Maybe I should have just made a game about candy pieces. It would have been a lot easier. Calling my shiny, colorful puzzle game ‘Boob Rescue’ certainly made things a lot harder than they needed to be.
I think it’s great when developers create post mortems about their released games and I have always wanted to do the same. At the beginning of October I released my pink puzzle game on the Google Play Store. Boob Rescue hasn’t been on the market long enough to really gather relevant data in terms of download numbers or revenue, but I will post those at a later time. Today I want to write about the development of the game, which deserves its own post.
What I learned during the development of Boob Rescue in the past few months is that making a game about breasts is anything but easy.
Breast Cancer has to do with breasts, but it isn’t sexy.
Although these days the display of female breasts seems to be socially accepted for purposes of advertisement or promotion of goods and services, making a video game focusing on the female breast is still a challenge. Boob Rescue has nothing to do with sex, pornography or anything else the game’s title might suggest. It is a game about breast cancer with the goal to raise breast cancer awareness. That is a good cause and should not create any problems, right? Well…
The idea for Boob Rescue was born in ‘Pinktober’, the breast cancer awareness month where everybody is happily and cheerily celebrating the fight against the disease. Pink t-shirts and fund raisers are omnipresent each year during October, and this year, I wanted to join the cause. Making a cute little mobile game dealing with breast cancer to raise funds for breast cancer research with in-app purchases was my attempt to support the fight.
I felt that I would be the right girl for the job: I am female, an experienced software engineer, and I have a personal connection to the subject matter. My mother battled hard with breast cancer and almost lost the fight. She had to undergo a very aggressive form of chemotherapy and lost one of her breasts. Somewhere in the back of my head lingers the constant fear that one day I might get hit by the disease as well, just because I might have inherited some of the wrong genes.
What better way than to combat that fear than to make a game that lets players ‘puzzle against breast cancer’!?
Not much ‘boob’ left
Well, let me tell you, now that the game has been released, there is not much ‘boob’ left in Boob Rescue. The first thing that died were the physicalized 3D breasts which could be touched and scanned in order to detect dangerous lumps. This was really the coolest feature of the game and has now been replaced by a simple 2D scratch-off style puzzle.
It is sad because the underlying tech prototype had worked really well and made great use of the multi-touch ability of modern tablets. It had a custom animation system with realistic surface deformation, using both blend shapes and joint animations. I even dare to say that this would have been one of the most realistic physicalized breasts you would have gotten on a tablet.
However therein also lies the problem, since Apple or Google will not approve anything for release in their stores which even remotely features ‘bouncing’ breasts, no matter how far away the content is from any sexual reference.
It’s not that I can’t see where they are coming from. Even though the gameplay focused on detecting lumps and learning about breast cancer prevention, it isn’t hard to imagine that in the hands of teenage boys those wobbling 3D breasts might be used in ways not quite intended by the designer.
Breasts are fine in ads, but not the other way around
Even after removing the most loved feature of the game and replacing it with a more ‘safe’ 2D alternative, things didn’t go smoothly from there.
Since the game was free I wanted to bring in a bit of extra money by placing ad banners in the game. After signing up with one of the biggest ad networks out there it only took a couple of days to get the game banned from their network due to its ‘inappropriate’ content. Again the name ‘Boob Rescue’ was hurting the game, since something that is called Boob Rescue must clearly have some pornographic/sexual content, right?
My emails asking what exactly was inappropriate about the game never got any replies. It needed several attempts, a rework of the game’s logo and artwork to finally get signed up with an ad network without getting kicked out again.
Next up was marketing. Everybody familiar with the mobile space knows that without marketing it is very hard to get noticed among all the hundreds of games released every month. One of the greatest things about Boob Rescue is that a share of every in-app purchase will be donated to breast cancer research. The more players spend in the game, the more funds for breast cancer research will be raised.
My plan was to get involved with the most popular breast cancer charities and try to get their help to promote the game on their social media accounts and in return it would (hopefully) generate lots of extra funds for them. I was even offering to guarantee a certain amount of donations, and pay for it myself, should the game fall flat. Everybody wins, right? Again, things proved to be a bit more difficult.
I have not yet found anyone who wants to partner with me and promote the game. I was turned down due to ‘contractual’ reasons or told that this isn’t really a fit. Do games and breast cancer not mix well? I don’t know if people found the two years my company has been in existence as too short to bear credibility, or if they found the whole idea of making a game about breast cancer too dubious. At this point I decided to just release the game without any support and see where things are going. I figure I can just donate the money anyway, without an official partnership.
Boob Rescue has since been released for phones and tablets, just in time for this year’s Pinktober. The game is out on the Google Play Store now and has not yet been banned, so I guess it will stay there for good.
I also submitted the game to Apple’s AppStore but there has been no approval yet. At the time of writing, it has been in review for three weeks, more than twice as long as the average review time. In my mind I am speculating wildly about what’s causing the holdup. I hope whoever is reviewing it doesn’t just look at the title and then rejects the for ‘sexual content’ without ever opening the app.
I never expected Boob Rescue to make millions. I just didn’t expect it to be this complicated.
This blog was originally posted on I Code Like A Girl on October 30th, 2014.