The metaverse: The future of events?

The metaverse: The future of events?

ICE, a global community of corporate event planners, brought together a group of industry experts to discuss the Metaverse and its impact on events. The session was hosted by CMW editorial director, Martin Fullard. Click here to read the feature in the CMW March/ April 2022 Magazine

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of the company formerly known as Facebook, took the world by surprise after re-branding the social media giant as ‘Meta’- an abbreviation of the ‘metaverse’. Since, The Guardian has reported that the Facebook Reality Labs division, the department that works on virtual and augmented reality, has already spent US$10bn on the metaverse. 

As a result of the world’s largest social media platform throwing its eggs in the basket of the metaverse it has, understandably, caused a ripple of curiosity throughout the MICE industry.

What is the metaverse; how can it improve our industry; is this the future of events; will I ever need to leave my bedroom again? Fortunately, ICE, a global community of corporate event planners, has brought together a group of industry experts to discuss ‘What is the metaverse and the impact on events’, hosted by CMW’s editorial director, Martin Fullard. 

What is the metaverse? 

Panellist, Benjamin Lechler, CEO of Cue Concept, says that the metaverse enables people “to start a conversation in the form of an avatar in a real-time 3D environment.” 

Through the metaverse, digital versions of people can attend a boundless number of virtual environments. Theoretically, this can facilitate avatars of attendees digitally present at an infinite number of virtual event settings. 

Panellist Callum Gill, head of insight and innovation at UK-based agency DRPG, said the purpose of the metaverse for the industry is “all about getting as close as possible to that live event experience.”

However, Gill warned that “the metaverse that people currently have an idea of in their minds is very different to the present reality.” 

Gill believes that the metaverse will not be a single integrated universe but rather multiple platforms which you can access with a personal avatar. “It’s just like how you have an email address. You use a single sign-on across different platforms. Except, this will come with an avatar of how you look.” 

The future of events? 

Lechler still believes we’re about five to 10 years away from seeing the real benefits of the metaverse in events. “It’s a long way away because event organisers have to do their homework. Communication is getting digital step-by-step. Not just one step.”

Gill highlighted that the gaming industry was currently driving forward the metaverse. “People are looking to relax and escape in magical gaming worlds. That doesn’t yet translate to
an exhibition or the vast majority of events.” 

Karen Carter, director of enterprise marketing at Cvent in Europe, furthers this message with concerns that the metaverse is not yet ready to be used for business events. “I don’t want to go to an event where I have to be a sorcerer,” commented Carter. “I’m excited to get back to face-to-face because I just want to see a real human. How do we get that kind of human experience and create something that is unique in the
virtual world?”

Another issue raised during the discussion was the lack of current technological infrastructure for the metaverse. Carted added: “The development and processes required to build something like this is huge.” Access to essential technological products, such as virtual reality (VR) headsets, is not yet readily available. 

What are the possible costs and implications of this? 

While it is clear that the metaverse is far from being a complete offering for the MICE industry, should this stop event organisers being interested? 

Gill described some of the realistic benefits that the metaverse could offer the industry in the near future: “Training, development and product demonstration at scale across the globe, instantaneously. This involves bringing together people that couldn’t be there in a meaningful way.”

Vanessa Lovatt, chief evangelist at Glisser, doesn’t believe that this is far away. “There is so much technology out already that is a step towards the metaverse which is within reaching distance.”

However, the panel agreed that in order to avoid this becoming a gimmick, there must be a focus on the metaverse producing solutions to event-focused problems. “The use of the metaverse must be event-goal driven,” said Lovatt. “Ask yourself why are you doing this event in the first place? Therefore, understanding what tools and tech will help you achieve these goals. Don’t be pressurised into using the metaverse if it’s not ultimately going to help you achieve event goals.”

The bigger picture

Research, investment and leadership were all noted as critical factors to the successful and effective implementation of the metaverse throughout the
MICE industry.

Panellists believed it to be vital that these factors were seen from an organisation wide perspective, and not left solely for event departments to decipher. 

“Event organisers must take a look at the available information, have conversations with the experts and then communicate that complexity upwards,” stated Carter. “It’s really going to take a lot of thinking on the part of leadership as to whether or not it’s the right business direction or not.”

Central to this planning is setting aside budgets for the necessary research to take place. “You need to conduct real research, not just make decisions off gut feelings,” Gill said. “Survey your audiences and do studies into the validity of these propositions. If you don’t have data to back up your investment, you’re going to be in serious trouble.”

It is still unclear how entangled the metaverse will become in our everyday lives. However, the panel indicates that organisations must start planning and developing strategies that will identify how the metaverse can provide tangible solutions for event organisers now and in the future. 

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