It was a perfect first date. It started with a trip to an amusement park nestled in an alpine valley, where colorful roller coasters whizzed through the trees. The couple then played a round of miniature golf before ending the night with a shared bucket of popcorn in a movie theater. And it all happened in the metaverse. That’s how Samantha M., a 26-year-old from Washington, met her boyfriend Cayden, who lives in Utah.
The couple connected on a dating app called Nevermet, which helps singles find dates in the virtual reality world. Since their first date in March, the pair have been connecting at least once a week on VRChat, a popular online dating site, sometimes spending entire days together. The two have yet to meet in person, but they interact outside of the metaverse as well, mostly through text messages, phone calls, and video chats on Discord.
“It’s the closest you can get to being with someone without physically being with them,” says Samantha. “It gives you the opportunity to meet others and learn more about them 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 idea hasn’t been smooth sailing for Match Group and Tinder, its industry-leading app. After 10 months of trying, Match pulled the plug on Tinder’s attempt to create a conversion dating site. It comes at a tumultuous time for Match, as the company has been forced to scrap other recent initiatives — including the creation of an in-app currency — as revenue growth slowed once a post-lockdown romance sputtered.
CEO Bernard Kim announced a slowdown in Match’s post-development growth in an innocuous second-quarter earnings call. Less than a year ago, Tinder revealed plans to develop a metaverse dating site, 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 operating environment, I’ve instructed the Hyperconnect team to iterate but not invest heavily in the metaverse at this time,” Kim said. . “We will continue to carefully evaluate this space and will consider moving forward at the appropriate time when we have more clarity.”
The change in direction was coupled with an announcement that Tinder CEO Renta Nyborg was leaving. Nyborg, who became the unit’s first female CEO in September, has publicly led her Match Group subsidiary in the metaverse, calling it the “Tinderverse” in Reuters Next conference in December.
Kim also announced that Tinder is abandoning plans for a virtual currency called Tinder Coins after an unenthusiastic response to test purchases. In-app money could be purchased or earned through in-app activity. Users could then exchange the coins – which were not designed as cryptocurrencies – for “super-likes” and other purchasable features in the current business model.
Tinder isn’t the only major dating app showing interest in the metaverse. Bumble, another major player, stated its intention on an earnings call in November to prepare for “whatever comes” in the sphere.
However, while the dating heavyweights have been the wallflower, more nimble newbies have taken to the track. Nevermet and rivals Flirting and Planet Theta show the different ways metaverse dating apps can work. They mostly operate on the freemium model popular with traditional heavyweights, where the core service is free, but other features are available at a cost.
Nevermet connects VR enthusiasts, who create profiles, including detailed personal bios and avatars. However, the company chose not to build its own conversion destinations. In fact, the app is not virtual reality, but a more traditional smartphone app. Once two people are matched, they are about to leave the app’s ecosystem to connect to a virtual world of their choice.
“Our goal is to help connect people to help them create meaningful relationships. And we want to let them decide which worlds they want to go to together to have those experiences,” says Cam Mullen, CEO of Nevermet.
Like Samantha and Cayden, many Nevermet users log into VRChat, where their custom avatars move through any 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 old friends on VRChat without the help of Nevermet, and says several of her friends first met significant others while socializing on the metaverse platform.
Flirtual, the company with the strongest claim to be the first virtual reality dating platform, follows a similar outline to Nevermet. The company sends most of its users to VRChat after logging into the Flirtual app.
Other metaverse dating apps, such as Planet Theta, focus on creating their own virtual worlds in an effort to curate user experiences. The Planet Theta platform, currently in beta testing and scheduled to launch in November, connects potential matches through virtual speed dating. Singles are matched for short one-minute online chats. If it goes well, they can reconnect for a three-minute coffee date, where they sit in a cafe designed by Planet Theta. After the virtual coffee, users will see their dates’ photos and are presented with the option to vote thumbs up or thumbs down. If both parties are welcome, then they can hook up for future dates in the metaworld of Planet Theta, sipping virtual drinks in the couples-only bar or feeding squirrels in the enchanted forest.
This type of dating allows users to test chemistry immediately through live chat, something Planet Theta CEO Chris Crew says branded dating apps haven’t offered. “You can’t tell if you have chemistry with someone from a photo,” says Crew.
While Planet Theta builds its custom VR experience, Crew hopes users will take the time to connect outside of the metaverse as well. “Ultimately it ends with you having a relationship with someone you hopefully love and eventually live with, not something you try to talk to endlessly only in VR.”
Nevermet takes a similar approach, although some of its users choose to stay in VR. “It varies from person to person, but the majority of users, once they’ve established a meaningful relationship and fallen 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 conversion dating seriously. But that group may soon become a minority. Nevermet has “made more than 200,000 new cross-connections,” says Mullen.
“At the end of the day, you’re sitting in your room by yourself and you probably look kind of stupid. But inside the headphones, you’re with the person you love, and that’s really great,” Samantha said.