LOS ANGELES — As thousands converged on the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) video game conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center this week, sampling the latest and greatest in console and PC gaming, unprecedented floor space (and presentations) were devoted to VR. From Sony hawking its $399 PlayStation VR against the backdrop of triple-A titles — like "Final Fantasy XV" and "Star Wars Battlefront" — to the adult industry’s very own Naughty America amassing a huge crowd at its Oculus Rift-powered demo booth, VR buzz was tangibly auspicious. XBIZ headed to E3 for a sit down with Ian Paul, CIO of Naughty America VR, to test out their demo.
As far as platform support, Paul underscored that Naughty America is dedicated to ensuring widespread accessibility “whether you have a Google Cardboard, a Samsung Gear VR, an Oculus Rift or HTC Vibe, it all works.” However, he pointed out that “PlayStation is a big question mark right now” given Sony’s historically unfriendly approach to adult.
“Back in the 80s, when we’re looking at Betamax versus VHS, the adult industry weighed in pretty heavily on that debate and swung it one way,” Paul said. “And then, when we look at HD DVD versus Blu-ray, it almost went the opposite direction until Sony caved in the eleventh hour and said, ‘Okay, we’ll allow adult.’ So, I mean, they’ve contended with us twice in the past. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle it with this upcoming VR platform.”
He suspects they will allow pornography through some kind of VR internet browser because “this is what the other vendors have been winking and nodding at.” And, such content is currently accessible even on an Apple device via the open internet, regardless of native app support.
“It’s unfortunate, because if you look at how the cable companies responded to videotape and pornography on VHS tape, they knew it was a threat,” he explained. “People could just watch videos and cancel the cable. And porn was a big part of that. So, what did they do? They started pay-per-view, right? With some trusted brands that they knew wouldn’t cross the brand guidelines. They made a lot of money out of the deal themselves. Our thought has always been to have Samsung and the like allow a few trusted brands in with revshare. Because c’mon, adult is the king of revshare. But they haven’t been too receptive to that.”
As far as which hardware platforms have been most supportive, Paul remarked that Oculus has been back and forth, “a little wishy-washy on the subject,” but in general he wants to keep the backroom dealing low key “because we have good relationships with all of them, but they’re all, like, over drinks — on the side of the conferences.” Despite the somewhat clandestine nature of that give-and-take, it has proven productive. “They’re giving us tips on how our content can perform better,” he said. “And we’re giving them feedback from our customers. So, it’s a good relationship, but it’s all behind-the-scenes.”
When it comes to content offerings, XBIZ asked how Naughty America distinguishes itself from the competition. “Well, with a membership to Naughty America, you’re not only getting all of our top quality VR content, but you’re getting a huge ever-growing back catalog of high quality, 4K HD and 2D content. We can differentiate from some of our VR competitors with our 2D and we can differentiate against our 2D competitors with VR, so we’re very well positioned.”
He stated that Naughty America subscribers who use a VR headset to consume porn also tend to watch it in 2D on their laptop and mobile devices. “So, this isn’t going to be like it’s VR and nothing else matters,” Paul elucidated. “It’s just like mobile — it’s going to fit into a portfolio of technology and when the customer signs up on our website, we’re building a relationship with them across the multiple devices they use.”
In fact, forging those stronger bonds with customers is precisely why Naughty America set up shop at E3, given the growing ubiquity of VR technology among gamers. “Look, half the challenge is getting people to buy a headset, so if we can target consumers that already have a headset, half the problem is solved for us,” he said. “And also, I think it’s a recognition of gaming in American culture. Look, all of our movie themes are riffs on popular aspects of American culture. We have a sports sub-site, for instance.
“Gaming has finally reached a status in American culture where it makes sense to start riffing off things that are popular in gaming culture,” Paul added. “And, we’re not gamers, we admit. So, we’re here to open that dialogue with the gaming community... understand how to reach gamers and how to produce content that’s appealing to them with some of our features.”
The conversation then shifted to what major challenges VR technology faces in the near future. Bandwidth was identified as a barrier when it comes to streaming, which is why Naughty America has opted not to stream their VR at this point. The high file size and the quality they are trying to adhere to currently makes streaming unfeasible. “But, we recognize from a usability point of view, that streaming would be really nice,” he admits. “And, if you have really good bandwidth, it works well. But nothing is worse than buffering in VR. It’s one thing to have a buffer on your screen, but when you’re in that virtual reality, and the reality suddenly stops in the middle of your session, buffering can give you a headache.”
Paul acknowledged that there are impressive developments in live streaming VR, but that such advances do not necessarily translate that well to playing recorded content. “They’re downgrading the quality of VR and overcoming it, but at the expense of a quality experience, so we’re not willing to quite make that tradeoff just yet,” he determined. “For live cam, it makes sense. I know Ela Darling and CAM4 have really innovated in streaming live. The way they do it is by downloading the background first so that it can remain static, and then just sending updates around the performer. We can’t really do that. Our videos are recorded content. So it wouldn’t really make sense and it’s much more noticeable if the background is static and only the performer is updated.”
Maintaining that quality means hitting a benchmark of 4K HD. When pressed on whether 4K is a comfortable ceiling in the foreseeable future, given the constraints of the human eye to perceive a noticeable difference in visual fidelity beyond that, Paul said, “I’ll kind of default to Moore’s law on that one. Our resources are focused on 4K at the moment and everything is shot in 4K. I wouldn’t stand here and claim that’s the end, because technology always surprises us and pushes us beyond where we thought we would be. So, if I’m going to hedge a bet, I’ll say we’re going to keep doubling down on this moving forward. But, everything for now is in 4K as far as the eye can see, for whatever that’s worth in this ever-changing world.”
Shifting the discussion’s focus to the kind of content being produced, XBIZ inquired whether Naughty America would venture beyond traditional first-person POV films to more dynamic “third-person” story-driven points of view. “Definitely,” Paul said. “We’ve got to move beyond the POV experience. The challenge with these rigs is you can’t exactly look through them like you would a normal camera. So, if you’re entering into a new environment that you haven’t filmed in before, it becomes very difficult and the risk of mis-shooting a scene increases, right? Because you don’t know the angles and the distances, you film it and then you look at it and go ‘it didn’t work the way we thought.’
“So, it’s a waste of money and resources and everybody’s time,” he concluded. “POV kind of minimizes all those variables, but we have to overcome that. There’s a few new technologies out there that allow you to look through the rig in real-time and once we start adopting those, then our ability to do third-person will really increase. And, we have experimented with it. If you look at ‘Randy’s Roadstop’ content, we do third-person points of view on the intros and the scene transitions, but still, the action is the main POV.”
Overall, Naughty America’s impression of the E3 attendees’ interest in VR pornography has been very positive. “It’s going great!” Paul explained. “They’re sharing with us their ideas. It’s hard for me to evaluate them, because I’m not a hardcore gamer, but there’s a plethora of ideas and it has validated our approach. There definitely is feedback here.
“Now, we’ll go gather it in a more systematic manner and evaluate where the best opportunities are for creating content,” he continued. “But, we came here really just to validate our assumption. We thought maybe gamers would have some reception and now we can check that box. Now, we’ll proceed to the next step.”
For those looking to sample the company’s growing library of content, Naughty America recommended “Spring Break,” “Shiny Shaft” and “Scissor Sisters.”