The society which (and certainly many of our readers) I live in is terrified of sexuality. For whatever reason, depictions of outrageous, obscene violence is okay throughout our media but not romantic and sexy interactions between consenting adults. This makes it incredibly hard for some creators out there of film, books, comics, and video games, to bring their products to market. Until these past few years, erotic visual novels (eroge) were deemed a disgusting joke by basically everyone in the gaming scene who knew of their existence. Even now, the stigma still holds, though the first few games with semi-explicit sexual content have launched on Steam this year (Kindred Spirits on the Roof and Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning). It’s because of this love/hate relationship with sex and sexuality that it is incredibly challenging for a creator to seek funds via crowdfunding platforms.
There’s just the nature of the rules which is too murky to reliably depend on. For example, explicit visual novels such as Coming Out On Top were allowed to fund via Kickstarter. On the other hand, offering up a risque pillow cover as a reward was deemed too hot for the site in the case of The Grisaia Trilogy campaign. For the most part, Kickstarter is against “adult” content of this nature and as such it is an entirely unfavorable place to fund things like erotic visual novels. Indiegogo is similar, for the most part though there’s more leeway. The main issue with Indiegogo is projects potentially generating less buzz because people simply aren’t aware of your project. Kickstarter definitely dominates in general popularity and user retention. Patreon currently sits as accepting of sexual content – but it is unknown if this will always be the case. Many creators have flocked to the site because of its general openness and many adult projects currently generate a good deal of funding from month to month.
The saddest thing about Kickstarter’s stance is that it cuts off the funding potential for so many projects out there. Without a real chance at success on other sites, creators instead opt to cut content rather than risk angering the Kickstarter gods. This is one reason why publisher Sekai Project often opts to exclusively release all-ages versions of games which were 18+ in Japan. The other reason is related to less potential sales because such visual novels aren’t allowed on Steam (though that’s changing!). In any case, gamers are left with only one option for an official game – the all-ages one, even if they would have preferred differently. Of course, even if Kickstarter were open to adult content, this would still leave Japanese developers cautious as they too are well aware of North American cultural apprehension with regard to anything sexual. It’s a very complex issue. One thing’s for sure, though. There is a definite need in the 18+ visual novel scene (and other communities) to see their work validated and accepted rather than scorned or outright banned.
In the past, there was a site by the name of Offbeatr which allowed all kinds of awesome adult projects onto its platform. In fact, it was exclusively made for adult content! The sad thing is that earlier this year they closed up shop with nary an explanation. It was a big loss for the community given many visual novels and dating sims (among other non-gaming projects) had successfully used it in the past. CumFundMe, another all-inclusive adult funding option, arrived in 2015 only to go on hiatus early this year. The team states they’re still seeking a good payment processor who is willing to work with them. For those unaware, payment processors are themselves often incredibly averse to transactions dealing with adult content. Perhaps it’s due to a high level of payment fraud – or maybe they’re morally against it. Who knows? In any case, CumFundMe is still offline months later.
That’s where PledgeX comes in. This latest initiative comes to us from folks in Los Angeles, California hoping to make a sustainable solution for adult content creators. This includes performers, writers, and game developers, among others. As such, it should prove really exciting new for those of us out there with a taste for uncensored visual novels, among other things. The platform’s site is now live though they are currently seeking out projects rather than showcasing a bunch right out of the gate. Here’s some thoughts as to what their current plans are as well as what they might be able to do to truly stand out from the small but existing collection of competition.
PledgeX currently looks to be a site open to a wide span of erotic content. As of right now, their content restrictions are as follows: “Absolutely no child porn, anything deeply offensive, or where someone has been hurt in the process of making it.” While the “deeply offensive” line could be used unfavorably against creators and is worrying in its fairly unspecific nature, it appears there’s not too much off the table. Even as far as the first restriction is concerned PledgeX only says that relates to actual real-life children. It’s a tough line to tiptoe because such general openness may eventually become a problem for the company.
Of course, unlike Kickstarter or IndieGogo, PledgeX has staked its claim entirely on adult content. They can’t simply remove it if they decide the drama is too much because that’s the entire purpose of their crowdfunding platform. As such, it seems they’re ready to fight for the freedom of these creators and will do so with dogged determination as long as the site is around. This is something which even the ever-increasingly popular Patreon cannot claim. While they do stand for the freedom of content creators, if they were bought up by a large corporation it seems likely that “porn” would be the first thing to go. Chances are this won’t occur – but who can say for certain? So this is one potential huge strength in favor of the newcomer.
One of the biggest current issues is the matter of payment processors. PledgeX has been seeking a secure platform which accepts adult content-based transactions and so far have come up short. At the moment the processor they are working with only accepts payment in form of Bitcoin. Now, I can’t say I know much about this realm, but have certainly heard about Bitcoin banks suddenly vanishing into thin air. As great as the currency can be – the idea of a Bitcoin-exclusive processor leaves me with a bit of trepidation. There’s also the simple fact that being exclusive to the cryptocurrency will leave out many potential funders who would much rather pay by credit card. They’re hoping to get in a secure, reliable credit card processor but as of now that isn’t the case.
An interesting thing to note about PledgeX is it definitely follows in the Patreon model of subscription-style payments. Folks opt to pay on a month-by-month basis and may receive “perks” (rewards) for their contributions. So, how do they stand a chance against the competition when they’re so similar in this regard? There is one huge issue with Patreon right now as a means of distributing your content. It does not offer any form of DRM (digital rights management). It is because of this that sometimes a contributor will receive the patron-exclusive work and then distribute it freely online to any interested parties. If PledgeX can manage to come up with a way to secure content distributed on its site then they will gain a huge competitive advantage with creators looking to maintain control over their work.
Unfortunately, I do not see this happening anytime soon as PledgeX is still trying to get on their feet right now. They’re busy working with content creators to get them set up as well as try to suss out their payment processor needs. Developing a DRM solution would take even more time and would be highly technical in nature. Still, I’m just putting it out there. They should look into the potential of what they can do with browser-based DRM (ex: visual novels which run through the browser ala Date Nighto) as this is the biggest current problem with Patreon. Of course, this may negatively impact those who would rather take their content with them than be restricted to PledgeX’s environment. It’s up to the team to weigh the pros and cons.
PledgeX could quickly become the go-to place for eroge visual novel developers out there if it plays its cards right. This site simply needs to be more attractive than the current other options (mainly Patreon). If Patreon ever changes their policies, then PledgeX could just become the default by being the only option. Of course, they shouldn’t simply wait around for that potential outcome but advocate for their platform in every way possible. Visual artists, creative writers, performers and directors, and game developers should all be courted. After all, those pursuing their creative dreams deserve the chance to be funded by those who adore their work no matter what kind of work it is. We certainly need more sex-positive options out there so here’s hoping they stick around for the long haul.