A chanceand catch up on all those shows you've been missing or those games you hadn't gotten to yet. But as the days blurred together and the isolation started to hit home, the desire for real connection shot through the roof.
The statistics show that, as a society, we've definitely been leaning into entertainment as a way to relax and distract ourselves from the situation. App and web usage statistics tell an interesting story of the moment. Visits to Facebook, Netflix and YouTube are all up by double digits via web browsers, while numbers are flat or down via apps - because we're using our PCs and TVs more than we're using our phones to consume this kind of content.
News websites are exploding as people seek out reliable information, with many major outlets more than doubling traffic since February. At the other end of the spectrum, Twitch.tv has jumped as people watch live streams of videogames and esports just as traditional sports have disappeared from view.
For many, the limits of bingeing TV have been tested. The desire to engage in real moments of social interaction have been crucial to feeling alive. Something more than just a phone conversation or a one on one video call, and so the blurring of corporate tools and private life has emerged.
We've explored the rise of Zoom and video chat, but how video conferencing was being used a week ago is different to how it is being used today. Trends and exploration of how we connect and find value in these connections is changing by the hour. Social media, having its own boom moment, is amplifying any clever use of communication tools and quickly spreading new techniques into the wider world.
One recent update to the wealth of new trends is the idea of the 'silent Zoom', where people agree to connect but not make conversation the goal. Just sharing a connected visual space while going about one's day in isolation gives the benefits of feeling together without the demand to stop doing everything and focus on the video.
Perhaps the most casual of all repurposing of video meeting software is the boom in remotely playing boardgames together. There are standalone tools to play boardgames online, but just as Zoom blossomed through its minimal friction to just switch on and connect, people are using the easiest tools possible to spend time together and then working out how to share a game in that domain.
While shuffled deck games or Scrabble are hard over video, it turns out many classic board games can easily be played remotely. And games like Dungeons & Dragons are all about imagination and storytelling, never really needing boards and pieces in the first place.
It all reminds us that it is never the tool that drives the change. It's the way we choose to use them.
Perhaps the most important exploration to date is how to build new conferences that exist purely online and give people the chance to interact and brainstorm and collaborate while being isolated at home. We've found two great examples of Changemaker efforts launched here in Australia that has brought people together around the world
#StayHomeHack was launched to give hackathon lovers the chance to participate in a fully remote event with the theme of generating ideas that would specifically help society stay connected, productive and healthy. Over three days, over 170 participants got together via Slack and Zoom to generate ideas and design solutions together.
Four projects were conceived through the event, covering concepts from coding education opportunities conducted online, to VIP video chat parties with celebrities, to designing tools to better support local volunteer coordination for helping those in need during a crisis.
The #StayHomeHack concept is now aiming to expand across Asia, Europe and North America.
The games industry might seem like it's deeply rooted in the digital realm, but the people who make games still get together every year in person to share ideas, build new relationships, and negotiate business deals. The annual Game Developers Conference is normally held in March but was cancelled just shortly before it was scheduled to take place this year.
One virtual game conference, LudaNarraCon, actually started in 2019. Attending big real-world events gets expensive, and exhibiting at them even more so. For smaller game developers that can be too much, so the team from Fellow Traveller Games, an Australian independent publisher, decided to create a special online event for makers of narrative-driven games.
The first version last year was small but gave them the confidence to do it again this year and try to bring on more developers and encourage more people to watch. With GDC cancelled, Fellow Traveller opened up to allow more developers to participate. At the end of April, LudoNarraCon 2020 exhibited 40 games over four days, with thousands of viewers tuning in to watch developers put on a show and stream their games to show them off via Valve's Steam publishing platform.
The event also included online panel discussions over two days, which then replayed the following two days, giving fans and other developers a chance to gather and learn, just like at events like GDC.
Chris Wright, founder of Fellow Traveller, said they saw thousands of viewers tuning in for the conference at any given moment, which they felt was a great result. And in many ways, being able to demo new games live but take place right there in the digital store where people can download the games immediately is better than trying to catch their attention on a busy convention floor - especially for games that are all about slower, more carefully paced storytelling.
"One thing that was really great to see was how much some of the exhibitors put into their streams," says Wright. "We initially thought we'd start a small trend and that this kind of event would be relatively niche. Now it's all we've got for a while we are hoping and expecting to see many more digital conventions in coming months."
These digital gatherings, whether for work or for pleasure, do demand good performance from computer hardware to enjoy the experience as seamlessly as possible.
At one level, participants need good video streaming performance, which means both the PC and the network need to be stable and confident over many hours without fail. Add the video conferencing or live game streaming components and the newer the PC the better the reliability will be.
It's also more important than ever to think about the quality of those webcams in any laptop, or to buy add-on accessories for desktop PCs to be ready to join a conference or go live whenever the moment arrives.
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