ShowUp: The New Social Convention
by Bob Cooney, Co-Organizer & Master of Ceremonies of ShowUp
The term “convention” is rooted in the word convene, which means to assemble or come together. Conventions are a critical part of almost every market. Conventions and business meetings are a trillion-dollar industry. Or at least they were until March of this year.
Trade shows have become part of the fabric of the amusement industry. It’s where we gather to learn, converse and socialize. It’s at trade shows where we discover what’s new and collaborate on investment decisions with our teams, friends and peers.
For many of us, whose work and social lives are indelibly intertwined, trade shows are where we reconnect with our friends. It’s where we get away from the constant distractions of work and home. We can be fully present with a group of like-minded people.
There’s never been a more critical time for us to come together. We are all facing extraordinary challenges. And some of us are finding innovative solutions to the problems we share. How are we supposed to learn from each other when we can’t convene?
Tech to the Rescue
One area that’s exploded with innovation during the pandemic is virtual and remote collaboration technology. Companies sent their workers home and scrambled to keep them productive and connected to one another. And the tech industry rose to the occasion.
Zoom became a household word overnight. Zoom meetings, birthday parties and even high school proms became the norm. A virtual background became a symbol of ones’ creativity.
The word virtual took on new meaning. No longer was it limited to virtual reality. There were virtual tours on the web. We had virtual wine tastings. Schools went virtual. Even doctors were making virtual house calls. If everything was going virtual, why not trade shows?
When I returned from the Amusement Expo in New Orleans, which turned out the be the last “live” trade show for who knows how long, I knew my world was changing. Much of how I earned a living was helping companies prepare for product launches at…you guessed it…trade shows. With both trade shows and location-based entertainment shut down, my practice would be in hibernation for a while.
My friend Chris Albaugh, who was working for Freeman Exhibitions when the coronavirus hit, was one of the thousands of event employees laid off in Las Vegas alone. I asked if he was interested in doing some research with me on virtual event technology. “I’ve got nothing else to do!” was his reply.
We set off to test every virtual collaboration platform we could find. And we discovered a lot of them – over 100. Many required virtual reality. Some leveraged augmented reality. Some were on mobile apps, others on web browsers. A few tried to use both browsers and VR. Most failed at the most basic requirement: connecting people to each other.
It’s All About Connection
Joe Pine, the author of the book The Experience Economy, says that people go to events seeking transformation. Whether it’s personal or business, they’re looking for something to improve their lives. You can’t transform on your own. You need others to assist with that transformation. You need feedback, stimulus and inspiration.
Hardly any of the platforms we tested understood this basic principle. Most were developed by existing event companies, in a panic to save their businesses suddenly eviscerated by the virus. They featured chat rooms for “networking” that harken back to ICQ and AOL from the ’90s. They were more interested in making their exhibits look like 3D models of physical trade show booths than creating something useful and functional where exhibitors and attendees could have meaningful sales conversations.
I spoke to several people who attended some of these early virtual events. Everyone said the same thing, “There was no way to have a meeting. They lack the best thing about trade shows, where we get to meet people.”
Fortunately, startups were entering the space looking at events with a fresh perspective. They weren’t invested in the status quo, trying to figure out how to band-aid their current business. They were seeking to disrupt the event business in a digital age.
It’s About the Experience, Not the Technology
An event platform, just like a virtual reality headset, is only a technology tool. You still need to design a user experience that meets the needs of your intended audience. A poorly designed VR experience can leave players feeling uncomfortable or even sick. A poorly designed event experience will leave your audience bored, disengaged and distracted.
We set out to design an experience that sets the standard for virtual events because they’re not going away. Show organizers all seem to agree that when in-person shows come back, they will all have a virtual component to increase reach. We’ve already sold tickets to ShowUp on five continents, from Argentina to Kenya.
We surveyed operators and found there were two problems they face that stood way above the others. The first is obvious: getting back to profitable business. But the second surprised and pleased me: keeping up with changing consumer trends. There’s a freight train of change coming, and it was comforting to know operators are in tune with this. We will be focusing our education program on these two areas.
