It’s the last day on Earth. You’ve just heard the news, felt the tremble of the emergency alert on your phone: A meteor, barreling through deep space, will shatter the planet in a few hours, obliterating everything you know. Goodbye to your mom; toodle-oo to your stockpile of oat milk. The only thing left to do is figure out how you want to spend your remaining time.
Thispre-apocalyptic scenariois not the plot of a trashy new sci-fi novel. Instead, it comes to you from the matchmaking minds atTinder. The end-of-the-world experience debuts in-app next month as Swipe Night, a series of choose-your-own-adventure “episodes” that will guide you, the protagonist, through a maze of fateful choices: Do you spend your waning hours with your friends, or do you spend it seeing the world on your own? In the ransacked convenience store, do you reach for the first-aid kit or the bag of Cheetos? Every decision brings you closer to a different ending—and adds new potential matches to your queue based on the choices you’ve made.
Tinder has been moving toward this type of experience-based swiping for the past few years, attempting to connect people over shared interests rather than just mutual hotness. Last year it introduced Tinder U, a college-only version of the app. Festival Mode, which launched in May, connects Tinder users during music festivals; Spring Break Mode connects partiers on the beaches of Cancún.
Each of those capitalize on a real-world gathering point. Swipe Night, by contrast, creates a shared experiencewithinTinder. (I’m barred from sharing the specifics of the storyline, but the first few episodes are genuinely fun.) Open the app, swipe through the episode, and then talk to your matches about it when it’s over, like a first date at the movie theater. Unlike a movie, Swipe Night requires its viewers to make split-second decisions, which in theory reveals what matters most to them. “You’re figuring out what you want to do and what choices you would make with your last three hours on the planet,” says Ravi Mehta, Tinder’s chief product officer. “Ultimately, who would you want to be with during those last three hours?”
It’s a Match
Since its invention seven years ago, Tinder has almost single-handedly turned dating upside down. The app operates in 196 countries, where it’s responsible, allegedly, for some 26 million matches every day. People “match” by mutually swiping right on each others’ profiles, which include photos, a short bio, and details like age, gender, and location. The fact that you can summon an appealing stranger with the swipe of your finger is what Elie Seidman, Tinder’s CEO, calls a “true disruption”: Meeting people used to be hard; now it’s not. “But what we also see is that once people get that match on Tinder, they still struggle with what might be easier in the real world,” he says. “Which is: What do I say?”
The superficiality of Tinder profiles has made the app more of a sex generator than a genuine matchmaking platform. Tinder doesn’t prompt its users to reflect on the nature of love or partnership or their own personalities; many profiles on the platform are sparse, offering a few photos, self-deprecating humor, and perhaps a thinly veiled DTF. Some young people, frustrated by the meaningless hookups, have been driven off “frictionless” dating apps and onto old-school dating sites, such as OKCupid and Match, where there’s more space to show who you really are.
On Tinder, Swipe Night is meant to shake up expectations. Yes, you’re still going to swipe right on the hot people. But once you match, there’s already a shared experience to talk about.Wait,you might ask,did you really choose that? How did you end up there?“We want people to bond over not just the individual questions, or which decisions you made as you engaged with the adventure, but more broadly to share that experience,” Seidman says. “Those shared experiences are fewer and farther between in our world, and they’re special when they work.”
Swipe Night episodes will take place each Sunday in October from 6 pm until midnight, when Tinder says it sees a surge in activity. Each one will last about five minutes and end with a fresh match queue. But you won’t just be paired with your dystopian doppelgängers. “We’ll look at the choices you’ve made and match you with a mix of people, some of whom have made the same choices, some of whom have made different choices,” Mehta says. The new matching algorithm will be layered on top of preexisting filters, like preferences for age, gender, and location. (Alas, the person who may be your best match in the apocalypse may still be a few inches too short.)
Unlike, say, Netflix’sBandersnatch,Tinder won’t give you any do-overs. You can’t go back once you make a choice, and you’ll never see how a different choice could’ve led to a different ending. So if you want to find out what happened if you’d chosen differently, you have to ask someone else. Like a good wingman, Tinder gives you the perfect opening line.
Love at First Swipe
While Swipe Night is for everyone, it’s designed specifically with the college-aged set in mind. Tinder’s users have always been young—after a while, people find partners and get married or simply grow out of the hookup economy. But the 18-year-olds on the app today aren’t the same as the ones who joined Tinder when it first launched. About half of Tinder’s user base now belongs to Gen Z, and that number is only growing.
To keep up with them, some Tinder employees specifically study this demographic. “It’s called the Z Team,” Seidman says. “It’s a cross-functional team of product managers, engineers, marketers, and user-insight people who are specifically focused on how today’s 18-, 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds, as they join Tinder, are experiencing not just the app but the entirety of their digital social life.”
One takeaway: The youth love content. This is the generation of YouTube and TikTok, a group of young people fluent in the art of sliding into DMs and sharing their lives via video. “We’ve been very influenced by the massive macrotrend of the internet being visual,” Seidman says.
To make Swipe Night more authentic-feeling, Tinder hired Karena Evans, the 23-year-old best known for directing several of Drake’s music videos, to helm the project. The Z Team also thought the apocalyptic storyline would resonate with younger users—presumably because they are already saddled with broken politics, climate change, and active-shooter drills in school.
Meanwhile, Tinder’s engineers undertook what Seidman says is the most ambitious product upgrade in its history, adding capabilities for livestreaming video, a branching storyline, and a new Night Mode aesthetic that differentiates Swipe Night from the rest of Tinder. “We had to do this all without any prior production experience and in a way that was opaque to the user,” says Tom Jacques, Tinder’s VP of engineering, who led his team in a series of Trojan horse tests to disguise new features as in-app surveys or promotions. “It’s a lot like swapping the engine out on a car.” Except, in this case, the car was still running.
With all those new technical capabilities in place, Tinder may yet shed its sex-obsessed image and grow into more of an entertainment app with a matchmaking twist. “We’re not looking at how people met each other 20 years ago,” Mehta says. “We’re looking at how people are meeting each other today, and we’re helping build what that future is going to look like.” Even if the future looks like the end of the world.
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