Replicating the in-person event experience with virtual fairs
With COVID-19 affecting in-person events, many event organisers decided to move online for their live events.
We’ve been in hundreds of meetings with organisations that have shown interest in Fairwiz, and we keep getting asked either one or both of the following questions:
- Can we make the virtual fair environment look beautiful with 3D rendering?
- Can we make the virtual fair look like a game with avatars?
Many believe that an interactive 3D environment will make their virtual fair more engaging for the attendees.
So what happens when you try to mimic reality with virtual fairs?
Fewer attendees and less engagement due to a poor user experience
You get the exact opposite of what you initially thought.
It should go without saying that how we usually engage with others online is different from offline. We can see this in how we message each other on instant messaging apps and many other online vs offline interactions.
When it comes to online event engagement, two essential points affect the experience of an attendee:
- You provide content that they’re not interested in or content that’s not engaging.
- You don’t think about the technical limitations your attendee may face.
The second point is the best way to get your attendees to lose interest – fast.
Not every attendee will have the best device or internet connection to handle the burden of loading a 3D environment. Therefore, expect attendees to log in from a wide variety of smartphones, tablets, browsers, and even internet connections.
Complicating your attendee’s life by making it difficult for them to access your event will do nothing more than confuse, annoy, and anger them.
Interactive 3D environments won’t make your event more engaging
When you’re more concerned with creating an interactive 3D space for your attendees, you neglect to pay attention to their tech conditions, and you do more harm than good.
Benedict Evans – an independent analyst that’s spent 20 years analysing mobile, media, and technology – has an educational tweet about this. He tells us to avoid making the same mistake as virtual malls 25 years ago when designing virtual events today.
Do you want to try and capture the metaphors and signals of a physical space, or at least the underlying concept of how people interact? – Benedict Evans
At most, an interactive 3D environment will provide a superficial experience. It’s a cheap trick, a gimmick that won’t go beyond the initial wow factor. Especially after attendees see through the “smoke and mirrors” – encountering technical issues that destroy their expectations and blocks them from achieving their objective of attending the event.
Nielsen Norman Group, a world leader in research-based user experience, researched businesses that rely on physical spaces. The study analyses how effective their virtual environments were and the various perspectives that users had–specifically, in the context of virtual tours.
In their report, they mentioned that users unconsciously do a cost-benefit analysis.
If the interaction cost is high compared to the content they benefit from earning by attending your virtual experience, you lose out.
Why build a complex 3D environment for the attendees when you can keep things simple with 2D interactions? It requires minimal mental and physical effort to navigate the event but provides them with similar benefits.
Interactive 3D environments – only suitable for niche scenarios
The format of your event should depend on your objectives and your audience. If you’re targeting an audience that would have little to no tech limitations, then go all out. However, it’s always best to design for low tech to cover all your bases, especially if you target a global audience.
Suppose your desired objective is to provide information and connect with attendees via chat to answer their questions. In that case, an interactive 3D environment is unnecessary.
The only scenarios where it makes sense to build an interactive 3D environment for a live event are when you have any of the following objectives:
- You sell real estate or event space and need your audience to see as much detail as possible on the physical space.
- You are designing an experiential event for entertainment purposes. A good example is John Legend’s “Bigger Love” virtual concert. Other live event formats would never achieve the most desirable element required for entertainment – interactivity.
There are two essential points you should take away from this article. First, never forget the objective of your event. Second, never forget about the user experience of your target audience.