“If you reach out your hand, you can touch her and direct her,” the female assistant says as she guides Steve, a potential investor, through the bold new world of the cryptocurrency-backed virtual reality (VR) adult entertainment industry.
The assistant asks Steve to don a VR headset, sit comfortably and hold a remote control in each hand. Steve does as he is instructed and extends his left arm towards the naked lap dancer in front of him in the virtual seedy bar.
As he holds out his arm, a crowd of would-be investors gather round the screen in the company’s booth at the Crypto Investor Show 2018 in central London. Me.Mento and its porn brand VRXCity have come to the capital to find investors, for what it claims will be the world’s first cryptocurrency-funded VR porn.
The assistant adds: “This is the future of pornography.” And, at least in this conference centre booth, it is the future of cryptocurrency – the investment craze that has propelled bitcoin into the headlines.
The company told potential investors at the show, in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre near the Houses of Parliament, that there were less than 10 days left to pre-register for its redBUX crypto token before its initial coin offering (ICO).
An ICO is how a new cryptocurrency – a virtual currency that uses cryptography for security and is not issued by any central bank – is launched. Investors subscribe – usually paying in bitcoin themselves – and get the new currency in return, and then start spending it, hoping that as it circulates it rises in value. More than 2,000 people attended the show last weekend, which was billed as helping the general public invest in digital currencies and “reap great rewards”.
Me.Mento’s RedBUX is just one of dozens of new crypto coins and tokens being pitched to investors at the trade fair, which organisers described as “the UK’s biggest crypto and blockchain event for investors”.
Two booths down from the VR porn, is a stand for Kidcoin, a currency designed for parents to pay their children for completing chores or just staying out of trouble.
Arman Rousta, Kidcoin’s founder and chief executive, said the company’s coins can only be spent at specially-vetted vendors so that parents can be assured that their children would not be able to buy anything inappropriate.
Although conceding it might be easier for parents to simply give their children a traditional allowance, Rousta said that a growing number of children and parents don’t use cash.
“This is much more intuitive than cash, and it is easier to set long- term goals with Kidcoin,” he said. “We are kind of gamifying kids’ allowances, to make it more like video games. There are targets to hit, with rewards unlocked. We are trying to help build kids’ confidence and self sufficiency.”
Patrick Dooley, the founder and chief executive of the trade fair, said he had sold more than 2,500 tickets for the show at £18 each. Hundreds of those who bought tickets for the show, whose wares included cryptocurrency investments for sports cars and retirement complexes, queued for up to an hour to enter the conference centre.
Bare with us Guys we will get you all in 😄 #CIS18 pic.twitter.com/e1m1K2ae06
March 10, 2018
Dooley took to standing on the balustrades to apologise to frustrated visitors, who had travelled from as far afield as Glasgow and Cornwall to learn about investing in Bitcoin and its peers, such as Ethereum, Ripple and Litecoin. The value of Bitcoin has fluctuated wildly in recent months, rising to nearly $20,000 at the end of last year to its current level of around $8,000.
This week, Google said it would ban all adverts for cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin and initial coin offerings (ICOs) – a blow to investor sentiment for an asset whose value often swings on interventions by governments and regulators around the world. The head of International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, also warned that cryptocurrencies could become a “major new vehicle for money laundering and the financing of terrorism”.
Dooley is well aware of the power of states and watchdogs over cryptocurrencies. “We wanted to be right in the centre of London opposite the Houses of Parliament given that governance and regulation is such a big talking point in the sector,” Dooley said of his choice of venue.
Dooley said that talk of cryptocurrency regulation should ease investors’ nerves about putting their money into the currencies.
“We wanted to open up the space [cryptocurrencies] to the everyday investor because they should really know about it,” he said.
Mohammed Shukeel, 39, an engineering student from Birmingham and fledgling crypto investor, said he had travelled to London for the conference to make real-world contact with other investors. “I started investing last year, with a bit of bitcoin, some ethereum and a bit of ripple,” he said, referring to two bitcoin rivals. “I’d rather not say how much money I’ve made, but it has been quite a lot.”
Slightly behind Shukeel in the 500-plus person queue to enter the QEII centre stood Bernardo Pro, a 21-year-old from Mexico studying at Kings’s College London. “I’m here out curiosity,” he said. “You hear so many people talking about bitcoin and the other ones and how much money they have made. I just thought I’d check it out.
“I did open a bitcoin account about six years ago, but I got bored and sold them. They’d probably have been worth loads if I’d held on to them.”