Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Is your event an Episode? Or an Experience?

Is your event an episode? Or is it an on-going service?

I recently had a light-bulb moment in a highly unlikely place: the pages of a video game magazine. This month Develop's online magazine features an article discussing how Valve, developer of some of the most renowned video games of all time, has switched from 'episodic' game content to 'games as service' model.

What does it mean, and what on earth is the relevance for sustainable events?

Well for those of you familiar with video games, episodic content can be thought of like an old fashioned game cartridge, something you plug into an existing platform or console, whether it's a Wii, PS3 or X-Box 360. A typical cartridge might provide 20 hours of game play. You beat it, then it's done. Finished. Head on to something else. At least until the the next game is released which may be a year or two away.

It's a lot like a traditional event model, really. An episode is staged in someone else's city or venue, lasting 24-36 hours, then it's done. Finished. Head on to something or somewhere else. At least until next year.

But while some companies continue to bank on episode games, the video game model is changing for Valve and some game companies at the leading edge of this industry. Companies are taking control over their development and distribution platforms to create, mold and refine them to respond to customer demands on an on-going basis in a much quicker fashion than ever before. Developers are integrating bridges that connect players and keep game-play interesting while they develop multiple, smaller patches of content, rather than wrapping up new content only in new episodes that are fewer and far between.

What lessons can this phenomenon provide about event sustainability in today's world? I invite you to add to a few I see:
  • Planners need to expand beyond programming event episodes. The on-site event experience can no longer be the be-all and end-all of our experience, and the organizations they represent. The services we provide in the white space between events have become more important than ever in expanding value. There is more pressure to connect the dots between our events.
  • Planners need to assert control over their event platforms, to become developers, not just users. But how? The event web site should no longer be a means for just sharing information about the on-site experience.   It must move beyond that to provide tools that engage participants pre-, during and post-event. And not just in ways that ramp up excitement for being face to face. Technology is what you make it, so think outside the box, rather than relying on options that are available right now. Re-imagine what your online event platform could be, and how it integrates with on-site programming.
  • It's okay to give up some control to attendees, providing a space where they are can influence the narrative. When launching their latest game, Portal 2, Valve did something that would likely scare any event organizer: they offered fans a chance to push up the game launch date. How could we adapt this philosophy to events? Granted influencing event dates might be problematic, but what if we democratized the process to build excitement about and engagement in our events? Enabled participants to vote for event locales? Session content? Learning formats? Vote on award-winning event-related projects? Structure their participation as a game?
  • Event destinations need to provide non-traditional platforms and experiences that embrace technology if they expect to retain the interest of today's planner and their event participants. This means inventorying and presenting new space and technology alternatives. It means ensuring event spaces in development are as adaptable as possible and integrate planner perspectives in the design phase, including integration of remote participants. As generations transition, more and more people are not just accepting of online content and experiences, they expect them. And not just as a 'nice to have', but a fundamental part of the experience. How does your destination enable this to reduce its risk of becoming obsolete?
It's a brave new world. Other industries that are evolving technologies that better respond to shifting customer expectations. Are events and destinations taking full advantage of the possibilities?

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