It’s spring and romance is blooming in the metaverse, according to new user data from Reddit. And there are great opportunities for all kinds of brands – from interior labels to food subscriptions – to get involved.
Enthusiasts are eager to join the metaverse to meet new people, according to exclusive data from Reddit. And after more than two years of the pandemic, they’re more ready to flirt than ever — in these burgeoning virtual spaces. In fact, in the past six months, Reddit has seen a 249% increase in “meetings” mentions within VR advocacy groups.
So what are the reasons for this trend? And what does it say about the future of relationships – and the shape of the metavers in the future?
1. Cosplay Made Easy (Passion, Star Wars Style)
With IRL socialization and travel subject to evolving Covid-related restrictions, consumers have begun to turn to virtual reality (VR) and emerging virtual ecosystems to immerse themselves in new experiences. VR headset sales are up 92% year over year.
On Reddit, this trend is particularly pronounced: Redditors are 125% more likely than the general public to engage with the metaverse and meet new people, and are 42% more likely to spend time online than in person. Redditors are twice as likely as the general population to “join the metaverse” – and that’s reflected in their activity on the social site: screen views of the r/VRchat subreddit are down 193% between March 2020 and March 2022 increased.
And more than ever, they are interested in meeting potential romantic partners in virtual spaces. Not only can users meet people living all over the world, but with new virtual spaces and virtual reality capabilities, users can engage in new activities and invest more deeply in their interests and passions.
“It’s not just you and me [might be] Star Wars fans; we can literally plunge into a Star Wars universe and… live out that passion in real time in a way where I don’t have to travel the world and buy a bunch of stuff, dress up or cosplay like you would otherwise”, said Rob Gaige, director of Partner Insights at Reddit. “We can do it much more relaxed. You generate a more honest connection at the level of a passion – compared to where in the [face-to-face] dating world, where it’s a bit more superficial.
2. Reality can’t be kept away forever (let’s meet at the local restaurant)
Long distance relationships, mostly virtual, are rarely set up to be successful – in fact, the average long distance relationship lasts less than five months. Obviously, even if netizens find love in new spaces, they can’t escape the real world forever. Couples need to experience shared physical intimacy, quality time, and genuine communication to ensure they have a healthy and successful partnership.
But what Gaige and the Reddit team have discovered is that for couples who have found love in the metaverse, these virtual spaces and experiences will continue to play a role in their real-life relationships. “We’re already seeing evidence of this kind of hybrid relationship, where just because you met in the Metaverse and are now in real life doesn’t mean you’re leaving the Metaverse behind,” explains Gaige. “It’s not like you have the Tinder app where you delete the app afterward [you’ve found a relationship]†
Instead, he predicts, the metaverse will remain an integral part of those IRL romances. “We may be together physically, but we’re going back to this world and having a date now [Star Wars’] tattoo. He sees this hybrid relationship as the next phase of what has just begun.
And it just might help these couples stay happy in the long run. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of couples with common interests cite this as the reason for their marriage’s success.
3. Different types of relationships (“everything is fine” is the new norm)
The metaverse is also ripe for forming different kinds of relationships. Gaige suggests double dating will become more fluid as couples don’t have to live nearby to meet. At the same time, he predicts that in a lower-stakes virtual environment, it will provide users with “a safe environment to unlock less traditional relationship structures — things like promoting role-playing and fostering non-monogamous relationships.” For this reason, he thinks Gen Z — a much more sexual and gender-fluid generation — will be especially interested in dating metaverses.
And as romance takes off in the metaverse, so do other types of interactions. Increasingly, users are turning to virtual reality and the possibilities of emerging technology, not only to connect with distant friends and romantic partners, but even to immortalize deceased loved ones. Interest in using new technologies to spend time with the deceased may increase as Reddit’s user behavior reflects an increase in support group activity – from March 2020 to March 2022, the platform saw a 201% increase in the displays of r/griefsupport screens.
The idea is in its infancy, but Gaige and her team are keeping a close eye on how it could develop. “Can we create non-playable characters that exist as imprints from the past of people you knew?” he says. “It’s something we’ve seen over and over in culture – concerts of holograms of deceased people [artists] pretty much every piece of science fiction. But it is now a real possibility, with people considering coding and communicating with these personalities.
He says he was surprised that there was less demand for interacting with celebrities and more demand for capturing lost loved ones. “I thought maybe it would be more about famous people — like, here’s my chance to hang out with Beyoncé. It’s not that. It’s like, ‘I really want my grandma — and it would be great if I could code my grandmother so that my son or daughter can meet their great-grandmother.’
Implications for Marketers (hey, there’s money to be made here)
The explosion of interest in metaverse relationships presents a whole host of valuable opportunities for brands.
Brands can also dig deeper into the cash cow of fandom to fuel new forms of engagement. They can organize virtual activities or events to help users meet other fans who share their passions. Nintendo fanatics could walk together around Peach’s Castle, while Potterheads play a game of virtual quidditch.
Another important way for brands to find value in the space is by leveraging the new crypto business economics. With the world already mirrored in the high fashion industry’s quest for NFTs, there are countless opportunities for brands to outfit avatars and allow users to introduce themselves to mixers, metaverses, or on dates that feel like the most authentic version of themselves. Brands can offer a range of clothing options, accessories, accessories, makeup, body modifications or even cars, bicycles or scooters.
But the business implications of token-based interactions run much deeper. †[On a date in the metaverse] I’m not tied to which restaurants are within my budget, or even close, or the type of food [we] you might like, because I create an immersive experience,” says Gaige. As a result, he says, NFTs and tokens will serve as vehicles to create unique dating experiences. “We’re going to see more of, ‘Hey, I created a special experience’ [for you]…I’m going to buy a special song to play for you to show you how much I care about you. This is a great opportunity for brands.
The Reddit team thinks that certain industries may be better positioned to be successful early on. Luxury goods and fashion are obvious early adopters, and Gaige draws attention to Metaverse’s booming real estate market (real estate sales in the Metaverse topped $500 million in 2021 and could double this year, according to a recent report from CNBC) . †[Companies are] rebuild famous buildings, famous plots [in the metaverse]† In some ways, your dream home should be in the virtual space, and you don’t necessarily need it in the real space,” says Gaige.
In the same vein, he predicts that design brands will see new opportunities increase. “I see the Herman Millers of the world and they should jump right in and develop a mid-century modern ethos in this space. Any designer – Kelly Wearstler – if I was a brand manager for these guys, I would do for them.
Will Cady, director of KarmaLab, Reddit’s creative strategy arm, predicts that food subscription services like Blue Apron could see new opportunities as long-distance couples try to connect in new ways.
Ultimately, space is so burgeoning that the possibilities are almost endless, Cady says. “These are open fields to some extent – there are new habits and new rituals that can be formed that have not yet been formed. For example, I had a wedding in the Metaverse, and it was a whole new moment. There were about 200 people online and about 10 people in person IRL. It’s something that didn’t exist before. What are the business opportunities to make a wedding in the metaverse something like that? [offers a] good experience for all guests?”
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