I love events and have been traveling to support and speak for many different industry events in recent years. At its core, it’s about creating unforgettable experiences and bringing communities together to learn, network and build relationships.
In the past few months, we’ve all been hungrier than ever as work-from-home orders hindered personal collaboration. Attendance at webinars has increased worldwide and systems have crashed as they tried to cope with the crowd of online attendees at first-time virtual events.
With so many events becoming virtual and zoom fatigue becoming the norm, organizers are now pushing past traditional 2D platforms such as On24, Microsoft Teams and Zoom to enable more immersion and engagement. The tools used can be divided into two categories. I call them 2.5D and 3D.
The 2.5D platforms offer interfaces that imitate real environments with stock people or avatars. They̵
Surprisingly, these platforms tend to be more expensive than the newer 3D platforms that are currently emerging in the field of virtual event software. vFairs starts at $ 8,000 per event and grows from there. Many 2D and 2.5D platforms do not offer “one and doed” prices. Instead, you have to sign an annual contract worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Not your mother’s 3D
3D platforms, on the other hand, offer real immersive spaces. They are created from 3D building blocks and allow free movement in a virtual space. You can access many of these platforms not only with a VR headset, but also across multiple devices, including smartphones and laptops. This allows different immersion in the same event or experience. This helps make your strategy for virtual events future-proof as more and more users switch to VR solutions for home work and productivity. 3D event platforms include MootUp, Breakroom, LearnBrite, VirBELA, Engage, AltSpace and some others.
Most of these platforms offer a monthly subscription rate instead of an annual contract because they are keen to have users on board. Breakroom’s monthly rate starts at $ 500 for 50 seats and increases with the number of participants. VirBELA offers an entire virtual campus that can accommodate 25,000 or more users starting at $ 2,500 a month. LearnBrite offers VR-ready subscriptions starting at $ 99 a month that include voice and video conferencing and a full library of 3D assets without the need for coding.
3D is gaining momentum
According to all reports, these emerging 3D virtual event platforms have seen a significant surge in demand since the outbreak of COVID-19. According to Alex Howland, president and co-founder of VirBELA, the platform has “more than 653% more virtual events and 12 times more monthly active users”. The CEOs of MootUp, LearnBrite and Breakroom also state that demand has increased by at least 100% since March.
VirBELA recently hosted the annual Laval Virtual World event on its platform, which registered over 11,000 participants from 150 nations and offered six concurrent session tracks with over 3,000 meetings. (See video of the experience above.) These numbers dispel the myth that VR-enabled 3D virtual events can only support a small number of users. In fact, these newer 3D platforms are cloud native, unlike some long-standing enterprise tech companies that still house everything on site. According to Rohan Freeman, CEO of Breakroom, scaling is “no problem” when you rely on cloud giants like AWS and Google Cloud. Scalability has received a lot of attention since the SAP system crashed during the virtual annual customer event last month. According to Freeman, his 3D platform recently supported millions of concurrent users during a national TV campaign that was launched across India.
3D makes unforgettable experiences
So why 3D? It’s about creating these unforgettable experiences. Recent research has shown that users in virtual and 3D environments achieve better learning outcomes and better memory retention due to their spatial presence. The embodiment of an avatar and participation in a 3D world ignite areas of the brain that are normally reserved for physical encounters. It also enables more self-expression through the ability to customize and animate avatars and peer-to-peer interactions.
If you are trying to recreate the benefits of the personal network and connect 1: 1 during your virtual event, 3D is a great option. I hosted a virtual graduation party for my University of Oregon students at LearnBrite as a little consolation for not being allowed to meet in person. The event was a great success. The students sat at a virtual fire pit, enjoyed virtual champagne, and chatted far after the event ended.
These rooms can be equipped with pre-made or custom 3D content. You don’t have to meet in a standard office if you can virtually meet at a stream, on the beach, or even on the surface of Mars. 3D platforms also offer integrations with the standard 2D event platforms. LearnBrite and MootUp are zoom clients that speakers can use to register and present in Zoom, while the presentation is seamlessly transferred to the 3D environment. I recently attended a full-day Data and Analytics Summit where a dozen consecutive speakers seamlessly presented their Zoom slides and webcam in a full 3D auditorium.
You can also import and share product-specific 3D content. Complex machines, consumer electronics, the automotive industry and other models can be imported into the virtual 3D space to enable remote collaboration and discussion. With no exhibition floors equipped with the latest physical product, 3D event spaces are a real alternative that customers can use to interact with a product at home.
Headset vs. no headset
While each 3D event platform is supported differently on multiple devices, most VR headsets offer support. The number of users accessing these platforms via a headset is currently small, but it remains an important difference from the 2.5D and 2D event platforms, which do not offer VR support.
For most virtual events, it may be preferable to use the avatar-controlled 3D environment on a 2D device such as a laptop or tablet, since VR headsets can be heavy, cumbersome, and too uncomfortable to wear for hours. There must be an extremely compelling reason to use a VR or MR headset, e.g. For example, collaborating on 3D content or watching a 360-degree film or a live stream.
Platforms such as MootUp, LearnBrite and Breakroom were specially developed for accessibility and support a variety of devices. Social VR platforms such as AltSpaceVR and Engage were developed for VR headsets and offer a more robust VR first experience with limited functions on laptops and smartphones. Understanding your audience’s needs and how they want to access the event is an essential first step in choosing the right 3D event platform.
A call for creativity
When zoom fatigue sets in, it’s time to innovate and think creatively about creating customer-centric, unforgettable virtual experiences. The tools and technologies are limited only by our lack of imagination and fear of trying something new. Be brave. Be part of the XR revolution. There is no going back.
Lisa Peyton is an immersive media strategist and media psychologist who focuses on the business applications of new technologies.