In Depth: Porn and virtual reality: a changing industry

How is VR impacting porn professionals?

“The lack of eye contact makes [the performer] appear distant for a sexual encounter – but there is also something sexy about that,” says male porn performer Xander Corvus, “in the way a glory hole is sexy.”

Virtual reality is changing pornography. It’s changing the way we watch it, and the way it’s made.

Porn has always been a driver for technology. From Blu-Ray to VHS, Super 8 projectors to pay-per-view cable, porn has often been as a surefire way of taking new technology into the mainstream.

In 2016, pornography is at another one of those moments. Profits are dwindling thanks to readily available free content across the web. Larger production companies are scrambling for the next big thing, and many have grasped onto it in virtual reality.

With the launch of the Oculus Rift and the advent of affordable headsets like the Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard and countless others, VR is readily available for the masses, while the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR will be in homes by the end of the year.

It’s pretty obvious, then, how we’ll be watching VR porn – but how is it changing the experience for the people involved in making it?

“I’m always bummed out when I look at my call sheet and I see [regular] point-of-view,” says Corvus. “I’m all for VR. If anything it’s relaxing, like a porno spa day for me. I much prefer virtual reality. Traditional POV shoots are annoying, because it’s even more of a tease and annoyance for me.

“I mean, I get to be more hands on, but I have to think about so much more, like not bumping the camera man who is breathing down my neck.”

The experience of performing within virtual reality can be entirely different to filming traditional 2D video, perhaps even distracting.

VR Bangers

“It’s harder shooting VR,” says Daniel Abramovich, co-founder and CEO of VR Bangers.

“For the male actor that is behind the camera, they’re used to being free and doing whatever they need to do in the movie. Here they basically just stand and can’t move to do anything to move the camera.”

“It’s really hard for them to shoot. It’s completely different, as they can’t move at all.”

That might be so, but VR is also bringing performers closer to their viewers. Charlie Heart, who performs live VR shows for webcam site CamSoda, says she jumps at the chance to do anything with virtual reality. Heart isn’t using point-of-view, but uses the VR camera to create a more intimate setting.

“I love the interactive part of it,” she says. “With 2D I don’t have to worry about my angles as much – I don’t have to suck it in,” she jokes. “But I love the idea that with VR, it’s like [users] are sitting in a chair in front of me. If I’m doing a little striptease, there’s satisfaction like they’re there with me.”

VRTube.xxx also uses virtual reality cameras in a similar way to intensify the immersion. “When you’re immersed in VR, it takes over everything,” says Ela Darling, Co-Founder of VRTube.xxx and a VR performer.

Ela Darling

“I feel like I’m connecting on a deeper level with the users. The actual stuff I do is pretty much the same, but in terms of the rapport that I’m building, I feel that’s accelerated. It’s fantastic.

“I know from their perspective they’re in this headset and they’re surrounded by my bedroom. It’s a 360-degree 3D capture, so they see my bedroom – they’re in my actual home.”

The process of filming VR content is much the same for Darling as a performer. She stars in 3D camera-shot videos from her own room, unlike most porn stars. For Darling, VR pornography has meant she can offer something different to the larger porn companies that usually keep a tight hold on the industry.

She helped to co-found VRTube.xxx in 2014, and beat many of the other big providers to virtual reality tech. “It’s my company and I’m kind of the pioneer of VR porn, so this has been incredibly empowering for me,” she says.

Larger companies are focusing on virtual reality content filmed from a first-person perspective, but understand that it can be an entirely different experience for the performers.

Naughty America, an adult film provider which started in 2001, is perhaps the most prolific VR porn provider right now.

CIO Ian Paul explained that while its actors are seasoned professionals, virtual reality has meant teaching them about depth. “Depth is something that’s really apparent in VR videos. Once we taught that to them, we just said to them treat this like a standard POV shoot.”

Is the technology working yet?

Ela Darling wants to open up virtual reality pornography to a wider market of content producers. Access to virtual reality filming equipment is currently limited, and restricts lone performers from taking part.

If you want to make content in VR you’ll need a suitable camera rig – usually expensive – space to house it, the know-how to use it, the skills to edit the footage, and then a way to distribute it.

You also need to ensure that the content will work across the Gear VR platform, as well as with the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.

To help others, Darling has created a virtual reality camera she aims to sell for $300 or less. “That’s a very low rate to pay for this,” she says. “It’s the price of a regular webcam if you’re looking for a really good one.”

VRTube.xxx

Darling is working webcam porn site Cam4, which already has a diverse performer base, and together they’re beginning to make her camera available to performers for testing.

“If you have the will to do this and a few hundred bucks, you can start doing it as soon as we launch,” says Darling, who aims to launch her camera in the next two months.