Networking is where serendipity comes into play. We are using speed networking to make meeting new people fun. We designed networking events around themes, too, so networkers always have something more specific to talk about beyond just the amusement business.
We’ve recruited some of the most creative operators out there to contribute virtual games we can all play together. From L.A.’s Two-Bit Circus’ “Remote” game show to virtual escape games from Fun Lab in Australia, we want everyone to have fun while learning what’s possible using virtual technology for parties and corporate events. Because without those, we can’t get back to profitable business.
Finding products and services that are relevant can be the most challenging part of a trade show. I wonder if they might be the worst possible way to do it. In a world where with one-click, we can buy anything and have it delivered the next day, why do I have to walk miles and miles hoping to stumble across something relevant and useful to my business?
We designed a virtual trade expo where you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for easily and quickly without blisters on your feet. And when you see it, you’ll be able to have real, face-to-face conversations to understand how it works and why it might solve your problems. You won’t be able to roll a ball down an alley or whack a mole on the head, but since there’s not a lot of buying going on right now, it seems like the perfect year to try this virtual thing.
We’re calling it ShowUp because that’s what we want everyone to do. It’s designed to be a lean-in experience where the more you participate, the more you get out of it. If you purchase your tickets before Oct. 9, you’ll get a surprise that “ShowsUp” on your doorstep before the show. We’re shipping out a special swag box to every attendee that signs up before that date with some fantastic goodies. RePlay readers can use the coupon code EDDIE to save 25% off the advanced purchase price.
I want to thank our founding sponsors, LAI Games, VRsenal and UNIS, for believing in this event when it was just an idea. I also want to thank Eddie Adlum and Key Snodgress at RePlay Magazine for their constant support. And I want to recognize the AAMA and Pete Gustafson for his fearless leadership and vision of how we can all work together to better the industry.
I look forward to welcoming more trade associations into the fold in the coming weeks.
There are dozens of companies signing on as I write this. Since this magazine still needs to be printed and mailed, it feels unfair to try to list everyone, knowing so many will be left out because of time constraints.
We have so much news coming; please stay tuned to Instant RePlay for updates.
I look forward to having everyone ShowUp Oct. 27-29.
ShowUp As a Launch Platform
When Lucasfilm, Nomadic and VRsenal wanted to make a splash with their new Star Wars VR game, the organizers of ShowUp decided to put their new platform to work and created a specific launch event just for that product. (The event was set to take place Oct. 1, after this issue went to press.)
Said Bob Cooney, ShowUp’s master of ceremonies, “In today’s digital world, there’s no reason to wait for a trade show to launch a product anymore. ShowUp enables companies to create and host their own events to launch products on their schedule.”
At the start of the event, ShowUp showcased the world premiere of the Vader Immortal: Lightsaber Dojo arcade game trailer. They then hosted a press conference with Kevin Bachus, SVP of games and strategy at Dave & Buster’s; Sean Griffin, president of Nomadic; Shereif Fattouh, senior producer at ILMxLab; and Ben Davenport, CEO of VRsenal. Operators were able to speed network on the ShowUp system, and distributors were invited to have booths in the virtual expo to connect with operators, answer questions and take orders.
Electronic gaming and location-based entertainment veteran Bob Cooney helps companies with virtual and augmented reality solutions develop strategies to bring their products to the location-based entertainment market. He also helps operators navigate the stormy seas of disruption to select the best virtual reality solutions and experience for their locations. Bob has over 25 years of experience designing, manufacturing and marketing immersive out-of-home entertainment to consumers, operators and venues – first as founder and chief executive of NASDAQ- and Inc. 500-listed Laser Storm, and later as an initial member of the Global VR executive team which introduced the first commercially viable virtual reality arcade game. Cooney went on to become VP of marketing and business development of Ecast, the digital content provider for jukeboxes, and COO of NTN Buzztime, the networked trivia game company. Cooney has been a driving force behind the development of numerous top-earning licensed games, including products based on EA Sports PGA Tour, X-MEN and Stargate, and has been a long-time vocal proponent of leveraging new technology to keep the out-of-home amusement industry-relevant. To get in touch with Bob, visit www.bobcooney.com or email [email protected].