As I was doing the rounds of various game-related websites today, both designer and end-user oriented, it struck me: almost all popular western R-POWs are tween-to-teenager friendly — or at least try to be, according to their ESRB ratings.
The only exceptions I found after a cursory search are Age of Conan (rated M to AO/18+ depending on who's talking), a Korean-made mediaeval-horror I don't think I ever heard of before (although the name is so generic it's hard to tell), and, in its own contorted ways, Second Life (while Linden Labs hate seeing their over-hyped cathouse lumped with vulgar MMOG, SL still qualifies as a R-POW, I guess).
Two of those are deemed NSFW on a basis of a lot of gore and gratuitous violence, plus the occasional b00bs and semi-explicit deviant sex, and the last is… well, Second Life, homeland of furries and middle-aged local politicians who love to go wild in latex diapers.
But I digress… my original point, I guess, was that it's surprising how few commercial R-POW take advantage of the creative freedom afforded by not having to give the time of the day to the hysteric 'for the children' lobby.
An Adults-Only rating allows designers to drape pretty much anything under the First Amendment (or applicable equivalent) and be reasonably safe from moral crusaders and wrong-footed art critics …which would be nifty enough on its own, yet the real beauty of it is: it doesn't require you to actually produce boring pornography or unimaginative Nazi-flavored gorefests… seriously.
Going AO essentially amounts to running a private club: you can post the most stringent EULA you want, and nobody will be able to build even a half-decent case against your policies on the basis they were too lazy to read, or to claim a natural right to access in the holy names of free market and consumer choice.
Much like this blog is set as 'Adult Content' — although I don't think I ever posted anything even as mild as a wardrobe malfunction — taking the non-family-friendly approach means you don't have to answer to the mouthbreathers who'd want to dictate their terms in your space.
A double side benefit is you'll still get the kids, as per the first law of Forbidden Fruits and attractive exclusivity, yet the onus will be on them to behave like grownups in order to avoid being detected (and subsequently insta-banned without trial).
Honestly, I can't see a downside to hanging a large AO/18+ sign on your door — without even stopping to consider if you could go for a T instead, and try to sneak your most controversial material under the radar of rabid soccer moms.
The only obvious (if short-sighted) rationale for the lack of AO offer on the R-POW market would be that game makers live by the mistaken belief their only potential market gravitates around the kids demographic… that could go a long way towards explaining why most MMOs are firmly planted on the stupid side of the creative spectrum, though.
Not to imply kids are stupid, or only going for brain-dead entertainment, obviously: rather to say that if you can be so far off the mark on who your userbase is, you probably also hold very flawed assumptions about what they're paying you for.