Earlier in the COVID-19 quarantine I hypothesized that worldwide travel restrictions and shelter-in-place mandates would cause our industry to explore new and creative ways to connect without the benefit of in-person events. To wit: “I expect to see massive experimentation across the industry as people try to address these new constraints.”
The premise: conference speakers presented DevOps talks via their avatars in the smash new game Animal Crossing New Horizon (ACNH). While this may seem like a rather niche intersection of interests, over 11,000 people tuned into the Twitch stream throughout the day.
There were several notable things this event excelled at:
1) Community engagement
Based on size limits of gatherings allowed in the game, only speakers were able to visit the virtual conference center that Austin built on his ACNH island. However, there was a very engaged community of DIDevOps attendees in the Twitch streams and Discord chats.
While attendees could certainly make great connections in the chat, my favorite thing was watching people coordinate their own virtual watch parties on their own ACNH islands. (“Watch parties” meaning that these groups were still watching the talks via Twitch, but they also had their avatars travel to each other’s islands to “watch together” in the game and trade in-game items with each other.)
(How amazing is it that people came in face masks? I love this so much.)
2) Thematic talks = fresh talks
Speakers did a great job incorporating elements of the game into their talks. Game characters, in-game actions/goals/consequences, items found on the island, and elements of gameplay all came up in people’s presentations. The speakers spun entertaining ACNH + DevOps metaphors and interspersed game references into their talks and slides.
The result was that these DevOps talks that were completely unique to the event.
3) Speaker logistics
The logistics of this event were impressive. While I don’t have inside details, it appears that speakers controlled their in-game avatar on the Nintendo Switch while also presenting their slides on a Zoom call, all of which was broadcast to the Twitch stream.
Several speakers mentioned the benefits of this virtual speakers room in Zoom:
Okay. #DIDevOps has discovered a way to run an online conference that has value.
Behind the scenes, the speakers are in a zoom, they are each other’s live audience.
This interaction comes through in the talks. They’re friends now. It feels cohesive.
— Jessica Joy Kerr (@jessitron) April 30, 2020
But even just the…presence together. That made a difference. And i think it helped inspire everyone to watch most (if not all) of the other talks, which made it possible to do that magic of chaining them together/drawing connections.
— Matt Stratton (@mattstratton) April 30, 2020
The conference did live captioning, which is a fantastic addition to any event.
They also had a Code of Conduct that was enforced not just through the event leaders but also through a bot in the chat. Even if sometimes the bot was a little zealous in flagging excessive excitement, it was a welcome addition and made for great and supportive chat.
5) Sponsor swag
ACNH allows users to design their own custom clothing, and some of the sponsors did an excellent job creating in-game versions of their gear to give to attendees. This is the most fun and creative conference swag I have encountered at a conference in a while.
6) Making an online event an event
One of the benefits of in-person conferences is that they temporarily remove you from your day-to-day work and immerse you in a community of like-minded individuals. It’s not just about getting to hear new ideas, but also about the break from your daily routine. This is one of the things that is hardest to replicate in a virtual event.
DIDevOps was perhaps the most successful virtual conference I’ve seen in making their event feel like An Event. This event was clever and whimsical, the community was engaged, and it definitely didn’t feel like just another video call.
DIDevOps was a massive success. There are many elements of this event that we as an industry should look to as we continue to explore new ways to run virtual conferences. Well done, Austin (and happy birthday!)