Four years ago, StudioFOW was known as a collective that created brutal porn films featuring the heroines of popular video games. In these movies, characters would routinely get raped and abused until reaching a mental breakdown, all for the viewing pleasure of millions of hungry fans. Today, StudioFOW is still around — but now it’s making a video game that is exploding on Kickstarter.
Subverse is a hybrid video game that combines tactical RPG gameplay (think XCOM), shmups, and cinematic visual novel elements. You can explore a galaxy full of planets hiding secrets. You have a ship that you can upgrade, and a crew that you can get to know through backstories and loyalty missions. But also, you can sleep with all of the women you recruit.
If this kinda sounds like Mass Effect, that seems intentional — Subverse wears its influences on its sleeve. At one point, the Kickstarter pitch jokes that the game’s navigation mechanics are “stolen from well-known sci-fi games,” but the similarities go beyond that. The sexbot character, for example, is very reminiscent of Mass Effect’s EDI. But where BioWare games have shied away from focusing too heavily on the romance elements, Subverse leans fully into the relationships between characters. While there is a story, watching people bang each other at the player’s preferred speed and pose seems to be the primary motivating factor behind Subverse’s gameplay. StudioFOW promises that your crew is perpetually turned on, and seemingly there to please the player, cleavage physics and all.
“The better you perform in combat, the more you explore, and the more you talk to your waifus – the better your rewards get!” the Kickstarter reads. “Each waifu will have unlockable, fully animated, StudioFOW quality hentai scenes which you can view whenever you wish from the comfort of your own Captain’s Quarters.”
Given the developer’s pedigree, you might expect that Subverse’s debauchery is as brutal as the wider StudioFOW oeuvre, but surprisingly, that’s not the case here. While StudioFOW heavily emphasizes the action, DC, the creative director, told Polygon that unlike their previous work, Subverse will not feature rape.
“Subverse will feature fully consensual sex,” DC said. “It was a creative decision on my part.”
Given that Subverse aims to release on Steam, StudioFOW’s options for portraying things like rape is limited. While Steam does sell games where people get it on, the distribution platform recently pulled a title called Rape Day because it posed “unknown costs and risks,” according to Valve. Kickstarter, meanwhile, doesn’t allow fundraising for “offensive material” or “pornographic material.” It’s possible that Subverse couldn’t exist and be sold on these platforms if it included the type of sex that the studio is known for.
As DC tells it, early scripts for the game were darker, but these iterations didn’t work out the way the studio hoped. “We tried a number of rewrites then eventually went full on comedy and it IMMEDIATELY clicked, like overnight,” he said. The aim was to create a lighthearted game with “memorable perverts and deviant villains.”
To wit, Subverse features a character called William Dildofingers, who apparently has inflatable phalluses attached to his robot hands. If this sounds ridiculous and a tad immature, the kicker is that, as of this writing, Subverse has raised $1,787,407 on Kickstarter — well past its goal of $129,409.
Subverse’s success on Kickstarter can be boiled down to a variety of factors. For one, StudioFOW has been around for a good while, and its hardcore porn films have produced a legion of devoted fans. Many StudioFOW creations have been viewed millions of times. If a fraction of that audience donated to the Kickstarter, it’s no wonder the project is doing so well.
More overtly, sex games continues to be an underserved market in the video game world. Games about sex are few and far between, and any game that depicts the subject has to deal with things like age ratings. Retail stores often refuse to stock adult-only games, while platforms like Steam try to hide their existence unless you opt in. Despite this landscape, hunger for games about sex is alive and well in the video game industry. Gaming portals like Nutaku, which specialize in risqué games, boast that it has millions of players every month. Many of these existing sex games, however, do not look or play like the AAA video games that Subverse is trying to parody.
Still, there’s the question of why players would trust filmmakers to make a good game. StudioFOW claims that some people on staff have already shipped titles on Steam, but it also helps that they’re already familiar with the development tools necessary to bring it to life.
“We switched engines to Unreal 4 last year [to make movies], and since it’s primarily a games engine, we thought it would be a natural progression for the studio to try and make a game with it,” DC said.
With less than a day left to go in the fundraiser, it seems likely that the project could hit $2 million. Already, donors have unlocked a variety of fundraising milestones, such as added characters, more chapters, additional lewd sequences, character vignettes, and even a manga adaptation. Rewards, meanwhile, are strictly digital — the campaign offers things like digital art books, adding names to the credits, Discord access, naming planets, and even designing a love sequence. This, StudioFOW explains, was done to make sure that its budget isn’t wasted on physical rewards that take away from the game’s actual development.
“I have to say that the Kickstarter campaign has surpassed even my wildest expectations,” DC told Polygon. “I think it resonates with people because we’re trying to make a good game instead of the usual exploitative hentai fare that uses gacha and gambling systems.”