What would you do if you could fly at a concert? Or if a performer could grow to the size of a building and play with the crowd in real-time? How could a gig be transformed if every song had its own weather system, lights… and gravity? These are new questions for artists, creators and audiences alike to grapple with as we dig deeper into the discussion around virtual worlds.
To date, a key piece of the story — people — have so often been missing from virtual worlds and the technology that powers them. You’ll see virtual events where the performer’s not actually there, or where only 50 people are in the audience, because almost everyone is watching online. These obstacles create barriers to interaction and creativity.
Our groundbreaking and global virtual fan party with K-pop star AleXa was different; a major step in a new direction for virtual events. A huge crowd of 1,450 fans freely roamed a virtual arena, interacting with AleXa herself, in a pioneering metaversal experience. Everyone was live. Everyone could see each other. Fans interacted with AleXa in real-time, waving, clapping and dancing. As we move forward, this kind of technology will further unlock intimacy at scale, giving performers the means to interact with individuals, all while surrounded by a crowd that inspires awe.
Take a peek at a few scenes from our pioneering AleXa event
The magic of a crowd
We’ve explored — and continue to explore — related ground in gaming, but believe there’s a similar wealth of untapped potential in music. The medium has long instilled passion in countless millions of people and stretches across boundaries, ages and borders. There are opportunities now to replicate the magic from real-world events — the roar of the crowd and the special feeling you only get at a concert — and go beyond. But people need to be at the heart of it.
“There are opportunities now to replicate the magic from real-world events and go beyond. But people need to be at the heart of it.”
That was deeply apparent at our event, especially during live call-and-response moments where AleXa asked people in the 1,450-strong crowd to wave their glowing lightsticks. This was no gimmick: lightstick oceans are an integral part of K-pop concerts. In our virtual world AleXa and her fans from across the globe came together as one to experience this phenomenon, which proved to be an emotional moment for performer and audience alike.
Our path forward is to build on these very human ideas, blending the magic of a crowd, concepts drawn from real-world events, and unique experiences unbounded by the laws of physics and gravity. This will further set apart virtual events from those in the real world. We’ve already experimented with fans being able to gather on the performer, who can move them around using anti-gravity, as if everyone’s within a surreal, dreamlike movie. And we’re looking into many more concepts that will give artists and entertainers ways to connect like never before.
Breaking down barriers
All these ideas, traditional and new, will combine to unlock many more unique experiences for people at gigs to stand out (if they want to) and be more deeply connected to performers they love — all at a scale that gives the experience more value. Yet critics might question whether there’s space for such things when the post-COVID era arrives and real-world concerts are commonplace again.
We think it’s a skewed view to consider virtual concerts a one-to-one replacement for real-world events. Although our own experiments started with things you’ll be familiar with from gigs and festivals, the opportunity here is to provide a deeper and different type of interaction where, as a participant, you’ll be able to do things with other fans and the performer that exceed what’s possible in the real world.
“The opportunity is to provide a deeper and different type of interaction where you’ll be able to do things with other fans and the performer that exceed what’s possible in the real world.”
It’s also worth remembering that even without COVID, it’s still hard to get people together in the same place and at the same time. There are logistical considerations, such as finance and accessibility. Not everyone is physically capable of travelling to real-world events. These things are a barrier for people who might be passionate fans. The magic of the technology behind virtual interactions is how they let performers connect with an audience in a way that transcends time and space, bringing together people worldwide with very little notice.
Meeting the challenges ahead
Such ambition brings with it many challenges. The most apparent is technological. It’s no small technical feat to bring so many people together in a single virtual space. There are rendering issues in getting that many people on-screen, updating at the same time. You must factor in network updates that allow everyone to interact in real-time. Then there’s the issue of processing physics for such a large volume of people.
There’s also an amazing creative challenge ahead of us. With AleXa, we started with something that looks a bit like a concert. That was intentional because this is the beginning of our journey. But we’re now asking artists and performers questions they’d never considered before. All this opens a wealth of creative options for content creators and artists alike.
In short, these events are about breaking down barriers across the board, whether the considerations are technical, creative or about accessibility. Too often, tech innovations appear cold: zeros and ones. They’re not relatable. Our biggest discovery with the AleXa event was that combination of real-time call-and-response, the live presence of the performer, and the sheer mass of the crowd. It felt very human. It felt authentic. It was a real thing, with a real artist interacting with a real audience and not just a pretty cut scene.
Watch our video to find out more about what it takes to get people together in a single virtual space at unprecedented scale and density
Improbable Multiplayer Services can help you access the new world of massive interactive live events in the metaverse. Let’s talk.
Author Bio: John Wasilczyk is the VP Improbable Games Studio. Formerly executive producer at EA DICE and Epic Games. Past work includes: Battlefield V, Star Wars: Battlefront II and Modern Warfare titles within the Call of Duty franchise.