Virtual reality or VR is a buzzword that has been on the tips of our tongues for a long time now. Having gained prominence, most notably in gaming and entertainment, it’s starting to make some big moves in the events industry.
Combine this with the rise of virtual events over the past few months, and it’s fair to say that there’s a fair bit of confusion flying around. Does a virtual event have to include VR? What can I do with VR at a virtual event? How realistic is it to have a virtual event with VR? Let’s take a detailed look to find out.
What is VR and how is it used at events?
First things first, VR is the use of computer-generated technology to create a fully immersive environment where users can interact in a 3D world. This is done by putting on a headset which puts you into a virtual world. The two most common being the Oculus Rift and Google Daydream but it’s worth mentioning that all of the big tech companies have their own headsets.
So where and how is it used with virtual events? Well, there are actually quite a few examples out there, with these being some of the most effective applications.
- Product demos: VR enables brands to fully immerse prospective buyers in their products. This is a unique and engaging way for buyers to see and get a feel of a product that often cannot be done in real life.
- Gamification: Playing entirely to the strengths of VR, gamification gives you the chance to create memorable and fun experiences that will boost participation and engagement.
- Training: By using immersive experiences, VR helps attendees learn and remember more by giving your content a hands on approach.
- Virtual attendance: Through the creation of an immersive environment VR can simulate a physical event offering a ‘Sims’ like feeling as you walk around the venue and interact with avatar-based attendees.
- Virtual tours: Virtual tours give attendees the chance to explore places that are thousands of miles away without having to go anywhere. Examples vary from taking in the views at the top of the Eiffel Tower to climbing Mount Everest.
Example: Audi Q5 - a real-time VR test drive
What is Eventtia?
Eventtia is a cloud-based event management platform (online and physical) that makes planning and running events easy. With intelligent user interfaces and straightforward planning tools, Eventtia makes it easier to manage events with an all-in-one tool that covers each part of the event lifecycle. By giving marketers and companies more control of their online events, Eventtia helps them to promote their brand, interact with leads, and strengthen their community.
- Use website builders and email campaigns to communicate with your ideal audience.
- Create your event in a few clicks and then manage all of your logistics through one dashboard.
- Connect people and businesses with one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many networking formats.
- Seamlessly integrate all of the major streaming and webinar tools into a main virtual stage and connect with a worldwide audience.
- Scale your online events and make informed decisions with real-time data and analytics.
Eventtia vs. Virtual Reality Events: The differences?
So now we’ve got a clear understanding of what both VR events and Eventtia do, let’s take this a step further by comparing the major differences between them.
Immersive experiences vs. online experience
Given how hard it can be to create immersive experiences online, VR provides marketers with a fantastic tool that spurs interaction, participation, and engagement. However, it’s important to realise an immersive event requires more than just technology.
Immersive experiences depend on three things: storytelling, having a clear purpose, and making people feel as if they were with you at the event. To do this, first you need to get the foundations of your event right i.e. understand your attendees, create a buzz, and build a sense of community. Second, you need to tell your story in the correct format through the right content.
That’s why most of the time online experiences, through virtual events, provide the right platform to deliver immersive experiences. Content can be delivered in different formats and attendees can meet and interact with each other. For most event marketers that’s enough. So if you do want to use VR, make sure it has a purpose and that it tells the story of your brand in a way that can’t be done through online experiences.
Virtual environment vs. online launchpad
Another aspect worth discussing is the attendee environment. Put shortly, a VR event is the closest you’ll get to a physical event without it being physical, this is done through a virtual environment which creates a ‘Sims’ like feeling as you walk around the venue and interact with avatar-based attendees.
The other, more straightforward option, is an online launchpad, or virtual stage, where attendees can access everything from one place. This includes the different sessions, the program, live chat, networking and group meetings.
Understandably then, these are two very different approaches. Creating an immersive virtual environment is a big ask, it requires a big budget and plenty of planning. That’s why before you make the decision it’s important to ask your attendees what they want. Do they want to explore a virtual environment or do they want easily accessible content?
Niche technology vs. accessible technology
So we’ve discussed two major differences between the events themselves, now it’s time to talk more about the technologies themselves. VR is still very much a new medium, you only need to look at the global headset ownership (26 million) to see this. It is still yet to move beyond a niche market and this is reflected in the high price of headsets and the fact that content created for one platform is usually incompatible with others.
This presents marketers with three major stumbling blocks: low ownership, lack of compatibility, and high prices. This creates a dilemma because on one hand, attendees can never be expected to buy the headsets. And on the other, brands can never be expected to provide attendees with headsets.
Now compare this to an online event which requires a computer or mobile device and it quickly becomes apparent how much easier it is to attend a virtual event. It’s a fair assumption to say that almost all of us have access to an electronic device yet the same cannot be said for VR headsets.
Restrictive battery life
Although VR is already available to consumers through devices such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR or Samsung Gear VR, the technology itself is still going through some teething issues.
The most notable of these is the battery life which for most devices lasts around an hour. What do you do when you’re running a virtual event for a few hours or a full day? Do you have to readjust your content so that your attendees headsets don’t run out of battery? These are all questions that need to be asked.
Generally speaking 20 minutes in VR should be more than enough time so keep your content short and to the point. Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to calculate how much battery each VR session is going to use, how much time attendees will have to recharge their headsets before each session, and how all of this slots into the agenda. Put simply, this is a big task that requires a lot of time and effort before the event, and this can really detract away from the experience of the event itself.
People can feel nausea and eye strain when wearing VR headsets so how can they attend your event?
In the last section we mentioned why you’ll want to keep VR time under 20 minutes and the reason for that is that going beyond this might expose your attendees to eye strain and possibly nausea.
It’s estimated that as many as 70 percent of users feel some sort of nausea or dizziness when using VR headsets. This is because the simulation affects how users perceive the space around them, leading to discomfort which more often than not equates to motion sickness.
Another common issue is eye strain. When people use VR, they strain their eyes to focus on the image they see, when in fact, they are actually focusing their eyes on a pixelated screen. The current generation of headsets does not completely address the optical issues that come with a device that has to be used so close to the eyes.
These are definitely two things that you wouldn’t associate with a good attendee experience. So this is worth bearing in mind. If you’re going to offer lengthy VR sessions then make sure to include plenty of tiny breaks where attendees can take a breather and reenter the real world once again.
Deciding what’s right for you?
This is a big question and the reality is that it all comes down to you and your needs. There is no one size fits all approach, and that’s why it’s worth asking yourself a few questions so that you can really identify what’s best for you.
- What’s the main objective of the event? What’s the best way to provide attendees with immersive experiences?
- What sort of content am I looking to offer at my event? What sessions will it consist of?
- How familiar am I with VR technology? Does my event need it?
- Do you understand your attendees and what they want from the event?
- How big is my budget? Could it be better spent in other places?
- Is there a real benefit to using VR? How is it going to add to the event and its attendees?
To summarise, VR is great for creating immersive experiences. It’s a field that’s open for innovation which means that the technology is still very much in its infancy. Be sure that if you're going to pursue virtual reality, it's because there's a real benefit to using the technology. However, if you want to grow and nurture an online community fast, start with online events first.