Sometimes I wonder what game designers are up to when they’re not busy disguising the nudity of luscious, jiggly characters with tight little costumes. Are they concocting something even naughtier? Shortly after I consider that, I start wondering how to get my hands on some of that sweet sweetness! Sure there are the misspelled, one-handed chat sessions and the quirky attempts at getting the Second Life avatar to get it on in the magic bed with its expensive genitals. But you and I, we want more. We want to live on the wild side, from the safety and anonymity of our laptops. We want easy-to-use sexy graphics and lots of interactivity. We want a virtual sex world, gosh darn it! Thank goodness, such a world has arrived. I recently had the honor of interviewing Brian Shuster of RedLightCenter.com about his visions of a very sexy, very explicit, very interactive place where every fantasy is at your fingertips. Read his fascinating thoughts after the jump!
It’s great to get the chance to talk with you, Brian! Please tell us a bit about who you are and what RedLightCenter.com is.
I’d be happy to! RedLightCenter.com is an adult’s-only virtual world. The site is simple to use, and provides a very realistic look and feel, with access to virtual nightclubs, gentlemen’s clubs, hotels, bars, movie theaters and stores. And, of course, every kind of sex imaginable!
Unlike a web site, users actually have a presence in the virtual world, which takes the form of their Avatar. This is a character that the user creates and dresses as they choose. Avatars walk from place to place in Red Light Center, where they can see and meet all of the other users who are in the world.
When two or more users want to hook up, there are plenty of places they can sneak off to for some serious adult fun! There are nude beaches (where the sand isn’t a nuisance), plush bungalows, seedy hotel rooms, or just up against the wall of a back alley.
Red Light Center allows adults to live out fantasies like being a hooker for the night, having a 3-way, getting dominated or trying out any BDSM fetishes. Of course, many users have tried lesbian or gay sex for the first time in Red Light Center, where the environment is really safe to experiment.
But, it’s not all about the sex.
There are so many things to do in the RedLightCenter.com virtual world that cannot be done on a web site, that I will only scratch the surface. We celebrate several weddings online every day. Both real and virtual weddings and events allowed for people to attend from all over the world, who would otherwise not be able to be there.
We recently completed a film-festival, featuring award-winning short films shown in several of our movie theaters over three days. Unlike a film-festival on a web site, here all users saw the same shorts at the same time, and were able to discuss them with others in the audience both in real time and afterward. We have huge parties with live bands and DJs every day. Users meet, dance, talk and generally socialize. When they get along, they can go out to explore, play games, hang out with mutual friends, and generally date. Many users have fallen in love, and we have had hundreds of marriages that have resulted from connections made in Red Light Center.
Avatars can select their look, their race, their clothing, their tattoos, piercings, and other features (wings, skins, eyes, and on and on).
Users can put on or attend concerts, comedy shows, classes, lectures, book readings, movie screenings, contests, games and a wide range of other events. Business owners have opened shops that provide real-world clothing and goods, as well as services like psychic readings, mental health services, online sex counseling, and online sex.
Oh my goodness, this is really something! You’ve definitely got my attention. What inspired you to create this project? Where do you hope to see it lead?
About thirteen years ago, I started one of the first, and for a long time the largest, adult entertainment network on the Web. While running that network, I became a player of a massively multiuser online game. One evening about six years ago, my late business partner Ray and I were in Amsterdam, and we got to talking about business. I told him about the game that I was playing, and the social aspects that seemed to add a whole new layer to the game, and a brainstorming session ensued. We began with the idea for a more social and non-adult virtual world, but as we strolled around the Red Light District, doing some “window shopping,” Ray had a vision of girls in an online alley within the 3D environment we had been talking about. Before the night was over, the prior business plan was discarded and Red Light Center was begun.
The future of Red Light Center is nothing short of the future of the internet, and possibly of all mankind itself!
The three dimensional internet (the Utherverse) is going to revolutionize the way people relate to the web and to each other in profound ways. The Utherverse has been under development for more than five years now, and it is still only in the earliest stage of what it will become (think “Star Trek” holodeck here). This VWW will continue to grow in popularity, just as the World Wide Web did in the mid-1990’s. As a critical mass of users begin to populate these virtual worlds, a mass transition from the flat, 2-dimensional internet to the much richer 3-dimensional internet will ensue. The Utherverse will move from being largely a platform for adult entertainment into a platform for all ecommerce.
Trade shows will be held virtually, offices will move into virtual spaces, retail products and services are all greatly enhanced by virtual world developments. Eventually, the current web will become a tool or library for use within a fully immersive 3D version of the web. The social effects will be profound as well. People from around the world, who otherwise would never have the opportunity to come into contact, will meet in very realistic and meaningful ways. Friendships will develop, and understandings that would never have been possible before will become commonplace. In the best-case scenario, the world will become a more understanding and compassionate place, as people worldwide develop bonds that transcend geography and cultural differences. Already, Utherverse is comprised of three virtual worlds, including Red Light Center, Virtual Vancouver and Rude Virtual World with more than 2 million registered users. The number of users is now growing exponentially, and the number of virtual worlds is set to explode over the next several years.
