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The Future of Experiences and Events?

Worthwhile (long) read -> Thorough analysis and mind blowing piece about the future of experiences and events by Alessia Clusini . Thank you for sharing your research so generously.

Originally published by Alessia Clusini (and shared here with permission) – Jul 02, 2020 – https://www.trybesagency.com/blogs/future-of-experiences-and-events-summit

The Future of Experiences and Events Summit

Imagine the top experience economy experts, event leaders and brands/agencies focused on experiences all coming together in a massive expert roundup to share case studies, best practices and visions for the future. It’s not a utopian metaverse: it’s the Summit you are about to read.

 


They call it unprecedented times.

Uncertainty, change of mass behaviour, economic crisis, isolation. On the other hand, a massive reset of values and processes, and a few lessons that we’re learning the hard way: from the importance of community and shared experiences to the opportunity of slowing down and changing the paradigm.

So the problem is not what preceded this massive pause and consequential reboot. We shouldn’t, in fact, look for strategic clues in the past, especially knowing that there isn’t a precedent blueprint.

The issue is rather what is going to follow. What’s going to happen when this is over? And will it — ever — be completely over?

I went looking for answers in the industry that was hit the most. Not just because I love challenges, 🤣 but because it’s the vertical that collects the most imaginative minds and the biggest amount of hands-on visionaries: the experiences experts. If not them, who can pull out unprecedented solutions in a state of emergency?

Here I was able to put together the top experience economy experts, event leaders and brands/agencies focused on experiences. And let me tell you: it’s been really fun and incredibly inspiring. I’m so grateful to all of the participants for sharing their time and know-how.

Let me know your considerations on all this; I loved the many comments and thoughts we received last time and I wish to repeat that co-creation of meaning this time too.

One last thing, a bit of context on the article, in case you wanted to know more. Feel free to skip it and jump to the Index if you wish otherwise.

This is the second chapter after the very successful: What Happens After COVID-19. Sharing 80 ideas and consumer trends on the future of society, culture, marketing, tech, entertainment, events, WFH, and tools to deal with the New Normal to come.

I’ve founded a research company where we consult for global brands on consumer and cultural insights and we love the experience world. In regard to this topic, we published the 1st research on BM and transformational festivals (here is where we’re open-sourcing it) and we developed programs and workshops to bring the memorable/transformative experiences lessons to events and projects worldwide. Reach out if you want to collaborate on any of these!

Index

  • The (huge) impact of COVID-19 on the economy and the Experience Economy: case studies
  • After the Experience Economy comes the Transformation Economy
  • When humankind landed on the Digital Universe
  • The art of bringing (art) experiences online
  • But, how do we retain the essence of live events in the online scenario?
  • Defining and redefining the value of events
  • Inspired by the crisis
  • Is it finally time for VR and AR?
  • The revolution will be metavised
  • But, in the end, it all comes down to…

The (huge) impact of COVID-19 on the economy and the Experience Economy: case studies

I’d like to start with Albert Boswijk’s business analysis and predictions on the future of the Economy of Experiences. We virtually sat down with the Founder & Managing Director of the European Centre for the Experience and Transformation Economy to learn how businesses respond to crises, what type of businesses will thrive or plunge, and the future of the Economy of Experiences.

As COVID-19 was a sort of global experimental area, we might as well learn from real-life case studies and some of the best minds in the experience economy. Invaluable are the examples and POV of someone like Boswijk who has massively contributed to this realm since its early stages, so I’ll leave you with his own words.

The Impact of COVID-19 crisis to the economy is huge and devastating

In times of crisis new priorities are set and values are scrutinized. Crises can shake loose and tear down frozen structures.

Conventional administrative theory often crumbles down. In times of great uncertainty, it becomes impossible to manage an organisation from the top. Decisions have to be made close to the action, by empowered people without traditional hierarchical control. So, if the organisation is not run by a senior authority figure, it is run by the culture of the organization. Suddenly, the quality of the culture matters a great deal (Robert Quinn)”.

What are the usual responses to crises? Boswijk identifies three main kinds of responses:

  1. Active pursuit: keep doing what you are doing with even more effort and wait and see what happens; this will mean slow death;
  2. Survival: immediate relevant response to the situation;
  3. Deep change: rethinking your business, rethinking your core values and your value proposition, rethinking your capabilities, your culture and leadership and your revenue model.

Impact on the Economy of Experiences

“The kind of businesses that are immediately affected are the ones that are bounded to their location and time of service, and by their business model are mostly found in the Economy of Experiences: the visitor economy (tourism, hotels, travel services, airlines, airports); the hospitality industry (restaurants, bars, catering businesses); the meeting, conference & events industry; cultural events, theatre, music, concerts and museums; retail in high streets, shopping malls and warehouses; traditional education and schools; facility providers; public transport; sport & fitness clubs; contact businesses (physiotherapists, beauty salons and hairdressers); weddings (reduced to 50%)”.

By the time of Albert writing this, at the beginning of June 2020, some European countries were slowly releasing their lockdowns. For example, the Netherlands where Albert is based proposed an intelligent lockdown, with an appeal on the responsibility of citizens to stay at home.

In this context, he outlined the following businesses’ responses to COVID-19 and analysed the future of the Economy of Experiences.

Businesses at a pause

Boswijk describes here the businesses whose activity has completely stopped because of government health regulations. His warning is clear: “If these businesses mentioned above don’t shift the main part of their processes online, they will have a very tough time and will eventually have to close down, go bankrupt unless they receive financial support from their government”.

Survival mode, businesses with a twist

“Some businesses quickly responded, tweaked and twisted their business processes adequately and sometimes drastically because they had to.

Consider schools, where higher education managed to put their teaching online within days (remote schooling) and British pupils were receiving lessons from celebrities like David Attenborough and Sergio Agüero.

Or the hospitality industry: many restaurants, even Michelin starred ones like RIJKS® in Amsterdam, changed from food serving on the spot, to food collection and food delivery at home. The famous Noma in Copenhagenduring lockdown became a hamburger restaurant. With a strong focus on collaboration with local suppliers and local support, they were evoking a sense of community never felt before. Collaboration and co-creation supported these changes with local initiatives and culinary expertise.

Of course, they needed to learn new tricks and capabilities to put their menus online and quickly adapt their distribution skills. Some of these restaurants were able to come to break-even in their costs and even achieved a small profit, often reaching new customers. They showed their guests to be able to quickly respond to changing demand. If you show that you are able to respond fast to the changed situation, you receive long term loyalty from your local community and clients, possibly even beyond your traditional clientele.

Retailers like Oger, a high-quality fashion supplier in the luxurious P.C. Hooftstraat in Amsterdam, took the following interventions immediately after the lockdown:

  • Virtual Shopping by video call
  • Private Shopping to the max of 2 clients
  • Online discount during the lockdown till April 28th
  • 1 Hour delivery service within the Amsterdam area
  • Online shopping coach in the webshop

In terms of relationship, they clearly cared about their customers and aptly managed to intensify their online personalisation, following their individualised customer service in a new form. I have to say that they did already good business in their web store” — continues Albert.

Another retail practice described by Boswijk is the one of reopening at a limited time frame (e.g. from 12 to 5 pm) and focusing on Friday and Saturday, maximising the presence of customers in the shopping areas.

Businesses with a higher purpose

What could you do to create a sacred space and meet the needs of others?

“The meeting and conference venue Rotterdam Ahoy fell into a deep hole with a complete emptied calendar of events (e.g. European Song Festival) and offered their exhibition halls to create an emergency hospital with 800 intensive care beds in order to help local health authorities to cope with the Corona crisis. Meanwhile, Van der Valk Hotels provided their rooms as emergency hospital rooms.

They both used their facilities and their capabilities for another market segment. Communication is more crucial at this time than marketing. Businesses that show selflessness are making a difference, through which they deserve and earn empathy for their brand in the long run”.

Businesses that thrive

“These are the Amazons, Netflix, streaming entertainment services, online retailers, gaming platforms, home delivery restaurants and services like Thuisbezorgd and Ubereats. They are all booming, together with remote professional education, telemedicine and online sex toys.

The businesses that are not bound to their location/time and can deliver their services on demand, continued to do very well in the COVID-19 circumstances”.

Values in a different context

“During the COVID-19 crisis, we are learning how people respond to the good and the bad. This includes companies’ responses in action — which shows their real character.

We observe that the priorities of our values are changing. There are increasing sensitivity and awareness of authentic communication.

We are living in a time that feels slowed down. In this period we see an increased sense of reflection on what is meaningful for us and for the others.

We feel anxiety and experience vulnerability.

We are aware that we are mortal, that we are not separated from other countries, but rather connected with the world and its global inhabitants. We are feeling weak and powerless and that we need help and guidance. We are aware of the vulnerability of our parents.

Does this lead to big questions? What is the meaning of our life? Who are our friends? What are our priorities? What are we missing? We have witnessed that there is an end to the growth of our society and that health and happiness can not be taken for granted”.

The future of the Economy of Experiences

“When we look at The Economy of Experiences in the traditional way, lots has come to an almost stand-still. It may take years to recover from the downfall, and we may not be able to see co-creative experiences with large crowds any time soon. At least not before we have a vaccine to the COVID-19 virus.

When we look at the future of the Economy of Experiences, we see that a movement that was already visible is now accelerated.

Where experiences in the economic sense have been successfully staged to market products and services, we are witnessing an increased search for experiences that are truly meaningful. These experiences will form the next stage where value is created.

Here the field of Economy of Experiences itself has to explore its own ‘raison d’etre’ to stay meaningful. Hence, experience designers can meaningfully contribute not only to the future economic recovery, but also to the deep change we need to see in the business for the good, and society for the better”.

Albert Boswijk

WOW, that was a lot, right? And it was just the beginning!

After the Experience Economy comes the Transformation Economy


What’s coming right after is the POV of one the fathers of the Experience Economy, long time inspiration for people like us working in the field and whom I was lucky enough to virtually meet for this expert roundup: Joe Pine, Co-author of The Experience Economy, Author of Mass Customization and Co-founder of Strategic Horizons.

You’ve picked a great line of work and subject of research, Alessia! — he starts with a tangible enthusiasm toward the topic.

“First, events will be back! People are social beings and will always crave social experiences where they are with and around fellow human beings.

We are experience seekers, and no one — or thing — will deny us our experiences, even if right now they have shifted from out there to in here, from public to familial, from physical to digital. And as we’ve hunkered down in our homes, the pandemic has made us realize we don’t need more stuff; what we value are the experiences we have with our family, our friends, our colleagues that give life meaning.

So one of the things that will happen post-COVID-19 is a shift from momentary experiences to meaningful experiences, from those that let us tick off a box or fill our social feeds with images and accounts of what we are experiencing to experiences that enhance our lives, that propel us forward, that align with who we are and what we see as our purpose in life. You’ve researched Burning Man; I view it as being both of these for visitors of different strips.

That is fine — and most events and brand experiences should likewise seek to not just offer a jolt but be part of a journey.

