Interactivity and personalization is the secret sauce that separates live webcams from pre-recorded porn — and the pinnacle of this interaction is “immersion” or what technologists call “presence” — a feeling of actually being in a location that only exists digitally, and where the viewer can interact with his or her surrounding environment. Advances in adult technology have added an extra dimension to this equation through haptics, bringing physical “touch” to users, and set the stage for a comprehensive masturbatory experience where reality is suspended, and virtually anything is possible.
This combination of technologies is colliding to bring cyber sex ever closer to real sex and providing a next generation user experience that is worth paying for. At least that’s what many folks are hoping — and pointing to the live cam market as where it will happen.
Flirt4Free President Greg Clayman says that the live cam company has been offering its customers haptic-enabled products for more than a year now. “We have a partnership with Kiiroo, which created the first haptic device we felt comfortable offering,” he says.
Despite the buzz over virtual reality and impending revitalization of the adult entertainment industry, however, many live cam operators continue to question its viability as a camming option — where the realities of the technological hurdles, and near-term expectations of consumer demand, clash headlong into some stakeholders’ bright-line projections. At the same time, forward-looking VR porn evangelists are quickly staking their beachhead in this brave new world and advancing undeterred.
Seeing such various viewpoints on the subject, XBIZ wanted to take the cam industry’s pulse to uncover the current consensus regarding immersive camming, haptics and VR today. Here’s what we discovered:
Fabian Grey, CEO of pioneering VR cam site AliceX, says the company is currently streaming daily shows and is focusing heavily on the market, as he thinks VR is the perfect application for live cams. Embracing the mobile VR experience, AliceX targets users of Samsung’s Android-powered S6 and S7 smartphones — especially those coupled with Samsung’s popular and affordable Gear VR headset. According to VRTube.xxx co-founder Ela Darling, who recently partnered with CAM4, the company will soon launch a truly immersive VR experience, CAM4VR, which is designed to be the most powerfully engaging experience yet for adult VR.
“The most attractive aspects of live cams are intimacy, immediacy, and presence,” Darling told XBIZ. “Generally, VR amplifies these aspects to create a performance that goes beyond what was previously attainable, but the biggest technological hurdle for VR cam performers is that many viewers still don’t have VR devices.”
“This is expected to change as VR devices become more affordable — we’re already seeing the Gear VR (one of the best VR headsets currently available) coming free with any new Samsung S7 phone,” Darling adds. “I think we’ll see smaller viewership initially, but because this experience will be so engaging, we expect aggressive growth.”
SNR Productions’ Steve Ranieri told XBIZ that the company has joined forces with an established VR firm as its preferred pathway for integrating CamWithHer into certain VR experiences.
“For example, they created a VR apartment where users can access CamWithHer on the computer inside of the VR apartment world,” Ranieri offers, illustrating the diverse ways that this technology will unfold. “They also approached us on some other ways we can work together that we’re currently exploring.”
Ranieri told XBIZ that one stumbling block to the uptake of VR cams is the price of VR cams themselves, which are currently quite expensive.
“When the price of cams comes down to around $200 or less is when it will become commonplace in my opinion,” Ranieri explains. “Currently there’s not a seamless way for customers to interact with models in a VR experience, so that will also need to be improved as well, before VR cams become mainstream.”
“Consumer demand will be entirely based on the market for VR,” Ranieri concludes. “If VR continues to grow as it is, then so will VR cams.”
Shay Efron, ImLive’s vice president of marketing and business development told XBIZ that the company is examining technologies that will enable selected models with the right equipment to provide their customers with a quality VR camming experience.
“This is still experimental, as the equipment on the model side is quite expensive, and it remains unclear product-wise what the best user experience is,” Efron says. “In general, there is no ‘killer app’ yet, and it will probably take at least a couple more years before prices go down and product development sets the track where user trends are realized.”
Cams.com Model Manager Steve Hamilton likewise told XBIZ that the company is currently investigating several VR options, but also feels that the technology isn’t quite ready yet.
“For the technology to be truly adopted in the cam market, the cost must be scaled down to where the average model can afford the camera and gear needed for broadcasting,” Hamilton says. “After seeing it in action in January, I can tell you that there is a high ceiling on the technology, but as it is, it’s not ready for mass adoption.”
“I think as VR becomes more prevalent in the marketplace, we will see the cost of the technology drop, and that will make it more realistic that VR and camming will work hand-in-hand,” Hamilton adds. “I can see this within the next two years taking the giant leap from ‘cool technology’ to industry standard.”
While cam companies are clearly hoping to capitalize on the upcoming VR craze, cost remains a very valid concern, as does the timeframe until VR cams can be considered commonplace among consumers.
