These responses from our CEO, Jerod Venema, were originally included in ARPost.com's article, “The Problem With the Foo Fighters VR Super Bowl After Show.”
Leading up to the Super Bowl, Meta announced it would host a post-game live Foo Fighters concert in virtual reality, accessible on its Quest VR devices. It was hotly anticipated by both fans of the band and the VR community alike, as there were 61,899 people interested in the concert.
Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl was up for the challenge. “We’ve never collaborated with Mark Romanek on a conceptual set of songs (including one being played live for the first time ever) for a worldwide audience, where everyone has the best seats in the house thanks to the most badass VR tech… until now,” he said in anticipation of the event.
The exclusive concert directed by Romanek, a well-known music video director, was shot specifically for Horizon Venues, Meta’s social VR app, which would provide 180-degree VR views for fans. Described as an “immersive experience” with “XR elements,” it held promise to be a sneak peek at the future of live entertainment inside Meta’s metaverse. Given the success of the Fortnite concerts of artists like Ariana Grande and Travis Scott, expectations were high.
Unfortunately, Meta’s tech wasn’t up to the challenge.
As documented by Kent Bye, host of the Voices of VR podcast, many would-be concertgoers were unable to enter the event. With a potential audience of more than 60,000, only 12,000 to 13,000 actually got in on Sunday night. Fans unable to access the event complained on Twitter and Reddit, claiming the onboarding was terrible, the page crashed due to load, and confusing access instructions made matters worse.
In response, Vivek Sharma, VP of Horizon Worlds for Meta said, “Sorry about this…the demand was unprecedented.”
First, demand from about 60,000 people is nowhere near “unprecedented” scale. Millions watched the Fortnite Ariana Grande tour in August 2021. Second, supporting an audience of millions is only possible if you plan and structure your code and event infrastructure properly. Third, you cannot neglect the user experience when hosting any live event, especially one at a massive scale.
How To Prepare for Massive Scale VR Events and Broadcasts
The key to success when it comes to hosting virtual events at scale is execution—and great execution demands extensive planning.
When you’re doing truly real-time streaming, you have to prepare for scale differently. Assume the event’s marketing will succeed in drawing a massive audience, and spend a LOT of time figuring out ways to predict and pre-allocate media resources to deal with the largest possible load. It’s not easy, and it’s even harder to test at scale so you can be ready for any size audience. But you HAVE to do that prep work if you want the event to succeed.
So how should you approach capacity planning for massive virtual events?
Use Data To Predict Audience Size
First, you want a reliable prediction of audience size; you should know whether you expect 10,000 people to show up or 100,000 people. We know Meta had that information. When it comes to user behavior and engagement, Meta has more information than perhaps any entity in history.
Do Some Capacity Planning
Assuming there are going to be 100,000 people, you need extra infrastructure capacity to deal with the influx. Or, if you see an attendance ramp-up start to happen, predict the rate at which it will grow. For example, the biggest potential shock point will likely occur when you have a hard start (like a concert that starts at 8 PM).
In this concert’s case, the hard start was made harder when people weren’t allowed to even enter the event until after the concert’s actual 8 PM start time. They were stuck simply registering that they were “interested” in the event until 8 PM, which guaranteed the worst-case scenario of a flood of users all trying to enter at once.
Ask Attendees to Show up Early
The simplest solution is to encourage people to enter early and let them in as they arrive. This helps prevent attendance from coming in with one big spike, as it’s rare for 10,000 people to all show up at the same second.
But even if 10,000 people suddenly did show up, it is still on the event organizer at a software level to pre-allocate resources, ensure that signaling could take place for those guests, and make the feed available to attendees in a sub-second time frame.
User Experience Is Everything in Massive Virtual Events
The challenges of massive virtual events demand a combination of software design, capacity planning, and predictive scaling. Meta simply didn’t do the work (or, perhaps more appropriately, their leadership failed to prepare and do the work) to technically prepare for this event. The result was a complete failure to create a seamless user experience (or really any user experience at all) for many people.
User experience is important for any technology product, but UX is especially vital for virtual events. If we are going to enable an open metaverse that widens access to live performances everywhere, making virtual events easier to attend than in-person ones is the lowest possible bar to clear. This makes the poor onboarding experience and confusing access instructions of Meta’s concert inexcusable.
Think about how this was likely the first virtual concert for thousands of fans. The attendees who were able to enter the concert did have the best seats in the house, as Grohl promised, but many more were disappointed. If this is the “most badass VR tech” around, it will be a long time before the metaverse flourishes.