After the Experience Economy comes the Transformation Economy, where the predominant economic offering is transformations that help guide people in achieving their aspirations. Transformative offerings are already here, of course — think of healthcare foremost, but also including counsellors, education, fitness centres, spiritual organizations, and coaches of all stripes — but people will increasingly connect the experiences to the transformational journey they are on, something that, for example, the Transformational Travel Council helps with”.

Joe Pine

So, about twenty years after publishing what’s rightfully considered the bible of the Experience Economy, this was Joe Pine’s take on the future of experiences, including the impact of COVID-19.

You might also find worth reading his fuller thoughts on what companies should do to confront the Corona crisis: Experience-led Transformation in the Experience Economy

On our journey, we next plunge into the not-new but now-normalised land of experiences: the online world.

When humankind landed on the Digital Universe


Photo by Josh Gordon on Unsplash

A couple of months ago we were blown by Travis Scott’s concert in Fortnite and we wrote a mini-analysis trying to debunk the myth that social distancing ended all live events. It was initially published on our YAD (Understanding Young Audiences Digest): it was a great time to stop and reflect on Gen Z’s reaction to COVID-19 physical restrictions and how they were dealing with experiences and events.

Following the tracks of our favourite target and being guided by the coolest trendsetters was extremely educational for us: long story short, Gen Zers are leading the way to the future of hybrid experiences and events. I mean, for all demographics. They just got there first 😉

In fact, while the older generations are trying to integrate virtual spaces into their social routines, Gen Zers may be the ones who suffer the least from this abrupt passage to online meetups. As we discussed many times in our digests and research for brands, this young generation’s rituals and behaviours were born in a digital culture.

This is their great advantage right now: they switch seamlessly between the online and the offline, maximizing technology instead of experiencing it passively.

But what’s happening to the rest of us?

Well, we’re following.

The show must go on, or better said, the show must go beyond: beyond physical restrictions and social distancing rules. Wave, the virtual concert company that facilitates live music in virtual settings, has recently raised $30 million in funding and announced a series of virtual concerts featuring big names like John Legend and Tinashe.

One of the main investors and long time music festivals goer Phil Sanderson explains Wave’s selling point as being the creation of an interactive experience that captures the emotion of the crowd, as opposed to just shooting a live concert.

Wave CEO Adam Arrigo admits that the virtual concert space is gaining momentum thanks to Coronavirus and solves in a very well timed way the booming demand from artists that are looking for new forms of distribution, monetization, and innovation.

So, I guess the question here is: are virtual concerts the future of live music?

No, I don’t think so, and this would be an oversimplification of a complex and multifaceted phenomenon (plus the ravers wouldn’t like it :))). But I do believe that both tech innovation and human behaviour have been forced into a deep acceleration toward online-offline hybrid ecosystems and I find it quite fascinating to explore their implications.

In terms of festivals, the next big thing lining up this summer — while we’renostalgically thinking of Glastonbury — is Lost Horizon. Here the team behind Glastonbury Shangri-La has reinvented itself once more by teaming up with VRJAM and Sansar to create the world’s largest independent music and arts festival in virtual reality.

After all, pioneering is not a new thing for them. As said by Lost Horizon Creative Director Kaye Dunnings: “Shangri-La has brought many world firsts since its creation in 2008, from being the first to use video mapping in a festival environment and an immersive storyline, to bringing the first women-only space or Heavy Metal area at a mainstream festival, incorporating creativity at its core and as a direct response to the world we live in. Our mission is to pioneer new ways of sharing culture and creating a global community that we feel defines us and our ethos.”

Well, I guess, we’ll wait and see. I’ll be there, so get in touch if you’re planning to attend 🙂

Meanwhile, I spoke about festival experiences with Tyler Hanson. Lendlease/Google Placemaker and experience creator, Tyler is one of my favourite festival experts in the world (we wrote about him in the past, when he co-organised one of the most epic transformative events ever).

He, like me, is monitoring how Transformational Festivals are playing with available tech to create online experiences and fill the void of in-person ones.

“The technology is advancing rapidly. The line that I’ve heard is that we’ve had 10 years of tech adoption in 3 months” — says Tyler.

He calls what we’re living now the filler phase, a — hopefully short — timeframe where we try to fill the gap left by in-person experiences whilst experimenting with current tech in a somehow interesting way.

Take Zoom for example. In Tyler’s own words: “I will say that the Zoom culture for these festival experiences — where you have 500 people in a Zoom room — is really fascinating to me. Most people come into them having had any real digital communication in existence like that. There’s a sense of sharing, you put a spotlight on, it’s like the kiss cam at the concert, you spotlight them and they are like “yeah!” so they keep doing more stuff.”

On the other hand, he highlights a tangible challenge for this experimental phase: reach the critical mass to test such unprecedented types of experiences.

“Some festivals are trying to translate everything over online, and it doesn’t really work — well, it’s hard to get critical mass in any one of the things — argues Tyler — That’s why I’m so curious about Burning Man, I think that will be a great experiment because you will have a critical mass.

So I’m working on what will look like as far as creating a village, a digital village for the Burning Man. And then basically having schedules for different people — how does that work? I don’t know.”

He’s right, and we second his wonder about big festivals and events: how are they landing their rich-experience-thirsty audiences in the online scenarios?

Let’s see what the festivals’ panorama offers — at the end of June 2020.

While Coachella seems to want to stick to the offline and has cancelled the 2020 event, Tomorrowland and some big transformational festivals like Burning Man and Lightning in a Bottle have tried or are trying to bring the experience online, so it’ll be interesting to follow their path and the innovation they’re pushing.

In the case of Lightning in a Bottle, the Do LaB and Vita Motus partnered to create DGTL LIB: festival goers could experience the event on Twitch with all the interactive opportunities, community spirit, workshops, yoga and music, in perfect Lightning in a Bottle style.

The woman-owned, boutique multi-disciplinary design firm Vita Motus made sure things felt real and people could live the LIB magic by rendering the entire iconic LIB festival landscape into a magical virtual reality world (utilising Unreal Engine, the game engine developed by Epic Games).

Here you can find a short recap that gives you an idea of what DGTL LIB looked like, and here is a journey into the live-streamed, digitally rendered events featuring Tokimonsta’s headline set by Vita Motus.

We sat with Vita Motus CEO / Chief Designer Heather Shaw and Executive Producer Monica Fernandez to talk about the DGTL LIB experience and pivoting to Digital Festivals (more COVID-19 lessons coming up below in the Inspired by the crisis chapter)

At this point of the conversation I had just found out that the whole production was done in two weeks, and half amazed — half curious, I asked Heather to describe to me her experience in working with Unreal Engine and pivoting to Digital in such a short time.

“I mean, it wasn’t really easy because the gaming engine is a really deep tool, there are so many options, especially for someone who wants to be creative and they’re using tools inside of the engine, tools that weren’t meant to be used in that particular way. We are constantly pushing the limits inside the software, so it can get challenging just making sure we’re not pushing the limits too far. For Lightning in a Bottle, we have built and designed with The Do Lab for years and years, we know their design aesthetic, we know what the dream was in terms of the perfect landscape for the festival, the size of the lake…So we tried to build the thing in terms of what would have been our wildest dream. The stage on the lake is something that we always wanted to build together, but we had never been able to do, so it was kind of fun to throw something in there.”

Meanwhile, Burning Man has published seven Virtual Burns around the world and is reimagining Black Rock City 2020 with a plan for Virtual BRC: Burning Man Multiverse.

So, how are the experience designers, producers and strategists dealing with the New Normal? Once landed on the Digital Universe, where is their own exploration taking them and what are they discovering?

To answer these questions and more, I’ve had the pleasure to interview one of the most inspiring experience designers and producers out there, immersive storyteller and social interaction magician: Scott Levkoff.

Since the 90s, Scott has been directing and co-founding immersive and hybrid realities projects and agencies like Midwayville Immersive, Mystic Midway and, more recently, he has become the Chief Creative Officer of Playable Agency, whose team has created and shared freely for this summit an Immersive Design Foundations & Emerging Trendsdocument.

The document is coming up on the “Inspired by the crises” section down below. For now, though, I’d like to share with you Scott and Playable Agency’s reflections on technology and predictions over the next 3–5 years for the immersive events and experiences realm.

In their own words:

  • We see increasing use of streaming, video chat, and VR now that people have been introduced to them by necessity and had some good experiences.
  • Live events will have a hybrid approach with limited in-venue attendance and a larger audience attending virtually during the recovery era over the next 3–5 years.
  • Mixed reality social experiences and telepresent conferences will be the norm for 3–5 years, moving in fidelity from 2D video to 3D volumetric streams that are viewed with mobile devices and AR headsets.


Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

In a way, the near future of experiences looks more futuristic than what we could ever imagine. Right?

But, as Vita Motus Executive Producer Monica Fernandez said to me in her interview, anything is possible — you just have to learn it.

She represents quite well a vast group of experience and events industries professionals that, all of a sudden, had to pivot to digital because of COVID-19.

“Most of my work experience is in the physical realm, so making this kind of pivot into the digital space for me has had a lot of really inspiring moments and also incredible challenges, because there’s a language barrier, obviously. You’re working with completely different people, completely different workspaces, terms and software. It’s incredible. It’s all very exciting, and the push has been real and really worth it.

You know, Lightning in a Bottle is my baby, I have been there since the very beginning, and to see it in this fantastic romantic realm where the limits don’t exist is pretty incredible because I have a lot of history in trying to do that festival with a lot of limits”. Says Monica.

This was undoubtedly inspiring, both for festivals lovers like me and also for people that have to go down the online path — which is pretty much everybody these days.

But, what of the old, dear cinema experience? How did it land online?

One of the most innovative and visionary players in the world, immersive entertainment company Secret Cinema has been hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions and quickly pivoted into a couple of brilliant plan Bs:

  1. Secret Sofa — basically, immersive film experience at home. The Secret Cinema team coordinates a sort of contemporary film club sending out once a week emails that provide all the tools needed to create “a film universe” at home: from character and costume suggestions to era-defining music and activities to food and drink ideas. As they say, the devil is in the details, and Secret Cinema didn’t disappoint: some of the highlights are the partnership with ice cream brand Häagen-Dazs to indicate a movie inspired flavour and, allegedly, the After Parties.
  2. The Drive-In — the classic Drive-In experience with a Secret Cinema twist. They just launched it, promising a theatrical evening of film, action, song, dance and a specially curated selection of luxury ice cream to escape 2020.

I won’t go deeper into the implications for the cinema industry and Corona crisis as we talked about it here and more is coming up in the YAD(specifically on young audiences). We are in touch with many stakeholders willing to tackle threats/opportunities, so feel free to contact me if you need/want to know more. Spoiler: it doesn’t look good my friends, but, as always, there are ways.

On their part, the theatres are doing (or trying to do) better: although they had to close their live venues, the industry has not ground to a halt. Organisations like the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company are making catalogues performances available to watch online, while others are live streaming via Zoom and Facebook productions that are either adapted for the internet or built specifically for those platforms.

