The Importance of Being Present or Why Events in the Metaverse Feel So Real

3D events with avatars are the first step into the nascent metaverse and foster engagement that the flat web just can’t offer. Explained by a metaverse veteran.

In a recent survey, 74% of those who know the term “metaverse” are interested in attending a conference on digital business. Even those who are not yet sure what the metaverse entails are intrigued. 55% of people who have never heard of the metaverse still want to attend a conference in unfamiliar territory (trend report by Wunderman Thompson).

Metaverse: Just an overrated marketing buzzword?

The Metaverse with a capital M is all the hype and filling our news feeds. I’ve helped build bits and pieces of the metaverse for over two decades and can assure you that it’s not just a fad, just as the World Wide Web was not just a fad back in 1994. I’ve been right about the WWW taking over in 1994 (turning then leading German multimedia company Pixelpark into an Internet agency) and predicted large parts of the metaverse and what’s happening now back in 1995, so you’re in good hands. Gartner backs me up on this as well (as many other thought leaders): “Activities that take place in isolated environments (buying digital land and constructing virtual homes, participating in a virtual social experience, etc.) will eventually take place in the Metaverse.”. Just in case you’re still not sure what the metaverse is:

The Metaverse is a network of open, persistent, 3D virtual worlds, objects, and real-time simulations, where people can meet, work, play, trade, or learn together, with an individual sense of presence.

There’s more to it though (VR/AR, Web3, NFT and the dawn of the DAO), see my 5-minute explainer to dig deeper.

I will take a look at metaverse platforms which give you the ability to be represented by an avatar and why there is a huge difference between expressing yourself and being present, to understand why 3D virtual venues are (sometimes) useful for events and how they are changing the events industry for good.

Why 3D? We need a sense of presence

After restrictions due to the pandemic have been mostly lifted, first professionals and companies longed for the return of “real” conferences in the physical world with shared experiences and encounters. Countless marathon webinars of the last months with endless matchmaking lists melt into a formless mass in the memory. They missed the networking, the casual exchange of knowledge (ITB) and the personal conversation, touching and trying out tangible products.

But after two years of finding creative solutions for the lack of physical events the industry reinvented itself and things will never be the same. People now expect events to be at least hybrid, giving access to a much larger audience, reaching out to international customers or fans who could otherwise never attend. Additionally, the new generation of decision-makers is climate-conscious and cares about their (and the hosts) carbon footprint.

Zoom fatigue and lack of engagement are causing problems for companies and exhibitors around the globe. Networking via text chat? Something vital is missing when roaming an image of a floorplan or “sitting” at a round table with little portraits, just to find yourself back in a video call.

Multiple studies show that virtual 3D environments offer a spatial and social sense of presence that cannot be achieved with video conferencing, webinars and even so-called 2.5D platforms (“fake” 3D). In this article, I will therefore only discuss 3D environments with self-controlled avatars.

Global events already happening in VR

Due to the travel restrictions of the pandemic in 2021, SXSW, the conference celebrating the convergence of tech, film, and music industries, had to invent an exclusively Online XR event, which involved virtual recreations of downtown Austin and opportunities to interact with other attendees via VRChat. This year the conference had transformed into a fully hybrid event, taking place physically in Austin, Texas, but offering most of the sessions not online and also in VR.

New York Fashion Week took place in the metaverse, and a virtual fashion week held in Decentraland showed Brands like Dolce & Gabbana, while megastars like Travis Scott, Foo Fighters or Ariana Grande pulled in millions of fans to watch their avatars or holograms from their living room, although not always without major glitches. We are witnessing the very early stages of a nascent technology, and according to Grammy.com, event business insiders say “the metaverse might be analogous to the internet itself, which makes it shortsighted to judge it by its early stages. “

SXSW 2021 and 2022 in VRChat, with avatars from fairy tales, cartoons or Marvel comics. Fun, but how suitable is that for business events?
Cartoon-like avatars in Decentraland, where you can’t get a piece of virtual land under 11.000 €.

Cartoony Avatars are blowing your clients away — literally

Flying elephants and freaky or cartoon characters right out of a fairy tale or kids’ game might be okay for pop music fans, but for business events, you might need to look for more authenticity. Ready Player Me is a platform that creates an avatar from your selfie, but the result is just a very simplified cartoony version that looks just about anyone with similar features.

Left: My Ready Player Me avatar will always just look like thousands of other blond white women with a practical hairdo. Right: Metameet uses AI-driven face-mapping, and people who know me (or my LinkedIn photo) would recognize me in the 3D world instantly.

