In the age of Corona, companies and organisations are forced to rely more on virtual environments. They are moving traditional live touchpoints such as trade fairs, showrooms and events into the digital space. In this interview, you can find out what Garamantis is observing and what the opportunities are.

What do such new virtual formats look like that are completely relocated to the digital space and that Garamantis is helping to develop?

In some projects we have worked with a walk-in 3D environment where visitors can move freely in the space, meet other visitors by chance and talk or chat with them. The special thing about this is that the 3D world is accessible with VR glasses but also with a smartphone or desktop PC. It is thus immediately available to all users with just one click. We have implemented such projects, for example, with our partner mediapool for the Carnival of Cultures in Berlin and for the Unity Expo for the Day of German Unity 2020.

What is it about digital formats like these? What is new about them? Where do you see opportunities, where difficulties?

Most of the technologies were around long before Corona, but since the pandemic they have experienced a particularly high level of interest. For the projects described, for example, we built on Mozilla’s “Hubs Project”, which the open source community has been developing for years. So we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, but could build on these technologies.

From our point of view, what is particularly valuable in digital events is the curious exploration of the visitors and the chance encounters and exchanges between them. This is an essential part of any event and cannot be achieved by a classic video conference. People should be able to move through a beautifully designed digital space full of anticipation, discover things and engage with them individually. Above all, as I said, they should have the opportunity to exchange ideas with others easily and without preparation in the digital world.

Interesting for Garamantis are formats that are often called “hybrid events”. That is, events that take place simultaneously in analogue and digital form and enable direct interaction between all participants. A few examples: At the Unity Expo, all citizens could submit artworks in the form of pictures, videos and audios. These were not only exhibited in analogue form but also in the 3D world. Here, many more works of art could be shown and explained than would have been possible in analogue form. In addition, there was a window into the real world in the 3D world, which was realised as a live stream. Conversely, there can also be windows into the digital world, for example through multi-touch screens through which the visitors on site can see the digital participants. We particularly like to work and experiment with such interfaces.

Virtual Environments - Digital Business Models

Have there been more requests or increased demand since the outbreak of the Corona pandemic? What has been requested since then? What is the trend there?

Yes, there is a very high demand for all kinds of digital and hybrid formats. The requests range from remote sales presentations, digital trade fairs to virtual tours. As soon as you are not working with real interactive stations that are physically located at the remote sites, you are basically limited to web technologies. This limitation is a challenge if you want to achieve an immersive experience. Unfortunately, web technologies are not geared for that.

We are always happy to receive unusual ideas and requests that no one has implemented before. In various projects, we want to push the limits of what is technically feasible. Whereby it has to be said that most companies first have to do their homework. For example, they need to be able to present their media intuitively in classic video conferences with a high-quality camera image and sound quality. Even a small green-screen studio in the company and interactive presentation software can achieve a lot. Thus, companies can already attract positive attention in the normal video conferences.

How can business models be monetised in the digital space? Online offers or streaming offers are, after all, often free of charge.

For good and personal live offers and events, people are willing to spend money – whether analogue or digital. The company Airbnb, for example, monetises this fact very successfully with its Experiences platform. There, people can learn to dance, take part in small concerts or mix cocktails together with drag queens. All via a simple live stream, but with the possibility to interact, ask questions and exchange ideas.

I myself love the city of Prague and recently took part in a “night watchman tour” of the Golden City on the platform at night. With a handful of other Prague fans from all over the world and a cool Pilsener Urquell, it was a lot of fun – and technically totally simple.

Companies naturally have much more far-reaching possibilities compared to the usually solo independents of such platforms. They can set up entire experience fairs and send their business customers pre-configured VR glasses and product samples. We then work for such companies, for example.

What will happen next with such formats? How can something like this establish itself – even beyond the pandemic?

We still see a lot of potential in the area of remote presentations. In other words, the question “How is corporate content presented impressively and playfully in a video conversation?”. Where currently the webcam image and the shared desktop with PowerPoint presentation are still the status quo, we let the participants enter a virtual showroom instead. The presenter is filmed and edited live and is then part of the 3D environment of the company, for example a production plant. Through remote rendering, this works independently of the participants’ end device and can therefore be transmitted via web technologies.

In the future, we envisage trade fairs and events being hybrid in principle. Online participants can appear visibly at the physical event via telepresence screens or telepresence robots and there can be transparent communication between the on-site event and the online representation.