Incredibly interesting is, for example, the collaboration between Kieran Hurley and Theatre Uncut, that was apparently planned long before the pandemic but couldn’t find a better moment to launch than COVID-19 time: BUBBLE and its experimentation with online theatre performance.

Set entirely on Facebook and written partly in emoji, the play resulted in being one rare case of digital theatre, and is willing to propagate the concept even more by inviting audiences to create their own performances of the play. You can stream BUBBLE or download the play text for free at this link.

Stepping into a different industry, the first fully digital fashion week from one of the four fashion capitals just ended. How was it?

According to NYT Styles section reporter Elizabeth Paton, among the few lessons learnt during this not-very-fashionable experiment are: there wasn’t much actual fashion in sight (the platform looked more like an interactive magazine or Instagram feed featuring a mix of media like video art and music playlists, photo retrospectives and designer Q&A), there was a palpable absence of big names (e.g. Burberry, A-Cold-Wall or Victoria Beckham) and therefore a lack of commercial clout. Also, no live runway shows, which meant that the digital formula missed that sense of urgency/anticipation that grows while you are sitting and waiting for catwalk theatrics or a hot debut — whether in the audience or watching a live stream.

On the other hand, new talents took the stage and brought new forms of expression and fresh narratives: like Bianca Saunders’ We Are One of the Same zines on gender identity, community and blackness, and Priya Ahluwalia’s VR exhibition/photography book, focused on what it means to be a young mixed-heritage person in modern Britain. Additionally, and on the bright side of things, causes were the biggest trend of London Fashion Week, taking the place of parties and sparkles to reflect on big issues.

It seems to me that fashion went beyond its own rituals and medium in search of meaning, not sure where to stand but — finally — willing to experiment within the digital ecosystem. Yet to judge whether or not it was a good experience, we can only wait for the numbers to come out. Shanghai Fashion Week, which took place online in late March, reportedly drew 11 million viewers and sold $2.75 million worth of clothes and accessories direct to consumers during live streams, so maybe there’s more than one reason for Western fashion to look at the East.

And what about travel? Besides all the destinations that kept communicating with their audiences adapting the messaging to the COVID-19 times, and the brands that pivoted their businesses into ahigher purpose activity, the one company that felt like doing something truly innovative and engaging was Airbnb with the launch of Virtual Experiences.

Soon we’ll have quant and qual data to understand how people received this new service, and I’d love to dig into it; for now, though, I found David Pogue’s article for the NYT a great way to have a first understanding of the phenomenon.

David went binge-experiencing in Airbnb trying to answer the question: How well can a Zoom video chat replicate experiencing another place or culture? And how is it any better than, say, watching a YouTube video on the topic?

As it turns out from David’s analysis, “you really do meet new people in new places; you genuinely do lose yourself in another world. This new format is an ingenious, inexpensive way to carry you and your family away during lockdown, and even — why not? — long after the present plague passes”.

So, how can we call this new land between the offline and the online, across digital and physical?

Perhaps, the best definition of the future of experiences born landing into the digital realm is the one coming up in this talk: Phy-gital.

As described in the conversation between Epic Games’ John Buzzell and HELO’s director of technology Robin Cowie, the concept of Phy-gital simply consists in bringing the digital world and the physical world together.

“And maybe no better than now do we truly appreciate what that means.

You’re going to see more and more experiences where there are physical structure props, but there’s also real-time digital set extensions, and those two spaces are actually going to share light, and the lightning is going to be interactive.

And you’re going to have live humans, but you’re also going to have digital humans, and you’re going to struggle to tell which one is live and which one is digital. And that same experience that you might go into is probably going to follow you home on your phone, or be found or discovered on your phone, or at least in your browser for sure. And once you get into that digital realm, all these things, all these wonderful technologies — artificial intelligence, machine learning, machine vision — you’re going to have all of those tools affecting the physical world that you live in.”

Finally, I’d like to wrap up this section of the Future of Experiences Summit with a virtual tour on the land of online immersive experiences by No Proscenium: The Guide To Everything Immersive.

From immersive tea experiences to museums, time travels, ASMR, 18+ only role-playing and family-friendly online experiences, you can get lost in a plethora of creativity and immersive randomness that has no equal in one platform.

Enjoy the ride, and let me know where you got lost!

P.s. The Immersive Entertainment Industry was valued at $61.8 billion in 2019, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (check the Immersive Entertainment Industry Report here) and it’ll be extremely interesting to follow its shift to the online and post-pandemic reality.

The art of bringing (art) experiences online


Never before we needed art this much. Why? Because we need to re-imagine and deeply read, aka make sense of this global event — actually, series of events — we’re living. And there is no better medium to do that than art.

We’ve already explored the implications of music and theatre above, and I want to make a point here of another vertical that has unfortunately been hit hard by the Corona crisis: figurative art.

This comes at a time when a newly commissioned research from Oxford Economics reveals that the UK’s creative industries are on the brink of devastation. The UK’s creative sector was previously growing at five times the rate of the wider economy, employing over 2 million people and contributing £111.7 billion to the economy — more than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil and gas industries combined.

As the field is facing major challenges and disruption, some museums and institutions are taking time to reflect on their role and relationship with their audiences. Some of them are even experimenting with new mediaand finally — better late than never! — reinventing themselves in the online scenario.

“Has the temporary closure of museums forced them to think differently about digital?” Asks Art Quarterly.

Emblematic is a couple of cases we were monitoring, also listed by the art zine: the one of V&A Museum, whose team made an effort on audience listening and understanding (and the winners is? long-form content on Leonardo Da Vinci and the wig interactive experience) and the Getty Museum brilliant landing on Animal Crossing.


But, despite the international effort of bringing the art experience online(from the British Museum to Art Basel and the Uffizi in Florence), many critics complained that visiting virtual venues is likely to result in disappointment and it doesn’t feel like an event. In fact, the experiential limits of navigating a mapped room as supposed to walk into it, even given the best mapping available such as the Google Arts and Culture one, are still there. On the other hand, more sophisticated examples like the Smithsonian’s Beyond The Walls project and the Dslcollection’s playable museum, have high barriers to entry in terms of hardware, requesting VR sets.

One solution suggested by Peter Maxwell is to use perhaps old media with new ideas: for example, the carefully choreographed 4K films for the Van Gogh Museum result in a better experience than the jumping and zooming of the Google Arts and Culture virtual tour.

Don’t take me wrong: I don’t mean in any way to underestimate the enormous contribution of Google Arts & Culture in preserving and bringing the world’s art and culture online so it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere.

If art cultural heritage was countable, Google would own, by far, the biggest amount of it. 😉

Yet, speaking of experiencing art online, I think there are better ways of fruition: an intermediated vision, especially when it’s done by a visual/creative eye, or a story narrated in a proper way if you wish, is better than a high res render, at the current state of technology development.

All in all, I second Peter’s POV as a scripted, curated experience (through a film for example) even though it takes away some freedom, it gives the audience a far better experience. Conversely, the “neutrality” of virtual tours seems still clunky and doesn’t let us enjoy the art and the space.

Which is ultimately the goal, isn’t it?

Something that, instead, I find deeply fascinating within the Google Arts & Culture project is the playable experiences and edutainment paths: from Art Transfer that lets you transform your photos with inspiration from renowned artists like Van Gogh and Kandinsky to the popular Art Selfie, to Search Art by Color, Sites to see from your sofa, Browse Artworks Using Keywords, the 36,000 years old Chauvet Cave AR experience, theRunway Palette that lets you find out which colour palettes top designers have used in fashion shows, the Collective Poem experiment at the intersection of AI and human collaboration, the Black Cultural Archivesand the Travel Through Time.

I mean, at the intersection of art and AI, fueled by a huge amount of data, there is literally no one better than Google. The company information archive is simply invaluable.

And experimenting with it is one of the most incredible experiences you can try online for free ATM.

But, how do we retain the essence of live events in the online scenario?

Photo by Andrew Arrol on Unsplash

So, now that we’ve explored some of the implications of bringing experiences online, it comes naturally to wonder how we can bring the magic with them.

It’s a tough task. Even the top conferences in the world are trying hard and not necessarily making it.

I’m thinking for instance of SXSW, which was one of the first events to be cancelled in 2020 — breaking our hearts — and tried to keep up the engagement in the online channels. It goes without saying, the impact and voice of SXSW are not nearly comparable to the ones we’re used to. It just… doesn’t make the news.

MWC Barcelona (formerly but still commonly referred to as Mobile World Congress) didn’t even try.

At the time of writing this, Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is about to happen online, promising to bring the global creative community together to figure out what the future holds. We wish them the best and maybe it’s not a bad thing to show up for the global creative community, minus the flexing on wine/events/waste/buzzwords-filled-conversations. The trailer looked to me like something fresh and inspiring, better than the last few years’ vibes (perhaps because of that dropping of the flexing ;).

CES and Davos are confident that everything is going to get back to normal in early 2021, so for their next editions, they’re announcing new measures to deal with people safety in loco, but not a word on a potential online strategy.

Differently, Paddy Cosgrave, co-founder of Web Summit, Collision, and RISE (together accumulating a total of 130k people per year across the world), shared a bunch of valuable insights with Peter Kafka on Recode Podcast.

  • We’re the only large conference/organizer in the world that builds software (this goes back to the very first events we ever organized where what I would call software played an important role). So making the decision to go fully online, well, we had already spent years building the platform that already enables people to network virtually. So it wasn’t for us such a difficult decision to make.
  • Online conferences, just like offline conferences, should be about one thing: networking. The speakers are absolutely the kind of the hook or the excuse, and there’s always talks that anybody in any conference would go to see. And of course, as conference organizers, part of us would like the people to fill every seat for the whole time of the two/three days we curated with all these incredible speakers, but the truth is, the speakers are the excuse — and many of the speakers recognize that and come back to us — but really everybody is there, including the speakers, to network with each other. And I think that’s the primary purpose of these events.
  • Our job over the last 10 years has been to manufacture that in some way. Oftentimes event organisers just put people in a room and they let serendipity take hold. In our case, I think you can engineer some of those outcomes ever so slightly in the background. Sometimes by putting software in the attendees and speakers’ hands that suggest to the people they should need to invite, or vice-versa, setting up meetingsahead of time. They don’t quite know why they are doing these meetings, but we do know a lot more about you and who you should meet, and who’s there, and we do that. Figuring out who should be at your dinner table, maybe even sitting beside you and then peering into your activityover the app over the three days, seeing where your badge has been scanned, what parties or what booths you’re visiting. And we build up hopefully a good picture of what you’re doing and what another 70 thousand people are doing and then figure out who should follow up with or vice-versa.
  • Six years ago I was able to attract a bunch of academic physicists from several universities around the world whose focus was some field called complex systems, and they’ve been here ever since working on resolving some of those problems. And it turns out, it’s quite interesting to figure out how you, in a sense, act as the invisible hand behind the scene and nudge certain people to each other without overtly doing it, because you want investors to feel like the ten meetings they’ve had was because of their great foresight and selection abilities. That’s partly true, but we do a lot of work in the background trying to make those outcomes much better.
  • So, if you track the startups that have been at Web Summit and Collision since they have come into existence, more than 100 billion has been invested into those startups, and much of that has occurred after within a year of attending Web Summit or Collision by investors that also happened to be at the events. Many of them were investing for the very first time.

