Guest contributor and previous Festival Friday speaker – Erik Londre, founder, Karta shares his insight into the world of events in the Metaverse
As the pandemic hit and the Metaverse hype train accelerated out of the station, brands, artists and festivals began exploring virtual events and experiences. Gucci, BMW, Balenciaga, Nike, The NFL, Ariana Grande and The O2 were just some of those who jumped onboard.
Some attracted millions of visitors and became defining moments in the history of pop culture. Others were expensive forgettable experiments attended by just a handful of people.
During the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out what worked, what didn’t and why. I’ll be sharing my conclusions over the course of three articles. The original intention was to write just the one, but it turned out quite lengthy in the end. So, knowing that you’re all very busy people.
Part 1: Why are freestanding virtual experiences so hard to relate to?
Sorry, not sorry, but I am going to open this section by quoting an Indian philosopher that died 1800 years ago – Nāgārjuna. Now, at the age when most people go to university, I was organising illegal raves for a living, so I’ll pass on any in-depth analysis of his ideas, but here’s his philosophy: ‘All things exist only in relation to each other.’
Like life and death, day and night, workdays and weekends… Most things are defined by their relationship to something else.
In short everything needs context including events and experiences in the Metaverse.
Why? Because context is everything.
The secret behind the success of the Travis Scott event in Fortnite was not that the rap superstar performed in a virtual world as a 100-metre tall giant. It was the fact that he performed as a 100-metre tall giant inside Fortnite that made it a powerful experience. He magically appeared in a place hundreds of millions of people were already immersed in. If it would have been set in an unfamiliar environment it would have meant a lot less.
The takeaway? Immersion is key to creating powerful experiences.
An avatar is an extension of the gamer, much like a car is an extension of its driver. But put us on a motorbike for the first time and we’ll feel nowhere near as comfortable. We’ll probably figure it out eventually based on our experience of driving cars and riding bicycles, but it will feel awkward at first.
Much the same thing happens when you direct people to a virtual event on an unfamiliar freestanding platform. Chances are they’ll be more immersed in figuring out how to navigate your world than in your experience. It’s hard to become immersed if you can’t find the jump button.
One brand that seems to have learnt this lesson from experience is Balenciaga. Its strange but cool-looking freestanding virtual experience from 2020 was more of a walking simulator than a video game. It certainly impressed the fashion world and got a lot of media attention and perhaps that was the objective. But this year it chose another strategy and teamed up with Fortnite and The Simpsons. Again, the excitement lies in the meeting of two worlds and the context.
So, should you never do virtual events on non-established platforms? Not at all. It’s a bit like hosting a product launch in a village a two-hour drive out of town. If the brand’s cool enough people will still show up. If not – and let’s face it most brands aren’t – it’s a better idea to go to where people already are. Trying to make them go elsewhere usually means less will show up. There is a good reason brands do marketing in social media, shopping malls, TV and sporting events, because there is already a captive audience.
I also suspect there is a reason we rarely see the official visitor numbers of big virtual events on freestanding platforms. I am really curious about how many people saw Coldplay play live in BMW’s Joytopia, an admittedly very beautiful but somewhat confusing world. I’d also love to see the visitor stats of the Glastonbury Lost Horizon festival on the VR platform Sansar, which featured live performances by Fatboy Slim and others. Four million people watched live streams from the event, but how many actually checked it out on the platform that hosted it?
These artists would draw huge crowds paying big money for real-world concerts, so if fewer people are showing up for free virtual events it certainly doesn’t feel right.
Of course, it might just be that it’s early days yet, or most likely the context just isn’t right.
The key to generating value, reach and immersion is don’t force your audience onto a platform they don’t normally use instead go to where they already are.
For part two I intend to look deeper into the three biggest brands to come on to the Roblox platform – Gucci, Vans and Nike. What they did differently and how it landed with the Robloxians and why?
Erik is the founder of Karta https://karta.game/