What is ComplexLand?
COVID-19 has accelerated our society's expectation on the internet and technology to provide experiences that rival that of real life. Some industries are keeping up with the times thanks to their inherent ability to scale and grow alongside rapid advancements in technology and widespread adoption of increased internet usage. Video games, online stock trading, live streaming, virtual conferencing, at-home fitness: these are some of the most notable survivors (or thrivers?) of 2020.
And then, there is the live events industry. 2020 has been an abysmal year for live events and the millions of people that rely on them for their business. Without the ability to congregate en-mass safely, the massive cost of large live events (made even more expensive when tasked with making them COVID-19 safe) is difficult to justify.
"I wouldn't have guessed those game designers would hold the secrets to truly immersive virtual events, but ComplexLand left me confident in this belief."
Nevertheless, the desire for people to attend events hasn't wavered. Many events have turned to digital solutions and virtual event platforms, resulting in a surge of new companies offering web-based services that all promise an authentic event experience from the comfort of your home.
But zoom calls, break-out sessions, and chat rooms are not the future of digital events. The speed at which corporations restructured in-person events into passable online experiences is to be commended, but none of those previous events have managed to deliver the spark of curiosity and wonder of a proper live event.
ComplexLand, on the other hand, is different.
A new experience
I attended ComplexLand (my avatar depicted below) and was blown away by the concept. I've walked around digital worlds as a gamer for my entire life, but this was different. This was a simulacrum of a real-life fashion convention that I enjoyed in an entirely different, more personal way.
And I mean personal in the most practical sense of the word. The event was a largely solo experience and, although I could talk to various NPC's, the makers of ComplexLand ditched any social interaction between other attendees. A gamified virtual event that excels at social interaction (and somehow solves the issue of trolls) sounds appealing, but I found myself enjoying the solo experience of ComplexLand much more than I imagined.
"I felt compelled to read these articles in the same way a video game might compel you to explore. What lies beyond this building? What is going on upstairs? Is this NPC an easter egg?"
The feeling of curiosity that compelled me to enter the various virtual shops is something standard online shopping simply can't reproduce. It felt familiar and pleasant to browse around stores listening to "Complex Radio," the event's radio tool that was playing unique music of various genres.
Standard online shopping is useful because your choices are limitless. However, ComplexLand managed to capture the feeling of just browsing. You know, that simple past-time of walking around stores without any particular goal. This was the most surprising strength of ComplexLand, and I wasn't the only one who felt this way. Virtually all of the event's exclusive products were sold out within an hour.
There was more than just clothes for sale as well. Attendees could find limited edition art and even score free-giveaways if they were quick enough. These giveaways came in the form of easter eggs that you had to physically search for throughout the world. Exclusive drops would pop-up unexpectedly, adding to the overall FOMO and likely encouraging sales in a way only video games can.
Another interesting feature of ComplexLand were "monuments". These in-game art installations were beautiful and each included a brief article about fashion, art, or music. Once more, I was struck by the innate potential of connecting real-world value to in-game exploration. The passive experience of browsing a social media newsfeed results in only the most salacious and shocking content to grab people's attention.
"None of it is real, of course, and a cynic might disregard the gamified elements of ComplexLand as a glossy gimmick."
This was a much more engaging experience powered by game design fundamentals. I felt compelled to read these articles in the same way a video game might compel you to explore. What lies beyond this building? What is going on upstairs? Is this NPC an easter egg?
The future of virtual events
ComplexLand deserves a lot of praise for its ambitious virtual event, but the gamer in me knows that it just barely scratched the surface of what is possible when game design and virtual events coalesce. Why not hold this event inside Fortnite or World of Warcraft? I wouldn't have guessed those game designers would hold the secrets to truly immersive virtual events, but ComplexLand left me confident in this belief.
For example, one of the most common problems all event organizers have is letting attendees know when things are going on and where. One solution has been event-specific cellphone apps that, once downloaded, serve as a virtual guide and sure-fire way to notify guests of where they should be heading and when.
But developing an app for an event is a costly process that usually causes more problems than it helps. It also creates the problem of convincing people to download the app, understand its functionality, and actually use it.
Let's take a look at how ComplexLand solves this issue.
Simple and effective. The addition of an in-game map and the ability to fast-travel to events "happening now" creates a sense of urgency and importance while also encouraging attendees to explore parts of the event they might have missed.
As a result, ComplexLand managed to make their live panels and recorded sessions feel like a real event. None of it is real, of course, and a cynic might disregard the gamified elements of ComplexLand as a glossy gimmick. However, the benefit of associating events with places is a powerful one and is a large factor in why the gamification of virtual events is such an exciting innovation.
Large-scale live events will eventually make a return; there is no replacing the feeling of being around other humans in a shared state of excitement, mutual fandom, and joy. However, ComplexLand is the first virtual event that felt like more than "less than" a replacement for an in-person event.
ComplexLand was its own experience and you can bet rival event organizers are taking diligent notes.
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.