So, to answer the crucial question: how do we retain the essence of live events in the online scenario? Paddy has come up explaining one of the central points, which is networking curation/engineering.

Decisive was, in this case, the role of Peter Kafka, one of the media industry’s most acclaimed reporters, in provoking Paddy with some of the questions that matter the most for anybody that used to go to business events or participate in some forms to their set up.

Some food for thoughts, from Peter’s own words:

“At a minimum, I think, regardless of how the pandemic plays out, there are lots of stories about in the future, everything’s going to be different, these things will change, the offices will be radically different. It seems like, making the decision not to send someone to a conference, not to pay and get on a plane, not to take three days that you could be doing something else, that’s a pretty easy adjustment for a lot of people to make and not to make that trip. And you’re telling me look, we can solve this with software. Maybe. You have to get a lot more people, charge them a lot less, and then you still have to deliver that thing, right? Because even if the money is a lot less, from spending a day at your event, in a chatroom or whatever I’m doing, I need to understand that I’m gonna get the value I would have out of planning of meeting someone in the hallway or bumping into someone in a hallway and exchanging a card, or whatever one does. So, how do you replicate, how do you give me that value? Regardless of the time and money I’m spending, how do you convince me that it’s worth my time to hang out online for a day?

Keeping in mind that Paddy agrees with us that you can ever fully replicate online the experience of meeting face to face, he’s also sparking innovation in networking curation/engineering from which we can all learn some lessons for the foreseeable future.

I highly recommend listening to the full episode of this amazing podcast.

Solving online events is a universal problem that many people around the globe are trying to tackle.

Mobile, digital media and technology analyst Benedict Evans recently published an essay on this topic raising the hallways issue.

Benedict describes events as bundles of content, hallways talks, product showcases and planned meetings; and the only part that is working online ATM is the content.

“Most obviously, we don’t have any software tool for bumping into people in the same field by random chance and having a great conversation. No-one has ever really managed to take a networking event and put it online. You certainly can’t just make a text chat channel for everyone watching the video stream and claim that’s the same as a cocktail party. In other words, some conferences are built around creating a network in the hallways. If you take them online, there are no hallways” — argues Benedict.

I’d add that behind the challenges of bringing online business events, lay some great opportunities for the future. I’d group them under a category that I’d call networking optimization.

Greatly explained by Evans, here is something that I’m sure every one of us has experienced at business events:

“It’s often struck me that networking events are pretty inefficient and random. If you’re going to spend an hour or two in a room with 50 or 500 people, then you could take that as a purely social occasion and enjoy yourself. But if your purpose is to have professionally useful conversations, then what proportion of the people in the room can you talk to in an hour and how likely is it that they’ll be the right ones? Who’s there? I sometimes suggest it would be helpful if we all wore banners, as in the image at the top here, so that you could look across the room and see who to talk to. (First Tuesday did something like this in 1999, with different coloured badges).

This might just be that I’m an introvert asking for a machine to manage human connections for me (and I am), but there is also clearly an opportunity to scale the networking that happens around events in ways that don’t rely on random chance and alcohol tolerance. A long time ago Twitter took some of that role, and the explosion of online dating also shows how changing the way you think about pools and sample sets changes outcomes. In 2017, 40% of new relationships in the USA started online.”

And next, now that everybody is used to easily organising remote meetings with online tools, what’s the value of meeting someone ‘when we’re at the same event’? Can we avoid it and accelerate/optimise meeting people for work without investing the time/money/effort of attending an eventon the other side of the world? Or is that exclusivity of being together in a place and time frame a strong propeller for relationships building?

The solution might sit in, as Evans put it, how can we aggregate people around a professional interest graph, perhaps even around a particular time?

And finally, to paraphrase his thinking, how can we change the way we think of event bundles for the online infrastructure?

I hope these questions can be of inspiration for creating future opportunities around online events and experiences, and to learn more about this, I had the luck to virtually meet Evo Heyning, CEO at PlayableAgency and Exec Producer for XR Immersive & Interactive Experiences.

Evo uses her huge experience in X Reality to share with us a blueprintaimed at anybody that wants to design and/or produce a virtual or mixed reality event and retain the essence of impactful experience in each and every dimension.

When you start, the questions you have to ask yourself and that are going to guide you in designing and producing the virtual event are:

  • Why are you hosting this event?

She suggests to focus on purpose first, then to work backwards to the tools and tech necessary.

  1. How many people? as platform choices wildly vary in terms of capacity.
  2. Do you need this event to be avatar embodied, is that helpful for you?
  3. Do you need natural interactions?
  4. Do you want people to be able to speak together?
  5. Do you need scriptable demos?
  6. Are you planning to have people do things physically embodied in the space in real-time?
  7. Do you need to do research?
  8. Are you streaming it?

If you, like me, are wondering which kind of team you need to produce a successful online event, here is Evo’s lesson:

“Typically, when we’re creating — whether it’s a TV show or a feature or a live experience, any of these kinds of things — these are the roles that we need in the room:

  • We need someone thinking about engagement strategy. We need UX people who understand XR — that is huge when it comes to events because so many people will get stuck or lost. We have to create community guides for them along the way so that they don’t get stuck or lost. And so that’s often a staffing challenge where we need dozens of people in order to pull off a successful event.
  • All of the sorts of things that you would see in a major show package also show up in VR: lighting and art design for streaming shows, show package design if you’re putting together a streaming show and you want it to look like a TV show, figuring out how you’re going to integrate your artists, your video elements, anything that you might have people interacting with physically or digitally, and then thinking about how does that rule up into something that’s more like a game.
  • We design game shows, we design conferences, but we also design professional events, and there are times at which you are going to need a professional facilitator. I want to double back on this because it’s very important here. Frequently, we are seeing events that are not well facilitated that create additional risk for the participants. That may be human-rights related, that may be related to surveillance and security. There are lots of ways in which people may want to engage that isn’t in their best interest or that may hurt others around them. And so, it is up to us as creators and producers to create an environment where people can have a great experience but also, hopefully, they’re not gonna get beaten up by someone else along the way. […] People are still being trained in this, there are great groups like Conveners.org training people to specifically facilitate online, and it’s important to have those people in the room”.

One thing is sure: the role of experience designers and producers is getting more challenging, sophisticated yet essential as we move onto hybrid experiences, in order to make events worth in the next 2/3 years.

We’re seeing for the first time the rise of job listings specifically asking for experience in producing or delivering virtual/hybrid events, and openly motivating this phenomenon amid the current climate in which many of the events & experiential clients are moving further towards hybrid or completely virtual events as part of their overall mix of services.

In this realm, no one is better than Benja Juster, Creative and Experiential Producer with over ten years expertise designing unforgettable moments for companies like Google, Doritos, Red Bull, Twitch and Stripe, to answer my concerns on we can preserve the essence, the magic if you will, of live events in the online scenario.

Benja, among many good ideas, came up with a pragmatic and effective solution he’s testing while producing an event for the 7th year, the first time digitally. As he puts it:

“One aspect we’re leveraging is the connection that our participants already have with the physical spaces and activities typically at our events and porting those spaces online. I think the more we can build on previous positive experiences in the physical world, the better the online experience has the ability to be.”

This is the kind of thinking and problem-solving approach that experience designers and producers are employing during COVID and post-COVID challenging times, and I’m curious to witness the innovation generated by all this.

Don’t take me wrong: I don’t want to sugarcoat the situation we’re living in, which is jeopardising millions of jobs and tactics in the field of events and experiences.

This massive virtual event experiment, elucidated in this article by EventMB Editor in Chief Julius Solaris as well, is getting rid of the most effective event’s fuel (FOMO), lowering entry barriers to the point that there’s a growing expectation of all events being free and therefore selling out an entire industry.

I do agree with Julius that it feels a bit like what happened to music with Napster, to movies with Netflix, and to newspapers with blogs.

But, as we learnt there, you can’t stop the progress — as disruptive and uncomfortable as it looks.

So what’s the big opportunity here, for events profs? How can they be the next Spotify, Netflix and Buzzfeed?

Julius suggests that pivoting to virtual also means having the chance to multiply audience numbers, lower production costs and a crash course into adding the online dimension to any future event to increase revenue.

In his opinion, it’s crucial to set the bar high and differentiate your paid event from free events, e.g. invest on more sophisticated platforms, digital event production, professional speakers, good moderators.

And employ innovation, disruption, and creativity — in one word: design — to virtual events as opposed to just bringing what’s offline, online.

So that when physical events are back — because they will be back, eventually — FOMO will be back too, perhaps even a revenge attendance phenomenon, and we’ll be savvier about the value of what we’ve been missing for months of (physical) events deprivation: starting from connections (as mentioned previously) to 3D entertainment.

The new hierarchy of needs — shared by Julius in his article — will look like this:

Furthermore, a perhaps understated but absolutely crucial element to bring in the online scenario to retain the essence of live events, their “magic” if you will, is the randomness.

The person to mention it to me first was Heather Gallagher, Immersive AR Magic Maker at Enklu, and formerly Burning Man Head of Technology.

I “met’’ Heather over an inspiring, glittered (literally!) Zoom video call and learnt a lot from her 17+ years experience as Head of Tech at Burning Man and her passion for making experiences magic at Enklu. In regards to this last one, she describes it as a “software package/platform that lets people co-create 3D holographic immersive worlds, which is very much like being in Burning Man at night — this is actually as close as I can imagine coming to that immersive, spectacular, just beautiful experience, but without having the dust up your nose!”

We talked about the future of entertainment, how it has to be pervasive, what’s coming a decade from now (do you even call it entertainment, as it’s also educational, physical training, socially and community-focused, showing who you are, what you wear, what you eat… what do you call that?), the role of co-creation and some Burning Man lessons, of course.

Speaking of which, if you’ve been to Burning Man, or any transformative experience, you might recall that random encounter or occurrence that makes the whole experience unforgettable, that makes it a good story afterwards. THAT random, argues Heather, is part of the magic of events, so how do we bring it to the cold, planned and very efficient online platforms ecosystem?

One service designed to solve this problem is the blender, as described by her.

“One of the things he’s working on for me is what I call “the blender”: there’s all these channels, you’ve got all these themes cams, all these speakers, all these sessions…

and if you’re fluent in festivals, one of the magic things about Burning Man and other things is just the randomness, the ability to have maybe a couple of favourite things that you tune in to, but then somebody hits on the blender button and it’s like a roulette. And he loved that one, because the thing is, how do you mimic the synchronicity and how do you mimic the beautiful randomness?”

To recap, we just examined here a bunch of elements needed to recreate online the magic of IRL events, from networking to the hallways issue, to a virtual events blueprint, to the team requested in online events production (and especially the role of the facilitator), to building on top of previews in-person positive experiences, FOMO, design and the randomness element.

And now, we’re ready to dig into the core: the value of events.

