The past few years have seen a surge in ‘pay for your porn’ thinking, as more and more people choose to buy, subscribe, or even invest in the adult content they consume.
This trend has shaped the way adult videogames are funded – and platforms like Patreon, which allows direct investment from players to developers, are changing the way pornographic games get made.
In their Official Trend Report, xHamster put this down to two main factors:
- A drop in free access (e.g. adult content bans on social networks like Tumblr)
- The rise in performer-driven content (e.g. OnlyFans and Snapchat subscriptions)
“Millennials drove the free porn revolution, in part because they came of age during a recession,” the report said. “Today, the oldest Millennials are nearing 40. They are less ashamed about porn than any previous generation, and increasingly open to paying for it.“
This is music to the ears of adult game developers. Many are banking some serious cash thanks to a boom in highly profitable crowdsourced NSFW gaming.
- How Porn Games Hit The Jackpot on Patreon
- Why Does The Patreon Funding Model Work?
- Analysing Adult Games on Patreon
- What About The Content?
- Gaming Escapism: Who Can I Be Today?
- What Makes a Popular Adult Game on Patreon?
How Porn Games Hit The Jackpot on Patreon
Research suggests that sex games listed on Patreon receive more funded patrons than their non-adult equivalents.
In short, more Patreon members are paying for porn games than non-porn games. We’ve covered the top Patreon porn games extensively, but what is it about the platform that is such a magnet for adult developers?
A 2022 study published in Games and Culture looked into this in more detail, to discover which games are most popular and what kinks players are looking for.
The research, Platform-produced Heteronormativity: A Content Analysis of Adult Videogames on Patreon, was carried out by Petri Lankoski at Södertörn University in Sweden, and Thomas Apperley and J Tuomas Harviainen, both of Tampere University in Finland.
In their write-up, the researchers noted the long history of pornographic videogames, from the adult games for Atari in the 1980s, to the hentai porn games that grew out of an initially local market in Japan.
“From a production and distribution perspective, pornographic games have been circulating informally since the early days of computers, although largely at a local level,” they wrote.
“For example, while several adult games were made available for the Atari console in the early 1980s, generally very few digital games with sexual or pornographic content were successfully marketed exclusively for adults.“
In the present day, adult games are easy to find around the web, but Patreon has given NSFW developers a serious financial incentive to consider crowdfunding as the main business model.
The influence of Japanese pornographic games
In the Japanese market, adult videogames were made for the local market, but slowly started to be distributed internationally, either officially or via bootlegging.
There are now entire platforms dedicated to hentai games, such as Canada-based Nutaku, which launched in 2015.
By May 2020, Nutaku clocked up 50 million subscribers, proving the appetite for anime porn titles – but other platforms have not always catered for this demand.
The ever-changing rules for steamy content on Steam
Cloud-based gaming platform Steam relaxed its rules in 2018 to allow nudity and sexual activity to appear uncensored in games. But in 2020, those rules were tightened again.
In March 2020, games including Bad Ass Babes were de-listed from Steam. The game’s developer, Andrew Thatcher (@andrewnsw on the Steam Community), called the decision “heartbreaking” in a March 2nd, 2020 post.
He added that Valve’s reason for removing the game was a change in policy, with them stating: “Valve decided that we would not ship adult video games that featured photos or videos of human actors“.
This tallies with the Steamworks Documentation for onboarding new developers as of early 2024, which states that Steam Partners should not publish “nude or sexually explicit images of real people” or “adult content that isn’t appropriately labelled and age-gated”.
All of this points to a market with high demand but low stability – allowing platforms like Patreon to gain ground fast.
Why Does The Patreon Funding Model Work?
Patreon has emerged as an important place for independent game developers to promote their work, with supporters willing to pay into the development process, rather than buying the game once it is released.
This has helped across the board where videogames are concerned, but there are some specific reasons why Patreon funding can change the way adult games are made.
