Morningstar has teamed up with virtual reality conference developer Mesmerise to ship advisors preloaded Oculus Quest headsets, to be used in conjunction with the digital Morningstar Investment Conference, which begins Wednesday.
The sets, priced at $699 for ticket holders, give advisors and other attendees the opportunity to see keynotes, live and on-demand sessions from “’front-row’ seats,” as well as visit virtual sponsor booths and take in the sights and sounds of Morningstar’s hometown of Chicago through virtual video boards. Without the headset, tickets for the remote conference cost $149.
For attendees using a headset, whether their own or one purchased in conjunction with the conference, it’s an opportunity to see keynotes, like that given by BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, in a way most advisors will have never experienced before. For conference attendees needing a break from sessions, there are also two sustainability-focused games on the device: Morningstar Sustainable City and Save the Bees.
In an exclusive for WealthManagement.com, the publication received a preloaded headset, shipped from Mesmerise’s U.K. headquarters. The package came with a headset, two controllers, instructions, and a power adapter and cable.
Along with the equipment, Leslie Marshall, head of experiential marketing at Morningstar, included a physical note for the “adventurous investor” recipient.
“Welcome to the Morningstar Investment Conference Virtual Reality Experience,” she wrote. “This headset is preloaded with everything you need to experience our show from a brand-new perspective...We hope this immersive experience will show you the possibilities that virtual reality opens up for our lives.”
The software customizes the user experience, meaning that after setup, users will be greeted by name and introduced to the conference environment. Attendees who have their own Oculus Quest headset can opt to use Mesmerise’s Gatherings platform to download the Quest VR apps and enter the virtual conference for the same price as the standard registration.
A tutorial shows those new to VR how to navigate through the conference. Within the virtual outdoor conference environment, complete with calming sound effects, users can virtually “hop” around and visit sponsor booths that include white papers, videos and a button for connecting with the sponsors via email.
In one booth, users can watch energetic videos of Chicago sights. Similar to most conference apps, users can view a virtual conference schedule and add sessions to their calendar. A virtual room allows users to view on-demand content as it happens live, or at a later date.
As a possible diversion, Morningstar preloaded a SimCity-esque simulation game, called Morningstar Sustainable City, that lets the conference attendee work with a virtual mayor to add businesses to the mayor’s city. Balancing rates of return with ESG factors, players see how much money they made on their investments, as well as how those investments impacted citizens’ quality of life. Those who have attended Morningstar's conferences in the past may remember the virtual experience from a visit to the company's physical booth. Now that the conference is remote, the company is bringing the game into attendees' living rooms.
In the future, Mesmerise plans to offer conference attendees an avatar, so that virtual conference-goers can interact with virtual versions of one another.
A company spokesperson said that it took Morningstar approximately 10 weeks to develop the VR conference experience. As of Monday, 65 attendees had opted for the VR experience, but the company did not indicate how many were bringing their own devices and how many ordered Oculus sets through Morningstar.
Both the 2018 and 2019 Morningstar conferences attracted more than 2,000 attendees each, most of them financial advisors, according to a spokesperson. "This year’s event is already approaching those same numbers in online registrations," she added.
The company is keeping a close eye on the popularity of virtual attendance. “We will have real-time data for how many attendees view sessions, visit booths and play the VR games,” said the spokesperson. “We will also have real-time data for the desktop version, which is a separate platform [called] Intrado. The VR system and Intrado platforms are separate.”
On Wednesday, the Morningstar conference will open. For VR enthusiasts and attendees interested in what the future might look like, the conference has already started.