Remember back in 2006 when the media put the spotlight on virtual world like Second Life? You probably haven’t heard people bringing up the concept for quite a while, but this app from China, Lianai (literally meaning “to nurture a love relationship, sounds the same as “being in love”), wants to introduce the idea of online lasting virtual romance.

The reality is that the type of relationships people derive from dating websites are often superficial and don’t last. Lianai wants to help people identify their Mr. Right and maintain those relationships: users can send gifts, go on online dating and play RPG games together. All these efforts become criteria for Lianai to rank users’ relationships, giving them incentives to engage in further love bonding. In essence, Lianai has gamified the process of relationship-building.

(Ranking of couples. source:

Like other gaming companies, Lianai monetizes through virtual item sales such as gifts and social features. It’s a proven model widely adopted in Asia, especially in South Korea, Japan and China. Recent successful cases include China’s YY Music, 9158 and Changba, which hold online performances where fans purchase flowers and gifts for their idols.The market for virtual goods is certainly large. According to the Beijing-based research firm Analysys, China’s online gaming market is worth $11bn as of 2013.

Virtual world lets people do and express many things that are difficult to achieve in real life otherwise; finding a satisfactory love relationship and marriage seems to be one of them, as implicitly suggested by Lianai.

Given the enormous success of matchmaker website like Jiayuan (NASDAQ: DATE), who today has 90 million registered users, it is curious to see what virtual dating will deliver to people. Will virtual relationships last longer? You may be surprised to learn that on Second Life, a million active users still log on and inhabit the world every month, and 13,000 new users drop in every day to see what Second Life is about. At the end of the day, who knows what ever happened to romance?

Telling the uncommon China stories through tech. I can be reached at ritacyliao [at] gmail [dot] com.

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