The future is here, eh? 2 Million! I should have gotten in on this instead of starting my blog. ;) Ah well, I have a feeling that I should leave that to the professionals, like you. Tell us some more about your related projects, perhaps your first one?
In 1995 I began Xpics, an online adult entertainment company that rapidly grew into the largest provider of adult entertainment online. That’s the closest that I’ve come to a related project (inasmuch as it was adult in nature, and it was on the internet). I have written a sci-fi novel, The Minerva Virus, that revolves around some of my visions of the future (in a worst-case scenario). Other than those sort-of related projects, the creation of the Utherverse is pretty unique.
You certainly have explored a range of media! Now that you’re building the Utherverse, who will get the most pleasure from RedLightCenter.com?
If you aren’t open-minded, you won’t like Red Light Center. If you aren’t a friendly person; if you want everyone to do and act only the way you think they should, then you won’t enjoy yourself at all. Red Light Center is more about the people than anything else, and the community is generally comprised of users who are there to enjoy the company of others, and who like to see others happy and successful. We are a supportive group that get genuine pleasure out of helping new users learn the ropes, and get the most out of their experiences. So, in a word, altruistic people are the most likely to get the most pleasure from RedLightCenter.com.
And, really, anyone who would like to meet more friends and socialize in a low-pressure environment is likely to enjoy their experience. We have received particular praise from users who have some real-world insecurities or disabilities, in that the virtual world nature of Red Light Center allows all users to be more confident of themselves, and not to concern themselves with how they look or other (real or perceived) personal shortcomings. Users can “try on” personalities to see how they feel, and they often carry those over into their real life, giving them more confidence and a better understanding of who they really are and how they want to be.
I like the sounds of this. Certainly the potential for online sexual exploration has been a hot topic among sexuality researchers and outreach professionals. This sounds like a great way to explore, so tell us about the coolest features of RedLightCenter.com!
Red Light Center changes the way users relate to the web. Instead of having features that are isolated between the user and their computer, those features are now massively multi-user within RedLightCenter.com. So, for example, when a user watches a comedy clip in a movie theater in Red Light Center, the same clip is being watched by dozens or hundreds of other users at the same time. That adds a whole new dimension to the experience, as the audience becomes a part of the show in real-time. User comments back and forth can often be more entertaining than the clip itself! This is a complete departure from sites like youtube, where everyone is on their own, and the closest you can get to real interaction with other people is to leave a comment. The same holds true for features like live music. DJ’s and bands play to clubs with hundreds of ravers, and the users are requesting songs or shout-outs while they dance, flirt, and do their virtual drugs or drinks! The group experience takes listening to live music online from being a passive experience to an active and engaging one that is much more fun. And, of course, who can forget the sex! Pushing the personal boundaries of fantasy, a user can click a few buttons and turn on a “Working Girl” or “Working Guy” badge that let’s them live out the fantasy of being a prostitute.
Or, if they like, they can actually work at it, and in some cases, make a good living!
RedLightCenter.com has a virtual currency (called “Rays”) that users can earn, buy and sell. Rays currently trade for between 6.5-7.0 cents on the open-market currency exchange, and Rays are used throughout the virtual world to pay for goods and services. A top quality Working Girl can earn hundreds of Rays per hour providing cybersex and companionship, all without leaving her home!
Perhaps our most compelling feature of all is one of the simplest. In addition to being a virtual world, RedLightCenter.com is also a massive social network for adults. Each user has a profile that contains information and pictures about themselves and their interests. This makes it really easy to find people that share your interests; but unlike other social networks or dating services, once you find users that you want to know better, you can actually meet them in a virtual world, and attend events, go on a date, meet their friends and even cybersex with them, all before risking a real-life meeting.
As great as this sounds, I’m sure you’ve run into some diverse responses. Any crazy stories to share about designing the site, or about customers? The press? Protestors?
Other than a single reporter who went crazy about the virtual drugs within Red Light Center, and called the local police in an effort to get them to come and arrest me, the stories are all about the same. Either that means that they are all crazy, or that I have simply become accustomed to the nature of business, and particularly business online and in the adult areas, that nothing strikes me as particularly crazy these days. I think one calls that “jaded” but who am I to say?
As I mentioned earlier, there has been a lot of press and discussion about cybersex among sexuality professionals. Some has been about whether cyber is healthy for individuals and couples, and whether it counts as sex. What are your perspectives on these topics?
One of the things that struck me as remarkable very early on, is just how real the experience of a virtual world is. My first experience was just after the launch of Red Light Center, when I was hanging out in the courtyard, and a female avatar walked by dressed in a really sexy outfit. As she walked by, I craned my neck in a subconscious effort to glimps her ass as she moved off my screen. It took me a second to realize that I needed to turn my avatar, not my head if I wanted to see that! When it comes to cybering, the addition of the very realistic animations and 3D environment work in conjunction with the way that the human brain is wired to make the experience much more real than any prior version of remote sex (like phone sex or video sex). Add on top of that the “foreplay” that leads up to the sex (such as meeting, flirting, dancing, dating and even selecting the right location for the mood), and the whole situation starts seeming like a very real encounter.
