When Sophie Artemigi started talking to publishers and platforms about her student project Hook Up: The Game, she was shocked by some of the responses she got.
The games business has no problem funding and marketing games centred around violence, but it seems folks suddenly get a little prudish when it comes to dating and sex.
“Some of the higher-ups in publishing companies, just talking person to person, told me that they really liked my game, but there’s no way they’d publish it,” Artemigi tells us. “I definitely think that there’s a lot of change that needs to be made in the industry if anyone wants to make this kind of game again, frankly.”
Hook Up: The Game is text-based and set within a fictional dating app. You play as Alex, someone working through past trauma by exploring her sexuality. There is no graphic imagery in the game, there’s a content warning up front when you begin and it is rated 17+ on both app stores. And yet Artemigi encountered a surprising amount of resistance to the title, based on its themes. It’s a blind spot the industry must work harder to resolve, she says.
“If I hadn’t made Hook Up using student labour, it wouldn’t have got made,” Artemigi tells us. “If you look at any storefront in the games industry, they’ll have about two pages worth of rules on violence. But with sex, it’s just: ‘you’re not allowed to put pornographic material on our storefront’. That is so vague!”
“Some people were telling me my game was pornographic when it absolutely is not. Also, the phrase sexual posturing came up a lot. I frankly don’t know what that means.”
Artemigi ended up releasing the game herself, and watched in amazement as it climbed the paid charts to hit number one on its first day – a feat driven by her TikTok following.
“The first TikToks I posted were just like a 10 second screen capture of the game,” she says. “And the next morning, I had like 30,000 views on one of them. Then that grew into about 700,000 views over the next few weeks. A few weeks later, I did the same thing and one of them got 1.7 million views.”
There are plenty of folks out there trying to engineer viral success, but Artemigi says it’s as simple as being out there as your authentic self. “It’s my personal TikTok, I don’t really treat it as a ‘company TikTok’, even though I am also there to represent myself as a game designer,” she tells us. “I think that’s kind of the way social media has forced us to exist.”
Hook Up: The Game got around 900 downloads on the iOS App Store on launch day, June 7, enough to top the UK paid charts. It then hovered around the top 20 for the next few weeks. To date, the game has been downloaded around 2,600 times on iOS and 1,000 times on Android, earning Artemigi a £5k return so far. Top markets were UK, US, Germany, Canada, and Austria.
“My friend got a screenshot when we were number one,” says Artemigi. “Being above Stardew Valley, even though it was only for a few hours, was just unreal to me. It felt like a dream.”
These aren’t Supercell numbers, sure, but it’s enough for Artemigi, who is fresh out of university, to commit to building her own studio. She’s already out there pitching for investment for game two, in fact.
“It’s a narrative game, a dark comedy with science fiction themes,” she adds. “Think Frankenstein meets The Good Place. We’re raising funding, I’ve got a team set up, I’ve got a game design doc written, we’re pretty much champing at the bit.”