Vancouver's Utherverse gets set to host Adult Entertainment Virtual Convention
The adult-entertainment industry traditionally celebrates in Las Vegas. Every January, the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo hosts a trade show and an awards ceremony recognizing achievement in porn films. In recent years, it took place at the same time as the International Commercial Electronics Show, to capitalize on the thousands of people—mostly men—who flock to the technology event. This year, the AVN expo took place a week after CES and was moved from the palatial halls of the Sands to the confines of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
Toronto native Helly Mae Hellfire was there playing music—she’s also known as the Pornstar DJ—and as a nominee for best actress for her performance as Lady Gaga in Hustler Video’s parody This Ain’t Lady Gaga XXX.
“Everything was different at AVN this year,” she told the Georgia Straight by phone from a video shoot in Los Angeles. “The energy was chaotic because everyone was crushed in.”
In contrast, the exhibition hall for the Adult Entertainment Virtual Convention (AEVC), set to take place on February 25 and 26, can be as large as it needs to be.
“It’s virtual real estate,” Brian Shuster told the Straight. “If we need more, we add more until we have enough space to accommodate everybody.”
Shuster’s Vancouver-based company, Utherverse (pronounced “other verse”), operates what he calls the Virtual World Web, a number of 3-D virtual worlds that are interconnected, just like the Internet. On the phone from his office, he said there are now 80,000 commercial and more than one million private worlds hosted by Utherverse.
The company has already hosted two virtual conventions to prove the concept. The first was targeted at people in the virtual-world business and the second, for World of Warcraft fans, was to show that they could attract new users. Shuster said that each of those events brought in about 5,000 visitors. He’s anticipating around 20,000 for AEVC because, as he puts it, “Adult is one of the areas that we’re expert at.”
Utherverse’s Red Light Center is an online world with an abundance of adult-themed entertainment, including virtual sex and drugs. In addition to drawing visitors from there, Shuster expects AEVC will see many new users.
“To be able to attend an adult trade show, which is essentially as good as attending the AVN show in Las Vegas—without having to travel, without having to leave home, and without any concern over, let’s say, privacy, or people seeing you—I think that’s going to be very attractive to people.”
Indeed, the virtual convention hall looks much like its real-world counterpart. While touring the Straight through the virtual space, Utherverse vice president Anna Lee said the digital environment provides exhibitors with “all of the perks and none of the complexities” of a live convention.
“You can build a $5-million booth for $50 in the virtual space,” she said. And skilled booth staff can talk to more than one person at a time in either text or audio chats.
Shuster said the convention will feature speakers, meet-and-greets, and retailers selling products. Porn-film distributors and sex-toy manufacturers are among the companies that have already booked space. “All the vendors will have materials that you may be uncomfortable trying to buy at a real trade show,” Shuster said.
Peter Nowak is a Toronto-based journalist and the author of Sex, Bombs and Burgers: How War, Porn and Fast Food Shaped Modern Technology. He’s covered the AVN expo and likens it to a giant adult superstore.
“The guys who attend aren’t exactly the leaders of tomorrow,” Nowak said by phone. He suspects that being able to attend the virtual convention incognito could attract a more diverse audience.
One potential downside is that meeting artificial versions of porn stars may not be as exciting as doing so in the flesh. Nowak noted many visitors in Vegas are there to get their pictures taken with their favourite stars, even if meeting one in person is often disappointing. “Many look much worse in person,” he said.
But Vancouver adult entertainer Samantha Mack believes that, for some, meeting avatars in a virtual space might be preferred. “My fans are into some pretty kinky things,” she told the Straight by phone. Some fetishists might have their fantasy destroyed by meeting an actor in person. And Mack knows women in Vancouver who are not publicly known to be porn actors, and would be unlikely to appear at a live event.
Mack is cohosting the Xbiz Adult Entertainment Virtual Awards show with comedian Patrick Maliha as part of AEVC. She said that her avatar, being designed by Utherverse, will look just like her, “down to the tattoos, piercings, and the works”. Hellfire, who will be playing music at one of the virtual convention’s after-parties, is looking forward to appearing as an avatar for the first time.
Also slated to appear at the convention is Seka, the legendary porn star. She’ll be doing a meet-and-greet with fans and appearing on a panel discussing what the porn industry was like in the ’70s and ’80s. According to Shuster, other stars and performers will be appearing at the booths of the production companies they are signed to, such as Hustler and Digital Playground.
“I’m hoping this will be Internet history that people can participate in,” Shuster said.