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With students holding graduation ceremonies in Minecraft and Travis Scott on tour performing via Fortnite, videogames have emerged and prevailed with ingenuity, with users finding new ways to communicate and socialize while at home. With a burgeoning streetwear market on Nintendo’s latest Animal Crossing release, brands are catching on to users’ craving to connect in virtual spaces.
This repurposing of platforms into digital venues might evoke the “metaverse,” or a persistent virtual world as seen in science fiction titles like “Ready Player One.” But as cultural hubs have been especially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, digital venues that replicate their real-world counterparts offer a great way to continue connecting with communities online. “Even though we’re seeing concerts and events move to the cloud and digital streams popping up everywhere,” says Geert Eichhorn, Director of Innovation at MediaMonks, “cultural venues, museums and other hotspots are commonly left behind.”
The Show Must Go On
Online virtual worlds certainly aren’t new, but few have captured mainstream adoption to become a killer app. Nor has there been a strong cultural drive to replicate in-person interactions virtually outside the context of gaming—until now.
“Right now, something we’re missing is the go-to platform that really owns that space,” says Eichhorn. “Second Life once had that promise, where brands would invest in virtual real estate on the platform. But given the global pandemic, it’s become more relevant to at least be prepared to have a virtual venue.” Linden Lab, the company that developed Second Life, has since built Sansar, a virtual reality entertainment platform recently sold to Wookey Project Corp. Facebook is working on a similar platform of its own called Horizon.
Over the years, we’ve seen museums, in particular, take steps toward this direction. Google Arts & Culture lets users explore world-renown museums using Streetview technology, for example, but the MediaMonks Labs team envisions fully realized 3D environments where multiple users can gather, mingle and engage in live content together. “With all of these venues currently being empty, now is the perfect time to shoot them through photogrammetry and build a custom digital space,” says Eichhorn.
Through technology like WebGL, MediaMonks has been able to design deeply engaging virtual spaces that require nothing but a web browser. With Victoria Cerveza, we built Mexico’s Biggest Offering by inviting people to honor the dead with a 3D altar. The result is a moving, collaborative tribute that users can contribute to or explore. Likewise, brands can embrace game platforms and accessible 3D technology to build culturally resonant spaces.
Free Your Venue from Physical Constraints
One of the greatest benefits of digital venues is that they allow brands and performers to continue engaging with communities at a time when consumers crave social connection and entertainment. But they’re also unbounded by physical constraints, opening up new opportunities to engage with content or personalize a space. “Consider entering a digitized museum, where you can swipe on a painting on the wall to view another by the same artist,” says Eichhorn. “You open up entirely new ways of interacting and can even make it collaborative.
Another idea is a personalized wall or wing filled with items from the collection, curated by data on viewers’ personal interests. “This level of interactivity and personalization applies to any experience you can do virtually,” says Eichhorn, noting that the technology is ideal for product demos, building creative customer experiences or conveying difficult concepts through visualization and virtual presentations.
There’s also no limit to the number of people you can host within a virtual venue, enabling brands to extend their reach to wider audiences. In a world where social distancing regulations may be a part of our new normal, this could be important than ever. While platform constraints might require overflowing attendees into multiple servers or “instances,” there’s no need to shut the door on anyone. “With digital venues, you can give everyone a front-row seat if you wanted to,” says Eichhorn.
Considerations for Building Your Digital Venue
Above, we’ve discussed translating physical space into a digital one. But brands can build entirely imagined digital venues as well. Whether you aim to bring a fictional branded space to life or want to meticulously render existing products to demo virtually, a production partner who’s skilled in VFX and digital production can provide guidance on building a space that’s not only functional but drives emotional impact—a critical factor that’s often missing when programming is translated from a physical space to just a live streaming platform.
For example, it’s important that you don’t just focus on visual fidelity when digitizing an existing space. Aim to replicate other senses however possible in order to add a greater sense of atmosphere. Eichhorn highlights the 360-degree work we did for Bancolombia: School of Sustainability, which not only makes a remote island community explorable but brings it to life through the use of sound.
“We went in there to do 360 photography, but we also caught a bunch of ambient audio because the island is so densely populated, which made it feel truly alive,” says Eichhorn. “If you’re shooting in an empty place that’s harder, but brands can still make it feel like people are there with the user.”
In addition to creative considerations, brands must also take a moment to consider which platform suits their goals—or their audience—best for hosting a digital venue. Game platforms may be appealing to younger audiences, for example, while platforms like Mozilla Hubs have a low barrier of entry by being available directly within a web browser. No matter the purpose of your digital venue, we can create scalable, proprietary platforms to host virtual events—and even include social features and monetization of content.
By offering digital spaces for relaxation, play and continued programming, brands can tap into behavior that consumers have already gotten used to in response to staying at home: meeting in virtual space. No longer constrained by physical limitations, these digital venues enable new ways of interacting with patrons and can continue extending experiences to distant audiences in the future. But most importantly, they enable brands to continue serving an important aspect of consumers’ daily lives that has become difficult to hold onto enjoying cultural touchstones together.