Steam's most-wanted sex game is trapped in development hell

A woman in uniform with sweat on her skin
(Image credit: Project Helius)

There's only one adult game in the ranking of Steam's 100 most-wishlisted games and it's at number 25, above Homeworld 3, Darkest Dungeon 2, and Redfall. This is Operation Lovecraft: Fallen Doll, a 3D, Unreal Engine-powered game described on its Steam page as "a Cthulhu mythos inspired sex simulator and third-person sandbox."

It's not just big on Steam. Over on Patreon, where developer Project Helius is raising funding for Operation Lovecraft: Fallen Doll, it's got almost 15,000 patrons and is the fourth most-popular adult game.

What's made elevated this above Steam's upcoming sex games? While the majority of Steam's flood of hentai games are 2D or static or pre-rendered, Operation Lovecraft is 3D, professionally animated, and interactive. It's being made in Unreal Engine 5 after beginning in UE4, and has real-time hair rendering and mocapped models. Patreon updates boast of "Physics based real time body fluid simulation" and "Dynamic Sweat". In addition to customization sliders for hair color and breast jiggle intensity there's one for skin wetness that applies a sheen of sweat to collarbones and other places it might naturally pool. It's a long way from the average match-3 puzzle game with stolen art, and boasts of VR compatibility. Characters still sometimes clip through their clothes or the overactive breast physics go wild, but it's a rare adult game that looks like a big-budget release.

Operation Lovecraft is also making greater effort than many of its pornographic peers to seem like a genuine game, and its developers have outlined a kitchen sink of features, some of them hard to imagine. The first sentence of its Steam description declares it a "roguelike strategy game featuring squad tactics and deck building". It promises a campaign with a Combat Drill mode in which a cast of sexy investigators engage monsters and cultists right out of Call of Cthulhu in tactical battles. An investigation phase is described as a race against a Doom Clock to collect clues on a strategic map, which sounds just like the board game Arkham Horror.

Thing is, none of that's in Operation Lovecraft as it currently stands. 

Instead, the version available to Patreon backers has "Harem Mode", a multiplayer sandbox where players customize characters and let them loose to perform in scenes to earn likes from other players, which can be spent on unlocking more poses. 

Where a trailer from 2020 calls Operation Lovecraft a "Rogue-lite Tactical Game", a more recent trailer from late 2021 shifted to calling it an "erotic game" that is "real-time 3D". To Operation Lovecraft's community of Patreon backers and Steam followers, the addition of an online multiplayer mode to its list of features while the campaign has been delayed represents a change in direction they're not happy about. 

One volunteer who worked on Operation Lovecraft as a translator complained on the Steam forum, "the biggest issue with this project is the numerous times they have 'rebuilt' the game. I believe the original project started in 2017 and have changed scope over the past 5 years several times [...] The last straw for me was when they attempted to make this an online game despite objection from the vast majority of supporters. I'm not going to sugarcoat it for them, from my perspective, this project might as well be a scam at this point."

A slowdown of updates over the course of Operation Lovecraft's long development has contributed to the community turning against the developers. Comments on the official Discord range from "Slowly this game is turning into half life 3" to "People that call [Star Citizen] a scam but still have hope for this game are a new level of hypocrite".

This may sound familiar if you've kept up with Subverse, the adult game that promised a cross between Mass Effect and X-COM, with sex. After raising over a million dollars on Kickstarter in 2019, Subverse launched on Steam early access in March, 2021. Almost two years later it's still in early access and progress has slowed to a crawl. Subverse likewise raised interest, and a huge amount of crowdfunding, by promising to combine hentai with big-budget videogame graphics and gameplay. Its creator, Studio FOW, is made of talented animators just like Project Helius, but has struggled to translate that skillset into game development or project management. 

(Image credit: Project Helius)

If there's a lesson here, it's the same one every outsider to game development with an ambitious idea learns when trying to make that a reality: videogames are hard.

Repeated attempts were made to contact Project Helius for comment before this story was published, but no reply was received.

How did Operation Lovecraft end up on Steam anyway?

As the name suggests, Operation Lovecraft is inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's horror fiction. Its tagline is "gaze into the abyss, and masturbate when it gazes back" and the Steam page shows women who have pneumatic proportions and anime faces engaging in what the mature content description euphemistically calls "forced sex scenes" with grotesque monsters. Even if you keep up with Steam's changing attitude to adult games, you may be surprised how graphic it is. 

(Image credit: Project Helius)

Since Steam began publishing uncensored adult games in 2018, all adult games submitted to the storefront have gone through a longer version of Steam's review process. Though Valve's never made public a full list of exactly what it will disallow, games have failed to make it through review for having sexually explicit images of real people, or being deemed pornography rather than games, or pretty much everything about Rape Day. Some developers claim their games have been removed for having characters who look like minors.

Project Helius documented their negotiation of Steam's review process in a series of Patreon posts. In October of 2020, they mentioned the only potential issue with a submitted build was "Steam's attitude towards Galatea and some of the non humanoid monsters' designs". Galatea is one of Operation Lovecraft's cast of sexbots who looks particularly young, and in a later post they mention a "need to make her taller before adding her to the game in accordance to Steam's rule".

(Image credit: Project Helius)

A post from July, 2021, notes that sex with non-humanoid monsters ended up being a non-issue, at least for the creatures in the submitted build, since "Sex scenes with Hound of Tindalos and Saaitti's revenant are not considered borderline bestiality as they have enough distinguishable traits from real animals so they are good to go."

That post goes on to mention that when a newer build of Operation Lovecraft was submitted, more issues were raised. One related to the depiction of "forced sex", with Valve ruling that "Terms like 'Deny' and 'Resist' cannot be used as names of sex scenes." The Patreon post notes, "I'm not certain if they meant the poses are bad or just the names, however we will revise the wording and see if that works." 

A second issue again related to the possibility of characters being seen as minors, and so a schoolgirl uniform that was one character's default costume was swapped.

(Image credit: Project Helius)

These changes are apparently all that was required. As a final post on the subject from November of 2021 announced, "After months of tug of war between us and Steam reviewers, we are happy to announce that Operation Lovecraft: Fallen Doll is launching on Steam without any contents being censored". 

Though its Steam page can't be accessed in Korea or Germany, where different laws apply, and future updates will still be subject to approval, right now Valve is perfectly happy to have Operation Lovecraft in its store.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.