For example, top-tier patrons might be given editorial influence over the scenes and storylines that make it into the finished game, while lower-tier patrons can be engaged as part of a democratic voting process.
It’s not an altruistic system. Developers can offer rewards to patrons – and in their study, the team from Sweden and Finland noted that about three fifths of porn games on Patreon offer “influence-type rewards”.
Many games are never ‘completed’ but remain in a perpetual state of development, creating a long-term relationship for patrons and a continuing revenue stream for developers.
Patreon’s Policy on Pornography
Before we look into the types of porn that appear in Patreon approved games, it’s worth noting how the platform defines ‘pornographic material’.
As of January 2024, Patreon’s Community Guidelines state:
“Patreon does not allow pornography, which we define as images and videos depicting humans engaging in sexual acts including, but not limited to, masturbation and sexual intercourse. This policy applies to works featuring real humans as well as photorealistic representations of a human, regardless of how the works were created.
“Works deviating from reality in terms of visual representation (such as animations or illustrations as seen in cartoons, comic strips, or graphic novels, among others) may depict nudity in sexual contexts as long as it complies with our other guidelines.”
Nudity of real people is allowed as long as it does not depict sexual acts – and all creations featuring adult content must be flagged as 18+ with mature content kept in patron-only posts.
Analysing Adult Games on Patreon
The researchers surveyed 54 adult videogames on Patreon that were actively open to funding at the time.
In the course of their research, the team were able to play 46 of the games, inspect game assets (e.g. animations, graphics and/or voiceover scripts) for 40, and review gameplay videos of 14.
They included games that met three criteria in their analysis:
- Listed on Patreon for funding
- Tagged 18+ and featuring explicit sexual content
- Researchers able to obtain the game, assets and/or gameplay video
As of June 9th 2021, six NSFW game projects ranked in Graphtreon’s Top 50 Patreon Creators, according to total number of patrons. Highest was Summertime Saga by DarkCookie, with nearly 28,000 patrons paying almost $75,000 per month.
(Summertime Saga is still the top-ranked adult game on Patreon at the start of 2024, and DarkCookie is now ninth in the top 50, with over 30,000 paid members.)
But it’s not just about how many people fund a project – it’s also about how much they each pay.
Going back to June 2021, further down the list was Wild Life – An Adult RPG by Adeptus Steve, with about 9,400 funded patrons. But between them, those patrons were pledging a monthly total of nearly $95,000.
And the numbers were growing. Between January 2020 and June 2021, Summertime Saga’s funding level rose by 27.86% and Wild Life’s went up 21.45%.
What About The Content?
It’s clear that the top-ranked adult games on Patreon attract tens of thousands of paid patrons, with editorial influence and patron polls offered as rewards. So what are developers (and their patrons) putting into porn games?
The researchers noted several common threads:
- A “predominantly heteronormative perspective” in storytelling
- Off-balance power relationships and sexual exploitation
- Common depictions of non-consensual sex
- ‘Exotic othering’ e.g. by using a Japanese aesthetic
Let’s look in more detail at some of the content most commonly found in Patreon porn games…
Types of Porn Featured
First of all, the researchers asked simply: “What pornographic content do these games contain?“
While there was a lot of variety, certain acts were present in nearly every game:
- Oral sex (100%)
- Hand jobs (96.3%)
- Vaginal sex (94.5%)
Fewer than one in ten games featured condom-protected sex – and even then quite sparingly, such as in Summertime Saga where condoms are used only in scenes where the playable character pays for sex.
Straight, Gay or Group?
If you want anything other than straight sex between one man and one woman, your options are surprisingly limited.
The study found that while straight sex featured in nearly every title, threesomes appeared in just three fifths:
- Straight sex (98.8%)
- Lesbian sex (64.8%)
- MFF threesomes (59.3%)
- Gay male sex (11.1%)
- Non-binary sex (11.1%)
Where gay and non-binary characters appeared, non-hetero sex scenes were often included as an opt-in feature to be turned on in the game’s settings, rather than as a standard part of the narrative.
