It’s festival season. And I, like many of us in the UK, had to sit through endless pictures and videos of friends at Glastonbury last week.

Sure I’d give my organ to see Diana Ross live, but I’m getting too old to actually go to a festival — my bones creak and my hangovers last a minimum of 2.5 days. So I was very excited when I found my own Glastonbury — without the overpriced beer and sun-dried puke.

Enter Meta Festival. Billing itself as “the world’s first 24-hour metaverse festival”, the event was created by metaverse company Journee and creative agency DEPT. There was no Diana Ross, but I was promised a day of talks, innovations, NFTs, house music and whatever else gets crypto bros excited these days.

Here’s how it went.

Welcome to Meta Festival

Meta Festival took place on June 28 in the Metapolis metaverse (for those new to the concept, there’s no one metaverse to rule them all). Accessible through any web browser, a stable internet connection was the only ticket I needed.

After logging in, I was met with an early-‘00s mock Windows interface as the home page.

The 00s Windows-themed login page to the Meta Festival

As a starting point, the homepage was pretty cool. It had useful links to things like a livestream of the talks, instructions for how to navigate the metaverse and a timetable for the virtual events.

There was also a live chat function. I scanned the chat quickly, and was met with gems like this:

Is that not a bit like saying “I am a huge fan of how things like breathing will play a part in living”? Too cynical?
But do we want Michael Jackson back?
My question I ask myself is what’s for lunch

I clicked into the Meta Festival grounds and was prompted to create my character. The creator tool even allowed you to upload a photo of yourself, which would automatically generate your persona. Here’s what mine looked like:

This takes me back to my childhood spent on the Sims, when I murdered people in swimming pools and learned what WOOHOO’ing was

The tool allowed you to then select for things like skin tone, hair, clothing and more. Body type was not adjustable, which isn’t super inclusive, but a tool made for a 24-hour festival might be expected have limits.

I selected my outfit, opting for business casual:

I actually have a very similar suit in green

The festival was spread out across eight areas — several stages, an NFT gallery and a dance floor. Once you clicked into an area, you could navigate your way around with your keyboard arrow keys.

I went first to the main stage for the “Innovative trends to watch” panel, which included speakers like metaverse strategist Anne-Liese Prem and Greg Williams, editor-in-chief of Wired UK.

The talk was interesting enough — but I was semi-distracted by the characters darting around in front of me.

I was also suddenly told by prompt that pressing “F” would allow me to fly, which quickly led to me body-slamming the screen. Who can say they’ve done that at an IRL festival? Metaverse 1, Glastonbury 0.

I hit another key by accident and rocketed into the sky.

Finally, some peace and quiet

Overall, the functionality was simple, albeit a bit jumpy. The visuals were pretty, and what I caught from the talks was interesting. Although I’m not sure I could’ve spent hours on the dancefloor…

When the metaverse isn’t meta enough

But not everyone loved it — France, Sifted’s incredibly sassy head of product and metaverse enthusiast (he’s asked me to remove this but I won’t), also attended, and had some thoughts, mostly having to do with not being able to use his VR headset.

G: I went to this meta festival. So did you. What did you think?

France: I mean, it was just a bunch of conferences and big screens at the end of the day The experience per se of the metaverse was not mind-blowing, it was just very simple. And I was honestly upset about not being able to use my VR headset. The design was nice, but the experience, there wasn’t a lot of it.

G: Is that solely because it wasn’t in virtual reality?

France: No, I think the activities were not particularly engaging, it felt a bit empty as a world. I spent like an hour and a half. I did a couple of tours and listen to a couple of talks. But a number of activities that were there, in 10 minutes you could have done them all. Or you go to the NFT gallery you see the catwalk disco, where there’s like 20 people clicking one button and doing the dancing animation with a DJ.

G: You enjoyed that didn’t you?

France: I did not.

Would I go again?

Overall France and I agreed that while the metaverse offered a more fun way to watch an online talk than a straightforward webinar, the world still felt incredibly empty. The tech isn’t there yet (without a VR headset, you’re still painfully aware you’re sitting at a desk) and a temporary event isn’t going to give you the truly immersive experience you’re looking for.

But, I’m glad I went — the visuals were cool, and even the more naff stuff (the disco, ahem) was still entertaining. And I didn’t leave with a multi-day hangover.

And for DEPT, the event seemed to go well. Marjan Straathof, DEPT’s global head of marketing, told Sifted that over 12,500 people registered for the event. And even when things went wrong — at one point I tried to re-enter, and was told the metaverse was “full” — they still count it as a success: “As you can imagine, we had to support thousands of concurrent players at the moment the live show started, that’s why we had some problems in terms of scaling when the event started. Luckily, we were able to scale up quickly and by the end of the APAC program, we were able to give everyone the opportunity to explore Metapolis with their own avatar.”

So, is the metaverse still a solution without a problem? Maybe — but if I can dress like a bunny and skive off work for 30 minutes, I’ll take it.

Georgina Ustik is Sifted’s head of content. She tweets from @GeorginaUstik

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