From social gatherings and shopping expeditions to fashion shows and wedding ceremonies—IMVU is a virtual metaverse on a mission to make social networks truly social. Creators are transported to a 3D world where they are encouraged to design virtual goods, share experiences, and build meaningful friendships. It’s a destination where creativity is limitless. As the brand says, “if you can imagine it, you can create it, shop for it, and be it in IMVU.”

Daren Tsui, CEO of IMVU, speaks with us about how virtual social presence can create feelings akin to physical experiences, why creativity is the new status symbol, and how IMVU is setting the groundwork for the next era of social networking. For more about this growing digital realm, download our report, "Into the Metaverse."

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Describe the world of IMVU.

IMVU is the leading 3D avatar-based friendship discovery and social platform. We have millions of users who can customize avatars, explore 4,000 different rooms and destinations, connect, play and interact through chats and events. Discovering new friends is big.

Tell us about your creator community.

There are over 200,000 creators on our platform. We enable a peer-to-peer economy that designs virtual goods and animations and can create rooms and destinations as well. Over the years we’ve amassed 50 million items in our catalog. We create 0.001%; everything else is done by creators.

You describe IMVU as a virtual place where “the feels are real.” Can you expand on this?

When you interact with others in a 3D environment that feels immersive and feels real, you develop a sensation of being with somebody in a different place. Like when you wear a VR headset, you’re transported. That’s called social presence: the psychological projection of yourself onto this avatar being. That’s what we mean by “the feels are real.”

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Is this the next evolution of social media?

For sure. Even before the pandemic, we did tons of research. It’s unfortunate that people over the past decade have grown isolated or feel more alone. Social platforms are not really satisfying our needs for friendship—they’re more media than social networks. You’re not really friends with them, you just follow them. What we’re doing at IMVU is more authentic and immersive. It’s more like how you make friends in real life. Then of course it blew up during the pandemic. It was a banner year last year as more people came onto our platform. We see ourselves as the next generation social network.

What types of communities are being formed in IMVU?

The avatar really is the freedom to express yourself. Users are transferring their real-life antics into the virtual world. As a result of all that, we have a wonderful community. To give you an example, we have tens of thousands of volunteers offering their time to help others better navigate IMVU—that’s something they initiated on their own. We have also followed our users’ lead on social causes. The LGBTQ+ community is strong and we’re helping amplify their views and voices, [as well as those of] BLM and Anti-Asian hate. Many communities are driving these causes and we support that.

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On your site, you say “creativity is the new status symbol” what do you mean by that?

With traditional social networks, you go onto great restaurants, [or other] fantastic destinations and post about them—that’s the status symbol for traditional social networks. For us, it’s more around creativity, where creators show off the room they created, the dress they made, or a product they built. That’s the status symbol for them: their creativity. You also see within the forum; creators are very supportive of each other and they will collaborate. Most creators come on to the platform to design and create. Making money is not the most important thing for them. It’s about being recognized for their creations.

Our research shows that gen Z and younger millennials are not striving for fame and fortune, but are instead focusing on individuality and ethical values that matter to them. Would you agree that you’re seeing that on IMVU?

I agree. Those are important values to them, and they bring those values onto the platform as well.

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What’s next?

We’re currently designing and will implement “With Me” this year. It’s what we call an endorsement/kudos system. Every day you get a certain number of kudos for being helpful, kind, or a good team player. Those are carrots. We’ve gotten feedback in user testing that people love getting and giving kudos. We take being kind very seriously and we think about features for that.

Making friends is not an exact science, but there are ingredients that we know and [if] we then foster like a petri dish, we can foster friendship. We gamified it: conversation starters, ice breakers, walk somebody through that and help them in a lot of ways. Think about creating a new online society but doing it right from day one.

The more you play, the more you’re getting to know other people.

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