Defining and redefining the value of events

Event Design handbook by Event Design Collective

Exploring the future of experiences and events in the post-COVID-19 reality, I had the luck to virtually encounter a couple of industry POVs focused on the deep meaning of events, especially triggered by the pandemic new rituals.

Teeg Stouffer, Co-Founder of the American Association of Event Professionals (AAEP), stated in our interview the increase of intentionality to events.

“The pandemic has introduced a new concept to our thought-matrix: Is this essential? In other words, is it worth it?— says Teeg — Previously, Is it worth it? was a question we asked ourselves from a business standpoint in terms of ROI, and that event attendees/guests/customers asked themselves in terms of ROT — return on time. Now we’ll all ask it in terms of health risks, risk exposure also.

This time of isolation is also revealing our deep desire for IRL experiences. Virtual is fine, but many people want real life, real human connection, real physical person-to-person, tactile experiences. Even the introverted among us want to see sunlight and breathe fresh air, as busy parks, bike trails, and beaches can attest”. Adds Teeg, bringing up Solaris and Cosgrave’s points above.

Somebody that has been working on events’ meaning for the last ten years is Ruud Janssen, Co-Founder of the Event Design Collective.

Speaking with Ruud, who’s been decoding all kinds of live happenings and educating events professionals globally on this, was inspiring and incredibly fun. He made me reflect and dig deeper into something we’ve researched for a while: how to measure value in events, and what kind of metrics and criteria we should be looking at.

Happy to share some of Ruud’s words and vast experience here, may it be of help/inspiration for all the events’ owners and planners out there.

Behavioural change is central to events value. Events create value through certain criteria, one is: do they change behaviours in the desired direction of change? Because that’s the thing that creates value.

Events are just like temporary businesses, with a beginning, a middle and an end — which is usually much shorter than most businesses. And whether it’s mission-driven or value-driven or whatever it might be, the ones that do it really well create a sense of community, make people get back to them or gravitate towards them; they have a core, a community that is active and engaged with their pivotal point.

It’s not about the event, it’s about the progress over time of a group of people that decide to care about a common topic and once bring it together to progress it or to further it.

So any event that, if taken off the table, nobody would feel bad about it, is probably mediocre. And any event that’s memorable, that people would crave to go if it’s no longer there, that’s probably one that creates memories, one that has value.”

In this perspective, Ruud feels this is actually a good moment for the events industry to analyse and understand.

As he puts it: “You don’t know what you miss until it’s no longer there. I think this is actually a blessing on these days, the fact that a lot of events cannot take place. This is a time when the ones that don’t know how they created value or people don’t perceive that they’ve got value from it, they also won’t be missed. It’s kinda like a big clean-up exercise. As you said, it’s a reboot, not just for the individuals going to those events, but it’s also a reboot for the events’ owners to think about what does this mean for the types of behavioural change they were delivering, for whom they were delivering it, how they were delivering it, and then, at the end of the day, why they were delivering it in the first place.”

In this context, the Event Design Collective is now monitoring events like FT Live, TED2020, C2, Microsoft Build, eyeforpharma, One World Together, Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, and Burning Man to look at the delta: what’s the difference between what it was and what it is now, looking overtime at them through the lens of their structure in the virtuality, how they move, their bubbles and various areas, what they mean.

The value of lack of events is something that also Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz is looking into, as per Bloomberg interview with Emily Chang, where she discusses the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the events business.

“It’s not so much about whether or not online events can save the live events industry, it’s really about how communities can continue to have that connection until we can meet again in person”.

Fascinating stuff, uh? Coming up next, one of my favourite sections in this summit:

Inspired by the crisis


Photo by Robert Metz on Unsplash

Necessity is the mother of invention, innit.

So I’ve gathered here some of the most prominent trends and factors sparked by COVID-19 in the experiences and events industries. Needless to say, I’m deeply grateful to all the respondents to my interviews for sharing years of expertise and know-how. 🙂

I’d like to start with Chiara Palieri, internationally renowned Head of Events currently serving as Advisor for Events & Activation the Royal Commission for Riyadh City. She shares here her personal POV on the MICE events, which is her expertise focus.

Chiara highlights for us what’s coming ahead — the so-called New Normal — in the foreseeable future:

  • Content will be king: COVID-19 has operated a natural selection among the players in the industry, revealing only top-notch companies surviving thanks to superior conference production with relevant, engaging content and sessions;
  • Pieces of training will likely to be run online (more flexibility for participants to complete sessions and obtain certificates — key in the MENA markets, especially KSA)
  • Conference/trade-show days will be shorter (two days max as opposed to week-long events)
  • Contactless registration systems will be fully deployed across events (which was not the case before in 80% of the conferences within the region)
  • Teleconferencing platforms will be a key segment for the MENA startup ecosystem to focus on: current tools do not support a smooth delivery of virtual boardrooms/workshops. For this reason, the marriage between the thriving MICE sector and tech will produce new, cutting edge solutions specifically tailored for MICE (context: Dubai and Riyadh aspire to become the next Silicon Valley)
  • The range of conferences will be a lot less, avoiding overlap between similar topics: less will indeed be more
  • Business cards and agendas will not be printed (not many shows were fully digital before — now there is simply no alternative)

Chiara’s perceptions of the online dimension of events within the MENA markets are also confirmed by Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director ME, Arabian Travel Market.

“We have learnt a lot from the inaugural ATM Virtual and we will certainly be looking to integrate more virtual elements into our physical show next year. Our overall aim was to keep the tourism industry connected and to deliver positive business and networking opportunities to the travel and tourism community, something I believe we delivered.

In terms of future trends, I’ve no doubt the implementation of technologywill form an integral part of the events industry, particularly when we return to hosting physical events. Webinars, live online discussions featuring Q&As and polls, and pre-scheduled 1–2–1 virtual meetings were extremely well received and provided an opportunity to share thoughts and ideas with colleagues who under normal circumstances would not be able to participate.

There is certainly a place for these tech-driven innovations, however at the core of our business, particularly from a tourism perspective, is the importance of human interaction and this remains essential and invaluable as we adapt to life and business post-COVID-19”.

Photo by David Rodrigo on Unsplash

From the Middle East and North Africa to California, meet again Benja Juster. The Creative and Experiential Producer that I featured above in this section, addresses here one of the biggest challenges for the events and experiences industries: keeping the distance.

“The closest scenario I can equate our situation to is designing for accessibility.

We’ll have to look at distance as an accessibility concern, much the way we do when designing events to be inclusive to those with disabilities. I think it’s safe to say that society is disabled right now, and if we’re designing with accessibility at our foundation, then virtual is the crucial first intervention. From that starting block, I think there’s a lot of possibilities to create physical world elements that allow people to be in the same place together, and the risk/reward for the respective design will have to be carefully measured” says Benja.

I also loved his lateral thinking and proactive approach to the undoubtedly difficult situation.

“I think a lot of people will agree that artists work best with well definite constraints, and that is certainly something we have at the moment. I am excited to see the continued creativity and innovation blooming during this time and how those learnings will interweave as the constraints loosened” he states.

Along the same lines of strategic and impactful thinking, as anticipated earlier in this section, the Playable Agency team has created and shared freely for this summit an Immersive Design Foundations & Emerging Trends document.

Goal? To foster ever deeper collaborative synergy among creators, innovators and immersive designers despite the current and very tangible setbacks.

May the following techniques and strategies be of inspiration for all the readers here: these are some of the best immersive strategies and experiences that Scott, Martin and Evo of Playable Agency imagine in the foreseeable future triggered by COVID-19 restrictions and new habits:

  • HIGH TOUCH WITHOUT TOUCHING. We can design experiences that address challenges around social distancing and personal safety. By designing experiences that truly move, inspire and ‘touch’ participants in personally meaningful ways, we don’t need to involve the physical act of interaction with real-world objects or interfaces. There exist a wide variety of sensors that allow participants to interact with displays and immersive environments without physical touch. Intentional experience design has the power to touch folks on deeply personal and authentic levels. Examples of tech involved: Bluetooth beacons, sound sensors, computer vision, proximity sensors, LIDAR, distance sensors, weight & pressure sensors and more.
  • CURRENCIES OF ATTENTION. Experiences that support the use of creative currencies will flourish. Alternate, creative and storied currencies will enable moments of direct interaction, sharing, gifting and social exchange. E.g.: currencies that value the gift of attention (attention being a rare and pure form of generosity).
  • THE HEROS’ JOURNEY- Personal vs Collective. Never before in history has there been a better time for our inner hero to rise up! Offerings that position participants as ‘the hero of their own stories’, ones that help them realize their potential and afford them permission to ‘flex their superpowers’, are becoming increasingly valued and expected. The Myth of the Lone Hero is increasingly coming under examination. Offerings that invite us to rise as the collective hero deliver palpably inspired experiences. Participants as hero celebrities rather than celebrities as heroes appear to be coming in vogue.
  • PERSONAL & COLLECTIVE RESILIENCE. Experiences that embed solutions around resource sharing, knowledge & wisdom sharing and community-nurturing will serve a very important utility in the coming years. We as a species must raise our collaborative efficacy quickly and what better way to model real-world solutions than through collaborative play?
  • OPEN NARRATIVE. Experiences that welcome participants’ own stories as part of an unfolding narrative will yield more enriching experiences. More and more designers will craft narratives that invite participants to play with the narrative rather than be directed by it.
  • COLLABORATIVE INTELLIGENCE. Experiences that support critical design thinking and problem solving are needed now more than ever. E.g.: Escape Rooms being tasked to solve real-world problems, etc.
  • EMOTIONAL & SOMATIC INTELLIGENCE. Participants will expect experiences that nurture emotional safety, support and that foster open and authentic communication.
  • USER GENERATED CONTENT. Experiences that support participants in the creative process as part of gameplay will become more and more valued. When participants are given the tools and permission to engage in their imaginations and creativity they enjoy a deeper level of connection & ownership to the experience.
  • DISTRIBUTED, DECENTRALIZED SOCIAL MECHANICS. Providing participants with shared rule sets and agreements create a level playing field and help foster a more egalitarian, distributed and accountable style of social engagement.


So, what about the pricing/perception of in-person experiences and events? Will it change — being them harder to organise and considering the global recession scenario we’re facing? Will people still want to go to physical events and how much will they be happy to pay? Or is it the end of anything in-person?

Gladly, the aforementioned expert Tyler Hanson had an answer for me on this too:

“In-person experiences will be premium. People will pay for having an experience that they feel safe in. They’ll pay a fortune to be safe and to experience things in person.

This is in fact leading to some likely scenario that sees on one side the democratisation of events through online platforms/remotely accessible tech (cheaper prices, plus no need to travel and plan too much in advance) and on the other side the premiumisation of what we used to consider normal: festivals, clubs, in-person events and everything that implies people interacting next to each other.

Immersive AR expert and formerly Burning Man Head of TechnologyHeather Gallagher echoed Tyler’s idea of premiumisation of in-person experiences:

“I call this time we’re living the cosmic glitch. What are you going to do when the gears get back in motion after the cosmic glitch? There’s a lot of aspects. I believe that people will always gather, that’s fundamental to who we are. There will be a lot of trial and error for a while.

