LOS ANGELES (CNN/Money) American gamers, it turns out, were lukewarm about Playboy. But what will their reaction be to Jenna Jameson?
The trend of video game nudity that kicked off in 2004 isn't showing signs of slowing down in 2005. If anything, it's speeding up. While none of last year's 'nekkid' games was a blockbuster, publishers and developers as well as the biggest name in the adult film industry - are planning even more for the months to come.
The newcomer to the industry is Jameson, who recently launched "Virtually Jenna" on her Web site. The game, according to a press release, allows players to "simulate control of her sexual activity and even decide when she reaches a state of bliss."
Obviously, this isn't a game you'll find in traditional retail stores but Jameson boasts a sizable fan base (as sales of her recent autobiography attest), which could help online sales. And she's already planning to expand beyond basic sex simulators.
"We're trying to be the EverQuest of adult games," Brad Abram, a developer with Xstream3D Multimedia, which made "Virtually Jenna". "It's sort of the mainstreaming of adult gaming like what Jenna did for adult videos and DVDs. She's a great candidate to be the first crossover success."
While some might chortle at a sex simulator game, there's real money being spent: A three-day trial costs $9.95, while monthly subscriptions run $29.95. Total users for the just-released "Virtually Jenna" and an earlier version of the game that did not feature the actress currently hover around 7,500, said Abram.
Another name tied to adult audiences Playboy jumped into the gaming business earlier this year. "Playboy: The Mansion" lets players embrace their inner Hefs, taking pictures of polygonal Playmates in their birthday suits and building a media empire.
U.S. sales were so-so, topping 109,000, according to the NPD Group. (Publisher Arush said domestic sales were higher, but declined to give a specific figure.) But European and Australian sales were substantially better, prompting work to begin on an expansion pack.
"Playboy: The Mansion Party Pack," a PC exclusive due out in September, will add new Playmates and some of Playboy's most famous parties (including the Midsummer Night's Dream gathering and Hef's birthday) to the game.
"One of the big things we got from listening to players was that they really got into customizing the game and building up their own mansions," said Jeb Havens, lead designer on the expansion for Cyberlore Studios. "So we're giving the opportunity for people to try out these wild parties."
"We're going to have some very exciting sexual animations that are both funny and tasteful and maybe push the M rating a little further," added Jim Perkins, president of Arush. "We want to see how far we can go in representing parties at the Playboy mansion. We still want to stay within the M rating, though."
Speaking of expansions, "Singles: Triple Trouble," a continuation of last year's "Singles: Flirt Up your Life," is en route to European audiences and the developer is hoping to once again bring the game to North American shores.
"We are currently in talks with several US publishers, regarding distribution deals of the game," said Dave Blundell, head of public relations for the game's developer Deep Silver. "The original was very successful with our publisher, Eidos (Research), so we have high hopes for the sequel."
Very successful might be a bit of an exaggeration. The game, which is best described as a naughty version of "The Sims," sold just over 11,500 copies on store shelves, according to The NPD Group. An AO (Adults only)-rated version of the game sold online moved another 35,000 copies worldwide, said an Eidos spokesperson.
Players in "Triple Trouble" will see their characters move into a new apartment with two friends. Once you arrive, you learn an ex just happens to live there as well. Will you rekindle the flame? Will you find a partner in another location? It depends how you play the game. Like its predecessor, "Triple Trouble" will feature nudity and sex.
While games have been hinting at sex and nudity for years, actually seeing a breast or a sexual act was the exception rather than the rule until a few years ago. As more games have done so, the issue has become more political.
Game developers say the rising age of gamers makes including sex and nudity more acceptable in certain circumstances. Parent groups say adding these elements teaches young players that women are nothing more than objects. (Games featuring sex and nudity are rated M (for Mature) and are meant for players 17 and older.)
So far, games that tout these elements as big features haven't met with much retail success.
Last year's "Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude" topped last year's skin games, but still sold just over 305,000 copies, according to The NPD Group. Not a failure, but hardly a success given its availability on PC, Xbox and PlayStation 2. "The Guy Game," a trivia title that featured video footage of spring breakers stripping, sold less than 88,000 copies.
Games, meanwhile, which focus on other gameplay elements and just happen to have nudity or sex have fared considerably better.
Perhaps the best example is Sony's "God of War" a compelling, gory action/adventure game set in ancient Greece. As Kratos, you must battle Hydras and obtain Pandora's Box as you prepare to wage war against Aries. The game's fight sequences have been widely praised as some of the best seen on the PlayStation 2.
But amidst the carnage are bare-breasted women and even a sex mini-game, where Kratos is tasked with pleasuring two women at once. The scene is rather comical, as the camera shifts away from the participants and focuses on a vase, which shakes more and more as Kratos gets closer to his goal.
It's a throwaway, optional part of the game one that Sony (Research) hasn't publicized at all. And "God of War" has sold just shy of 400,000 copies in less than two months.
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