Accenture, T-Mobile, Siemens, Deloitte, DuPont, Volkswagen and Stanford University are already using virtual 3D worlds that promise real shared experiences and encounters. After-work parties on the beach for networking after work included. And products can even be touched, turned or walked around — depending on the platform, target group and budget, almost anything is possible here. The costs are not only competitive but in some cases far below those for the so-called “flat” video conferences or 2.5D platforms.

Virtual exhibition halls in 3D: trade visitors and exhibitors walk from stand to stand with their avatars or teleport into the conference hall when the next lecture begins. And all this without tired legs in the evening (ToM, a German 3D platform). Siemens sales expert Thomas Dehm says: “The virtual trade fair felt surprisingly real — except that my legs didn’t hurt in the evening.
Networking 3.0 after the speeches are over (here in metameet, creators of pax.world, award-winning web-based metaverse platform): These are the shared experiences and conversations perceived as personal that everyone is missing.

No clunky VR goggles, no tired legs, but networking on the beach

Digital congresses in 3D have been around for more than 10 years, but today’s 3D environments are much more sophisticated: as easy to use as a website and instead of clunky VR headsets, all you need is a laptop, PC or Mac. All the examples shown here even work without any download and are web-based, i.e. run in conventional standard browsers. Most of them can also be visited with VR headsets (virtual reality glasses) — but this is an option for experts or certain target groups and not a must.

First, as an organiser or visitor, you design your avatar, choose your hair colour, hairstyle and matching clothes (in your corporate colours if you wish) with a few mouse clicks and then off you go: through the virtual exhibition halls or into the auditorium to the next lecture, where you and other avatars — all real people — can raise your hands and ask questions — with your voice, of course, not just in text chat. Platforms like Spatial, metameet, Virtway Events, Mytaverse and Hyperfair are among the few offering avatars for the business context. In Spatial and metameet you can even upload a selfie to have your avatar look exactly like yourself in 3D, which enable chance encounters like in real life.

Exhibitors and organisers choose the type and design of a wide variety of lecture halls, conference rooms and exhibition stands, which they can then design and furnish in their corporate design. Depending on the platform, exhibitors can even present products three-dimensionally and in motion, visitors walk around with their avatars and technical discussions take place directly at the virtual stand or in a private business lounge where whiteboards appear at the touch of a button and videos, presentations or websites can be shown on demand on ever-present screens. If you like, you can even book digital trade fair hostesses in the form of AI-controlled avatars who can answer questions even when your employees are not at the stand.

Immersion is the magic word. Your brain doesn’t know the difference from the physical world

Research shows that 3D virtual environments provide a spatial and social sense of presence, as well as better learning outcomes and retention. Controlling and embodying an avatar in a 3D world stimulates areas of the brain normally reserved for physical encounters. The ability to customise one’s avatar and interact with others in virtual space allows for more self-development. Memorable experiences and networking aside, once you’ve danced the samba with people from all over the world in a virtual auditorium, you won’t forget it as easily.

Invite thousands of participants from all over the world

Swiss Startup Metameet* is a virtual engagement platform with a business focus, where you present keynotes or panels to more than 100000 attendees, all represented by their own avatar. They just made all the buzz at the Metaweek conference in Dubai as “one of the most inspiring and mind-blowing experiences at MetaWeek” and won the “Best Metaverse 2022” award. Mytaverse is another web-based platform currently focusing on enterprise and corporate companies where you can host events for thousands.

Mootup and Learnbrite for Training have been around the longest, claiming to be “the first Metaverse Virtual Events Platform” running in a browser, also catering to thousands of users at the same event.

These figures dispel the myth that VR-enabled 3D virtual events in a browser can only support a small number of users. The trick: you’ll never see more than 40–100 people around you, which is perfect for business events but won’t give you the proper atmosphere of a concert venue packed with people.

At their core, conferences and trade shows are about creating memorable experiences and bringing people together to learn, network and build relationships.

But home offices and virtual meetings are the new norms. This is where immersive 3D conferences can come to the rescue: expanding our reach to include global audiences and people who couldn’t afford to attend, offering shared experiences and making new contacts without masks, improving our carbon footprint, without travel costs and with product presentations that even surpass reality.

Contact me on LinkedIn or email me for further discourse.

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*) Disclaimer: I’ve been working closely with metameet, formerly Fruss AG, since March 2021.

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Guiding people into the Metaverse since 1995. Advisor for EdTech & remote work. VR Ambassador @ Women in AI. linkedin.com/in/virtualtrainer

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Gaby K. Slezák

Gaby K. Slezák

Guiding people into the Metaverse since 1995. Advisor for EdTech & remote work. VR Ambassador @ Women in AI. linkedin.com/in/virtualtrainer

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