Not all sex scenes featured human characters. The researchers reported a plethora of “non-human humanoids” including elves, orcs and minotaurs.
More than a third (35.2%) of the surveyed games featured sex with one of these non-human characters.
And if you’re into tentacle porn, you’re catered for too, as sex with tentacles appeared in 11.1% of the games – the same percentage as non-binary or male gay sex. Sex with furries is another popular genre.
In The (Step) Family
Nearly a fifth (18.2%) of games featured some element of sex with a member of the player’s own family or step-family, and in every instance of this, the playable character was male.
In the visual novel Double Homework, the player is able to choose the names, nicknames and even the character’s relationship (e.g. friend, sister) to his two female roommates, who according to the narrative, he has lived with all his life.
Other games included in the research referred to sisters as ‘friends’ or ‘tenants’ and mother figures as ‘landlady’ in order to pass Patreon’s rules on adult content.
Kinks and Fetishes
Bondage and BDSM games are surprisingly quite rare, featuring in just two in five games included in the study:
- Spanking (40%)
- Bondage (38.2%)
- Domination (37%)
Some other fetishes appear more often, and public sex – with other people present – is one of the most common of all.
- Public/exhibitionist sex (83.6%)
- Voyeuristic behaviour (76.4%)
- Spy cameras/binoculars (36.4%)
In several of the games, spying on female characters was necessary in order to progress the narrative to full sex later in the game.
The researchers took a broad view on non-consent, including rape and sexual assault, but also any unwanted physical contact.
Using this definition, they found non-consensual content in nearly three fifths (59.3%) of the games they examined.
- 75% the player was the abuser
- 25% the player was the victim
In 28% of the games (roughly two in seven) there were scenes of non-consensual sexual contact between two non-playable characters, without direct involvement by the player.
A full 20% of the games featured coercion in the form of mind control or magic, and 9.4% involved drugging the victim.
One game – My Cute Roommate – gives the player an opportunity to stop before committing a rape, but they will lose the game if they do so.
Remember, Patreon’s definition of pornography only applies to real people and photorealistic representations of humans, creating several loopholes for developers to exploit.
“The content in the sampled games quite regularly glorifies sexual violence and sexual exploitation, and in theory, such content is against the content rules specified by Patreon,” the researchers wrote.
“However, the content is not subject to those rules in the same way as other mediums of expression because it does not show real people.“
Gaming Escapism: Who Can I Be Today?
Computer games are often a form of escapism. But if you’re playing a first-person porn game, you might want to identify with the character. So, what are the options?
In their research, the team found playable characters were mostly male, accounting for 81.5% of the games they looked at.
Just three games (5.6%) had a playable female character and only two (3.7%) included the option to play as a non-binary character.
In 92.6% of the games included in the research, the playable character was white. Just one game specified a non-white main character – the same number that featured an android.
Two games did not make clear the ethnicity of the main character, and the researchers were unable to find any evidence in the game, assets or videos they reviewed.
Young adult characters account for the majority of games (63%) compared with more mature characters in 27.8%. In two games, the viewpoint was young adult for most of the game, but would occasionally switch to a more mature character.
Three games did not make the age of the main character clear – although did specify that the character was an adult.
What Makes a Popular Adult Game on Patreon?
Putting all of this together, what can we say about the most-funded adult games on Patreon? According to the research, they’re more extreme with more diverse content – but no more likely to feature non-consensual sex.
Games with the most diverse representation of non-binary characters (and non-binary sex) ranked among the top 25 games, including both Days of Androgyny and Hardcoded.
And three fifths of the sampled games included rape, sexual assault, exploitation or other non-consensual sexual contact – imagery the researchers noted has been around since the days of 1982’s Custer’s Revenge.
In the end, it seems diversity broadens the appeal of Patreon-funded adult games. And with the option to welcome polls and feedback from funders, developers have new ways to include exactly the kinds of content their players want to see.
Check out our shortlist of the hottest adult games on Patreon.