A Virtual Tour Through Atlanta’s Convention Offerings
Atlanta Meta World, launched in 2022 by the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, aims to attract real-life meetings and tourism through its lifelike virtual platform. Managing Editor Casey Gale took the platform for a spin.
The representation of the Atlanta Convention Center on Atlanta Meta World will give planners the option to create and save room configurations for their in-person events held there. (Courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Convene editors gathered ideas and insights from a variety of sources to examine what the metaverse is and how business events professionals are and will be using it in the future. This is one in a series of stories (see list after the video at the bottom) from the March/April issue of Convene.
Press “W” to move forward; “A” to move left; “D” to move right; “S” to move backward. As a lifelong gamer, I’m familiar with the ways to move an avatar through a virtual space, usually with the objective of fighting aliens or racing sportscars. But I’ve also played the popular life simulation video game The Sims from time to time, which best prepared me for my experience in Atlanta Meta World — a realistic, built-to-scale virtual representation of Atlanta’s convention and leisure offerings launched last summer by the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) and hosted on a Unity Software technology platform. The virtual space is the result of a collaboration between Atlanta-based companies Exploring Digital and MA Software Systems.
There are no enemies to fight in this virtual space, just realistic landscapes inviting exploration. When I first entered Atlanta Meta World, which is live 24/7 and open to the public, I found myself in the serene Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park — this 22-acre park on Georgia World Congress Center’s campus is the spot through which all users will enter Atlanta’s version of the metaverse. It was built first intentionally as proof of concept, and as the center point for ACVB’s metaverse messaging, geared toward meeting planners as well as tourists. “From here, you can explore the attractions around,” said Andrew Wilson, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at ACVB, whom I interviewed in the metaverse as we toured the space. “It’s the heart of downtown, and just a way of having a cornerstone to all of our storytelling about the destination.”
Since launching Atlanta Meta World last summer, ACVB has been working closely with developers to refine several aspects of the virtual space, Wilson said, starting with Centennial Olympic Park. With the Atlanta skyline as the backdrop to the park’s virtual 360-degree views, the architectural features of the physical park, like fountains and an amphitheater, have been faithfully replicated.
“One thing is just fine-tuning and tweaking the park, because we wanted to get it as close to the reality as possible,” he said. “Almost everything now is as it is in real life, like the placement of the trees. There’s a playground now at the north end of the park that exists in reality and in the metaverse, so we’ve just been fine-tuning that experience.”
That kind of attention to detail, Wilson said, is meant to help attract tourists to Atlanta via the metaverse through tourism-focused experiences beginning this summer — still top secret as of press time. The other major development in Atlanta Meta World — which will continue to expand as local partners, such as hotels and attractions, join the project — is the buildout of the Atlanta Convention Center. When it debuts around the end of the first quarter of 2023, the metaversified convention center will be a sales tool to demonstrate room sets and traffic flows to event organizers via a precisely scaled virtual model.
Atlanta Meta World’s Centennial Olympic Park is a faithful recreation — down to individual trees — of the 22-acre greenspace, the city’s legacy from hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics. (Courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Wilson guided me to a portal — a futuristic-looking, glowing blue circle — by the park’s gate through which we could get a sneak preview of the still-in-progress convention center on a staging site. After jumping through the portal and waiting momentarily on a load screen, we came out the other side onto Andrew Young International Boulevard. Wilson instructed me to press “F” — the key to make my avatar fly to move faster through the space — to place us down the road in front of Building A of the convention center.
“It’s architecturally precise,” Wilson said as we walked into the building, outfitted with lifelike escalators and carpeting, with “natural” light beaming in through windows. He led me into a breakout room, where he easily toggled between different room configurations. Planners are able to save the configurations that work best for their meeting to a shopping cart. “We’ve basically built out about 2 million square feet,” he said as he walked me through some exhibit space. “It’s an immense exercise, but the investment has been well under $100,000 to build out the convention center to this level.”
The park, he said, took about three months to build, but a large part of that was “building the infrastructure to support the building of all the other environments.” The convention center — which, by comparison, is much more complex than the park — only took about a month for the initial buildout of the structure, including three buildings with all meeting rooms. Another month was spent rendering the details — wall textures, carpeting, etc. — and a third month was dedicated to adding functionality, such as wayfinding teleportation navigation and administrative tools.
“My hope,” Wilson said, “is that over the course of the next one to two years, more meeting venues will invest to build out their venues. When they understand that you can build the convention center for under $100,000, a small meeting venue can come in at a much lower cost than that. And so the investment is not so significant — but the potential benefits are super significant.”
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March 31, 2023
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