Utherverse Banned From Speaking at VWC Due to Adult Content

Joanne Cachapero
NEW YORK — Adult virtual world developer Utherverse.com CEO Brian Shuster has been banned from speaking at the Virtual Worlds 2008 conference (VWC). Though he had been asked to speak on several panels at the show, according to Shuster, representatives later told him that he would not be able to participate due to adult content.

“I’m astounded here, listening to the speakers and panelists where they have conducted surveys of virtual worlds, and they say, ‘What attracts you to a virtual world? What would make you want to participate?’ — and conspicuously omitted are adult activities,” Shuster told XBIZ.

“It’s like there’s a huge censorship ban over this entire convention where no one is allowed to mention adult. It’s the number one reason that users go to Second Life, by heads and shoulders.”

Shuster, who developed adult virtual worlds RedLightCenter.com and sister website Virtual-Vancouver.com, said he has spoken at seminars and on panels at various other trade shows and this is the first time that he has been banned from speaking to an industry audience.

In fact, at last year’s ideaCity conference held in Toronto, Shuster was chided by show sponsors for not being more explicit while speaking on a panel, where he was asked to discuss the future of adult content in virtual worlds.

He pointed out also that, at the VCW show this morning, speakers at a marketing seminar said that user surveys have indicated that 80 percent of virtual world participants are 18 and over.

Founded in 2002, Utherverse is an adult 3D virtual reality universe. Its first online product, RedLightCenter.com, is based on Amsterdam’s infamous red light district. Virtual-Vancouver.com is a music-based virtual world community.

While Red Light Center offers adult activities, both worlds feature nightclubs, hotels, movie theaters, stores, and community events. Eventually, the company would like to create numerous interlinked virtual worlds.

Specifically designed to appeal to the 21-49 year-old demographic, Shuster said that multiple protocols make RedLightCenter.com an adult-only “safe” virtual world space. Users must pass through age verification to access adult activities, and there is a staff of “protectors” who are also active world participants that patrol the site and report any suspicious activity that indicates that a minor might have slipped through. Those suspect accounts are banned immediately.

Also, users are not permitted to use outside programming to build their avatars, which must pass through an approval process with Utherverse’s art department. Programming has been installed to make sure that avatars remain age appropriate in appearance.

Shuster said that extra diligence is needed in these areas because RedLightCenter.com is an adult-only website, and as such, is subject to scrutiny. However, he thinks that VWC show organizers are missing the point of virtual worlds altogether by excluding adult content from being discussed.

“Users go into virtual worlds so they can interact with other adult users and expand their relationships and capabilities beyond what they can do in reality — being able to expand their capabilities or find a mate if they’re unable to do that in the real world at that time,” Shuster said. “That’s why a world like ours is the only successful and profitable world that isn’t a game.

“You know, I’ve been in the adult industry for a while, and I’ve seen attitudes changing quite a bit, so this has been kind of a shock to me to see this sort of regression,” he added. “Technology has been developed with the adult industry being the forefront, typically.”