“Capitalizing on VR cams?” asks Supermen.com consultant Douglas Richter. “I know of only one site and one studio trying to do this. I just checked. Nobody’s online.”
“[People say that VR] is great and it’s the future, but it costs 10K to set up one model’s broadcast room,” Richter explains. “Obviously this is cost prohibitive, and it still works on too few devices. With that said, give us one or maybe two years, and you will see something neat.”
Thus the consensus is that 2018 (and perhaps 2020), may be a more realistic timeframe before we see live VR camming even begin to scratch the surface of its true potential — it is not a matter of “if,” but of when and for how much — and will you be able to do it without becoming nauseous?
Indeed, one of the most significant technological hurdles to overcome (and one which some early VR adopters did not overcome), is the ability to deliver content that does not induce nausea or vertigo in the viewer — something that is heavily influenced by the video capabilities of the display and recording devices, where a typical 60hz may not keep users from vomiting while trying to masturbate.
This effect is not what we would call “a product benefit or sales incentive,” and is one reason high-end VR devices such as Oculus Rift run at 90hz — while Sony’s PlayStationVR ups the ante to a whopping 120hz, and does so in a much more consumer-friendly form factor that will pave the way for the mass-market uptake of VR technology beginning later this year.
Companies such as HoloFilm Productions are busy tackling this problem on the pre-recorded video front, but it’s not clear how well current cammers will be able to address the issue; which causes the problem of alienating early adopters — the eagerest of users and perhaps best customers. Some of these folks will be seeing unoptimized VR content using a non-ideal phone display, in a cardboard headset that got bent because someone sat on it, and will not be enthused with the result — leading to bad reviews and lost future sales.
Another major concern when considering the pace at which the industry will move to its predicted VR-driven immersive future is the suitability of many performer’s home cam broadcasting infrastructure — which although capable of streaming today’s HD video, may choke on VR’s higher data flow and tighter production requirements. While professional cam studios offer a viable option in select urban areas, this centralization inevitably lowers the pool of available performers to those who are able to use these facilities — and there is yet another factor that might keep some cammers away from the VR realm: it’s more work.
According to Hamilton, not only are VR’s demands on hardware more intensive and much higher than they are now, the demands on the model will be much greater as well.
“[VR] requires specialized camera gear, which requires more computing power and higher bandwidth. This will also require more elaborate rigging of the camera, a more extensive set, and better lighting,” Hamilton explains. “As it is now, the model only has to think about what is in front of the camera, but with VR, this is not going to be the case.”
Hamilton says that like camming in general, live VR is not a controlled environment, and this makes it more difficult to get it right.
“The technology will be better for studio-recorded content for the time being,” Hamilton told XBIZ. “That is a more controlled environment that will not only be a more directed experience, but it will also be a better experience for end-users.”
Darling, an experienced cammer, agrees that the performer’s home broadcasting infrastructure is very important for VR delivery. Like other experts, she says that the performer needs a good computer with a strong internet connection to deliver a high quality VR experience; but she also sees value in experience, telling XBIZ that “I think the performers who already have a powerful broadcasting infrastructure will be in the best position to excel in VR.”
“Production value will always be important in VR, but I think that having a firm grasp on the physics of VR content creation and consumption as well as a well-researched understanding of the theory behind VR delivery is far more valuable than a high-end camera array,” Darling says. “The most important assets in creating successful virtual reality content can’t be bought.”
It is advice well worth taking from the world’s first VR cam girl, who notes that one of the big challenges of this emerging technology is the bandwidth consumed by the early stage camera rigs.
“Since inception we have made considerable progress to decrease the resource required to live stream a VR broadcast from your laptop,” Darling explains. “We expect that further improvements will be made to the point where VR live streaming is accessible for all.”
“This is the beauty of the cam industry: anyone can do it from anywhere in the world, and our aim is to empower all performers to access the newest technology,” Darling notes. “Studios will continue to add value to the industry, but performers will want more control of their own destiny, which camming fundamentally provides.”
According to Grey, the broadcasting infrastructure is obviously very important for quality VR delivery, especially the quality and use of the lightning — but he says that is only one part of the puzzle.
“We had to develop a whole pipeline — from the green screen setup to the camera technology to the computer that processes the VR streams that enable the user to enjoy the content,” Grey told XBIZ, noting the AliceX is able to stream 3D HD-quality VR with a latency of only 400 milliseconds to any newer Android phone. “Users only need a 4 Mbps download speed for the highest quality (which is 4G), 2 Mbps for medium quality, and 1 Mbps for the low quality option.”
