How Associations Can Use the Metaverse in Future Events
Metaverse technology is in its infancy, but it still presents interesting opportunities for meeting planners. Here’s what associations can do to create “metaversal experiences” with existing technology.
The metaverse is uncharted territory, to say the least, and it may not seem a natural fit for associations. But interactive virtual experiences have already made their way into one sphere of the association world: events. We’ve seen virtual concerts on Fortnite and pop-up metaverse stations at conferences, presenting new possibilities for the future of events. And some make the case that nonprofits should get in on it early to help create a more inclusive, equitable cyberspace.
Before association pros can conceive of how the metaverse can come to life in their organizations, though, they need to understand a basic yet perplexing question: What exactly is it?
What Is the Metaverse Today?
Some people may think only of Meta’s metaverse, but the concept is more broad. Besides, Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of a full-fledged, immersive 3D world a la Ready Player One is still mostly theoretical—more than a decade away from any kind of realization, predicts futurist Nikolas Badminton. So what are people actually referring to when talking of a metaverse in 2022? Think of a souped-up version of the virtual and augmented reality experiences you may already be familiar with, such as the Oculus Rift.
A metaverse is generally defined as “a digital reality that combines aspects of social media, online gaming, augmented reality, virtual reality, and cryptocurrencies to allow users to interact virtually.” Essentially, a metaverse is an interactive 3D realm that uses virtual reality in a way that brings deeper immersion and social interaction to the virtual setting. Often, users create avatars for themselves, which they use to interact with the world around them, including other avatars.
Creating “Metaversal Experiences”
A fully realized, 24/7 virtual world isn’t here yet, but what we do have now is Web3 technology. This presents opportunities to blend virtual and augmented reality with cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens, social media, and gaming technologies to create what Badminton calls “metaversal experiences.”
Associations can hold virtual conferences on metaverse platforms such as Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms, enabling remote teams and members to interact in a 3D environment. Add to virtual events something like a virtual storefront, and you get closer to creating the immersive experience that metaverse proponents champion. Of course, the challenge is cost: VR headsets are expensive, and every participant would need one.
The tradeoff? “To create places where it feels like you can connect with people in a more emotional way than through a Zoom call, and in a 3D environment where experiences would be built that lead to better offline connections,” Badminton said.
Bolster In-Person Events With Virtual Exhibits
Immersive virtual experiences can also be had at your existing in-person conferences. For example, if your association has an environmental mission and cares about decarbonization, you can set up an exhibit where attendees put on headsets and become immersed in a part of the world that’s affected by the mining and use of fossil fuels (to see what this could look like, check out Al Jazeera’s VR work).
“You can connect attendees to experiences that are far away from your event and your association,” Badminton said.
Use virtual or augmented reality as a way for attendees to interact with the virtual space and each other. An experience where attendees enter a metaverse and walk over to a screen just to watch a video wouldn’t be the best use of the virtual world’s potential.
Instead, re-create collaborative experiences. Plan to have a conference scavenger hunt? You’ve probably seen one before, where attendees stamp their “passports” every time they visit a new booth. You can enrich this experience with an augmented reality component (think Pokémon Go) or in a VR setting.
“Get stamps in a book, and suddenly you’re in a raffle and you’ve won an iPad. That’s cool. Could you do that with crypto wallets in sort of a virtual reality simulation? Sure,” Badminton said.
Or, want to host a post-conference happy hour? You can set one up at a metaverse watering hole, such as Miller Lite’s metaverse bar.
What to Consider Before Diving In
While the possibilities are exciting, the cost may not be feasible for your association. Badminton cautions organizations that this technology is in its infancy, and that they can’t invest in it halfheartedly.
“There’s sort of a warning label on this that these are early days. If you want to go for it, go for it. [At this point] it’s going to be more challenging and more expensive,” Badminton said.
Another consideration: How will the virtual experiences you create add value for members and event attendees? In terms of human connection, how does a virtual conference stack up against a Zoom call or an in-person meeting?
“It’s exciting, but you have to be wary,” Badminton said. “You have to stop and think strategically. What is sensible [for your association]?”
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