As far as whether cybering is healthy, the answer is a resounding YES!
I can say from personal experience that spending an hour flirting, hanging out with and having sex with someone in Red Light Center is very different from a passive experience, like watching porn. When you log off, you feel like you’ve really connected with another person. You feel like you’ve spent time productively, and you don’t feel lonely and isolated. Those feelings are very healthy, and they are very different from the feeling one gets when spending time alone on the internet. Now, whether this counts as sex or not really depends on who is asking and why. If a couple wants to know whether this would be cheating, I think it’s up to them to decide that. Certainly, there is no chance of catching anything from the encounter, so it’s harmless fun from that perspective. But emotionally, it is pretty easy to fall for someone (as many of our users can attest!) so, if that’s a concern, you’d better get the spouse’s permission :-)
There has also been a lot of conversation on the future of cyber-dating and cyber-sex. This has focused on high tech toys (like “cyberdildonics”) as well as sexier parts of Second Life. Where do you see cyber-dating and cyber-sex headed?
There is no doubt that cyber-dating and cyber-sex are converging into virtual-worlds. Already, RedLightCenter.com provides huge advantages over standard web dating sites (in that prospective mates can learn so much more about a person and how they behave, and what their chemistry is together, than ever before, prior to meeting them in the real world). As the Utherverse grows in popularity, technology innovations will follow. This has been happening ever since the dawn of technology, where demand leads development, which increases demand which prompts further development and so on. This cycle is only now beginning with virtual worlds and tele-touch technologies such as teledildonics. A technology revolution will happen over the next decade which will move the 3D nature of the Utherverse from being rendered on a computer screen to being rendered all around the user in their living space. Holograms that can be touched and sensed are the inevitable direction of this technology, and when that is all perfected, cyber-sex could well be better and safer than real world sex! Between now and then, I expect to see advances in devices that stimulate the various senses of sight, sound and touch all competing in a growing marketplace, and thus become better and better. Cybersex devices already exist, and improvements to those devices are already being driven by the massive and growing demand for the products.
I’m guessing you have heard lots of comparisons to Second Life. How are you the same and different? How tech-savvy will users have to be? After all, lots of people love Second Life but many others are intimidated by the time and tech skill it seems to require, especially to get characters to mimic sex.
Unlike Second Life, which is mostly a sex game, RedLightCenter.com is a Massively Multi-user Reality world. Our users are not playing a game, but rather meeting other users, socializing, dating, conducting business and falling in love with other real users. To anyone familiar with both virtual worlds, they will understand that these are two entirely different kinds of experiences. In RedLightCenter.com there are always thousands of users online who are all in a relatively small area, so people are easy to find and it is easy to become part of a close community.
We have taken great efforts to make our software easy to use. The analogy would be the difference between an IPhone and a Blackberry. Right out of the package, Red Light Center users will be able to jump in and have fun, whereas Second Life requires a lot of learning and pain to figure out. Utherverse also has proprietary technology for the features that are vastly better than other virtual worlds. Our sex is built right in, so there is no trying to mimic sex. In fact, we have millions of dollars invested in providing a sex system that offers highly detailed and realistic sex, with no need to try to mimic acts that were never intended to be used in a sexual way.
Another example of the advantage of our platform is that Utherverse worlds have the ability to contain an unlimited number of simultaneous users’ avatars. So, rather than having an event limited to 50 or 100 people, our virtual worlds can support 500,000 or 5 million. This opens up the ability to have massive, global concerts; or even just giant raves; classrooms with thousands of students, or other large-scale events are possible. Our software also supports many features both for the user and behind the scenes that allows users to see much higher-quality images, so avatars look and move like real people. We also offer a very simple user-interface, so even someone with no online gaming experience can jump right in and participate in just minutes.
I saw that you’ll be hosting workshops and art openings, etc. How can interested professionals and attendees become a part of these events?
We have an active volunteer group that runs in-world events. They are always happy to assist users in participating in events, or in hosting their own! Interested people can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or they can visit the events forums and check out the In World Events board at: http://www.utherverse.com/Forum/
Alright, I’m in! How can people get hooked into RedLightCenter.com?
Users simply need to visit http://www.redlightcenter.com and download the free software. Basic membership and useage is free; however, VIP membership is $20 per month. VIP membership is required before users can get naked and fool around. Otherwise, most of the other features and areas are accessible to Basic members. The software is simple to use, and it has been designed so that it can run on almost any PC (Mac version is coming in 2009). If a user has any questions, there is always live help available in the Welcome center and throughout Red Light Center in the form of our volunteers and staff.
Many thanks to Brian Shuster and RedLightCenter.com for this interview! In the name of disclosure, you should know that… well… I didn’t get paid anything at all. ;) It’s looking like I might be able to do my own review of RedLightCenter, so keep your eyes open!