3D Virtual Events: Child’s Play or Über Innovation?

Between the Avatar in 3D movie craze and the 3D televisions rolled out during the Consumer Electronic Show, “3D” may be the acronym of the year for 2010. Since virtual events are a hot ticket in the event industry this year, it makes sense to take a closer look at 3D virtual events to see where they fall on the event continuum.

Let’s first get the virtual vs. face-to-face discussion out of the way. There is a widely held belief (especially in the live event industry) that in general, a face-to-face event is superior to a virtual event. However, there are legitimate reasons why online trade shows, conferences and hybrid events will continue to grow in popularity. Several major trade show organizers including the Graphic Arts Show Company and Hanley-Wood are launching complementary virtual events to drive traffic to their live events and the revenue streams from virtual events are still untapped (read…lots of potential).

Let’s suppose, however, that you’re beyond the “should I launch a virtual event” decision and you’re deciding among the various virtual solutions, options and vendors. 3D event platforms should be in the running. Most of the platforms currently in use for virtual events are two-dimensional. In other words, they look more like a web site than an “environment.” In a 3D space, users interact with each other as avatars with features and behaviors that emulate the real world.

Scientific research has long ago confirmed the enhanced learning and e-commerce potential of immersive 3D environments. This is good news for event producers hoping to use 3D virtual events to drive traffic to their live events. Simply put, researchers say, by creating an online world in which humans can operate and socialize in the same way as they do in “real life,” they are more likely to behave as they do in the physical world, i.e. learning and purchasing.

James Parker, President of Digitell, a multi-media company with a 3D virtual event platform called VirtualU, explains the advantages of 3D in an event context. “3D events are more engaging. The interaction is more stimulating for the attendee. You can demonstrate equipment [the avatar can actually work the levers of the machinery], have private conversations or group breakouts and there are endless opportunities for sponsorships and promotion. Plus, the cost of 3D events is generally lower than similar events using 2D environments.”

At first glance, a 3D environment may seem more complex than it really is and the rationale for choosing a 3D platform might not be immediately clear. Some brief training, a user-friendly interface and available tech support can diminish the learning curve. However, “It isn’t until you enter the event space as an avatar and engage other avatars in conversation or view presenters and product demonstrations that you begin to understand the potential of 3D for enhancing the online event experience and promoting engagement,” Parker says.

Although there are plenty of case studies from the corporate, academic and medical fields describing success using 3D environments, The Virtual Edge Summit 2010 is a live conference on everything virtual for the events industry including 3D immersive technology. Summit organizers also offer a resource book for live event producers to help them parse through the various considerations surrounding virtual events.

3D virtual events are not new, according to Digitell’s Parker. However, they have recently come back into focus by overcoming some previous negatives of bandwidth, low user adoption and poor timing (the industry was still reeling from the introduction of the Internet a decade ago). It’s important, he says, to revisit the 3D option again for a couple of reasons:

  • After this year, the honeymoon on “standard” virtual events may be over. As with live events, online attendees will be looking for new features, new benefits and more engagement when they return next year. Organizers unsure of whether their audiences are ready for 3D, may offer attendees either a 2D or 3D attendance option before migrating the audience entirely to the 3D world in subsequent years.
  • The digital generations (X, Y, millennial and naught) are already accustomed to online gaming platforms and other immersive experiences and will expect the same level of stimulation from online events.
  • 3D environments are the perfect “Petri Dish” for low cost experimentation—a plus in these tough economic times. For example, pushing the envelope on show features, customer service tactics and promotional programs that may be useful for live events, is much easier and lower in cost in a controlled three-dimensional world.

The Takeaway: The movie, consumer electronics and online gaming industries are driving the renewed interest in 3D visuals. Continued growth in social media and the integration of virtual events, live events, MUVE (Multi-User Virtual Environments) and rich media have set the stage for sustained interest in immersive experiences. If the value of 3D events to drive attendance at live events and/or become stand-alone sources of revenue is proven, and the only obstacle to wider adoption is ease-of-use (easily solved), they have the potential to re-emerge as the event industry’s next über innovation.


  1. says

    Hi Michelle – I’m a believer in the power of 3D immersiveness – however, in the B2B market, I think there are important considerations to keep in mind:

    1) Security restrictions in a corporate setting – e.g. for downloading of software, as well as installing a software app or even a browser plug-in

    2) Learning curve – the environment needs to be intuitive enough that the first time user can be “productive” within the first 5 minutes of her session – else, she’ll leave and may never return

    3) System resources – if an immersive app is consuming a good portion of your memory and CPU, it may limit overall productivity

    4) Scalability for large scale events (e.g. 5,000 or 10,000+ simultaneous users)

    Virtual event platforms tend to be “2.5D” environments today, which nicely balances a rich visual environment with some of the factors listed above. That being said, I think the 2.5D environments will move (partially) in the direction of 3D immersiveness this year. I agree with Jim’s point regarding the effectiveness of a demo when done in a 3D space. If the proper balance is struck, then I believe we’ll see adoption in the B2B space.

    Dennis Shiao
    InXpo Product Marketing | Blogger at “It’s All Virtual”

  2. says


    Thanks so much for reading the post and weighing in. I agree that the 3D environments that currently exist could improve. I’ve seen what World of Warcraft looks like and we have a ways to go in the B2B event space. If, however, the technology is the only obstacle, there is still great potential with 3D. I think that the advances in 3D events were cut off at the knees about a decade ago and I’m hoping they can have a fresh start now. After all, we’re planning for the next group of exhibit managers, not ourselves.

    I would love to know what the next step in innovation will be for InXpo.


  3. says

    Very lucid and detailed look at 3D events. Now if you’ll allow me to share my own experience.

    For a long time, I wasn’t all that thrilled about the idea of avatars, 3D, etc. Despite my attraction to technology, I couldn’t see why a high-quality, rich media stream with social networking capabilities wouldn’t be enough to constitute a virtual event. So, Jim sat me down for about an hour and he immersed me in the VirtualU experience.
    Call me converted, I am now an evangelist!

    As my ADD kicked into high gear, Jim pointed out that I could start poking around the room and look at who was literally sitting or standing next to me. I could investigate cool sponsor logo’s and shuffle around the room (without disturbing my neighbors).
    I was, and am, enthralled.
    I was even more smitten when he told me how affordable this could be! At this price point, it becomes totally feasible for an organization to blend their events for a remote and physical audience.

    I get the feeling that now we’ll be referring more clients to a 3D solution 🙂 It will also be cool to see the technology in action for the Summit.

    Very exciting stuff indeed…thanks for a fabulous post!
    Midori Connolly, Chief AVGirl

  4. says

    The biggest barrier at this point seems to be what Dennis points out in #2. I’m just not convinced that “the average” B2B user would be able to figure out the control mechanism required to mover throughout the environment fast enough to keep them around. Maybe for a technology conference, but can you imagine a doctor or finance manager taking their valuable time to figure out the platform before any value is presented? I guess I’ll have to see it in-person before I’m convinced. Good thing I’ll get a chance soon at Virtual Edge 2010. See you all there?!

  5. says

    I’m a big proponent of 3D virtual events. I attend them, on average, at least once a week and I find the experience is fantastic. I agree that the software and ux are currently a barrier. I would hope that as modern video game generation matures they become more comfortable moving around in virtual spaces. Their experience and the promise of things like O3D (http://code.google.com/apis/o3d/) will make 3D events more than a niche offering. One other thing to check out, this article on virtual world ROI http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/01/27/roi-in-virtual-worlds-1-why-webcams-fail/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *