Note: The review for Seduce Me, like the game itself, deals with content of a sexual nature and is intended for adult audiences (the review does not, however, contain any explicit content itself.) If you are under the age of 18 or are likely to be offended by sexually charged material, please use your "back" button (or similar method) to return to where you came from.
It's not everyday that your editor asks you to review a sex game. But there's more to this story than just the game. Seduce Me was kicked out of Steam's Greenlight for its content; i.e. drawings of naked women and written depictions of sexual activities. Needless to say I have opinions about this (see my reviews of Hitman: Absolution, Lollipop Chainsaw for a basic idea), so this review will be about the game, but also about sex in games as a general topic.
In Seduce Me you play a guy who has lucked his way into an invite to the palatial holiday home of a Kardashian-esque sex-mad socialite. Once you arrive you'll tour the house encountering various women (and a few buff gentlemen) and attempting to seduce them (hence the name). The four main characters are the only ones you can eventually sleep with: Pietra, the host; Cecelia, the sex-starved divorcee; Lilia, Cecelia's adult daughter and a closet sadist; and Esper, the maid who is the sub to Pietra's Dom.
The seducing is done through conversations simulated by card games. Depending on what you're doing (flirting, intimate chat, small talk, etc) the game changes, as do the winning conditions. Sometimes you need to win a certain number of hands, other times you need to try and get the same score as your seduction target.
If you win the game you get popularity points and either intimacy or lust points depending on which game you were playing. Get to a certain level of these points and you get to either see a little sexual cutscene or play an extra game to get to a sexual cutscene.
I say “cutscene” because this is how the developers describe it. What you actually get is a single image (the game images are artwork not photographs) and cropped versions of that image accompanied by text. A little dirty vignette rather than some interactive sex game. This is not Virtually Jenna.
The first few times playing this game I crashed out without getting anywhere. You are thrown out of the house if your popularity hits zero. You lose popularity when you lose card games and you lose a LOT. This is because the AI don't have goals. Even when one of the characters asks to flirt with you, she will then play the game so poorly that you lose and she hates you.
Thus my main issue with Seduce Me is that, despite the invitation that is right there in the title of the game, none of the characters want to cooperate. No matter how high your score with a character - and hence your implied closeness to that character - they still play as though they want you to fail.
A lot of sex games fall into this trap. If sex is a game it's a cooperative one, and while that might sound a bit too suggestive for some, if both sides don't play for the win then everybody loses. The characters in Seduce Me are inconsistent; saying they want to flirt, then doing everything they can to stop flirting from working. The only thing that does make sense is that the other men in the game - your rivals - play against you.
And it's not like the developers don't know much about sex. Some of the cutscenes depict very specific fetishes mainly in the Dom/sub category (especially Femdom) and you don't get to know about some of these things without a fair bit of “research” or at least a Fetlife account. Understanding these fetishes requires an understanding of complex relationships, there is give and take (so to speak).
Ultimately Seduce Me falls into the trap that other sex games continue to fall into; modelling the interactions after a game rather than modelling it on sex. In games you are confronted with challenges to be overcome in order to progress (often in a linear path), failure to do so means the end of the game. In real life your sex partners want to have sex with you, you work together and tell each other what you want, small problems are either overcome (like a game) or the path is changed.
In this sense, card games are probably a good analogy. You can win hands to show dominance or submission or work together to get a similar score. But the lack of AI goals alters this completely, as your partner in the games always seems to be playing to make you lose. It feels uneasy that I have to battle somebody before they'll sleep with me.
So overall I'm disappointed in the game, but at least they gave it a fair shot. And as this is Noreply’s first attempt at a game, it could’ve been much worse. It could’ve been much better if they had the support of Steam’s Greenlight project, something designed to help start-up game companies.
Steam removed Noreply’s game almost immediately after they uploaded it (the same day Greenlight launched). When it happened most people shrugged and said “Duh, it’s about sex, you can’t have sex on Steam”. You can have banned games though.
Steam’s Greenlight is filled with indie games that developers have worked hard on creating. So far 12 games have been released from Greenlight to Steam and another 44 are currently “greenlit” meaning that Valve will work with the designers to try and get it to a release-worthy stage. Many of these games are of the first-person shooter variety or just general “kill things to progress” genre.
The clause in the TOS that got Seduce Me dropped is this one:
Are there any restrictions on what can be posted?
Your game must not contain offensive material or violate copyright or intellectual property rights.
Offensive in this context is, of course, the naked people depicted in the game’s artwork not killing people. But to be fair Steam backs this up by saying:
"Steam has never been a leading destination for erotic material," Valve's chief spokesperson Doug Lombardi told Kotaku. "Greenlight doesn't aim to change that."
Steam’s argument is thankfully not "won’t somebody think of the children!?" If you follow the argument that violent games don’t cause violence, then sex games don’t cause sex. But if they both did then I’m sure I’d prefer the sex games to the violent ones.
Steam’s position on not wanting to sell "erotic material" is still tenuous. Does Doug Lombardi know Lesiure Suit Larry is currently greenlit? While far from erotic it does contain half-naked women (or it did when I was a young lad). This is without counting the number of scantily clad, "are you really going to fight orcs wearing that?", young ladies that are featured in many games.
Steam think we are mature enough to be able to handle violent games, but not sex games. Is Steam simply too embarrassed to sell sex games?
This creates an odd space for developers of these types of games. They’re not depicting anything illegal, don’t intend for the product to be used by minors, and yet can’t get basic help to develop and promote their games. This also doesn’t help with innovation to create better games that don’t rely on combat rules for sex.
Finally, here is a list of the jokes I wanted to make in the main text that I decided not to: