Recently I was invited by European Games Developer Federation (EGDF.eu) to present an overview of games industry events and conferences in front of European associations, trade mission representatives, other members and give them a bit of an insight into how the second half of the year will look like.
It will look very similar to 2020 with one exception, hybrid local events.
And hybrid events were one of the most discussed topics during the assembly.
Why, you ask? And why do I think there won't be enough live events when the situation is improving significantly everywhere? Well, to host a live event you have to book venues up-front. Ideally now, or yesterday. And even though the situation looks like returning to normal, it is not normal in every single country where various restrictions might be still in place + social gatherings are not recommended, heavily limited or they are still banned. We can cover this topic in more detail next month, in the meantime you can read how easy it is to organize an event.
What the F is hybrid?
With the frequency we are using and seeing this term, it seems like it might be the solution to all problems. It won’t save the event industry. Why? Think about it for a second.
Most of the events in 2019 were hybrid. Attracting the audiences via online streams, activating fans via social media with giveaways, broadcasting selected interviews, hosting QA on Discords, showcases on Steam or on a secret websites where journalists and potential publishers could have sampled a new selection of unpublished games before anyone else and without traveling anywhere. Back then no one was calling them hybrids. So why now?
I believe, hybrid is a pretty but an empty word, a buzzword. It sounds edgy, modern and trendy, it might even convey a new wave of events, a new type if you will. But it is an illusion. I am not saying that every conference should be live (= in person) or every event from now on should be virtual. Both of them will co-exists, but one or the other will have a different percentage of activities tied to a website or application and the other to on-site location.
Every social activity will divide your audience, some are not familiar with a specific tool or an app, others don't even know how to use it and no matter which one you will use, there are limits that screen estate of your device, accessibility and timezone won’t be able to solve. Social warmth, building trust and rapport, seeing people queuing up and smiles on the faces of the passersby are just a few that comes to mind. Serendipity aside, talking about hybrid can get very complicated when you zoom in on the activities.
The size of an event, scale of production, the hum of the space and how busy the showcase is not replicable. The screen will limit it no matter what event you are watching.
Gamescom or E3 will feel the same as a local student conference.
If an on-site event has a streamed session, is it hybrid? If a virtual event has a party in a city? Is it a hybrid? If a live event has a meeting system and dedicated spaces where you can take calls, but the expo is limited to on-site. Is it hybrid? What if an event has mutually exclusive side-events and activities? Is it hybrid?
So, where is the hybrid line?
One of the signatures at Reboot Develop Blue conference is a soccer tournament (cheers to its inventor, Rami Ismail) for anyone from the attendees interested to take part in competition for a trophy. We are also treating small groups to various side-events outside of the venue to get to know each other better and experience the country they are visiting for the first time through local cuisine. How can you replicate this?
It is impossible to simulate some real life activities in the virtual world and vice-versa and we know it. I mean, we have all participated in various virtual events during 2020 and 2021. What is clear, the virtual events are a very good alternative, not ideal, but they will stay here with us. They won’t go away. All on-site events will start slowly to gather the audiences, and they are going to be more important than ever.
The number one factor to consider before choosing an event is to set goals. What are you looking for? What value are you bringing to the new community and what are you trying to achieve? You have dozens of events which are perfect for showcasing and others to do business, live and/or virtual. I am looking at events through a different lens, but what I am seeing and hearing from talking to newcomers is to provide a platform to meet new friends, help with introductions and also maybe nudge them in the right direction.
With 2021 and onwards it is going to be more and more important to offer a reason to travel from event organizers. Bigger names and landmark events are pretty much safe. What we will see more often are more focused, specialised events sometimes even with limited audiences. Some will have meeting systems open to anyone, some will rely on hosting networking social gatherings for a selected group.
We are more and more aware of CO2 emissions and environmental impact, but also we are sensitive and more receptive how we are spending time with colleagues, family and business partners. No matter what type of event you are trying to visit next, you will be taking more into consideration the time factor. Is it really necessary to travel there?
For me the crucial part is to have face-to-face conversations. And I honestly don’t care if the event is just a regular monthly get-to-gather or a proper big conference with 1.000+ attendees. Once I am vaccinated and the restrictions on borders are relaxed enough, I am planning to resume travel again. And I can’t wait for that to happen. See you there and then.
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[Game Conference Guide is tracking games industry & game developers events, trade shows, festivals, conferences and events around the world.]