vr-guy

„They never look at porn the same way again.“

At the moment, few technologies elicit as much enthusiasm as the latest generation of virtual reality headsets. Ever since Facebook shelled out two billion dollars in 2014 to buy VR goggle producer Oculus Rift, it has been clear that this is big business. Last year, the technology found its way out of the labs and into the consumers’ hands in a big way, and companies from a variety of markets have jumped on the VR bandwagon – including the adult industry.


 

If you want a to enter the virtual reality, you first need the right headset – usually boxy goggles that create a new world before the user’s eyes. A variety of models from numerous producers are available right now, ranging from rather simplistic devices that require a smartphone all the way to fully-fledged VR machines that cost close to 1000 dollars.

The former option – the Google Cardboard – utilises of the computing power and display of a regular smartphone. A simple solution that doesn’t cost a lot of money, and as Todd Glider explains, it is little more than a ‘gateway drug’ to the world of VR: “They don’t deserve a place on the shelf alongside your other gadgets,“ says the CEO of porn platform Badoink. The company is one of the pioneers when it comes to pornographic content for VR systems. Launched in 2006, the website has spent the past two years focussing on VR porn. “These devices are here to give you a taste, and encourage you to purchase something better—like Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive“, Todd adds, summing up the capabilities of simple VR solutions.

Todd Glider

Todd Glider, CEO of Badoink

Proper headsets obviously offer better quality, but they also put much more strain on the consumer’s wallet. For instance, the going rate for an Oculus Rift headset is roughly €700, Vive from tech company HTC even costs €900. Compared to that, Samsung’s Gear VR Headset seems like a bargain at €90, however, you also need one of the Korean producers’ latest smartphone models. Owners of Sony’s Playstation 4 can also choose another option – a VR headset created specifically for the gaming console. It costs €400, and at the moment, it is the most widespread VR solution.

As Todd Glider adds, it is these prices that make Google’s new VR project, named Daydream, so interesting. Basically, it is the next evolutionary step up from the Cardboard, i.e. another smartphone-based solution. However, the software is tailored to the requirements of VR, allowing for more complex, more immersive experiences and greater ease of use. The first Daydream-compatible smartphones are already available on the market, and soon, more will follow. The price for this VR system will be somewhere between the simple Cardboard models and deluxe headsets such as HTC and Oculus, meaning Daydream will offer acceptable quality for the masses. “Most people are not going to jump from cardboard to Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. They’ll jump to a mid-range device,“ Todd explains. “With Google Daydream, we see many, many more manufacturers agreeing to release phones supporting the platform. That gives the entire market a nice kick.“

Navigating the virtual worlds often requires a controller – held by the user like a video game controller – or cameras that enable motion controls. But when it comes to pornographic content, there are a lot more options because numerous sex toys are VR compatible, allowing for the most immediate experience of interactivity.

One such toy is SenseTube, a masturbator developed by up-and-coming company SenseMax. “SenseTube can be used as just a masturbator, but you can also synchronise it with our SenseNow app to enjoy VR videos,” says Dominique Lecapre of SenseMax. “These 360 degree videos are connected to the SenseTube, meaning that the images follow the motions of your hand.” This combination of what the user sees and what the user feels is one of the greatest elements of the new VR technology, making for a truly unique experience.

Dominique Lecapre

Dominique Lecapre, co-founder and Managing Director of SenseMax

But before consumers can enjoy this kind of automated stimulation, the videos need to be adapted accordingly. So-called meta data has to be added to account for the movements of the toy. Eddy Olivares, CEO of Lovense, explains the process: “This meta content tells the toy what to do. It basically requires someone to go through every second of the video and ensure the meta data syncs properly, like someone would do if they were subtitling a video.“

Lovense currently have two products that are compatible with VR films, masturbator Max and vibrator Nora. The meta data post-processing that Eddie described is similar for all sex toys, and at the moment, this process falls on the shoulders of the VR porn producers themselves. However, producers often use different formats for their content, meaning a standardised process is not in the cards right now. Also, many content producers don’t have the time or money to invest in this kind of post-processing. “We have some patent-pending software that will resolve this issue, allowing anyone to easily create and share a meta data file,“ says Eddy, describing his solution to the problem: “We envision content viewers creating the files instead of relying on getting partnerships or cooperations with the content producers.“

Another product that can be synced up with VR porn is Kiiroo, which was developed in collaboration with masturbator pioneer Fleshlight. “The process of adding machine instructions to a VR video is partly manual and partly automated,“ says Maurice Op de Beek, CTO at Kiiroo. “Our aim is to make this process fully automated, but this will take some time.“ However, that does not mean that users can’t already enjoy Kiiroo-optimised content today. When the toy is used, the required data is automatically uploaded from the server onto the device.

