With Valentine's Day approaching this Saturday, more platforms than just WeeWorld are preparing to launch virtual gifting services. Today Avalanche, owner and operator of the social dating sites Matchmaker, Date, and Amor, announced the addition of a virtual gifting service across all three platforms. FooPets has also announced the FooGift service in its popular virtual pet game and social network, which would allow users to give new Valentine's-themed items to each other.
While Valentine's Day is a gift-giving holiday, in terms of physical goods it is far from the year's most important. That honor goes to the Christmas shopping season. While Christmas-themed virtual goods promotions were common during the 2008 holiday season, few new virtual gifting services were launched during that time period. It seems like Valentine's Day may be more important to virtual gifting than Christmas–or at least a more opportune time to launch gifting services–which in turn means may be the single most important virtual gifting holiday. Why?
"Some stats out there say
that just with a virtual gift on a dating site, your overture is five times more
likely to get a response," said Rob Frasca of Viximo in VGN's Q&A with him last month. Viximo's TrueFlirt application on iPhone exclusively sells romantic virtual gifts designed to help iPhone users flirt with each other.
"What users give the most are our romance-related iGiphts. That may be a
function of when we launched, since Valentine's Day is coming up. It’ll
be interesting to see post-Valentine’s how much romance drops off
compared to other categories," said David Rangels of iGiphts in last week's Q&A about his iPhone virtual gifting app.
There is a clear connection between virtual gifting and the desire to show romantic affection in an online relationship, and Valentine's Day is the only romantically themed holiday for most Americans. Curiously, cost-efficiency may be what drives the link between virtual gifting and romance in general.
"This Valentine's Day, our members have the option of showing affection and interest by spending $1 on a virtual bouquet of roses which will digitally last forever," said Avalanche CEO Meir Strahlberg of his company's new virtual gifting feature. "Compared to $75,
the average cost of a dozen roses, which only lasts one week, it
certainly seems like a viable option for millions of online daters who
may have brought a bouquet of roses to a first date in healthier
While most people are good judges of value, virtual gifts still cause the same types of feelings as physical gifts. Most people would consider the virtual item less valuable, both because it is likely both tangible and inexpensive, but the quickly growing market for virtual goods shows that their value is still significant. This gives virtual gifts a distinct niche to fill online, similar to greeting cards, of providing an online community with a cheap, thoughtful type of gift. Virtual gifts show affection for a recipient, but they're cheap, easy to give, and, for those looking to flirt, less committal than a physical equivalent might seem.
For a virtual pet site like FooPets, the human inability to totally distinguish between the real and the virtual is a cornerstone of the genre's success. Even though the site doesn't cater to dating a direct way, its virtual gift service is launching to allow its human users to express affection of a likely more friendly nature toward other users who also have virtual pets. There will even be a suite of Valentine's Day themed items ready for users to give to each other as gifts, though they'll primarily be decorations for the room a user's virtual pet inhabits.
So is the most important thing for virtual gifts, as some distributors have pointed out, a quality call to action or just a holiday where users are looking for action?
While a virtual gift service can certainly encourage a user to give throughout a year by prompting on a friend's birthday or other important occasion, it is hard to artificially create the sort of urge toward gift-giving that a holiday like Valentine's Day does. In that case, a platform simply needs to be ready to capitalize on what users want to do already by announcing and publicizing virtual gifting services.
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