Nearly two years since Covid-19 redefined how we gather, companies are beginning to discuss the metaverse as a potential primary destination for social and professional convenings.
For event professionals, this begs the question: What is the metaverse, and what does it mean for the future of meetings, seminars, expos, conventions and more?
What is the metaverse for events?
The metaverse is a virtual world just as real and dynamic as the one we exist in — yet housed entirely online. Although virtual events are nothing new — people have been attending webcasts and live-streamed sessions for years, even before the pandemic — the metaverse has the potential to take these experiences to the next level. As the president of a company that offers a virtual event platform, I’ve seen users driving demand for more interactive online experiences where they can fully and easily participate in sessions, network with peers, identify new leads and, most importantly, nurture human interaction.
What are the advantages of the metaverse?
The spread of Covid-19 moved many 2020 and 2021 meetings online. Some events were great; they utilized technology to bring new experiences to people. But some virtual events fell short. I’ll admit it: Not all events are created equal. There is a certain magic inherent in in-person events that is challenging to replicate online.
The metaverse may prove to be the solution. Once fully realized, the metaverse could deliver a highly interactive experience where people can move freely and participate in two-way dialogues without needing to leave their homes. In fact, the metaverse’s ability to transcend location and even languages is one reason it’s so exciting. No longer will people need to travel great distances to gather.
Among the greatest advantages of the metaverse is its accessibility. If done correctly, the metaverse could allow people from around the globe to come together in one space (albeit online) in ways that were previously unobtainable or prohibitively costly. Travel budgets would be a thing of the past. People would worry less about child care or elder care. Those who struggle with hearing could communicate via closed captioning or sign language (per their preference). Others with limited mobility may be able to move more freely from session to session or booth to booth. Time zones would become irrelevant — as could languages as the opportunity for real-time, on-demand translation grows.
The ability for event organizers and sponsors to reach new audiences, and for audiences to reach them, is one of the things that most excites me about the metaverse.
What is the downside of the metaverse?
While it’s rife with potential, the metaverse is also in danger of becoming technology’s latest “shiny new toy” that’s soon to become obsolete. Remember the buzz around wearable technology? When was the last time you saw someone wearing smart glasses? As event professionals, if we don’t invest as much in our events’ content as we do in their technology, our industry could suffer and the metaverse could reveal itself to be just another passing fad.
YouTube (via Statista) estimates that 500 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute as of February 2020. Netflix, Apple TV+, Hulu and HBO Max are premiering new shows every day. As event professionals, we’re not just competing with each other to create the best experiences; we’re also competing for attention with TV, movies, books, podcasts, social media and more. The metaverse has the potential to help give us a leg up and allow us to create an experience that can’t be replicated by these modes of one-way communication, but we should strive to be just as well-produced, entertaining and informative.
When will the metaverse take hold in events?
When we look at the gaming world, we see that millions of people worldwide have embraced three-dimensional, collaborative environments. There were 350 million registered Fortnite users in May 2020. This certainly makes the case for me that people are willing and able to adapt to the metaverse. Bill Gates predicts the shift will happen in the next 2-3 years. But truly, only time will tell. Is it likely that everyday people will pick up their own pair of virtual reality goggles to jump into a networking event? To some extent, I think so.
I expect some people will prefer these virtual environments, while others continue to find value in unfiltered human interaction. Ultimately, I believe it’s most likely that we will see events offering a mix of metaverse experiences, traditional two-dimensional virtual experiences and good old-fashioned in-person experiences. In fact, we’re already starting to see the option for hybrid events emerge, though we’ve not yet reached a tipping point.
More and more event technology platforms (including my company’s) are introducing elements of the metaverse such as virtual breakout sessions and gamification. I’m sure as technology advances and becomes more widely adopted, we will start to see hybrid meta and physical events and events that give participants even more options around how they’d like to join. I can imagine a world where there’s traditional streaming in the morning followed by a metaverse mixer that same afternoon.
As we continue to embark on what’s being pegged as the fourth industrial revolution, it’s important that event planners, event tech companies and marketers continue to remain agile, flexible and innovative so events can thrive in this new era: One where we are leaning into change and embracing the creativity the metaverse enables while continuing to deliver the most innovative, engaging and “always on” events of the future.