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Getting paid for a bad date: Crypto is making it a thing

Web3 entrepreneurs are trying to monetize dating and sex.

Earn cryptocurrency for going on a date or having sex? Two yet-to-launch apps, Datingverse and Sexn, would allow anyone to collect crypto by participating in either of these (ahem) activities. While the concept of earning crypto doing what you’d probably be doing anyway isn’t new, this may be the first time it’s entered the general public’s love life.

What’s crypto? And the meta what?

For those of you new to the crypto world or the metaverse, here’s what you need to know. Crypto currencies are digital currencies that are generally decentralized (meaning no one actor, company or country controls them) and can come in a variety of shapes and forms. You don’t need a bank to transact in them, and anyone can use them.

The metaverse is a mix of virtual reality (think Meta’s Oculus product) and augmented reality (think Pokemon Go) in which companies and individuals build immersive digital environments where users can do almost anything. The metaverse is still very much a concept as opposed to a reality.

First up, Datingverse. Here’s the idea: You knock off work and head to your date. But instead of meeting up with a real human at, say, your local Italian restaurant, you grab a drink and some day-old pasta from your fridge, open up your laptop and log in to the app called Datingverse — a dating world that exists in the metaverse. The next step is, instead of deciding what to wear before going out, you settle down in your sweats and pick an avatar (no requirement that the avatar look like you). Then you hit the digital streets (that look like actual streets) to find a date. And as opposed to that local Italian restaurant, you can be anywhere that virtual reality can take you — including, yes, an Italian restaurant, maybe even in digital Italy.

And the real selling point, the company hopes, is that this is a dating app with benefits — monetary benefits. Every time you go on a date, you earn cryptocurrency. That’s right: Even if your date is terrible, you get paid just for going on it. It’s the literal version of, “If I had a dollar for every bad date …” — and all from the comfort of your own home.

Louis Xiang, the Singapore-based co-founder of Datingverse, said one of the motivations to create the project and app was practical: The drastic reduction in offline dating during the pandemic left a whole lot of people looking for alternatives. But he had a larger goal as well: push dating technology past swipe left, toward a dating world without restrictions. Oh, and pretty much completely upend social behavior around dating as we know it — a change Xiang said the world is ready for.

And web3, an iteration of the internet based around crypto and the metaverse, is where Datingverse is making its roots. Packy McCormick, an investor who helped normalize the term has called it “the internet owned by the builders and users, orchestrated with tokens.”

“From traditional dating to Tinder and Bumble in web2, dating culture has changed,” said Xiang. “With the development of web3, I believe this culture will change further. At least the immersive experience has been predicted, and more and more vendors are joining this ecosystem to give it the possibility of getting applied. With the help of VR and sensor hardware, we can even get sexual pleasure from each other in the virtual world.”

The project and app is currently in the process of gaining “ambassadors,” or people anyone can date in the Datingverse and isn’t yet open to the public.

Let’s talk about Sexn

What makes Sexn different is that the company is aiming the market in the space that blurs the line between people in those fields and those that aren’t.

The core idea is that anyone will be able to earn crypto through sex or masturbation — although the parameters were vague. They do mention wearables (which would imply that at least some version of real-life sex will be an option). It also appears to be trying to appeal to a wide range of sexual preferences.

“There are several modes [we don’t know what they mean exactly by “modes” yet either], including coitus mode, masturbation mode, sadism and masochism mode, and super mode, which can meet the needs of different groups of people in different situations and contain different reward methods,” according to the marketing copy on the website.

In an AMA on Friday covering how Sexn would make sure people were actually earning crypto through sex (and not other aerobic activities), Max mentioned smart watches and measurements such as heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen concentration and motion sensing.

When asked about ways to prevent underage users from using the app, Max said they had not considered “know your customer” (KYC) requirements and he would bring it to the team.

The Sexn team did not respond to interview requests via Twitter, and Telegram messages to multiple admins of their official Telegram channel went unanswered. Max did not respond to a direct interview request.

What the Telegram channel was full of though was repeated posts pumping the crypto you can earn from them via sex, memes and a video. It’s reminiscent of ads you see on TV that don’t show the actual product but try to hype you up with sensory overload.

What’s in it for the company?

Projects like these and their founders generally make money by allocating a portion of the total token supply to the founding team. If the value of the cryptocurrency they use goes up by attracting an audience and gaining traction, that causes the price to go up, and the original holdings can greatly increase in value.

In the case of Datingverse, the project will earn revenue through a partial subscription fee, service fees for transactions and NFT trades, advertising profits and taxes on other activity in the Datingverse, according to the project white paper.

For Sexn, it’s, yet again, unclear, although they promise more details in the third quarter of 2022.

The philosophical “why”

For some longtime enthusiasts of crypto, these projects are invoking the question: Why?

Jennifer Sanasie, content director at Windranger, a lab collaborating with BitDAO and other crypto projects, said when she first heard about earning crypto from everyday activities, her initial reaction was, “That could be really cool. There are so many new ways for people to earn doing things that they already do.” In a sense, she said, it could be the next iteration of the gig economy.

