Pornography has been instrumental in spurring the adoption of new technologies. As anybody with an understanding of human nature will attest to, if you want people to spend their time and money on something, you need to give them a reason, and sex is always going to be one of the most compelling reasons out there.
Another reason why the adult industry has proven such a driver of new technologies could also be that it exists on the margins of social acceptability in the first place. They are, therefore, perhaps less constrained by the norms, rules and conventions which tend slow down innovation. In other words, they are less adverse to risk-taking and generally tend to experiment more – which often means being the first to produce embrace new media such as VR.
“Whatever your feelings about it, adult VR is a major driving force for bringing more users into the VR ecosystem. Literally millions of people buy their first VR headset in part because they want to try that VR porn they’ve been hearing about,” says Daniel Peterson Founder and CEO VRPorn. “It’s like the early days of the Internet. Porn was a killer app, and it helped interest grow quicker. Even today, a huge % of internet activity is related to porn, and some of the largest websites are adult. I think the primary way that this drives the growth of the ecosystem is getting more and more people involved. Once they have figured out how to experience VR porn, they will be better positioned to try everything else that VR offers. And obviously VR is much bigger than just porn.”
“The real tipping point is resolving the chicken-and-egg problem caused by a lack of content. Adult always finds its way into the front of the line with new technologies, and it already has limitless content available. Adult entertainment will motivate customers to acquire VR headsets,” adds Jean Claude Artonne CEO of Terpon, who is looking at ways of straddling the divide between mainstream and adult by providing practical solutions to VR’s technical problems in a vertical related to adult interests. “Each vertical has its own role to play, as adult content and mainstream content are actually two sides of the same coin.”
But once we get there, what types of VR Adult experiences can we expect to have, and which are the main roadblocks to getting us there? We asked some key industry players for their insight.
At its best, VR is more than immersive, it’s intimate, says Artonne.
“I travel often as part of my career, and being able to call my wife at home via our VR webcam prototypes makes all the difference. I’m in different countries around the world, and yet my wife and I are never more than one room apart virtually.”
“Couples have always tried to find ways to make relationships work when they are apart,” says Peterson. “It used to be love letters, now it’s video calls. Many people enjoy using these media for more erotic encounters as well. Phone sex has been a thing for as long as there’s been phones. Yes, couples can get much more adventurous. There are professional adult VR videos shot from both perspectives and synchronized, so you and your partner can experience a fantasy of being someone else, and also of being with someone else,” he adds.
“Adult VR content allows individuals and couples to enjoy another way to interact and live out a fantasy they may not try in real life. These fantasies might include group activities or something even more intimate. This demand will drive new technologies and platforms that support these types of interactions,” says Bradley Phillips Managing Director WankzVR.
The very design and nature of current VR HMDs presents a blocker to such intimacy at the moment, however, since social interaction where you cannot see each other’s faces is challenging to say the least.
“In the short term this means one person can watch and the other person will perform,” says Kiiroo CTO Maurice op de Beek. “There are some technologies like overlaying of the face, but that is in its infancy. Another road would be that couples would both wear VR goggles and they would see a digital representation of each other. The social aspect will be a killer app for our industry, but the technology is not there yet.”
A big part of adult related content is anonymous users who never want to register on any website, nor give any payment information. An added hurdle with watching that content in VR is that you need to buy a specific device to watch that content and that transaction and setting it up online often requires providing personal information. For Artonne, however, that actually presents an opportunity:
“Our answer is to have a clear barrier between adult sites and our mainstream platform that can provide a more attractive environment for customers to purchase these kinds of goods without connecting that purchase directly to any specific usage intent,” he explains.
Peterson agrees that whoever arrives at the solution that makes consumers most comfortable will probably come out on top in that space.
“VR technology can potentially record everything you say, do, and see. Proper respect for a user’s privacy needs to be built into VR tech from the ground up. And this is especially true for adult VR tech. The metaverse will come, but it will have privacy protocols acceptable enough that people will want to use it. And if it doesn’t, the consumers will simply join the metaverse protocol that does, and that one will win,” he says.
We’re in the early age of VR and it’s like Internet in 1995 where everyone was still finding out what the technology will do.
“In the next few years, you will see more gimmicks coming and every one has its value,” Maurice op de Beek from Kiiroo. “The moment that the best technologies come together in one product is the moment that customers will no longer see it as gimmick, but as something essential in their lives.”
A VR experience that impacts all of your senses at once and in harmony to deliver a perfect simulation is probably a long way off though, according to Phillips.
“We have a lot to do on the road map before reaching our goal of integrating connectivity with toys, because VR requires immediacy based on quantifiable data, and with toys that means measuring a physical and emotional state several times per seconds to allow haptic devices to act as proxies for our own appendages. The technology is coming quickly but it isn’t quite here yet,” says Artonne.
According to Phillips, Adult VR could actually be the first to bridge the uncanny valley.
“Eventually VR and AI will allow us to have virtual experiences every bit as real as any we have now in our daily lives, whether that means flying a fighter plane from your couch or having sex with an entire squad of cheerleaders during the Super Bowl, it’s really something each consumer will decide for themselves,” concludes Artonne.
“Much of the offerings available today … are basically gimmicks, but there is so much more potential,” Peterson said. “I believe that AR and MR will have some great adult applications. For example, imagine having the person of your dreams sitting next to you on your home sofa as you watch Netflix and chill together, and interacting with you in increasingly realistic ways as the technology inevitably improves over time.”
First published on UploadVR
— Upload (@UploadVR) May 27, 2017
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Alice Bonasio is a VR and Digital Transformation Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow @alicebonasio on Twitter.