I could see that the privilege of coming to the in-person gatherings becomes maybe the endpoint of a lot more online prep and networkingand studying and things like that. Then, if you’re actually going to go, be part of a selected group for the ones who travel or go someplace, and now you’d maybe commit to going to a symposium where you’re all getting tested etc. And then you’re going to do the deep dive, the networking and all of these things, but maybe it’s a longer commitment, and a lot more engagement online and remote.

If people are able to turn that in certain ways, then I can see that it ends up being almost like a VIP experience, like ok, now I’m going to go and do the in-person thing” because that is often where some of the magic happens at these events.

I think that every event, being fun or business, or fun-business especially, is absolutely going to be expected to have digital and remote capabilities as well as any physical productions. So, where it used to be a luxury to have every session recorded and maybe they only did the keynotes, now people are going to expect and require that they can get access to all the content on their own time, on-demand.”

Another relevant trend sparked by the Corona crisis and predicted by experience/events insiders is the small group factor.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash
Joe Pine’s partner and Co-author of The Experience Economy, Jim Gilmore mentions it in this article from PCMA, in relation to a concept that we’ve explored quite a bit at Trybes: even if attendees are placed farther apart from each other, Gilmore thinks that they will want to feel a closer “familial” connection. One scenario Gilmore envisions is pairing one attendee with four others — with the group taking a “divide and conquer” approach, each participating in different concurrent sessions before reporting back and sharing their insights.

Who’s your tribe or your family that you’re going to traverse through the experience with? If you have to be six feet apart, it seems a smaller group would help” he said. “Five people even 10 feet apart feels a lot better than 500 people six feet apart.”

As I said, the Smaller groups, tighter connections phenomenon is something we’ve been analysing at Trybes, and more specifically from the online perspective. Gilmore shares our interest in the concept and has been pondering what he calls communal media. “Rather than thinking about collecting hundreds of likes from hundreds of users on Facebook or Instagram, individuals may put a higher value on communicating with their five closest friends. Just as Twitter used to restrict the character count to 140,” argues Gilmore, “what if a new platform comes along that limits your tribe count to a few true amigos?”

Among the experts I’ve been lucky to interview here, a few clearly expressed their interest in this theme. The following is Evo Heyning’s experience in dealing with small groups phenomenon in the mixed reality scenario:

“What we’re finding is generally people want to connect in small groups. They will go to larger plenary sessions, they will go to a streaming session, but generally, people want small groups.”

So, how can we bring people together in small groups in virtual events and mixed reality events? What kind of tech is requested in the production of virtual events?

“We use Icebreaker, which is a fantastic way to do some of that video hacking, and in some cases, Twitch. And you can bring Twitch into virtual worlds. We’re also using video, just straight-up video, in ways that for example move the narrative forward in immersive theatre through VR. So, creating VR escape rooms, for example, or creating VR events that act like a location-based experience.”

So, that was Evo bringing Gilmore’s envision into the future. 🙂

Also Vita Motus’ CEO Heather Shaw mentioned the small group conceptto me, and suggested a small-large mix that could resonate a lot with the foreseeable future of events:

“I do appreciate a little bit of a smaller and more refined group that is not as a 20k, 40k or 80k person event that I’m at. I like having a smaller group, and I think that, potentially, after things start coming back, people will want to stay in smaller groups so that they’ll feel safer and the event can be more refined and can get very particular.

So I think that the scale of events could come down, and we could still be able to reach a big broad audience with the digital tools while having more small engagements instead of big large ones in the physical realm.”

This line of thought is also reiterated by exec producer Monica Fernandez, describing the COVID-19 impact and lessons on the events consumers:

“This time is showing us that we can spend more time at home and we can keep it a little bit more local, we don’t have to fly all over the world, the Earth is actually happy about it. And maybe our bank accounts are too. 😉 Maybe our relationships are getting a little stronger. And especially in the festival world, where resources are spread so thin, maybe this is the time to really look at it like what can remain and what resources can be set?” provokes Monica.

I think these are great inputs, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. I mean, this temporary pivot could make events much more meaningful, sustainable, local, curated and even economically accessible for the vast majority of people that join online — for the long term.

So, is the future of events small and sustainable? Or a part of it, at least?

James Kirkham, chief business officer at Defected Records, adds a new, interesting nuance while discussing the effects of COVID-19 on the entertainment industry and what this could mean for the future of live entertainment with Fayola Douglas, Senior Reporter at Campaign Online.

In the interview, Kirkham theorizes that a micro-event movement could lead to a cultural boom. “Are we going to see a return of the small bars, small clubs, small gigs mentality? If so, is that going to breed a whole new cultural boom of it being a bit ad hoc, hand to mouth and punkish in its make-up? Maybe that’s a good thing, and maybe that’s a great thing for indie music.”

Another aspect of the Corona crisis effects on experiences, and one that has a long term impact on users/consumers’ lives, is the one related to data and raised by technologist John Maeda discussing the future of customer experience: now, he argues, ‘all experiences are computational’.

“With this shift to C-19, everyone realised suddenly we’re at home and so easily tracked. It’s unbelievable how all our transactions are now surveilled so easily. So the computational experiences that will come in two years from now, are going to be spookily good because they know so much about us.

Jumping a little back and recalling the meaning theme, this time in the context of circumstances inspired by the Corona crisis, I had the pleasure to “meet” another great thinker and fun colleague of mine with the excuse of this Summit: Oliver Adams, Insights & Strategy at Clive, global brand experience agency working with clients like Facebook, Volkswagen and Virgin Media.

Olly thinks that we are going to see a period of time where the events that are put on will have a greater meaning and a more holistic purpose for those who attend and those who organise. He calls this phase the Brave New World Phase.

To be clearer, here is the Brave New World Phase in all its traits, as described by Olly:

“Trait #1 Heightened Escapism: I think we’re going to see more weirdness, more other world visuals and more experiences based around psychedelic experiences. The clues are there already. If you took the time to watch Travis Scott’s Fortnite performance you’ll probably agree that it was pretty trippy.

People have also been reporting having much more vivid and weird dreams during the lockdown. A phenomenon that scientists explain with people sleeping more and not getting woken up by alarms, meaning they are in the deep REM mode for longer — which is when dreams are most vivid. But there is also an argument that it is the brain’s way of exercising creativity and finding ways to escape the mundane day to day of lockdown life.

If we think about it, people haven’t been able to release, not properly. They’ve been getting their kicks from lagging live streams or by selling turnips in computer games. People are itching to let go as the world’s first socially distanced rave showed us. Dancing in a chalk circle (and having to be consciously aware of the chalk circle) is kind of counter-intuitive to what raving is about, which is letting go, switching off, heads down, eyes closed and just moving with the music. BUT, what it shows is people’s desire to dance with others and have some sort of escape.

I can see brands getting on board and giving people heightened moments of escapism and I don’t think it has to be confined to open-world games like Fortnite or activations at Bestival or Boomtown.

Trait #2 Experience over ROI: I think there will be a focus on the experience itself and less on measurement and ROI. I think brands and companies will still be feeling a little bit immoral by setting hard targets or attributing X amount of sales or sign-ups to an event. This will be a good thing. It should be all about the experience, we should be thinking about how good we’re going to make people feel instead of how we will get them to give us some money back right away. The industry will be a kinder place and events will be measured on how many smiles are clocked, or something 🙂

This will force us as agencies to be truly creative, to understand our audiences on a deeper level, it will encourage us to study anthropology and force us to get under the skin of people once more. I think this phase will remind us just how creative we can be if we are not pressured into hitting hard targets and mindless metrics.

Trait #3 Collaboration Next, I think in this same phase we’re going to see a lot more collaboration between brands, between people, between artists and between competitors. I once worked on a Tinder account and pushed the team to see if we could get Tinder to go on a date with Bumble, the ideagot swiped left but I’m still hopeful we’ll see it one day! Will we finally see the McWhopper come to fruition? Allbirds and Adidas have announced they will be working together to create a shoe with zero carbon footprint. At a time when divisions are high, brands will recognise that their pulling power when working together can do brilliant things, both socially and culturally but also commercially.

In the world of events, this might mean brands sharing venues to give greater value for the punter. Imagine a Nike plus Adidas street culture showcase at The Printworks… Co-creation and partnering up again isn’t a new thing, but I think we’ll see more of it with bigger end goals that have positive impacts for our planet and the people who call it home.

This brave new world phase sounds pretty ideal, doesn’t it? But I’m not sure it will be a world that lasts the pace. Bean counters, capitalism and short memory spans will take care of that. That’s why I think the next phase will be the as you were phase (making money aside, this isn’t actually a bad thing).

The as you were phase AKA the end of the brave new world phase

I do not think that live events are going to change forever because of COVID-19. I have the same thoughts on almost every other industry. Physical retail will come back because people like to go into shops and buy stuff instead of scrolling through pages and pages of products. The travel and tourism industry will come back because people like to go on holidays together and virtual tours of zoos just aren’t that good. Bars, clubs, strip joints, brunch venues and festivals will all bounce back because people would rather drink, dance and eat together than have a virtually hosted happy hour. And live events will get back to what they were because people like putting their lanyards on, they enjoy sitting in on the keynote, they want to shake hands with people and practise their elevator pitches.”

Do you agree with Oliver or do you think everything will be different? I’d love to hear your thoughts and maybe include them here in the Future of Experiences Summit!

Someone who highlighted a few great changes is the charismatic Claus Raasted, who beyond being the director of what is perhaps the coolest experiences hub in the world, the College of Extraordinary Experiences, is also Senior Advisor to McKinsey in the fields of experience design, large scale culture design and behaviour design.

Sharing his thinking and thoughts on the post-COVID-19 future with me, Claus pointed out a few changes: in terms of work, for instance, he believes that It’ll be even sweet to be at the top, meaning that in the world of digital, those at the top stand even stronger, because travel time isn’t a factor anymore.

Also, no one will dare to do only one thing. And that “we’ll learn how to price digital experiences. Right now we have no idea. So few things have a price point that makes sense. That will change.”

Speaking of change, “The speed of change will never again be this slow. Not my words, but I agree with them. Scary as hell. We need to learn how to adapt — AS A SKILL.” says Claus.

And finally, on a byproduct of WFH lifestyle: “Our home offices are our new extended clothes. Before, we brought our watches, suits, shoes, bags, etc to meetings. Now we bring our home office. And people see it.”

When I’ve asked him to inspire us indicating interesting experiences that we sort of started during COVID time and we’ll possibly take to the future, he mentioned “sharing moments over Zoom (simple rituals: people eating together, singing together or just sharing a beer while sitting in their own homes); Corona-friendly concerts such as Silent Disco parties held in streets, with people participating from their balconies; online escape rooms (in one of them, apparently, the participants were the mission controllers of a space station — back at the base — and they ordered around one person who was inside a spaceship) and the amazing School of Incredible Adventures (any parent homeschooling bored kids, here? Watch this)”

Cool stuff!


