How a game about dicks sold hundreds of thousands of copies

Genital Jousting has sold 354,139 copies so far. Which is a lot of penises.

When it launched in Early Access in late 2016, Genital Jousting became a viral sensation—Gang Beasts with wangs. Seemingly everybody on YouTube made a video about, even us. Doing the rounds on social media paid off when Steam sales came round. 

"A lot of the sales did come in Early Access," says creative director Evan Greenwood, "and a lot of that was during things like the Christmas sale which Steam included us in and things like that. I think there might have been a Valentine's bump."

"We did a big Valentine's Day special," confirms programmer Robbie Fraser. "We wanted to do a two-for-one package and Steam wouldn't give it to us. We ended up doing 50% off instead, which is not quite the same thing."

Success wasn't a sure thing for Genital Jousting. After wrapping up work on Broforce, Free Lives reached out to Valve to make sure that a game about penises that have buttholes would be acceptable for their platform. Though one of Valve's reps confirmed it would, they remained cautious at first. 

"Initially Steam did not promote it in certain places because of its adult nature," says Greenwood. "They were waiting for some sort of backlash, they weren't sure what would happen themselves. They didn't receive a backlash and the game maybe was better than they expected, it received relatively good reviews, that kind of thing. The Steam user reviews people were happy, they weren't up in arms saying, 'This is a pile of garbage'. And so Steam kind of made it up to us by including us in Christmas sales and that kind of thing."

For about a year during Genital Jousting's time in Early Access, Free Lives went dark. They were working on something special for the final launch—a singleplayer mode for their silly-physics party game, an ambitious linear narrative that took its fumblecore mechanics and used them to tell a story about modern manhood. It was an unexpected addition, to say the least. At the time I compared it to The Stanley Parable, only you're a penis. But even with that major addition appearing out of nowhere Genital Jousting's final release didn't equal the success it enjoyed during Early Access.

"We assumed it would have another round of virality," says Fraser, "and be like a whole 'nother new thing that people hadn't seen and it could be as big as like the first time they saw anything about Genital Jousting."

"So that didn't happen," adds Greenwood, "and it actually went the way that anyone with some business sense and a head on their shoulders would have expected, which was it performed about as well as the initial launch."

He's quick to add that they don't consider this a failure. Adding a singleplayer story to their game may not have doubled its already impressive sales, but that's not the only measure of its worth. "We're really proud of it and we've had a lot of really strong, positive response," Greenwood says. "I think people are playing it but it's kind of hard to tell. It doesn't YouTube the same way and it can't be on Twitch."

Genital Jousting is among the games banned from Twitch due to its sexual content, and while it's still allowed on YouTube, it's become less visible there thanks to changes in their algorithm. "It hasn't had the same virality as we experienced the first time. We don't know how much of that is because of increased strictness on YouTube's part. Delisting videos for any kind of sexual content was a thing that had started almost before two weeks before the final launch of Genital Jousting and we don't know how much effect that had, if any."

Releasing the Early Access version of their game when they did was a fortuitous bit of timing, giving it a chance at spreading across the internet it wouldn't have if they'd done it today. As for what's next, they describe Free Lives as being in an experimental mode at the moment, working on various prototypes as well as continuing work on Gorn, their VR gladiator game. "Gorn's continuing," says Greenwood. "There may be an update to Broforce. We're seeing if we still enjoy making bits of Broforce, maybe a bit more of a taste for it after a narrative experience. Maybe some dumb action, maybe that would be enjoyable."