However, the vast majority of “x-to-earn” projects are not operating at the scale of mainstream counterparts. Pointing to Axie Infinity and other platforms as an example, Sanasie said “x-to-earn” models, which are most popular in video games, still have a much lower user count than popular video games where people earn in-game currency.

Think of the Call of Duty franchise as one example, or NBA2K. This is important because “x-to-earn“ projects depend on more capital entering the system for previous or current users to make a profit. It’s the same for Datingverse or Sexn.

Alex Masmej, the founder of web3 social network Showtime, which rewards users for engaging with their content said, “All ‘x to earn’ is basically rewarding the activity of users and have ownership over the things that you use online every day, which is much more egalitarian and a better wealth distribution than FAANG [Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google] where like everything accrues to the platform. In crypto, incentives are the killer feature of all the products.”

Jack Butcher, who runs an ad agency that works with web3 and crypto companies, said models like Datingverse and Sexn, and the “x-to-earn” economy overall, get to one of the fundamental debates behind crypto; who gets to invent markets?

“That’s one of the core tenets of cryptocurrency is this idea of permissionless value exchange,” said Butcher. “Regardless of how true that is, in practice, philosophically that is where this idea came to be — a permissionless value exchange that you can extrapolate out into every human interaction.

Oleg Fomenko, founder of the Sweat Economy, in which users earn “Sweatcoin” through an app that tracks their daily steps, said we shouldn’t be commodifying everything.

“We need to leave space for magic and serendipity in life,” he said. “Relationships for relationships’ sake, experiences for experiences’ sake. But undoubtedly some things in life need a little added incentive. For example, the things we don’t find time for but that we know are good for us, like exercise and movement. If we can commoditize that just a little to create a little ‘nudge’ and behavioral science incentive, that’s progress. Date to earn? No. Move to earn? Hell yeah. Crypto for steps has the potential to be to physical movement what the orgasm is to reproduction.”

Still, according to David Yermack, chair of the finance department at the New York University Stern School of Business, these incentives, whether they be for loyalty to using a product or something else, are just new versions of old marketing devices that have been around in different forms for a long, long time, such as loyalty points. To that end, he does not see why a platform couldn’t reward people for being repeat customers on a dating site. Or if there were a person who was the object of a lot of desire, that person could auction off their next date, or you would have to spend more tokens to get a date.

“We’re yet to see that kind of mainstream adoption, and I don’t know what it’s going to take,” Sanasie said. “I don’t know that people want to just earn from doing everything — that sounds scary.”

Of the idea of the Datingverse, she’s even more skeptical. “This sounds like some Black Mirror meets OnlyFans meets Tinder business,” she said.

Will it work? 🤷🏽

The model of doing a certain activity to earn crypto on a micro scale will almost certainly survive. Earning crypto from regular activities has certainly proved it’s not going away any time soon.

“Tokens to incentivize any type of behavior are really an instrument that has been around in economics for decades,” said Yermack. “And one of the good things about crypto assets is that you can record them with a great deal of confidence and accuracy.”

But sex and love are two complicated parts of being human, and combining them with crypto could get messy. Will your average accountant go for earning crypto just to go on a date? What about having sex? And then there’s the broader question: Just how far is too far when it comes to efforts to commodify … well … everything.

The reality is that when some of these products, platforms or tokens go viral, they aren’t always built to scale and support the amount of traction they get, according to Yermack.

“When these things are successful, they tend to be very asymmetric,” said Yermack. “In any set of 100 tokens, maybe only one or two is actually going to catch on. So for any one innovator, it seems unlikely that yours would be the winner, and you don’t really plan for that.”

Such is the nature of entrepreneurship — to have a high failure rate and a lot of experimentation.

“A lot of things aren’t going to last much longer than a couple of headlines and a few days of experimentation,” said Butcher. “I think that’s what makes mainstream adoption uncomfortable. Because it’s so much more of a philosophical question than a technical question — who gets to decide where and how value is exchanged?

Another difficulty comes from the fact that validating activities that don’t happen on a blockchain is a very different concept than previous models, according to Butcher.

“It’s like you’re building this economy, but the connectivity to the activities that drive the economy is not included in the software you wrote,” said Butcher.

For example, wearables or apps need access to GPS tracking, and who’s to say you can’t just put it on a dog if you’re earning from walking, or on a shake weight if you’re trying to capitalize on Sexn.

And when it comes to venture capital or advertisers being interested in working with projects, Butcher said they might be wary.

“There are a lot fewer dangerous variables than going for a walk or a run than there are entering into a romantic relationship with someone,” he said.

For those of you old-school daters wondering if, say, the date actually goes well, you will ever meet your virtual sweetheart in the flesh? Maybe. There are ways to meet, including nondigital means like getting on a plane, but that’s beyond what this company is interested in. They want you in the metaverse, because that is how they (and you) earn money.

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