Adult content could stimulate virtual reality market

Oculus Rift and other VR headsets to 'revolutionise many industries', says Utherverse CEO

A screenshot from the virtual world, Utherverse. Credit: Utherverse

A screenshot from the virtual world, Utherverse. Credit: Utherverse

The adult industry will help drive adoption of virtual reality beyond gamers, according to the creator of one of the Internet’s first free porn websites.

The emergence of inexpensive VR headsets like Oculus Rift has created an opportunity for industries outside of video games to build interactive 3D experiences to engage the consumer’s senses, said Brian Shuster, co-founder of the online virtual world, Utherverse.

Shuster is an entrepreneur in sometimes controversial areas of the Internet. He developed one of the first free porn websites, Xpics Publishing, and has been credited with introducing banner and pop-under ads.

His various companies have generated $250 million since 1994 and he holds 35 patents.

“Virtual reality adoption by a mass user base will follow the same course as other mass adoptions of new technologies,” Shuster told Computerworld Australia.

“For the Web, the critical mass was achieved because of its usefulness in distributing adult content. The Web provided a private and discrete way for anyone to access adult materials without embarrassment, and millions of users got online. Once they were there, they found the Web useful for other purposes, and quickly businesses followed the money.”

Shuster predicted that while virtual reality is going to be big with gamers first, it will quickly follow in the Web’s footsteps.

“Once gamers move into the space en masse, the hype about VR will reach epic levels across all media, and the next phase will see massive adult industry adoption which will fuel non-gamers to purchase the VR headsets, and almost immediately thereafter, mainstream companies will all jump on board.”

Adult content has in the past been heralded as a deciding force in the HD format war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD, and a potential driver of consumer adoption of the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Australia.

While porn might drive initial adoption by non-gamers, Shuster said there is also great opportunity for more conservative industries to embrace virtual reality.

“Real-time, immersive interactivity has the potential to revolutionise many industries that were hardly touched by the flat web – such as real-estate, convention, classroom education; and will also re-revolutionise industries such as shopping and entertainment.”

A real estate company could hold virtual open houses of real property in VR, allowing people to inspect houses without leaving the realtor’s office, he said. Or a politician could hold a virtual town hall meeting to talk to his constituents, he said.

The technology for VR is already here.

“The Oculus Rift is an amazing VR headset that has successfully overcome the technological hurdles that had prevented prior VR headsets from going mainstream,” he said.

“The frame-rates and field of view are good enough, and the motion sickness is minimal enough that this headset could be embraced by the general public.”

The Facebook-owned Oculus headset is relatively inexpensive. While a consumer price has not been announced, the current Development Kit 2 is priced at US$350.

Utherverse is currently testing a hybrid network for its virtual world that supports both normal computer monitors and VR headsets, and plans to have it in place ahead of consumer VR headsets coming to market.

However, Shuster said that he and his late co-founder Ray Schwartz had been ready to embrace virtual reality from the beginning.

“The fundamental business question for us … was not whether VR would materialise, but rather, what were the intermediate steps that the Internet would have to go through to move it from being a solo-user web page experience to a totally immersive, multi-user VR experience,” he said.

“The answer that we came up with was Utherverse.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Read more: Facebook spends $2B on virtual reality firm, but analysts are skeptical

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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