Speaking of branded events, Imagination Design Coach and Tourist Experience Design Strategist Maurizio Goetz added a few insights to help us read the future of experiences scenario.

As inspiring as usual, Maurizio tries here to make sense of future signals, yet acknowledging the complexity of making predictions now.

“We live in a complex and extremely uncertain world, every prediction could prove to be wrong, because it may not take into account all the scenario variables.

We have to think about the future with the eyes of the future and use our imagination to be ready to face different future scenarios.

To have a roadmap in doing so, the Institute for the Future has developed very precise indications for how to deal with possible post-COVID 19 situations, a Basic Recipe for Visions of the Future.

As for the future of branded events, we can reason on two axes.

  1. post-COVID 19 scenarios
  2. the brand role

In regards to the post-COVID 19 scenarios, we can hypothesize four scenarios:

a) disappearance of the coronavirus

b) temporary cohabitation with the coronavirus

c) prolonged coexistence with the coronavirus

d) virulent return of the coronavirus

In all cases what will change?

Regardless of the scenario that will take place, there will be several trendsthat will probably take place — often related to a problem of trust. Some elements that seem to me to be emerging are: where possible, the predilection of online events or activities; greater competition for attention, and consequential increase of needed creative thinking,caused by the proliferation of a large number of online events; the emergence of micro-influencers in different areas.

Quite central is the theme of the new role of the brand, as an enablerunder a storydoing perspective and not only a storytelling perspective. Brands will therefore not only be the ‘organizers’ of these events but will often have the important role of ‘facilitators’ and enablers of experiences.”

And finally, after all these amazing inputs, I’d like to share one last aspect suggested by the aforementioned Ruud Janssen while speaking of lessons sparked by the Corona crisis: the zooming out learning vision.

“I think the future needs to be not about the temporary three-months situation we have now, but it needs to consider the cycle of connectivity between the tribe you have had in the past, the temporary interactions you have in the middle within the new set of restrictions that you have, and what online and hybrid add to the mix or detract from the mediocracy of your live events down the line.

It’s like in karate, if you visualise hitting the pine board and try to break it, you’re going to hurt yourself. You have to visualise going through the board and to the other side, in order to break the pine board.

The same thing is with the design of your events. Unless people think about the arch of multiple years, and how the arch in the past has created value, they do not see their future.

So, this is a good moment to zoom out, like using Google Earth View instead of Google Street View.”

I hope you love these metaphors just as much as I do. And with this, we should be ready to jump into the VR/AR chapter.

Is it finally time for VR and AR?

This argument keeps coming up with several iterations since the 80s and again around 10 years ago, and especially after the acquisition of Oculus by Zuckerberg in 2015.

You might recall his famous quote:

“Our vision is that VR / AR will be the next major computing platform after mobile in about 10 years. It can be even more ubiquitous than mobile — especially once we reach AR — since you can have it always on… Once you have a good VR / AR system, you no longer need to buy phones or TVs or many other physical objects — they can just become apps in a digital store.” — Mark Zuckerberg

If we take into consideration Zuckerberg’s statement and predictions we may think of AR/VR as the next platform after smartphones.

But, as you know, this revolution hasn’t started. And even now, in times of lockdown and immersive online experiences, there’s something not quite catching up there.

As smartphones constitute a several billion industry and have changed the world and the lives of people in large scale, what would it take to VR/AR to get there?

In my opinion, the answer to this question resides in the WHY. What is the big problem that VR/AR are proposing to solve and should take them beyond the gaming industry, to become the next platform after smartphones?

As usual, Ben Evans has one of the best reading of the tech/consumers/business state of things and therefore the future of VR/AR:

“Reading Mark’s quote above, as he talks about the merging of AR and VR, it strikes me that this and many visions for VR (cf ‘Ready Player One’) is really describing not ‘an HMD but a bit better’ but glasses, or perhaps contact lenses, or maybe even something even further into the future like neural implants. On that basis, I think you could argue that even the Oculus Quest is not 3/4 of the way ‘there’ but actually still just at the beginning of the VR S Curve.

The successor to the smartphone will be something that doesn’t just merge AR and VR but make the distinction irrelevant — something that you can wear all day every day, and that can seamlessly both occlude and supplement the real world and generate indistinguishable volumetric space. On that view the Oculus isn’t the iPhone — it’s the Newton, or the Apple 2, which were also far from universal, and the platonic ideal universal device is a decade or two into the future.”

With this premise in mind, I loved (virtually) travelling across the world to investigate for this Summit what the cutting edge VR and AR companies are doing at the moment in the experiences and events space.

These pioneers can show us the way to the future of integration and seamless experience.

Let’s start with Enklu Immersive AR Magic Maker and formerly Burning Man Head of Technology Heather Gallagher.

“With the advent of spatial computing, with the headsets that I’m working with, […] this thing, the little flat screens (referring to the mobile) is going to feel like such a tyranny. There are people who are doing cutting edge user experiences for technologies which are just sublime.

And thinking about it, when I wake up in the morning and I look over and I want to start my music, the house projector system knows to just put my little Play button on my bedside table. I reach over, I hit Play, and then it disappears. And I can wave my hands around, and I can talk to the thing, and I can be amongst information and data and learning and experiencing so that my whole human can now return.

So the irony is, as this now evolves, the technology can finally really start to empower us, in the superhero kind of way, instead of us being slaves to those little boxes.

We’d just be able to stand up, walk around and engage with information and do things with more physical movement.

The irony is that now we’re reaching the point that we’re re-humanising the human-computer relationship.”

Playable CEO Evo Heyning adds some clues describing a recent case study: their work for the Pride.

“Our team is currently developing a wide mix of virtual events and that includes VR event deliveries, augmented reality and ARG deliveries that may be involved with locations in this city.

In this case, we’re building out a Drive-Through Pride. Drive-Through Pride is an augmented reality art show that engages some of the same aspects of a parade but turning the everyday participants, their pod, their family, their carload into the stars of the show, into the stars of a stream that is augmented all around them.

So, when we look at events like this where there might be a complex mix of platforms and deliveries combined with an audience that may not have a VR headset or even a mobile headset, we’re trying to figure out exactly how we begin to design the kinds of interactions that are meaningful for people.

With Pride, this is a bit of what that looks like: I drive their experience and community engagement, getting people to use augmented reality art tools, but also spotlighting the art of the community and encouraging everyone to get in on it.”

Next, we’re hearing from Erika Brulé — Executive Producer, Experiential Marketing & Events, past experience at global companies like Apple and Airbnb.

Erika used her know-how to speak to me about large-scale, in-person experience risks and VR opportunities:

“Frankly, I think the biggest question we need to be asking ourselves is: is hosting a large-scale, in-person experience worth the risk? Think about it. Live experiences are the world’s greatest Petri dishes. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that attendees will remain the prescribed 6 feet of distance from one another. Or won’t get excited and cheer for a keynote speaker or scream during the performance of the A-list talent. The fact of the matter is that it only takes one person to contract Coronavirus, contact-traced back to our experience, for a potential negligence lawsuit to arise. There’s no irony in the President of the United States requiring all attendees at his upcoming rally in Tulsa, OK to sign a Coronavirus liability waiver. There is, however, a fundamental gross-negligence in proceeding with the event knowing that transmission is possible and highly likely.

While fundamentally antithetical to our practice, I foresee our industry positively impacted by major technological disruption. We’ll look to alternatives like VR to design life-like experiences where attendees have the ability to immerse themselves as deeply in their virtual surroundings as they do in real life. I purchased an Oculus headset in January of this year as I wanted to understand the hype and the capabilities. My mind was immediately blown. And while developers are still coding their hearts out, and finessing the experience, there are a multitude of existing properties that tap into, and play to the senses and human psyche. Why does that matter? Because it illustrates that we have the capability to create seemingly life-like interactions which meet the needs of the face-to-face connection we design for in events. The VR experience is so surreal that your brain is tricked, and I’d even go as far as saying temporarily rewired, to believe that you do physically exist in a place that does not. So in the context of the live event space, we can design amphitheatres and attend concerts or keynotes. Sit next to friends, family, or strangers with realistic avatars. Walk through the latest pop-up shop and touch, examine, and ask questions about products and services; which also opens a new e-commerce channel. OTT platforms like Netflix can recreate film and television sets allowing audiences to ‘live’ in the show. And then there’s activism. Why not leverage VR and organize a virtual protest. The opportunities with VR are effectively as limited as your budget, and its popularity and demand will continue on an upward trajectory. The challenge will be developing and shipping the device at scale and at a reasonable price point.”

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

Now, speaking of scale and penetration of tech/consumers behaviourconnected to VR/AR, I’d like to mention Zoomers again.

Remember when we referred earlier to Gen Zers leading the way to experiences in the digital realm?

Well, pretty much the same is happening with AR and the large scale use of it through Snapchat and TikTok: right now we’re following a bunch of trends and rituals including how 6ix9ine’s fans are using AR animojis to insert themselves into the heart of Tekashi’s narrative, and how Snap’s artist lenses power intuitive ways to insert the consumer into a quasi-first person podium position.


AR — animoji. Source: High Tea


AR — Snap artist lenses. Source: High Tea

On top of that, virtual influencers like Lil Miquela partnering with real-life ones like Yuna, Justine Skye and Bülow and performing to raise actual money for actual causes are blurring, even more, the line between different kinds of realities.

And what about anime-inspired CGI versions of singers, or better-said mutants, like Ashnikko, that catapult us to a parallel VR universe, allowing for visual storytelling that plays with our sense of reality?

I guess the question is: what is even real and what is virtual in Gen Zers’ world and experiences?

All in all, the future is here, especially if you’re young. 😉

And I’d like to give it some cultural perspective bringing insights on the gamification of stories from the previously mentioned Epic Games’ John Buzzell in conversation with HELO’s director of technology Robin Cowie.

Why do I think it’s important? Because this can give us the cultural context for stories to be experienced as opposed to being just told/listened and here is where I begin to find an answer to the big WHY related to VR/AR.

“Over the last twenty-five years or so, we have evolved from having to measure usage from a collection of kind of ghostly footprints, like downloads or time-on-site, clicks, taps or swipes, to really kind of giving the user agency in an experience.

I mean, we used to have just stories that were told “to me”, like a linear story.

And then we increasingly had stories that can be told by me digitally, which amounts to user-generated content or social media.

Now we are starting to see a mainstream acceptance of stories that are lived by me, like video games, and even more stories that are lived with me, like multiplayer games like Fortnite.

[…] This is kind of a pivot for how we communicate, including how we tell stories to each other. It used to be that we would communicate or tell stories around a campfire, and then it lept to the stage, and then from there it went maybe to printed media, and then to a glowing rectangle, whether it’s a TV screen or a small screen in your pocket.

Now — between superfast, 5G, limitless cloud storage and gamification of daily life and everything else, and universal 3D file formats that can be used to make 4D theatre or to be used for augmented reality — stories can happen across and throughout our lives.

They don’t have to be confined to just 2 hours in a theatre, right?

