From the top is an apt name for this section of Gaming America, as that is exactly where the American Gaming Association (AGA) and Reed Exhibitions started with this year’s virtual G2E. As selected media gathered for the event’s Pad & Pen session – a sort of pre-briefing – we were all reintroduced to the wonders of Zoom and what would lie ahead for attendees. Did you know you can message people privately within a group call? Did you also know Zoom can cut out quite easily when it’s your turn to ask a question?
If you didn’t know that first point, you’re welcome. But we’re sure you all knew the second. It was very much a year of firsts for G2E, where new acquaintances were uttering the phrase ‘nice to e-meet you’ instead of the usual welcome handshake or hug. That phrase used to be a point of controversy in the Gaming America office but, during the pandemic, those who weren’t fans have had to accept it’s now part of everyday life.
How successful virtual events have been or can become will always be a point of contention. But starting with the positives, there are undoubtedly elements that can be incorporated into future trade shows – and namely future G2Es. During this session, when Gaming America asked how G2E will incorporate digital tools and whether this can lead to changes at future conferences, Cait DeBaun, AGA senior director, strategic communications, said: “We saw this as an opportunity to see how people can connect and conduct business in a virtual context. We can plan for G2E 2021 and we are already finding ways that [a virtual element] can happen, and we are already looking at ways to integrate it for the future.”
An extended geographical reach is another undeniable benefit. When Gaming America also inquired into how the virtual G2E will include international participants, Korbi Carrison, G2E’s event director, responded: “This gives us the opportunity to reach worldwide as we haven’t in the past. While we have challenges with time zones, it’s now available on demand to people who haven’t been able to attend in the past. This means it’s truly available to a global audience.”
When the day comes that allows a full-blown G2E, Las Vegas won’t look back. In fact, similarly to the concept of pent-up sports betting demand, networking and social events will probably be excessively lavish upon the first post-pandemic land-based G2E – it’s just human nature.
Yet if we all had a choice between virtual events and safe, social land-based trade shows – right here, right now – we doubt anyone would realistically choose the former. The problem for the foreseeable future is that mass gatherings won’t be safe; indeed they aren’t even yet legal in the US. So the choice becomes virtual events or perhaps a plane ticket around the world for just a portion of the experience. That’s far less straightforward. Are business deals better agreed over a Zoom call where people are in the comfort of their offices or home offices, or at a meter’s distance where there are restrictions on how many people can attend a meeting? Do you need to be sitting in a room with vast amounts of empty space (and wearing a face mask) to watch an industry conference and pitch a question to the speaker, or are you better off at your desk, with your own coffee mug?
In the above scenarios, a virtual alternative is arguably the preferred one. And that’s exactly where virtual events – or virtual elements to an event – can perhaps carve out a niche and become a permanent fixture in future trade shows. Indeed, at some European events in 2019, certain conference tracks were conducted virtually within a physical environment. Panels of speakers sat with microphones and audience members wore headphones – so all communication was carried out through technology anyway. With hindsight, considering the impact of what was at that time an unforeseen pandemic, this seems excessive, maybe even pointless. Running the same conference tracks virtually could reach a far wider audience, with the same exclusivity to paying attendees, while additionally allowing attendees to watch without leaving the hotel.
As always, it’ll be down to people’s appetites for virtual content. However long the current global conditions continue, people may get sick of Zoom, having to click a button to raise your hand or having to type a question rather than ask it vocally. When the day comes that allows a full-blown G2E, Las Vegas won’t look back. In fact, similarly to the concept of pent-up sports betting demand, networking and social events will probably be excessively lavish upon the first post-pandemic land-based G2E – it’s just human nature.
But what we can definitely take from the current experience, and our learnings from the inaugural virtual G2E, are the plus points of all things digital. The costs are significantly reduced, the reach is increased (you can have a much higher amount of people watching an event online than even the biggest room) and the comfort of the attendee is multiplied. If you’re in the front row of a conference hall, for example, and you’re not particularly enthralled by the current speaker – it can happen – getting up and leaving sends a negative message, and it’s plain awkward. Watching from home, the speaker won’t even know you’ve clicked off the track, which is better for their confidence and delivery, and provides a far smoother user experience.
What about flicking between tracks, too? You can’t constantly hop between Conference Room A and Conference Room B, especially at a vast exhibition like G2E. You can, though, if you’re watching online. At the click of a button, you could choose between any number of conference tracks, and it’s much easier and far more practical to plan the talks you don’t want to miss, scheduling them around your meetings.
Overall, these kinds of factors mirror the wider gaming industry – and wider society – in that they demonstrate the world’s increasing digitalization. Yes, walking from one end of G2E to another, racking up the steps and seeing all the latest gaming machines is good for your health – and your business. Yes, we’re certainly not saying video calling is better than actual socializing, let alone the ability to have a drink with a colleague. But the world is changing and no one should look at virtual events as some kind of blip we simply have to put up with for the time being. The investment made into these shows during the pandemic, as well as the expertise gained, will hopefully not be put to waste once we return to our beloved real-life G2E. Virtual conferences can most definitely play some part in our industry’s long-term future.