It was a perfect first date. It started with a trip to an amusement park in an alpine valley, where colorful roller coasters meandered through the trees. Afterwards, the pair played a round of crazy golf before finishing the evening with a shared bucket of popcorn at a movie theater. And it all happened in the metaverse. For example, Samantha M., a 26-year-old from Washington, DC, met her boyfriend Cayden, who lives in Utah.
The couple hooked up on a dating app called never met, which helps singles find dates in the world of virtual reality. Since their first rendezvous in March, the couple have been in touch at least once a week in VRChat, a popular metaverse world, sometimes virtually together for whole days. The two have yet to meet in person, but they also communicate outside of the metaverse, mostly through texting, phone calls and video chats on Discord.
“It’s the closest thing to someone without being physically with them,” says Samantha. “It gives you the chance to meet others and learn more about them, both personally and from the inside.”
Virtual reality dating is on the rise, with companies like Nevermet developing new ways to connect people in the Metaverse. But the concept hasn’t been smooth sailing for Match Group and Tinder, the leading app. After 10 months of effort, Match pulled the plug on Tinder’s attempt to build a metaverse dating space. It comes at a tumultuous time for Match, as the company has had to scrap other recent initiatives, including creating an in-app currency, as revenue growth slowed as a burst of post-lockdown romance faded.
CEO Bernard Kim announced the slowdown in Match’s metaverse development after a lackluster Q2 earnings call. Less than a year ago, Tinder revealed plans to develop a metaverse dating space, a move that included the acquisition of Hyperconnect, an artificial intelligence and augmented reality company that was already developing a virtual romantic destination called ‘Single Town’.
“Given the uncertainty about the final contours of the metaverse and what will or won’t work, as well as the more challenging work environment, I have instructed the Hyperconnect team to iterate, but not invest heavily in metaverse at this time,” Kim said. . “We will continue to carefully evaluate this space and we will consider moving forward at the appropriate time when we have more clarity.”
The change of direction was accompanied by an announcement that Tinder CEO Renta Nyborg was stepping down. Nyborg, who became the unit’s first female CEO in September, publicly spearheaded the Match Group subsidiary’s drive in the metaverse, naming it the “Tinderverse.” the Reuters Next conference in Dec.
Kim also announced that Tinder was abandoning plans for a virtual currency called Tinder Coins after an unenthusiastic response from test markets. The in-app money can be purchased or earned through in-app activity. Users could then exchange the coins – which are not designed as cryptocurrency – for “super-likes” and other features that can be purchased in the current business model.
Tinder isn’t the only major dating app showing an interest in the metaverse. Bumble, another big player, stated in a profit call in November his intention to prepare for “whatever comes up” in the realm.
But while the dating heavyweights are doing the wallflower, more agile upstarts have taken to the dance floor. Never met and rivals flirty and Planet Theta show the different ways metaverse dating apps can work. They usually run on the freemium model popular with the traditional heavyweights, where the basic service is free, but other features are available for a fee.
Nevermet connects virtual reality enthusiasts, building profiles, including in-depth personal bios and avatars. However, the company chose not to build its own metaverse destinations. In fact, the app is not virtual reality, but a more traditional smartphone application. Once two people match, they’re supposed to leave the app ecosystem to connect in a virtual world of their choice.
“Our goal is to help people connect to help them build meaningful relationships. And we want them to decide in which worlds they want to go together to have those experiences,” said Cam Mullen, CEO of Nevermet.
Like Samantha and Cayden, many Nevermet users connect on VRChat, where their custom avatars move through one of the platform’s 25,000 community-created virtual worlds. Samantha’s avatar is a purple-eyed, silver-haired version of herself. Samantha met two former boyfriends on VRChat without the help of Nevermet and says some of her friends first met significant others while socializing on the metaverse platform.
Flirtual, the company with the strongest claim as the first virtual reality dating platform, follows a similar schedule to Nevermet. The company sends most of its users to VRChat after connecting to the Flirtual app.
Other metaverse dating apps, such as Planet Theta, focus on creating their own virtual worlds in an effort to manage user experiences. Currently in beta testing and slated to launch in November, the Planet Theta platform connects potential matches via virtual speed dating. The singles are paired up for short one minute online chats. If all goes well, they can reconnect for a three-minute coffee date, where they sit in a Planet Theta-designed cafe. After virtual coffee, users are shown the photos of their dates and given an option to vote thumbs up or down. If both parties are receptive, they can connect for future dates in the metaverse world of Planet Theta, enjoying virtual drinks at the couples bar or feeding squirrels in the enchanted forest.
This kind of dating allows users to immediately test the chemistry through a live chat, something Planet Theta CEO Chris Crew says the brand name dating apps haven’t offered. “You can’t tell from a photo whether you click with someone,” says Crew.
As Planet Theta builds its custom VR experience, Crew hopes users will take time to connect beyond the metaverse as well. “It eventually ends up being in a relationship with someone you hopefully love and eventually live with, not something you try endlessly to talk in VR.”
Nevermet takes a similar approach, although some users choose to stay in VR. “It varies from person to person, but most users, once they are in a meaningful relationship and fall in love, most of them will eventually want to meet in the physical world,” says Mullen.
Mullen and Samantha understand that some people will struggle to take metaverse dating seriously. But that group may soon be a minority. Nevermet has “created more than 200,000 new metaverse relationships,” Mullen says.
“At the end of the day, you’re alone in your room and you probably look a bit silly. But in the headset, you’re with the person you love, and that’s really cool,” Samantha said.