And then, also, these stories don’t have to be just one-to-many, where you make a film and then everybody sees it and maybe people like it, maybe they don’t. Now experiences can learn from how we participate and engage with them, and they can adjust. So, if you have a branching narrative that supports a light side and a dark side, maybe if you lean into the dark side stuff more, it’s going to go down that path more. So, storytellers have much more opportunities to engage people in a world, not just one linear narrative. And third, productions can really, naturally build on things that have come before rather than saying “oh, that set pieces were destroyed when we broke camp on that picture”. Now they can say “oh, we still have the 3D files from that starship, from that car, from that house, from that tent in the woods”. And it can be much faster to start things up and continue the story. So I think this is tremendously important for people who recognize the convergence of all these pieces.”

So are you seeing where we’re going here?

Yes, next stop is the metaverse.

The revolution will be metavised

Photo by h heyerlein on Unsplash

Probably the most hyped term since the lockdown imposed the online augmentation into the lives of millions, the metaverse concept is still in the making and hard to define.

The term was coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional space that uses the metaphor of the real world. Stephenson used the term to describe a virtual reality-based successor to the Internet.

According to the Acceleration Studies Foundation, metaverse means the convergence of

1) virtually enhanced physical reality and

2) physically persistent virtual space.

It is a fusion of both while allowing users to experience it as either.

So, as we’ve analysed our offline-online future for the last 8 chapters, the metaverse constitutes the next big step, and pretty much the end goal of many of the stakeholders quoted in this Summit, including Epic Games and Facebook’s VR tech.

One of the best ways to learn about this exciting new realm where we could live, progress and shop is reading Matthew Ball’s essay on the theme.

Matthew, a former digital media executive, now VC who focuses primarily on interactive media, is the go-to thinker for all things media and entertainment (speaking of the future of experiences, we’ve quoted him also for the ‘digital park platforms’ concept here)

The metaverse core attributes many experts agree upon, are summed up by Matthew below:

“The Metaverse, we think, will…

  1. Be persistent — which is to say, it never “resets” or “pauses” or “ends”, it just continues indefinitely
  2. Be synchronous and live — even though pre-scheduled and self-contained events will happen, just as they do in “real life”, the Metaverse will be a living experience that exists consistently for everyone and in real-time
  3. Have no real cap to concurrent participation with an individual sense of “presence” — everyone can be a part of the Metaverse and participate in a specific event/place/activity together, at the same time and with individual agency
  4. Be a fully functioning economy — individuals and businesses will be able to create, own, invest, sell, and be rewarded for an incredibly wide range of “work” that produces “value” that is recognized by others
  5. Be an experience that spans both the digital and physical worlds, private and public networks/experiences, and open and closed platforms
  6. Offer unprecedented interoperability of data, digital items/assets, content, and so on across each of these experiences — your “Counter-Strike” gun skin, for example, could also be used to decorate a gun in Fortnite, or be gifted to a friend on/through Facebook. Similarly, a car designed for Rocket League (or even for Porsche’s website) could be brought over to work in Roblox. Today, the digital world basically acts as though it were a mall where though every store used its own currency, required proprietary ID cards, had proprietary units of measurement for things like shoes or calories, and different dress codes, etc.
  7. Be populated by “content” and “experiences” created and operated by an incredibly wide range of contributors, some of whom are independent individuals, while others might be informally organized groups or commercially-focused enterprises.”

On top of this clear and inspiring blueprint, if you want to know more about metaverse’s state of things, I’d suggest you watch VentureBeat The Metaverse Is Coming talk, featuring, quite literally, a bunch of gurus in the topic: with Matthew himself, you can listen here to the thoughts of High Fidelity Philip Rosedale; Playable Worlds Raph Koster; Manticore Games Frederic Descamps; and moderator Sam Englebardt of Galaxy Interactive.

Photo by Robynne Hu on Unsplash

As things stand right now, the whole big picture looks very futuristic and somehow whimsical, but truth is, the pieces that will form it in the future are beginning to feel quite real.

To give you some references happening right now: Wave virtual concerts recent fundings described above, Fornite’s shift from BR/gun-based play to more social/hangout-based virtual world experiences, the whole Party Royale experimental venue for live events and the recent movie screenings.

I myself crossed the metaverse concept several times while interviewing the experts for this Summit on the future of events and experiences. It seems something that everybody here envisions, and a phenomenon accelerated by the recent Corona crisis.

From an audience research stand, I can see audiences benefitting from the metaverse in so many ways, not least the creation of a permanent world where events goers go find their communities and experiences all year long. This would solve one of the biggest issues studied by us when analysing the transformational festival world: the wispy communities phenomenon (reach out if you’d like to know more on this)

I guess it’s just a matter of time before amazing content creators like Burning Man and Coachella and powerful social networks engineering fundings like Andreessen Horowitz officially bet on the Metaverse worlds: the opportunities are endless, just like the geography of it.

For now, I’d like to complete this section with the thoughts of one of the most inspiring and brilliant minds I got to collaborate with/learn from, here in the UK: activist, innovator, musician and author Pat Kane.

Pat beautifully enriches our investigation on the metaverse with a social and philosophical POV and introduces us to the consperience/transperience concept.

“In a moment where human encounters have been compelled to (at least) equally distribute themselves between proximate meetings and networked-screens, the distinction between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ experience is beginning to blur.

In my social activism work for The Alternative UK, what’s particularly blurring is the pejorative tone to the former — that online (or virtual) means “fake”, “thin”, “forced”. Truth be told, something like Zoom (in its very design and affordances) has become a kind of facilitatory method itself.

The latency in signal enforces polite pauses, orderly turn-taking, participatory etiquette. The recordable plenaries, side-chats, break-out rooms, display shares and transcription function allows you to effectively and efficiently turn interaction into content, research material, etc.

But particularly in Zoom’s randomised break-out group function, you find yourself meeting with genuinely unexpected others, building sometimes difficult but valuable consensus (sometimes not). I anticipate that some of this interface-shaped civility will begin to shape our real-world meetings, as and when they recur.

Alessia, your newsletter has already discussed the concept of “metaverse” as an overarching domain that could coordinate and sequence, fuse and layer, the physical and the digital experience. That may stick (not only because there is a low but advancing intellectual rumble from those arguing for “metamodernism” as the new societal paradigm).

But I’d like to additional propose an old 90s idea, and some brand new concepts. They might allow those of us who want to enhance human agency (no matter how slippery the objective conditions) to build projects that do so.

The old idea is the sociologist Manuel Castells’ notion, taken from his Information Age trilogy, of real virtuality. This flips “virtual reality” — just a digital simulation of physical reality — into a deeper statement about the virtuality of experience itself (Deleuze-heads will already be aware of the “virtual-precedes/is-more-real-than-actual” concept).

This will begin to sensitize us to the two-way motion between screen/network, and terrestrial space. The way an idea, project or initiative begun in one realm will naturally find its extensions and realisations in the other. Virtuality understood as the real potentiality or possibility of something happening, in any realm, before it is actualised.

We may need to dare and try to find a name for this new underlying unity of experience — where we expect creative and progressive possibilities to erupt from any realm, clicked or bricked, and eddy with consequences for each. Shall we say Consperience? Or Transperience? (Con– meaning “with” or “thoroughly”: Trans– meaning “across”).

A consperient or transperient event starts from a fundamental assumption that out of a general virtuality, facilitated by mass self-communication — where, for example, memes make actions, and actions make memes — a unified experience can be composed and programmed, its effects and affects rolling through space/time and realising actualities.

This process, of course, could have terrible, explosive aspects. The real white policeman’s knee on a black man’s neck is videoed, its existence on social media allows it to actualise many million emotions and acts of outrage, and this returns to “reality” to open up massive legal, economic, cultural fault lines…which provides more fuel for virtuality and possibility, stoked by millions of new media captures.

And consperience/transperience can also have its liberatory aspects. For example, #metoo becoming an infotag, a trigger to public-space civic activism, the cue for a cascade of court cases against a patriarchal order. A “real virtuality” — real in that it has improved the existential freedoms and rights of billions of women.

Yet what new communications and campaigns might be possible, if we tried to establish a common epistemology/ontology, a common sense of truth and reality, as we face a deepening and unstoppable virtuality? What might a transperience or consperience economy be?

But, in the end, it all comes down to…


Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

Here we are at the very end of this Summit.

It’s been great, compelling, fun, transformative, extremely educational… but I feel the urge to make one last point that is perhaps the focal point of the entire multifaceted picture I’ve tried to portrait here.

And pretty much like the focal point in art (discovered by Piero Della Francesca, the artist that “invented” the concept of perspective), this last chapter is where all the lines of thoughts converge — or where they start from, depending on how you see things 😉

In the end, it all comes down to people: this is the focal point of the events and experiences industries and all our projects, efforts and ideas to carry on, despite the current circumstances.

When I interviewed my colleague and peer Oliver Adams, he reminded me how important are, indeed, people. In his own words:

“Live and experiential events or brand experiences work because of three main factors:

  1. They have to involve people
  2. They need to pluck at emotive heartstrings
  3. They should be unique, a little bit special

But it’s the first one that I keep thinking about and that has helped form the main response to the question ‘how do I imagine live events and brand experiences after COVID-19?

People. People and the involvement of people seem to make everything better.

You know when the comedian picks out the poor sods in the front row? Hilarious.

Orgies. Brilliant, aren’t they? (sorry, no link)

The Boiler Room concept of having people behind the DJ, I’m not the only one who loves spotting the unfolding narratives in the background.

Teams in the German Bundesliga are placing cardboard cut-outs of fans in the seats and are also including recorded fan noise in their broadcasts in an effort to ‘include’ people.

Have you ever watched a sitcom episode without the canned laughter or did you catch WrestleMania being broadcast from a closed set? It’s only then that you realise how terrible TV can be and how important fans and people are.

We need people. People bring the noise, the vibes and the shared experiences. Without people, you lose impact, which is what live events, whether they’re consumer-facing activations or internal employee engagement conferences, are all about.”

For this main reason, Oliver thinks that events are eventually going to get back to where they left off. “They are going to get back to being awesome. Yes, the techniques used to spread a message beyond those attending in person will play a bigger role but any outfit worth their salt were doing that already”.

But this will happen only after facing what he described earlier for us as thebrave new world phase, a period of time “where the events that are put on will have a greater meaning and a more holistic purpose for those who attend and those who organise”.

And that realisation I guess is our delta, our big lesson, learnt the hard way during COVID-19 crash course.

This cultural shift is echoed also by Erika Brulé, the featured above Executive Producer, Experiential Marketing & Events, with past experience at global companies like Apple and Airbnb, when she delineates one of the results of the Corona crisis impacting our industries:

“Optics are going to be at the forefront more than ever. With ongoing company layoffs and over 44M Americans out of work, consumers, more often than not, will look at the events and experiences companies produce through the lens of human capital. And if not managed properly, it will cost companies severely, because perception is reality, and consumers will question: ‘didn’t they just lay off X% of their staff and yet they turned around and spent an exorbitant amount of money on this experience?’. To the consumer, the message is clear: misappropriation of funds. Profits before people.”

 

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