Tinder’s New Paywall Is Going to Destroy Tinder. Here’s Why.

lady and the tramp

Where were you when you learned that Tinder had quietly decided to monetize? Were you on Reddit? (I was on Reddit.) Did it pop up in a thinkpiece? Or were you on Tinder itself when you suddenly got the message: “You’re out of likes. Get more likes in 12:00:00. Get unlimited likes with Tinder Plus for $19.99/mo.”

Tinder, which I affectionately think of as “Candy Crush but with people’s faces,” has decided to follow Candy Crush’s example and make people pay for additional gameplay. They’re also using a tiered subscription model based on age. As TechCrunch explains:

Tinder Plus costs $19.99 for users older than 30, while it costs just $9.99 for folks who are younger than 30.

However, in the TechCrunch office we’ve seen Tinder Plus offered at the price of $14.99/month for a 30+ female user. We’ve reached out to Tinder to get a clearer picture of the Tinder Plus pricing structure and will update as soon as we know more.

That “as soon as we know more” is important, because Tinder Plus is barely 24 hours old (which means that if you hit the paywall, or what I’m going to call the “likewall,” yesterday, you might be able to start liking again). There’s a lot we don’t yet know about Tinder Plus.

But I predict that it is going to destroy the basic functionality of the service, and I’ve got the math to prove it.

To understand why Tinder Plus is literally going to ruin Tinder, we have to look at how Tinder compares to the other big free dating service, OKCupid. (As a reminder: Tinder, OKCupid, and Match.com are all owned by IAC, which is kind of like the Yum! Brands of dating—the company also owns Chemistry.com, HowAboutWe, and several other dating apps.)

At its core, OKCupid operates on Mark Manson’s “Fuck Yes or No” theory, which many OKC users reference directly in their profiles as the reason why they won’t respond to a lot of messages. The idea is that a potential match has to be a “fuck yes!” or it’s a no. It eliminates the middle ground of “eh, maybe this person will be okay, even though I’m not feeling super enthusiastic about them.”

OKCupid can use the FYON theory because users are able to see a large group of potential matches at once and choose accordingly.

With Tinder, you see one match at a time and have to decide immediately whether to pass or like. The FYON theory applies within reason, but it’s flipped—instead of deciding based on “YES,” we decide based on “NO.” Part of this is because you only see one match at a time and can’t cherry-pick the people you like best, and part of this is because Tinder offers very limited information.

Yes, as Anne Helen Petersen proved, you can make a lot of very immediate, fairly educated guesses about someone based on their Tinder calling card: there are often cues about religion, income, and political leanings, for example. But with Tinder I’ll find myself swiping right on “eh, maybes” just to see what happens. I already know that nothing’s going to happen unless the other person swipes right as well, and even then nothing’s going to happen unless I decide to message that person, so it’s a very low stakes choice.

In fact, many Tinder users swipe right on as many people as possible—some users swipe right on everyone—and then use the FYON theory on the people who also swiped right on them.

In short, OKC is structured so you interact with as few people as possible and Tinder is structured so you interact with as many people as possible, at least from a gameplay perspective.

And now Tinder wants to make you pay for likes.

The first thing that’s going to happen is that people are going to become much more strategic about their right swipes. They’ll start hoarding them. This, in turn, will make the number of Tinder matches go down, which will also make messaging go down. It’ll probably drop the level of in-person meetups.

All of this, in turn, will make Tinder less fun. Not only will you be having fewer interactions, which will cut off a lot of the fun at its base, but the game itself will also inspire more anxiety. When the basic premise of the game shifts from “everybody is a possibility, choose as many people as you want” to “you have scarce resources, be careful how you apply them,” you are going to worry that you aren’t apportioning your resources correctly. You are going to think “I really want to interact with you, but I can’t.” It will feel less hopeful, less exciting, less enjoyable.

And, if Tinder stops being fun, you’ll quit.

Now, Tinder’s probably done the math on this too, and assumed that the people who decide “wait, I can interact with you if I pay $19.99″ will be high enough that they’ll cover all of the people who decide Tinder is no longer enjoyable and quit the app. But that’s where it starts to get really mathematically interesting.

Let’s say that there are 10,000 Tinder users in your area and 100 of them paid for Tinder Plus. That means 9,900 people are incentivized to ration their likes, and 100 people are incentivized to like as many people as possible.

—A Tinder Plus user who likes another Tinder Plus user is incentivized to match, which, at maximum match percentage (that is, each user likes all 99 other Tinder Plus users) will happen 1 percent of the time. In reality, it’ll happen less than 1 percent of the time because not everyone is going to like every other Tinder Plus user.

—A Tinder Plus user who likes a non-Tinder Plus user is incentivized to not match, unless the non-Tinder Plus user thinks they’re a YES. It’s harder to figure out the percentage on this, but we can estimate that it will happen less than 1 percent of the time because the non-Tinder Plus user has to ration likes over the entire 10,000 Tinder user base.

—A non-Tinder Plus user who likes a Tinder Plus user is incentivized to match, and at maximum match percentage this will happen 1 percent of the time.

—A non-Tinder Plus user who likes a non-Tinder Plus user is incentivized to not match, unless both non-Tinder Plus users consider each other a YES.

Of course, these percentages all change if, say, 5,000 of the 10,000 people choose to pay for Tinder Plus. Or if the starting number is something besides 10,000. It’ll also change depending on the number of free likes users get per day—right now there’s one report that users might get “around 100,” although I haven’t seen an official number yet. The point is that matches are going to become much more exclusive and rare.

And that’ll make Tinder more frustrating and less fun, especially if those rare matches don’t lead to dates, hookups, or TWOO LUV. (Why pay $19.99 for bad dates, or for someone who is going to match with you and then flake?)

And that’s why I think Tinder Plus is going to destroy Tinder.

We’ll see what actually happens.

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