Whether it’s provided by large companies such as Naughty America or Darling’s smaller outfit, the equipment and skills required to film in virtual reality will eventually become easier to acquire, and will allow producers to get involved in VR with a relatively small outlay.

“It took us about a year to figure out how to shoot virtual reality,” Abramovich at VR Bangers explains. “In [VR] porn, it’s a little bit different to when you’re shooting regular landscape films or any video, because the people are so close to you.”

VR Bangers was the first website in the world that allowed users to stream VR pornographic content, until Pornhub started doing the same a few weeks ago. If you have a Google Cardboard you can watch the videos without installing specialist software, although a lot of the content is still restricted to 480p videos that aren’t incredibly immersive.

VR Bangers

Most of VR Bangers’ main competitors, including Naughty America, require you to download hefty video files to your device.

“We have to deal with the reality of convenience,” says Ian Paul of Naughty America. “No one wants to have to don all of this gear and make it a really serious thing. They want to get it done and move on with their lives.”

Paul also believes the stigma for customers may be a stumbling block.

“No one is going to go out and buy a headset just for porn. It’s a little embarrassing to have a device in your house that everyone knows is just for porn,” he says. “But if you buy it for your PlayStation or your phone, no one is going to question that.”

Both Oculus and Samsung have said VR porn won’t be available on their systems. Google hasn’t officially commented on whether it supports Cardboard being used for VR pornography, but the content policy for Google Play Store doesn’t allow apps that “contain or promote sexually explicit content”. Of course, you don’t need an app to play porn on your phone.

Google Cardboard

Nate Mitchell, vice president of product at Oculus, has said: “We’re actively barring, prohibiting adult entertainment content from being in the store, period. If you’re on the Oculus platform, there’s none of that content.

“We have a zero tolerance policy for that. The Rift’s hardware SDK is open, but as for content that we’re offering to people, and anything that’s on what we would consider to be the Oculus platform, we don’t offer, we prohibit it.”

Since then, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has clarified that the company has no plans to block porn content from the Rift – it just won’t offer up adult entertainment apps within its main store.

Oculus Rift

Though its streams work with any VR viewer, CamSoda points its users toward Google Cardboard as the cheapest headset available. Daron Lundeen, president of CamSoda, says he’s never received an official communication from Google about the content his company produces.

“Google has never asked me not to do anything, and never said do anything,” Lundeen says. “I don’t think we’re doing anything bad. I can see why Google wouldn’t want to put a brand on it, but everybody is legal and consenting. This is definitely adult, but it’s not like we’re doing anything bad.”

“I think the market may shift to the open platform that allows consumers to do what they like,” says Paul at Naughty America.

“I would suggest to Samsung and Oculus that they need to open up their platforms. I think at the end of the day Samsung and the like will have to come up with some sort of solution to recognise this is a human need, and they can’t moralise with their policies against this human need.”

Paul compares the process that virtual reality adult content is currently going through to the advent of pay-per-view content on cable services in the US. “The customers will eventually vote with their dollars and go with the manufacturer who doesn’t restrict them in that way,” he says.

How virtual reality porn goes live

CamSoda’s content differs from other adult VR offerings in one key way: it’s live.

“With [non-live] virtual reality, you feel like that person is right on top of you, but you can’t interact with them,” says Lundeen. “I feel like I’m transported, but I’m not in any sort of control. Live changes that because you are part of the show.”

For its streams CamSoda films performers in a room with a VR rig, stitching together shots from six cameras into one 360-degree video.

Using tokens, which act as tips, viewers can choose from a list of acts they’d like the performers to do.

CamSoda

If the performer wishes, audience members can type in specific requests, which are moderated by someone on-set who relays them to the performers. The performers say what goes on the list, and can choose whether or not to do a certain act.

CamSoda’s tips bring to mind micropayments used in services like Twitch, where viewers can pay streamers to attempt certain in-game tricks. Of course, pornography is an entirely different type of entertainment than gaming, so it’s important for the entire adult industry to prevent payment options like this from veering into realm of digital prostitution.

Rather than a POV experience, CamSoda puts multiple users at once into the same room as the performers they’re watching. Users can move their view around the room and zoom in to see what’s happening around them.

“If you’ve never been in an orgy, which most people haven’t, it’s an opportunity to actually experience what an orgy is like,” Lundeen says.

Tough love

Because of the nature of many users interacting at once “it can be kind of complicated,” he adds.

“VR is a new aspect that brings porn and webcamming to where it’s even more personal, and the sensation is just… it’s overwhelming,” performer Charlie Heart says.

“There’s that reinforcement right away. Guys get to interact with their favorite porn stars as if they are really there. It’s not watching a movie anymore. So many of the guys say it’s so real, and that’s what we love about it too.”

