They say the times are not far off when live communication will become a privilege. We hope that it will not come to this, and after a while we will still be able to meet with friends and colleagues again without restrictions, travel around cities and countries, in general – enjoy a full life.
Businesses are surviving the consequences of the COVID alien attack on the planet more successfully than one might think. Zoom, Skype, videoconferencing have become part of our life. But videoconferencing is unable to completely replace “live” contacts. If in a one-on-one conversation their inferiority is not so noticeable, then already representative meetings are not so effective. And there is nothing to say about large-scale conferences. Talk shows with individual talking heads quickly get boring.
In recent years, we have held several large-scale events and were very pleased with their results. Exhibition “M.Video Electronics Show“Became a big event for the whole Russian retail. The specialized conference DIGITAL SHOW was not so representative, but it managed to unite many of our partners, helped the sellers who work in hundreds of M.Video and Eldorado stores to get acquainted with new products. It was difficult for us to refuse these large-scale events due to the epidemic. And turning an annual show into a regular video conference is a shame.
What did we plan to organize
Even before the start of the “second wave” of the pandemic, we understood that it would hardly be possible to organize a large-scale offline event in 2020. The solution was obvious: to move our annual conference online. But even this format did not quite suit us.
We perfectly understood that not a single, even the smartest “talking head” on the screen can replace a live speaker, not a single one, even the most beautiful presentation, will give the same effect as a live demonstration of new products, not a single chat can completely replace a live one. communication, for which, in fact, many attend offline conferences and exhibitions. This is how the idea came about: to hold our annual conference not online, but in a virtual space, which could bring what is happening as close as possible to reality.
Then the idea began to grow in details. First, we had to gather on one virtual platform two tens of thousands of people (in fact, even more), who would be distributed throughout the country, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, in 11 time zones.
Secondly, the event was to be based not on reports, but on work within the framework of a virtual exhibition complex, where the company’s partners could present their new products.
Thirdly, on the territory of the exposition, we needed to give the guests the opportunity to communicate with experts one-on-one. Also during the conference, we needed to train 1200 top sellers and provide them with the opportunity to speak with vendor representatives. And finally, the show was to be broadcast in all M.Video and Eldorado stores.
Not Online, but Mixed Reality
Are we aiming too much? It would be too ambitious to hold such an event in a virtual space on our own. The solution was found very quickly. Gaming is one of the areas of our work, and we decided to take advantage of the opportunities provided by modern gaming platforms. Moreover, such an idea is no longer original in covid reality.
Spring 2020 Travis Scott gave a concert for 12 million players right in the multiplayer Fortnite game. Many telecommuting companies have begun to move away from Zoom meetings (boring!) And meet directly in games… For example, in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Of course, we did not plan to copy someone else’s experience; it did not correspond to our tasks in everything. First of all, we were interested in how business problems will be solved: a conference that would be interesting to each participant (well, good, not everyone, but the majority) and would evoke the necessary emotions, forming the proper involvement. We also needed to organize fun and interesting training sessions for retail salespeople.
And the solution was found. A Russian company has become our technology partner Connect… One of her developments, a browser-based online multiplayer, which has already implemented many of the features that we were looking for. The work of the platform is provided by the graphics engine Unreal Engine, the best recommendation for which is the many game hits that are implemented on it. Now he had to work not only for gamers.
How the platform works
In fact, in recent years, Connect specialists have been rewriting the Unreal Engine (this is, as you know, an open source environment) to provide interaction with the engine in the web environment. This work was difficult, required a large amount of code to be added, but the result was a platform that has no analogues in the world. Honestly, there was no one even to spy on and steal the idea.
Until now, to view such virtual events, users had to download additional applications leaving the web space (this was the case, for example, among the audience of a Travis Scott concert). For us, all interactions remained in the browser, where a full-fledged multiplayer was deployed, and users received directly on the site not only the broadcast, but also an interactive zone, which did not have to enter with a bunch of additional actions – it was enough just to register to participate in the conference.
Perhaps the only thing that could negatively affect the quality of the broadcast is the speed of the Internet connection, but the system assumed smoothing of the image depending on the quality of the channel. In any case, if the user’s device allows him to watch 720p online video (and this is, de facto, the modern standard for video quality on the Web), then the quality of the picture he receives will be the highest.
How the virtual Expocentre turned out
We have deployed a huge virtual Expocenter on the platform, which, together with our specialists, was made by our partners from Connect. Its main “premises” were a public space (we called it “Square”), a training center (“Academy”), an exhibition with 25 vendor stands and a special area where top managers of the company, partners and journalists could communicate with each other.
Our virtual Expocentre worked for three days. During this time, it was visited by 26 thousand sellers of our stores, who were trained on new products. Previously, we used “classic” lectures and teaching materials for this. Now “students” move between virtual studios, where vendor employees, experts, and company management spoke for them. In other words, we have made a real virtual university for our specialists, where a new type of training is carried out.
By the way, not only training, but also a special program was prepared for 1200 best sellers. For them (and also for managers, partners and media representatives), a virtual exhibition was held, where one could move between stands, participate in various activities, contests and quizzes.
The platform, by the way, collects data on the activity of each participant; various incentive prizes were provided for the most involved.
The space inside the virtual exhibition stands is used in the same way as during a regular offline exhibition: reports, presentations, informal meetings, product stories. For a one-on-one conversation, one could even step aside (in this case, the system would realistically muffle voices) or even go into a meeting room from where the entire panorama of the exhibition would be visible.
The most interesting is the content
All this is an external setting. But we know that the main thing at any event is content. And we wanted to impress the participants of DIGITAL SHOW 2020 not only with the virtual Expocentre. To do this, we again took advantage of the gaming experience. During the development of the content, we applied attention management practices that are commonly used in many games. And for this, a show was organized in the virtual exhibition space (also, of course, virtual), with the help of which we wanted to attract the attention of the public.
But the main thing we were striving for was to get rid of the feeling of “talking heads”, which is typical for regular webinars and online conferences. Therefore, all of our speakers were filmed on the green screen, and then placed in a virtual space, in which they not only made presentations, but also discussed with each other, interacted with the audience in real time. By the way, ordinary visitors could also communicate with each other using video chats. The platform allows you to organize up to one and a half thousand such communication sessions simultaneously.
This is just the beginning
As a matter of fact, we started working with the virtual platform at the stage of preparation for DIGITAL SHOW 2020. In it, we immediately began to discuss all working issues. For example, after meetings, we often “wandered” around the stands and caught all sorts of bugs (yes, sometimes you forget the characters at the sites). Today it is clear that working in a virtual space is much more interesting and productive than using Zoom windows.
This was our experience. Can you share in the comments unusual formats of participation in various events of the COVID-19 era? Ahead of the New Year, all of a sudden we are all destined to meet at the virtual tree with no less virtual Santa Claus and Snow Maiden!