Grey says that AliceX support is forthcoming for both Oculus CV1 and Vive, as well as for iPhone users, and notes that the company is constantly improving its technology.
“We are also working on a better camera system,” he told XBIZ, “and an all-in-one device that is much cheaper and easier to set up for any kind of studio that wants to broadcast VR streams.”
Such innovations will fuel the growth of VR camming, as will expected Facebook and other mainstream VR camming initiatives. But the fact remains that VR, no matter how compelling, is merely the realm of imagination and not an “actual” experience.
Bridging the gap between fantasy and reality are haptics, the science of the (wo)man-machine interface, and its “adult’s only” counterpart, teledildonics — revolutionary technologies being embraced by tech-forward companies — and a necessary ingredient in bringing full immersion and interactivity to the VR-driven live cam experience.
Darling told XBIZ the important things she looks for in new tech are the ability to enhance immersion and the feeling of reciprocal intimacy.
“Teledildonics are gaining a lot of traction,” Darling says. “Interactive sex toys such as OhMiBod, Lovense, We-Vibe and Kiiroo, where the performer and user have a reciprocal opportunity to get each other off, will play a big part in the future of online intimacy.”
Chaturbate COO Shirley Lara told XBIZ that teledildonics has been on a steady rise the past few years.
“If you’re unfamiliar with teledildonics, they’re high tech sex toys that can be remotely controlled over the internet, some of which respond to the sound of tips [being received from their fans],” Lara explains. “The more tips a broadcaster receives, the higher the vibration.”
Lara notes that the most popular teledildonic device at Chaturbate is the OhMiBod, which vibrates every time a broadcaster is tipped — and says she expects to see a big push in teledildonics on cam sites.
“Although we are of course exploring all VR developments and opportunities,” Lara says, “we are not as completely sold on the future of VR in the cam space as we are on other technological developments such as teledildonics.”
Among her reasons for this belief, Lara says connectivity limitations and cost will hinder VR’s uptake, while other options wait in the wings.
“A barrier to entry in VR is that most homes do not have enough bandwidth to sustain the movie, and to obtain a virtual reality headset can be costly,” Lara told XBIZ. “We are also working on what could be a technological game changer in the cam space so stay tuned.”
As with VR, Efron also believes that despite advances in the market, haptics is yet another technology in its early stages that needs to benefit from ongoing evolution before it’s able to make a real impact.
“Although connected toys have been around for some time, it is still rather basic and the ‘suspension of disbelief’ effect is still rather low,” Efron says. “We are obviously integrating with the basic toys that are available and enabling our models to use various toys they already own, but we are looking forward to more advanced technologies that are currently still in the labs, which one out on the market, just might completely revolutionize the way people interact online, with full body sensations.”
For his part, Richter also declares that haptic technology is not yet ready for primetime.
“It is a nice niche feature, but hasn’t proven to make the big bucks. If you have nothing else clever to develop, it does give you something catchy to shout about at shows,” Richter says. “Honestly for me it would be a low priority. I have worked for some big networks, and seen some big failed experiments.”
Hamilton, however, says that Cams.com has been concentrating its recent efforts on teledildonics as a way of enhancing the actual “feel” of the experience for members and models.
“Haptics work hand-in-hand with our teledildonics, and are technologies that we’re investigating how to best use with our current modes, such as Buzzmode and Connexions,” Hamilton explains. “Haptics is one of the most exciting technologies, especially when paired with our leaps in teledildonics.”
“This year, we released a revolutionary new two-way mode that allows members and models to control the pleasure of each other based on what their toy does,” Hamilton told XBIZ. “Other longer reaching technologies, such as mobile broadcasting for models, and consistent improvement of tools that allow the members to grow a connection to their favorite models, is what we are excited about.”
DatingGold’s Digital Products Manager David Pfahlert is less excited about the current state of haptics, saying the company has seen many devices come out over the last few years, but not many have stuck around or made any kind of lasting impression on any of its cam programs.
“We have tested a few interactive devices,” Pfahlert told XBIZ. “However I think it comes down to making the device for either the performer or the customer easy to obtain at a reasonable price point; ensuring the device is customizable for your platform; and something the model actually enjoys using on a daily basis.”
Despite these misgivings, some haptics proponents have a clear vision for the future of computer-driven sexual gratification.
For Kiiroo CEO Toon Timmermans, haptics take interactive intimacy to the next level and are already a force to be reckoned with — a force that continues to grow.
“Haptic devices give customers the possibility to not only see, but to also feel their lover, interactive content or cam models,” Timmermans told XBIZ. “They add a new dimension to different forms of pleasure in the adult industry, and make the experience a [complete] one.”