Maurice Op de Beek

Maurice Op de Beek, CTO at Kiiroo

There are also developments on the content side of things. Films and games are created particularly for VR. “Virtual reality can be divided into two categories – 360 degree videos and computer generated imagery,” is how Dominique Lecapre describes the possibilities users can choose from. “Both technologies help to create awareness and demand for virtual reality content, but what’s really furthering this development is that online giants like Facebook and Youtube are starting to embrace 360 degree videos.” There is particularly strong growth in the field of 360 degree porn videos. Today, even the big “free” portals offers VR content. Apart from that, there is a number of paysites that focus on high-quality VR scenes. At realitylovers.com, for instance, users can choose from more than 60 films that have much higher production values than you usually get with this type of content.

René Pour, head of Reality Lovers explains that, compared to regular productions, the aspect ratio in VR videos is much wider, which means that you have to plan accordingly when selecting a location and setting up the lighting. And shooting the scenes is not the only thing that’s more demanding; the post-production process, i.e. putting together the videos, is also much more elaborate, with new things that need to be taken into account. But as René emphasises, the work is worth the while because the result is truly stunning. “You think ‘hey, I’m really in this!’” At the moment, everything is passive, and the user is ‘only’ an onlooker, but still, the experience is much more intense than what we’re used to from 2D productions.

René Pour

René Pour, CEO of Reality Lovers

At the moment, there is no concrete data on how big the market for VR porn is or how big it can get, i.e. how many users can be interested in this type of content. “Anyone who says they have that data is being somewhat disingenuous,“ says Todd Glider. At any rate, the VR market share is still very small when compared to the traditional entertainment and porn market. ”Broadly, it’s important to remember that, for all the fanfare, hype and truly inspiring VR programming available, VR as a tech is still incredibly embryonic.“

Nonetheless, the hype surrounding VR is justified, Todd continues. This technology offers intriguing opportunities for the future. For instance, imagine how the increasing popularity and availability of VR could change the cam girl market. “We are currently working with liveVR where you can be live in the room with your favourite porn star and feel her every move,“ says Op de Beek from Kiiroo, granting us a peek at future content for VR products. However, it will be some time before these videos will be available to consumers.

A positive side effect of the exclusivity of VR pornography is that consumers are more willing to pay for such content. According to Todd Glider, they don’t look at VR content as just jacked-up standard porn, and this difference in perception is one of the main reasons why BadoinkVR has turned into a highly profitable enterprise. Todd feels that video sharing sites – the reason why many users are unwilling to spend money on content anymore – are the smallest common denominator when it comes to the consumption porn videos. “They’re McDonalds and Taco Bell,“ he says. “VR porn, by comparison, is sitting down at the best steakhouse in town.“

René Pour also feels that there is a bright future for this kind of content. “The consumers’ readiness to pay is definitely greater,” he says in answer to the question if consumers are willing to pay for his videos even when there is so much free content floating around the internet. As far as targeted traffic is concerned, the conversion rate is about 15 times higher than the conversion at traditional paysites.

Many experts share the assessment that the market for VR hardware and content will see tremendous growth throughout the next years, inside the adult realm as well as in the mainstream market. A Goldman Sachs study that was already published in early 2016 predicts that, by 2025, 50 million to 300 million VR headsets will be sold.

Eddy Olivares

Eddy Olivares, Marketing Manager of Lovense

Compared to that prognosis, the actual sales figures for 2016 seem rather sobering. While there are no final sales figures for the year yet, market researchers expect that, over the course of the past year, less than three million VR headsets actually found takers. Nonetheless, industry experts believe that 2016 was a big turning point in the history of virtual reality. The first truly user-friendly products saw the light of day, and we got a lot of improvements as far as content was concerned – be it adult videos or other types of virtual reality content.

So it’s no miracle that many companies in this segment are very optimistic about the future: “Eventually, more devices will be connected to one VR storyline and then you will start to see augmented reality, where you will have the porn star in your room,“ says Op de Beek, sharing his vision of adult VR content in the near future. Lovense CEO Olivares also believes that increased hardware sales are more than probable, however, he doubts that the technology will be making any big leaps in the next few years. Also, he adds, the adult industry depends on the big players in the VR segment, and content producers have little choice but to follow the trends dictated by the big guys. “Mass consumption of VR is likely 10-20 years away,“ he says. „Until that happens, and we see how VR in general is being consumed at scale, it’s hard to predict the future connection between sex toys and VR content.“

Badoink VR is more bullish as far as the immediate future is concerned. The larger number of headsets that hit the market will get more people to experience virtual reality content. The biggest challenge right now is to invite new consumers to put on such headsets for the first time so they can fully immerse themselves in the illusion. This is also true when it comes to VR porn. “Once he or she puts on the headset, there’s no going back,“ Todd Glide explains. “They never look at porn the same way again.“

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