While the degree of interaction is greater than with a pre-recorded piece, Lundeen says it’s not full immersion yet, partly because you’re not supposed to strap Google Cardboard to your face (a restriction of the headset CamSoda doesn’t condone breaking), and you can’t use voice chat.

The company is developing an app to improve communication, so viewers don’t have to use a second device to input their requests, as well as a voice-to-text solution.

Like others we interviewed, Lundeen is convinced virtual reality porn is going to take off – but unlike pre-recorded content which can be easily monetized, live streams are less profitable because it’s a one-off experience. CamSoda does, however, record its streams to recoup some of its expenses.

CamSoda

Lundeen says performers make more from traditional 2D streams than from VR because there’s a larger audience, so CamSoda pays its performers upfront for VR shoots so that they aren’t losing money and will be more willing to shoot for the medium.

Eventually, CamSoda plans to offer simultaneous 2D and VR streams, so that performers can make the same money they’re used to and the site can invest in its VR hardware.

And even though there’s less money to be made in VR at the moment, Heart says she’s enthusiastic about filming for virtual reality streams. “Anything with VR, I’m there,” she says. “I find it intriguing.”

“It’s going to be big”

For Lundeen, the cost of making VR live streams, while “definitely a challenge” is “absolutely” worth it, even if it’s not a profit-earning endeavor for his company at the moment. “VR is big,” he says. “And it’s going to be even bigger. This is the early stages. Everyone is figuring out where it’s going.”

“People think we’re crazy for investing as heavily as we have in live, but we believe strongly that live can be the future,” he adds. “It’s about relationships. As you integrate VR and AR into this, it becomes not this seedy thing. You can really explore your own sexuality, and as a couple [if you’re in a relationship], you can explore it in a really unique way.

“That’s what you get live. Pre-recorded, there’s aspects of it, but it’s not quite the same. Live… you’re talking to another human being. People become way sexier when you get to know them. It’s not somebody else’s fantasy.”

A problem of diversity

Virtual reality pornography is only just taking off, but already there’s a problem with diversity of content. Much as with pornography in general, the focus is currently on the straight male market.

In 2012, Nielsen/Net ratings reckoned that 13 million American women watch online porn once a month, and that one in three visitors to adult sites are female. Since the advent of the internet more women than ever are consuming pornography.

In 2014, Buzzfeed collaborated on a study with PornHub and found that three of the top five searched terms by women were ‘Lesbian’, ‘Gay (male)’ and ‘For Women’.

Of all the content researched for this feature, we came across very few videos tailored towards women (straight and lesbian) and gay men. One video we found was made from the female perspective, but it also was a threesome featuring two women and a man, meaning it could still be seen as suitable content for the straight male viewer.

Virtual Real Porn

Techradar found one site – Virtual Real Porn – that produces VR videos for gay men and women, including a few videos featuring two women from a female POV. The site didn’t respond to a request for comment before publishing.

Despite Virtual Real Porn’s videos, the majority of VR content right now is targeted towards straight men.

“It’s mostly male [orientated], so far,” VRTube’s Ela Darling acknowledges. Most of the users are extreme enthusiasts, developers themselves or in the tech industry in general.

“Those are mostly male orientated-roles, so the user base is mostly male,” says Darling.

Darling headshot

“That incentivizes producers to create porn that is centred on the male gaze. But as more diverse people – more women, more trans people, people with more diverse tastes – come into the field then that will pave the way for how the medium will be treated.

“That’s why I think it’s important to enable a lot of people to do it,” she continues. “The big companies are restricted by how much money they have to invest in their scenes and they have to cater to their current user base – and that’s mostly straight, heteronormative porn.

“I’m excited to see new content that breaks that boundary and doesn’t necessarily cater to that existing user base, by performers catering for their demographic, which may not be traditional mainstream porn.”

Catering for an audience

Some content providers seem keen to produce more diverse content, but aren’t currently as focused on doing so as they might be.

Abramovich from VR Bangers explains: “We want to make videos for women, and we want to make videos for the gay market as well in the future. Whenever we’ve been to expos, we’ve had a lot of people ask us, ‘Hey you guys, we’re gay and where are the movies?’

“We want to give the entire market content, and pretty much film everything we can.”

Throughout our time speaking to Abramovich we found he would refer to the market purely from the male perspective. That’s natural enough while being interviewed by another man, but he didn’t mention the female viewer until we brought up the topic.

The focus for many of these production companies is certainly on the male viewer at the moment. Even Naughty America it isn’t getting the female market right yet, admits Ian Paul.

“We know we don’t have it dialled in right, we’re experimenting with it,” Paul says. “We have a female perspective video to see if we can get some reaction from women – and it’s not where it needs to be.

