Picture this: you’re getting ready to meet someone for a first date — psyching yourself up, maybe drinking coffee later in the day than most doctors would recommend. But tonight, you aren’t thinking about your wardrobe at all. In fact, you might even keep wearing the hoodie and sweatpants that you’ve been wearing since you popped out of bed that morning.
Why? Because you’re not going to meet this attractive stranger in a swanky bar, where such attire would almost certainly hurt your romantic prospects. At least, you’re not going to meet them in a physical bar. Instead, you’ll be heading to a virtual bar, where hopefully some very real sparks will fly. Or maybe the two of you will stroll through a mythical (and entirely digital) forest landscape. In the metaverse, anything is possible.
This sounds like science fiction (which, in fact, it literally is: the “metaverse,” both as a term and a concept, was coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash), but this brave new world of dating may be just around the corner.
“There are so many massive advantages to the metaverse over the internet. And the bottom line is that one's immersive, and the other one you're looking at something on a screen,” Chris Crew, CEO of a Wyoming-based game company called FireFlare Games, told us. “For dating, getting to feel like you get to go on a date and feel like you're part of it, or that you're in a place with another person instead of looking at your phone screen and trying to chat with them and imagine what they're doing and what they're thinking [is] such a better experience.”
"You get an incredible amount of information about how someone feels about you without them saying a word," Crew says about the VR dating experience.
Crew and the rest of the team at FireFlare are currently in the process of building Planet Theta, a VR-based dating app that’s expected to launch in early 2022. The game will include a variety of virtual settings, such as “Aaron’s Bar” and the “Enchanted Forest," where users can meet, talk, and in some sense even physically interact with one another. “You get an incredible amount of information about how someone feels about you without them saying a word,” Crew says about the VR dating experience. “When they turn towards you, or turn away from you just even just a little bit. Those things really do get seen in VR.”
That’s a sharp departure from the traditional model of dating apps, in which users have little information to go off of (aside from photos, text, and maybe a social media profile or two), and in which communication is limited to instant messaging and, in some cases, video chats.
That multisensory experience, the ability to physically (so to speak) engage with a virtual environment, is what will set the metaverse apart from the plain old internet that we’ve all come to know and love. The internet of today is basically a two-dimensional world that we can only peer into and interact with via little glass screens. The metaverse, on the other hand, will be a three-dimensional universe, accessible via VR headsets, that will much more closely resemble the one that we’re all living in now, only it will be populated by digital avatars (instead of human beings), and it will be constructed of ones and zeros (instead of atoms).
Along with allowing users to convey body language, the metaverse will eliminate the need to meet strangers in person for a first date — which invariably entails some degree of risk. It will also make it much more difficult for people to get away with catfishing. “The stereotypical [form of catfishing] is when people are pretending to be a gender they’re not…it is hard to do that in VR, because you’ve got to talk to them,” says Crew. “And unless you’ve got a really good female voice or a really good male voice, it’s hard. That’ll take out a good, like, ninety percent of people who are catfishing.”
It will still be possible, of course, for people to misrepresent themselves while dating in the metaverse. Avatars will be customizable, which means that they need not resemble the people creating them. Users of Planet Theta, for example, will not be required to create avatars that look like themselves (though Crew says he does recommend doing so). The game has partnered with Wolf3D, creators of an app which constructs 3-D avatars for users that are “pretty damn good,” according to Crew.
While some people will undoubtedly go off of the deep end and show up to their virtual dates as a dragon or a hot dog (again, in the metaverse all things are possible), Crew believes that most people will opt for the far simpler (and probably far more effective) option of creating slightly better-looking versions of themselves: “Our app doesn’t look exactly like you," he says. "It looks better than you."
Match Group, the parent company of Tinder, Hinge, and a handful of other dating apps with household names, has been investing heavily in its transition to the metaverse.
Planet Theta is at the vanguard of the next generation of dating apps which are going to be born into (and exclusively constructed for) the infrastructure of the metaverse. But the old guard of online dating, including some platforms that have been around not for years but for decades, has also sensed where the future is heading and has begun to adjust its course accordingly. For example, Match Group, the parent company of Tinder, Hinge, and a handful of other dating apps with household names, has been investing heavily in its transition to the metaverse.
The company recently acquired Hyperconnect, a South Korean technology company that has begun testing a VR-based dating platform called Single Town. According to Match Group’s Q3 investor letter, Single Town will allow people — sorry, avatars — to “move around, and engage with others by audio in various virtual locations.” Single Town, the letter continues, “provides a glimpse into how metaverse experiences could be applicable to dating and…is the sort of innovation that will help us evolve our portfolio as we enter the next phase of dating.”
Some companies have also been incorporating digital currency into their dating apps in order to boost user engagement. Tinder, for example, has recently begun testing “Tinder Coins” in some European markets, which the company plans to make available to users as a means of paying for some new and popular in-app features, such as Boost and SuperLike. As for Planet Theta, users will be able to buy NFTs which they might encounter in, say, Aaron’s Bar, and which they can then proudly display in the “high-end condo apartment” where individual avatars will reside (when they’re not out mingling, that is).
Other people looking toward the future of romance in the metaverse aren't thinking in terms of dating apps on steroids, but using technology to create an overall more immersive social experience. Devin Lewtan, co-creator of MadRealitiesDAO, which will be hosting a crypto-based, “community governed” reality TV show called “Proof of Love” beginning in early 2022, told us that incentivizing people to use dating apps, spending ever-greater quantities of time swiping in search of love, is not “contributing to society in a helpful way.”
In response, Lewtan and her co-creators have created a new model: In order to be able to tune into “Proof of Love” and participate in the show’s Love Island-esque voting process, subscribers will first be required to purchase a MadRealities NFT (a digital ticket, essentially). The real incentive that will keep people tuning in, Lewtan says, is the interactive and participatory nature of the show. “It’s entertaining…it brings people together, so it’s more of a social aspect,” she says, “which feels a lot more natural for actual potential connection.”