Timmermans says that cam performers can benefit financially by embracing haptic technology today.
“By using haptic devices during their shows, performers can interact and take control of the pleasure of their customers, which makes it a new experience for both,” Timmermans explains. “Customers can also tip performers through many interactive devices. This gives customers the power to control shows a bit more while enabling performers to increase their earnings.”
As for what performers need to have in order to use haptic devices while camming, Timmermans told XBIZ that the setup is really simple, and only requires the device and a Bluetooth connection, which the model already has on their laptop or cell phone.
This low barrier to entry, plus simplicity and high profit potential, are some reasons why Timmermans is optimistic about the future of haptic-enabled camming.
“The adult industry will develop more ways for performers to interact with their customers,” he says. “This will make it a more realistic and complete experience for consumers and performers alike.”
The ability to offer “a more realistic and complete experience” is an enormous competitive advantage for any cam company, driving top market leaders to become early adopters of immersive technologies.
For example, Flirt4Free President Greg Clayman says that the company has been offering its customers haptic-enabled products for more than a year now.
“We have a partnership with Kiiroo, which created the first haptic device we felt comfortable offering,” explains Clayman. “We met Kiiroo at the 2014 XBIZ show in L.A. and by the time they were done demonstrating their product, we knew it made sense to offer it to our customers and performers alike.”
“While still very much a fantasy, customers can purchase a Kiiroo interactive male device directly from our website,” Clayman adds, “and once the product is received and enabled, it can be controlled by one of the many Flirt4Free performers that have haptic enabled devices on their end — male or female.”
Timmermans notes that this partnership is extremely important to Kiiroo as well. “Together we can provide customers a new cam experience,” Timmermans concludes. “They have great cam models using our devices, and their models can now interact with customers in a unique way.”
But this unique form of interaction is merely a small stepping stone towards the promise of immersion, for which new haptic devices tailored to the VR environment will be required.
“As I mentioned earlier, devices such as OhMiBod and Kiiroo have excelled in the marketplace because they allow viewers to interact with performers in real time,” Darling says. “True VR haptic devices, however, have a different prerogative.”
Darling explains that VR-enabled haptics need to create a convincing emulation of the sensation that the user’s body would be receiving as if it was experiencing what’s being shown through the VR device.
“This is an entirely different paradigm, one with unique limitations of latency, accuracy of stimulation, and breadth of supported body sizes. As a result, the current iteration of haptic devices available isn’t at the level we really need,” Darling concludes. “When manufacturers create a device that adds to the immersion and intimacy of a cam show, without distracting from the performance, you can be certain we’ll be the first to jump on board.”
In the meantime, other operators are also keeping a close eye on the evolution of immersion and cams.
“In regards to haptic devices such as those Kiiroo developed,” AliceX’s Grey says, “I think it will take a bit longer until users adopt them, but this is certainly the next step for a fully immersive user experience.”
As for what else the future might hold for immersion and more interactive camming, Pfahlert says that DatingGold’s developers are currently optimizing the platform for mobile broadcasting and also testing VR, holographic content and interactive toys, which he calls “the market trends for years to come.”
“We are constantly perfecting our platform to make live cams a more immersive, lifelike, real world experience, and remain competitive,” Pfahlert told XBIZ. “We strive to stay on the forefront with the evolution of technology in our niche and perpetually monitor how our users consume it. Using the data we collect, we fine-tune our products accordingly, which results in an incomparable user experience.”
Hamilton says that based on Cams.com’s experience over the past year, teledildonics and other newer technologies will become more prevalent in the marketplace.
“I can also see the market moving towards members having a peek into the off-cam lives of the models,” Hamilton offers. “I have seen models charging members for Snapchat and videos on demand, and think that we can expect to see more ways for members to get closer to the models.”
“Members crave more from models, and apparently that is having an effect on how models are using non-adult apps such as Snapchat and Periscope, etc. to maintain engagement with members,” Hamilton adds. “I see more companies creating tools that are able to capitalize on the model being able to engage members while not on camera.”
At the end of the day, it is this desire for member engagement that drives the cam industry in general, and its haptic-enabled, VR-capable future in particular — where the reality of immersion will provide an entirely new dimension. While the challenges are significant, so too are the opportunities for 2016, with immersive live cams still in their infancy and spurring early adopters to pave the way to a future where VR cams become commonplace.
There is a bold new world on the horizon for humanity, and VR-powered live cam companies will help lead the way — and will beckon you to join their revolution — a call that is increasingly being answered by cammers, companies and consumers that are all seeking camming’s immersive promise of presence.