“We are putting the appropriate heads together to tackle the female point of view – we do plan on addressing that market, but we don’t have it tied in right now.”

Naughty America

Corey Price, vice president of Pornhub, which last week introduced a free VR category on its website, tells us via email that all its current VR videos are geared towards straight men.

Price promises that this will soon change, as the site prioritizes providing content “for everyone to enjoy”.

“We expect to have a diverse selection of content for our fans to choose from,” Price says. “It will not be entirely towards straight men. There will be videos for women and gay men in the very near future.”

CamSoda is similarly focusing solely on the straight male demographic at the moment, but says it plans to launch a gay VR channel.

Pornography has a big diversity problem, and virtual reality presents a big opportunity to make it more inclusive.

What’s the future of VR pornography?

A year ago the virtual reality space looked very different. Google Cardboard was less than a year old, the HTC Vive had only just been announced, and the Gear VR was still in its second innovator edition form.

By the end of this year the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR will be joining Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift and Gear VR in being readily available to all consumers.

Even LG is now entering the industry, while Apple VR is heavily rumoured to be on the way. The pornography industry will have even more ways to get into people’s heads this time next year – and assuming VR doesn’t die overnight, the number of players entering the market will only increase.

LG Vr 360

“In the future we are going to experiment with different ways to shoot these films,” says Paul from Naughty America. “There are so many possibilities, and we are going to explore every single one.

“One idea is gathering information. We will be able to work out when our content is actually stimulating the viewer. The ultimate scenario is you’re watching a VR video, you’re using a device to stimulate you, and the video content could be adapted to what turns you on.

“I think when there’s a mutually adaptive kind of content that adapts to the viewer and the viewer is receiving pleasure from the video – that will be the future.”

VR Bangers is focusing on 2016 as what Abramovich calls “the golden year of VR” – and the company has some big ideas for the genre’s early development stages.

“We have a lot of ideas about how we can make it even more realistic,” he says. “We want to make the feeling of VR, not only that you are present in the video.

“We want you to be able to tilt your head forward and become closer to the person. That will make the video completely different. It’s going to be a game-changer at that point.”

Pornhub VR

Pornhub’s Price says the kind of VR content his company provides will depend on what its content partners produce and upload, although the site plans to offer high-def, on-demand streams in the future.

Ela Darling’s ambitions, meanwhile, aren’t all about the diversity of the industry. She wants to aim big with this technology, and believes that the pornography industry will be the better for it when we hit the point of mainstream adoption.

“I can see porn going in an augmented reality direction,” she explains. “I think augmented reality (AR) is going to be much more accessible, I think it’ll be better and more realistic.”

Augmented reality – as delivered by Microsoft’s HoloLens headset – keeps the user in the real world, but superimposes computer-generated images on top of objects in their physical surroundings.

HoloLens

“There’s something a little more titillating about having this experience happen in your actual home, and being able to have a girl appear at the end of your bed rather than sitting at the foot of mine,” says Darling.

In terms of VR, she sees a big focus on products like the HTC Vive. The Vive offers users the ability to walk around a room and be followed, but it uses extra equipment, including room-sensing cameras, and requires a lot more space than the Rift or PlayStation VR.

“The room-scale VR that it offers is something we are not quite able to produce for porn just yet, especially not in a photorealistic kind of way. But as soon as light fields (a camera technology which enables the capture of light in a scene in a way that creates depth in images) are more accessible it’s going to be better for the Vive.

Lundeen from CamSoda is also “super-excited” about AR in the pornography industry.

“With AR, you can bring [someone] into your bedroom,” he says. “Now a couple that wants to explore a threesome can do it in a way that’s completely safe and in control.”

Teledildonics – technology that allows tactile sexual sensations to be transmitted from another location – is another option, which is finally becoming a reality. Naughty America is already in talks to allow teledildonics manufacturers to sync their devices to the VR videos it has on its site.

VR porn

“We have been in talks with companies that want to sync their teledildonics devices with our viewers to help stimulate the viewer with our videos,” says Paul.

The boundaries between ‘conventional’ sexual behaviour and pornography are set to become more blurred in the coming years, and VR is likely to be a major reason why.

The last big change in the adult content industry was the proliferation of high-speed internet, which allowed for the spread of easily available, free pornographic content.

Video was the biggest focus then, but it seems like virtual reality may one day take over, and become even more popular than conventional moving images.

With interactivity and immersion becoming a much bigger focus, it’s not difficult to see why consumers would turn to VR as a way of getting their adult content fix.

A few years from now, virtual reality could owe a great debt to pornography – and considering the impact that porn is already having on virtual reality, it may be wise for VR companies to embrace it out of the gate.

Just look at what it did for VHS.

via Blogger http://ift.tt/1opwMdL

Advertisements