Extending the real world: the case of virtual dating

I’ve spent this morning revising my lecture, for this coming Tuesday, on alternative virtual worlds and on the business opportunities for MUVEs.  I’d predicted, some 12 or 13 years ago, that an early adopter of multi-user 3D worlds would be online dating agencies; and Moove, in a very limited sense, filled that role:

Just click a name on the member list sorted by your interests and you are coming together instantly. Chatting, laughing, kissing, hugging, lifelike movements. Exchange files, show your own pictures, marry virtually. Use cam and voice to get to know your chat partner even better. Find friends from all over the world and fall in love – “Anything goes”.

Yet Moove has always been more about virtual world fantasy dating than about supporting real-world dating.  This morning, browsing the website of virtual worlds consulting company KZero Worldswide, I came across OmniDate:

and from their web site:

Scientific American described virtual dating as the next generation of online dating.

Virtual dating is a fun and safe way for singles to get to know each other in a virtual environment (e.g., a virtual cafe) before meeting in person. It’s the ultimate ice breaker and a very comfortable way to create a sense of familiarity prior to making a physical and emotional investment.

Users interact through photo-realistic 3D characters, which respond naturally to the typed text (e.g., typing LOL makes an avatar laugh). They can even blow a kiss or reach over and touch the hand of the other avatar. Instead of sending electronic winks and emails back and forth for weeks, virtual dating enables singles to have a real-time interaction in a romantic, virtual environment. …

Virtual dating makes online dating an addictive experience and intensifies member engagement. According to leading providers of Internet metrics (e.g., alexa.com, compete.com), people spend much more time on virtual dating than they do navigating some of the top online dating sites, such as Lavalife. Women in particular are drawn to virtual dating, as evidenced by a higher proportion of women users as compared to traditional dating sites

Browsing the several YouTube videos, the avatars, visual and audio gestures, and settings seem to me (but this is therefore only my personal opinion) utterly unappealing.  The concept nevertheless is interesting, starting as it does from the premise that virtual worlds can extend and augment real-world interests rather than starting from (as Second Life and Moove have) fortuitous encounters enacted uniquely within a virtual world.

Update: I was later emailed by Mark Nicholson, VP Marketing for another virtual dating company, Weopia, who’d stumbled upon my blog entry.  Weopia professes to be

the world’s first 3D virtual world dating service, wholly devoted to bridging the gap between traditional online dating and the time-consuming and intimidating first offline date. Virtucom Inc. began development of Weopia in Spring 2008 with a team from Canada, US, Germany, India, China and South Africa.

Weopia’s purpose is to help the millions of singles and online daters to find love faster. By allowing daters to meet in virtual worlds and to experience each other beyond mere text chat, their collective risk is reduced and their likelihood of success is increased. Weopia daters are able to develop a deeper understanding of their dating prospect’s compatibility without leaving their home. Weopia works with any dating site and allows users to screen more potential mates in less time while protecting anonymity and providing another step towards ensuring a safe real life date.

Weopia users select an avatar and meet their date in an intimate person-to-person 3D virtual world. They use voice and text chat while engaging in dating activities and conversation stimulators to get a better sense of each other. Weopia is the natural evolution of online dating, allowing users to find love faster and only meet in real life, those with whom they feel very comfortable.

Researchers at Harvard and MIT have scientifically proven that virtual dating has a critical place in the online dating process, leading to better first encounters offline. Those who use virtual dating are twice as likely to have more than one date offline. And they like each other more prior to that first date.

Dating is only one example of the use of virtual environments as ‘digital prostheses’.  Virtual office work, virtual learning, virtual retailing (for real-world goods), virtual gambling, and so on, all take real-world interests and objectives as their starting point.  Reading KZero and other market analysts suggests we shall be seeing enormous growth in areas of this kind; and thus immense employment opportunities for our graduates in games technology and desktop VR.

References

Moove
» http://www.moove.com
Omnidate
» http://www.omnidate.com
Weopia
» http://www.weopia.com

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About Christopher Hutchison

Museologist, cognitive dissident, political grouch, curmudgeonly bibliophage, and all round jolly nice chap.
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