines. You will be able to decide how much, or how little, they should have on ‘em.
The rewards for playing the game are going to be a mixture of static and animated scenes. Once you unlock them, you can revisit them at any time. They’re going to tell a very large and overarching story. Like I said, I’ve got three seasons of content planned already. The big villains of the real-life pirate era are the East India Trading Company, so we’re going to have the East Impotent Trading Company in our game. The background there is that the lords and ladies of Europe are very prudish, so you get a little bit more promiscuous if you’re a pirate.
I like world-building, and you don’t really get to do that in the mobile gaming space. Especially now, where everybody wants some hypercasual nonsense, and I think that’s kinda sad. There are some story elements in Pirate Booty that are just for us, that nobody will ever see. But it’s just for us, because it helps build out a character’s personality, or set something up for a future storyline. That kind of worldbuilding is extremely fun for us.
Mr. Hands: Where do you plan to go from here?
Eric: Kickstarter is a new thing for us. We’ve never had to do a campaign like this before, and it’s not going to keep us from making this game. Kickstarter has been around for so long, but we’re wondering if this is still a viable avenue. We may be asking for too much money, but it costs a lot of money to make these types of games.
Once the game is live and active, we’ll still be developing it. We’re so early in development, and that may be hurting our Kickstarter campaign a little bit. And, to be honest, I’m a little gun-shy about sharing too much of it out there. We’ve had projects stolen from us in the past, and that’s not a good feeling.
We’re going to be exploring and learning a bit more about engaging on Discord, engaging on social media, and all that good stuff. Once we’re a bit further into development, that’s going to be a bit easier. And on the marketing side of things, I’ve had some experiences in the past, with more traditional games obviously. We’re going to take those lessons and bring them into this world.
My focus right now is on making the game. Because we’re so small, I can’t spend too much time on the pre-marketing. If the Kickstarter doesn’t work, we’re not going to be dead in the water. See? You can’t stop using pirate idioms! (laughs)
I would love for the campaign to work out, but I’m a realist with these things, and I always knew it was a long shot. But hey, it got us talking to you, which is awesome, and I greatly appreciate it!
Mr. Hands: Haha, thank you very much! That’s all the questions I had, thank you again for your time.
Eric: No problem! Your insights into the adult gaming world have been more than helpful. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you, with your audience, and we plan to get this game out this year. We hope people enjoy it, like the pirate shenanigans, and whatever happens, it’s a fun little party for us.
Pirate Booty is up on Kickstarter right now!
Writing Wrap-Up 📖
Dating sim My Harem Saga is now available on Itch.io. Since Jessica has nowhere to go after her parents’ marriage falls apart, you decide to let her stay at your place in exchange for housework services.
Boys Love visual novel Dear Monster was released on Steam. After traveling to your estranged grandfather’s mansion, you find yourself trapped with five mythical monster boys thanks to an invisible barrier.
Everybody is beautiful, and no one is horny. I’m linking this classic piece because “sex scene discourse” is heating up again.
Replika AI users complain about being sexually harassed by their virtual companions. Reportedly, users are being sent unsolicited “spicy selfies” and are asked about sexual positions.
Meta’s Oversight Board questions Instagram’s “sexual solicitation” standards. A panel of experts recommended the company clarify its vague definitions of nudity, sexual activity, and sexual solicitation.
Cheeky chuckle 🤭
Artist spotlight 💡
Thanks for reading this far!
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Until next time!