In March of last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, it instantaneously put a halt to live events, brand launches, and other on-ground activities and mass gatherings.

It was the global event industry’s biggest and totally unexpected challenge , and the Philippines was no different. Many businesses related to events had no choice but to pivot, shift, and find a solution, to survive.

Not all faced a blank wall, though. Some decided to innovate and face the challenge head on.

While others shifted to Zoom webinars and Facebook live streams, Sharon Yu Ong, co-founder and CEO of Waveplay Interactive, Inc., opted for something different.

Although there were available virtual event platforms abroad, their clients were not satisfied with “templated” solutions. Brands and organizers didn’t  want their virtual events to end up looking similar to others. They aspired for their virtual events to closely mimic or replicate the “look and feel” of their on-ground events, from the activities, and experience, to the actual event environment. And this can’t be achieved through cookie cutter solutions.

“Over the past 10 years, Waveplay has been tailoring innovations to create one-of-a-kind experiences for on-ground events, and we were determined to do the same even for virtual events.” Yu Ong says,  as she  brings their interactive experience expertise to the new normal of events by introducing Webplay, the Philippines’ first fully customizable virtual / hybrid events platform, in May 2020. Webplay gives brands and agencies the power to create events with a wide range of interactive features and fun elements not found in other platforms.

“Webplay also allows for tailored immersive environments and journeys, so no two virtual event venues are the same. And, it works from high-end laptops to basic smartphones, even with regular internet connection,” Yu Ong says.

With uniqueness as their battlecry, Yu Ong shares that in a span of 8 months since Webplay’s launch, they were able to successfully produce over 60 unique virtual venues, powered over 300 event days, accommodated more than 700,000 attendees, and created more than 250 custom side activities.

The baptism of fire, so to speak

During the lockdown’s early stages, agencies and brands wanted to stand out with something new and not done before, making them open to suggestions. Yu Ong says, “We shared Webplay to select clients and they liked what they heard—a fully customizable, interactive, Instagrammable, gamified, immersive platform that runs well even on a data plan, is gadget-neutral, and can launch your very own venue in a few weeks. It sounded too good to be true.”

However, Yu Ong believes they couldn’t have captured clients’ attention that easily. They had to share a link to a fully functional virtual event microsite with all their promised features and let them experience it on their own—unguided. To their amazement, clients liked what they saw and booked Webplay for their major events.

With a number of successful case studies shortly after Webplay’s launch, other brands came in. New clients likewise signed up based on their experience as actual attendees of virtual event spaces that Waveplay produced.

Challenges came to the fore

Yu Ong knows that going from “live” to “virtual” events has its share of challenges.

When it comes to virtual or hybrid events, downtimes, no matter how short, can cause “palpitations,” as Yu Ong succinctly describes it, to any organizer. This is where having expert back-end and cloud engineers are crucial to ensure that the infrastructure is excellently stable, she explained.

Waveplay’s on-ground team wasn’t exempted from the virtual transformation, too. They were upskilled to become eagle-eyed testers, live help desk representatives, and livestream troubleshooters. “We also created multiple permutations of the virtual event realm to ensure that everything is cascaded well across different gadgets and browsers; all things considered, clients’ short lead times never changed.”

During their first presentation of Webplay, Yu Ong did not anticipate booking 2,500 attendees  for a virtual venue project that is 12 days away. It took a while for them  to receive the final artwork and directions.

Then came another “good problem” when they were awarded another project with different features, but happening just 10 days after the first one. Waveplay worked on both projects in parallel. “We understood that our agency partners were doing this for the first time as well, so we did a lot of handholding from brainstorming, database and materials checking, to operations on the live day.”

Both events turned out successful, the brands received rave reviews, “and we continue to work with them on their lineup of events this year.”

Raising the game

With the first events going smoothly, Yu Ong looked at how they can raise their level of expertise even further to impress more clients and for better efficiency of their production processes. Soon, they could brew up to six ultra-custom venues simultaneously.  She says, “We are still in the pursuit of improvement and innovation via new interactive features with the aim to continue surprising our partners and event attendees.”

Most of their events are usually for FMCG brands, telecommunications companies, medical, and non-government organizations. “We have been able to successfully replicate various types of events from product launches, expos, selling events, medical conferences, tech conventions, student caravans, and activations. We have done seasonal events as well.”

Post-Covid events industry

Yu Ong expects that once it’s completely safe to go out, live events will come back as fast as they were halted. However, she also points out that the advent of virtual platforms has opened the eyes of clients to the potential of scaling events exponentially. It enables access from anywhere in the world, increases attendee capacity, extends availability of the event on demand for those who missed the live dates, and provides comprehensive data of guest activities. The next frontier event agencies will look at is how to go hybrid, so guests can choose to attend from the comforts of their couch or inside the physical venue.

With physical gatherings imminent, Waveplay is already working on new on-ground interactive ideas, including contactless options. Considering the ongoing pandemic, they have been tapped to do mall activations and smaller corporate events centered on touchless interactions.

Yu Ong says, “Our drive for continuous innovation has allowed us to continue providing clients limitless possibilities in the events and activations landscape. And it will only get better.”

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