A Chinese VR headset company is hoping to sell its product in greater numbers by marketing the benefits of a virtual girlfriend (called ‘Vivi’) to single men. Vivi is apparently a saucy evolution of the company’s previous female virtual assistant who was as prim as a librarian.
Introducing an interactive virtual girlfriend may be the way to help increase sales for virtual reality headsets. At least that’s what Chinese Netflix-style streaming service iQiyi expects to happen.
According to a report on the South China Morning Post, a virtual assistant app called “Vivi” has gotten some upgrades to make her the girl-next-door type of virtual girl.
In Vivi’s previous version, the virtual assistant worked as any other virtual assistant. Vivi took care of show schedules on iQiyi, made suggestions and answered queries.
The new Vivi on the other hand could now flirt, give compliments, and even get evasive about her age, the report cited.
The news is sure to anger the activists mentioned in the previous post who are campaigning for digital assistants like Siri to be given protection from sexual harassment. It also highlights the contradiction in Chinese attitudes towards adult entertainment in a country in which all porn is illegal and even viewing porn can lead to prison (although it is known that the Chinese market for VR porn is already huge and growing), and yet attitudes to more physical products such as toys and dolls are astonishingly liberal. As porn and sex toys gradually merge through VR and AR (XR) to produce real virtual sex, it will be interesting to see what attitude the Chinese authorities will ultimately take. There is also a massive demographic imbalance between the genders due to the one child policy (recently abandoned) leading to a surplus of young males who have no hope of finding a girlfriend or wife.
For iQiyi, Vivi assists users in accessing the company’s content based on the history of which videos they prefer to watch. The avatar can also answer simple queries raised by users, such as the time, weather or scheduled television shows, and even help complete missing portions of a poem.
And for those so inclined, Vivi can flirt, compliment a user’s looks and act coy when asked about her age. Because it is VR, a user can “touch” Vivi, who would giggle, act playful or pretend to be angry as part of the interaction.
“I’m already a middle-aged man, and if I like it, I’m sure younger people would like it too,” Ma said. “If a nerd wants to see her dance, he can order her to, and she would go into dancer mode.”
Whether Vivi will turn out to be the killer app for iQiyi’s VR ambitions remains to be seen.
The company declined to release sales figures for the headset, which bears the Qiyu brand. It sells for 3,499 yuan (US$529) in China, compared with 3,999 yuan for Taiwan-based HTC’s Vive Focus.
The Qiyu headset did not rank among the top five VR headset brands in China in the second quarter, which is led by Shanghai-based Deepoon VR, HTC and Japan’s Sony, according to industry research group Canalys.
More companies are entering the market, including Chengdu-based Idealens and Pimax from Shanghai, which both recently launched premium-priced VR headsets.
The growing number of brands and models covering the high- to low-end of the market bodes well for VR headset demand in China, said Charlie Cai, a director at research firm GfK.
Backed by Baidu, iQiyi is targeting to create a global Chinese-language VR platform with more than 10 million users and has pinned its hopes on its growing online video streaming user base. It recorded 442 million mobile monthly active users as of August 17, behind Tencent Video’s 457 million users in the same period.
Globally, VR headset sales have fallen short of early expectations because of issues including a lack of content, bulky and expensive equipment, and poor user experience resulting sometimes in nausea for some users.
By some industry estimates, revenue from AR headsets will be almost twice that of VR headset sales by 2021. Worldwide shipments of AR and VR headsets are forecast to reach 81.2 million units by then, up from an estimated 13.7 million this year, technology research firm IDC said in September.
More improvements are in store for Vivi to meet the needs of Qiyu users for virtual companionship, such as dancing with the user when instructed, according to Li Xing, a product director at iQiyi’s VR unit.
While Vivi has proven to be popular, Li said iQiyi needed to have more VR content for the Qiyu headset. The company has increased spending in producing movies, TV series and reality shows. As many as 3,000 videos have already been pre-loaded to Qiyu.
For Ma, he is waiting eagerly for the next-generation of features to be added to Vivi, such as a change of scenery.
“Today I like being in the office, but maybe tomorrow I want to be at home, and the day after at some overseas tourist attraction,” he said. “I also hope future versions of the headset can be lighter.”