With her very first game release, up-and-coming game designer Sophie Artemigi did the seemingly impossible: she reached the #1 spot on the Top Paid charts on the App Store. What has been the key to Sophie’s success with premium mobile game Hook Up? Designing an “unapologetically bisexual” game that was authentic to Sophie’s experience and captured the eye of App Store curators, paired with some clever TikTok marketing.
As an “old”, this was a delightful and eye opening conversation to have. Sophie has done something I have long daydreamed about but never followed through on: she made an authentic, deeply personal game that allows players to step into the shoes of another. Hook Up is a game about a self proclaimed “disaster bisexual” named Alex who matches with her highschool bully on a dating app. It’s a visual novel game with some very clever UI/UX choices that help marry gameplay and storytelling to put you behind the character’s eyes. After Sophie’s success with this first outing, I’m excited to see what the future holds for this promising, young game designer.
Below are some lightly edited highlights from our conversation on being “unapologetically bisexual”, getting the attention of App Store curators and marketing your game on Tik Tok.
On the dating app experiences that informed Hook Up…
Ethan: So I’m an “old”. I’ve never done the Tinders or other similar dating apps. My only experience in online dating, it was pre-app and it was very disastrous. I had three or four horrible J Dates and that was it. That was all I could stomach. Can you tell me about some of the experiences you’ve had that have inspired Hook Up?
Sophie: I’ve meet people on dating apps that I’d never meet naturally. So I’ve met a physicist and a clinical psychologist and a bunch of photographers and other stuff. And I don’t know if this is strange, but I actually developed quite good friendships with the people I’ve ended up with on dating apps. And so a lot of them have played the game and have messaged me being like, “Is this me?” What’s funny is 90% of them are wrong. They’re just trying to flatter themselves.
The thing about online dating is that it’s so inorganic and you have the potential for this very unique closeness where you meet somebody and become very close and vulnerable with them very quickly. But there’s also this possibility for this intense loneliness. You’re doing something that’s ostensibly very passionate and very vulnerable, but it can feel so isolating at the same time.
And so a lot of the stories are kind of just things that made me think of that dichotomy, things that let me play with that idea. And it’s also annoying because the Google Play and App Store rules didn’t let me talk about specific examples that would’ve been as shocking and funny as I would like to, like very specific kinks.
I think there are two kinks that I kept in. But the thing is they weren’t that weird. The great thing about dating apps is you can kind of just list things that you want and people will be like, “I can do that.” And vice versa.
Ethan: It’s like shopping for sexual partners.
Sophie: Yeah, it’s great. Oh God, I’m gonna come off so badly on this, but nonetheless, I’m sticking to my guns…
So, you do end up experiencing a lot of very weird things. Or by weird, I mean, outside the norm. And I just know in my heart of hearts that some regulatory body would’ve stopped me if I started talking about urophilia or CNC.
On making a game that is authentically, unapologetically bisexual and how that led to chart topping success…
Ethan: What was your experience like on the business side of things, taking this mature content, visual novel, premium mobile game to different publishers or investors and asking for funding or support?
Sophie: Well we, we got a lot of no’s because it’s a premium mobile game and it’s 2022.
But that didn’t really put me off. We also got a few no’s because of the other things to do with it, like the mature audience sort of risky nature of it and the fact that it can’t be sold in certain countries with more conservative rules around that stuff.
We did almost get published, but it didn’t end up working out in the end because going with them would mean we’d have to miss a key window in the App Store. We got on the Editor’s List because we released in Pride Month and the game is very unapologetically bisexual.
Ethan: That’s awesome that you got that Pride Month placement, that’s probably as valuable as any publishing you could get.
Sophie: Yeah, being number one in the App Store, even though it was for a few hours, it was insane. And that was definitely because of the promotion from Apple as well as a bit from TikTok that I was able to bring in.
Ethan: That’s an amazing accomplishment that you were number one on the Paid charts. Take that Papa’s Pizzeria To Go!
Sophie: Yeah. <laughing> screw Papa’s Pizzeria. People don’t want pizza! They want horny bisexuals!
Ethan: <laughing> Actually, based on some preliminary searching I’ve done, people want horny bisexuals followed by pizza.
On marketing your game on TikTok…
Ethan: So there was the Pride Month promotion, there were some conventions you did. What have been your other marketing efforts as essentially a student project with not a giant bankroll behind you, how did you get the word out about Hook Up?
Sophie: We used TikTok a lot. We had an official account at the beginning, but then I decided just to use my personal TikTok to promote it and that went down really well. One of our videos has 1.7 million views.
Ethan: I saw it was 1.8 when I checked last night.
Sohpie: It’s really funny. People really responded well to this series I did called “Cool Features In My Game” and every single time it was just like an intro saying “cool features in my game part 1, 2, 3,” or whatever. And then the feature would be like “Being a Disaster Bisexual,” “Getting Blocked,” “Sending Sexts” or something like that.
And people really responded well to that. TikTok is just absolutely insane. The way its algorithm works. It’s so powerful and compared to other social media, it really does convert into sales, which is really cool, but also very overwhelming. If you just join us to make a slutty game…
Ethan: Thirsty. I think, I think Thirsty is the word we’re looking for.
Sophie: Okay, thirsty. Sorry, I’m gonna get you banned off whatever platform you used. <laugh> sorry.
Ethan: You’re the young person you can tell me if I’m wrong. Thirsty feels positive. Slutty feels like it has a lot of shame associated with it…
Sophie: Yeah. There’s, there’s an argument for reclamation. But you’re right. There is that sort of shame associated with slutiness. But I think Hook Up is also a very shameful game. I think it encourages you to sit with a lot of shame. And I think that’s a good thing.
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