Reading time: 5 minutes
The events that everyone in the automotive technology segment thrives on have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. While they may return at some point, companies everywhere are now scrambling to redirect their events from the conference floor to your home office through virtual conferences with platforms like Virtual Tradeshow, VFairs, 6Connex, Swapcard and many more.
How difficult would it be to turn a game into a virtual conference rather than trying to make a virtual conference fun?
A successful conference needs to provide three key things to an audience: education, networking, and entertainment. While many virtual conference platforms do a good job in the education and networking aspects, the entertainment part is often an afterthought or left up to third parties to produce.
What if we created virtual conferences with a platform built for entertainment rather than the other way around? How difficult would it be to turn a game into a virtual conference rather than trying to make a virtual conference fun? Let’s do some exploring.
The multiplayer online game: Fortnite
Isn’t this the game your teenage kids play? Yes, yes indeed. Although built as a gaming platform, Fortnite has been adapted to host several online concerts in the era of COVID-19. (Normally Fortnite is a first-person shooter game; however, weapons are prohibited for large-scale gatherings.)
Fortnite also teamed up with hip-hop artist Travis Scott to create an amazing virtual concert experience as a response to pent-up COVID-19 concert-goer demand. This was not merely duplicating a real-life concert – it saw a gargantuan Travis Scott rapping over a virtual landscape, a song performed underwater by Travis in a steam-punk diver suit, while another song was performed in outer space.
It also saw a record-breaking response of over 12.3 million concurrent participants. That event proves three things: that the platform is imminently more scalable than most, Epic Games is open to adapting their core technology in interesting ways, and (even if attending is free) it can be done for profit.
The primary interaction for a Fortnite concert is one-directional, that is to say between the presenters/performers and an audience, which doesn’t make for an ideal trade conference replacement. There is also a slim chance that Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, would see an intersection between their core youth demographic and an industry-focused event.
This said, they have already been stretched in unforeseen ways. Although an extremely unlikely candidate for your run-of-the-mill event, I could envision Fortnite as a potential platform for deep-pocket companies (Google, Apple, Intel, or Microsoft) or industry mega events (CES, MWC, or SxSW) that are looking to attract new audiences with special one-off keynotes or announcements.
The social simulation: Animal Crossing
If you’re thinking that using Nintendo for a conference is a strange idea, remember we are in strange times. Deserted Island DevOps recently held its software developer conference in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing.
One of the biggest drawbacks is the audience size – you’re limited to eight guests on an Animal Crossing island. But because the Deserted Island Dev sessions were live-streamed on Twitch and had an associated Discord channel and Twitter feed for real-time conversations, nearly 10,000 people were able to experience the live event. Speakers stood up in front of the audience and presented their slides – just like in real life. Developers shared a lot of truly valuable content. A great summary of the experience is over on Tech Republic.
While Animal Crossing has a very youthful vibe and cartoonish nature that won’t work for everyone, it’s already shown to be perfect for some audiences. Rather than the whimsical nature of the platform getting in the way, the vast majority of Twitch comments on the event were positive. This model might be perfect for some conferences, especially if they have a highly-focused audience like the Deserted Island DevOps event.
The virtual world: Second Life
OK, Second Life isn’t really a game. But it is a flexible virtual environment that has more in common with Neal Stephenson’s metaverse from his ground-breaking novel Snow Crash than it does with a virtual conferencing tool. Yet, lots of companies have already built persistent presences and held launch events within the virtual universe of Second Life, including IBM, Mazda, Sun Microsystems, and Toyota. Some have even used it to hold small-scale conferencing events or get-togethers, including:
- Harvard held a course called, CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion
- MLB.com held a Red Sox-Yankees game
- MTV held a fashion show
- NFL Alumni recently held a charity event to raise funds for COVID19
A great thing about the flexibility of Second Life is that conferences and exhibitors can create an experience exactly as they see fit with digital promotions, networking events, presentations – even dance parties.
One of the coolest things for participants in most gaming environments is that it is typically free. However, as an exhibitor you still have to pay to digitally build and/or code your tradeshow paradise or rent an existing facility. Thankfully, the overall cost for creating a virtual property is a fraction of the cost of building a physical tradeshow booth. To get a rough order-of-magnitude, an average CES booth might cost $1M, floor space for a 10’x10′ booth at an industry-standard event might cost $10K, while a complete custom building in Second Life might cost $1K. Rentals are available too, again at a fraction of the real-world cost.
For some types of content, it might make sense to create a more permanent location at a Second Life site rather than a one-time event. This lets attendees experience a brand more persistently – like a website rather than a chat.
Networking with other attendees in Second Life is natural in some ways – you wander up to people and chat with them. But like Fortnite or Animal Crossing, don’t expect to recognize anyone you know – they might appear to be anything from a giant praying mantis to a mermaid. Perhaps it’s a good idea to pretend you’re going to a masquerade conference; with the right attitude you might meet people you never would have approached in real life.
Similar to Animal Crossing, gatherings in Second Life are limited by the technology; in this case around 40 people. Second Life could (and does) see use for conferences but, as it’s a much more freeform environment, it might be a better fit for events like an after-party or a product unveiling.
Builder’s paradise: Minecraft
No conversation about recreating real-world events in the digital world would be complete without discussing Minecraft, a platform that has inspired creative minds for over a decade.
Minecraft too has hosted events, many times academic or educational in nature – like virtual graduation ceremonies for social distancing. Like many of the platforms here, there is normally a limit to 30 players in a world, although there are custom server versions of the platform (like Minecraft Bedrock) that can host hundreds, even thousands of players. On their event page, Minecraft also helpfully lists several of companies that specialize in building Minecraft assets, something that would be essential for creating your own conference environment.
Parting thoughts on virtual conferences
Virtual conferences are definitely going to be here with us in the short term. In fact, with their ever-increasing exposure and a host of undeniable benefits, I expect in the long run virtual conferences will end up displacing many physical events.
If you’re expecting to duplicate a traditional trade show environment, game platforms aren’t going to deliver it. On the other hand, purpose-built platforms for virtual conferences provide built-in support for networking, exhibit halls, presentations, contact management, collateral, and marketing automation integration.
However, games and other virtual worlds allow for networking and entertainment that’s light years beyond the capability of conferencing platforms. If you want to wow your audience, showcase your innovation, and make for memorable events that will leave an indelible impression on people, games are where it’s at. By providing a myriad of creative ways to reach your audience, they can more than make up for shortfalls in other areas.
Minecraft meetup? Fortnite product reveal? Second Life after party? Bring ‘em on.