Q-Bits from my personal collection – Softporn Adventure

At a trade show in 1981, On-Line Systems co-founder Ken Williams met Chuck Benton, who was promoting and selling his Softporn Adventure. A text-only adventure game with an adult-oriented theme, created initially as an exercise for him to learn Applesoft BASIC and to see if the computer could be a means to creating a database program. While Softporn was nothing but an exercise, friends who tried it enjoyed it and encouraged him to try and publish it. Benton rewrote it and attempted to market the game himself, trying to place ads in magazines but the controversial subject matter and name made it impossible. Under the company name, Blue Sky Software, he sold around 100 copies. A few of those were sold to Williams’ employees at the tradeshow who brought it back to the office and soon work ground to a halt. While On-Line Systems was known for its graphic adventures, Williams was intrigued by the game and offered Benton to publish it under the On-Line systems label.

While Softporn Adventure would stir controversy, it earned prominent coverage in Time Magazine’s first column on computer entertainment, Software for the Masses. Despite the unusual and more adult-oriented content, the coverage spawned great market exposure. Time Magazine even published the famous cover photo, showing an Apple II computer and a waiter delivering Champagne to three naked women, one of which being Roberta Williams. Softporn sold an estimated 50.000 copies, temporarily doubling the On-Line Systems’ sales.

Softporn Adventure was released by On-Line Systems (later Sierra On-Line) for the Apple II (Left) and the Atari 8-bit (Right).
The Softporn name was indeed great for marketing but for the bystander, quite controversial in 1981.
Chris Iden who did the Atari port, was, for a decade, one of the technological forces within Sierra and helped author its adventure game development systems. Iden left Sierra in 1991, like designer Jim Walls, for newly formed Tsunami Media

In early 1981, when Benton started work on Softporn Adventure, he was single and in his late twenties, clearly reflected in the subject matter.
While the name Softporn could imply certain things the game was, to most extent, quite innocent.
Benton later stated that parts of the game were autobiographical

By 1982, On-Line Systems became Sierra On-Line and when the company a few years later came to a licensing agreement with Disney, Softporn Adventure was dropped from the company’s portfolio. Benton continued to contract with the company and over the next couple of years programmed and ported some of the company’s titles to different platforms. In 1986 Sierra and Disney parted ways and with the majority of the company’s titles being all family-friendly fantasy, another themed game made more and more sense. At the time Infocom’s Leather Goddess of Phobos, a humorous and somewhat naughty text-only adventure game, was having great success, without too much commotion despite its more mature content. Williams and Lowe agreed that an updated version of Softporn Adventure, utilizing the company’s now-proven and successful Adventure Game Interpreter, AGI, was a possibility. Lowe, after completing King’s Quest III went home and replayed Softporn. The game, even for its own time, was rudimentary and with very little depth. It had no protagonist, little or no plot, and of course no graphics. Lowe reported back to Williams that the game was so far past its due date, remarking, it could as well have been wearing a ’70s leisure suit. The remark stuck and became an integral part of the new game and its protagonist.

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, essentially Softporn with graphics, was released in 1987 and like Softporn it was met with controversy due to the adult nature of the game. Unsure of how the game would be received, management chose to release it with no publicity or advertising budget. Only around 4.000 copies were sold upon release but by the end of the year, it had surpassed 250.000 copies.

Sources: Chuck Benton Interview from GET LAMP, Wikipedia,

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