As the United States COVID-19 vaccine rollout works its way into full swing, innovative ways of online interaction are continuing to make their debut – and perhaps none speaks so directly to our convention-missing hearts more clearly than the SuperFan Mall!
Set to debut alongside the upcoming Micro Con on April 17th, 2021 – LA Comic Con’s answer to the fact that LACC had to be delayed not just once but twice due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – the SuperFan Mall promises to offer the opportunity to replicate some of the experiences of an IRL convention… And if you’re anything like us, you are severely missing cons now that we’ve passed the one-year anniversary of the outset of the United States COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, so this is incredibly intriguing.
“Once it became clear to us in October that we were not going to be able to have an in-person event in 2020, and as we were postponing that to 2021, we really turned our attention to creating a couple of experiences that worked in digital that were created to be digital,” Chris DeMoulin, CEO of Comikaze Entertainment (LACC’s parent company) told The Beat over Zoom.
As such, the SuperFan Mall isn’t simply a physical experience that was simply recorded and then transposed to the digital realm. Instead, it’s an experience that was created from the ground up with the idea of replicating a real-life convention in an online environment.
Curious what that might look like? The Beat has your first look!
Enter the SuperFan Mall
When you first go to the website for the SuperFan Mall, you’ll be greeted by a “portal” page that lays out the virtual levels of the mall – sort of like the ultimate mall directory.
The portals afford your choice of five categories: Comics, Anime, Toys Games & Collectibles, Pop Culture (which includes genre categories like horror and Sci-Fi), or Artist’s Alley.
Once you’ve selected your preferred portal, you’ll be transported to the category’s entrance page, which you can click to open.
Then, you’ll enter the aisle of the category you selected. Once inside, you can navigate the aisles using a system that works in the same way that you navigate Google Street, allowing you to enter and traverse the virtual space.
“We really wanted to create a more immersive shopping experience,” said DeMoulin. “We’ve all been stuck home for a year. One of my favorite things about going to cons is that experience you get where you’re going down an aisle and you turn a corner, and you just don’t know what you’re going to discover next. It’s that process of discovery and the excitement of finding something that you have to have that until that moment!”
DeMoulin emphasized that faithfully replicating this experience is why it was important that they work with a video game developer.
“We wanted to create something that was immersive and could grow with the user, and would replicate some of that process of fun discovery,” he said. “You can turn corners, you can go upstairs and downstairs and find different things.”
Participating vendors will be provided with a virtual storefront (which includes their choice of one of a dozen storefront templates, three display products, and a brief statement that describes their brand).
Those vendors who participate will not be required to man their virtual booths at all times, solving one of the perennial catches to manning a booth at a con.
“We always do surveys with our exhibitors after the show, and one of the complaints that we get is: because you’re manning your booth, you never get enough time yourself to go shopping,” said DeMoulin. However, the solution to the issue was elusive: “We should have a twilight shopping hour where we close to consumers and we let all the vendors shop each other. In a perfect world, right?”
Or if not a virtual world – perhaps a virtual one!
Multiple Ways to Shop
The SuperFan Mall experience can be accessed through any web browser. However, those with a VR headset can take part in a planned virtual reality version, for the closest possible experience to shopping at a real convention!
In addition to the immersive virtual version of the SuperFan Mall (either through a browser or a headset), a more traditional online shopping experience can be activated via a drop-down menu. This allows the user to see a listing of vendors and their respective products via familiar, two-dimensional webpages.
From there, users can either return to the virtual SuperFan Mall, or continue their shopping through the 2-D pages.
Customers will be provided with a single shopping cart across multiple vendors while using the SuperFan Mall, and can complete their purchases with a single transaction at the conclusion of their virtual visit. Vendors will then be responsible for fulfilling the orders and shipping the products to the customers.
A Year of Con
DeMoulin emphasized that the SuperFan Mall was created with vendors in mind.
“We’ve worked with the vendors in deciding the features because we wanted this to be something that was a net positive to their business,” he told The Beat. “It’s a new place for them to sell, it’s easy for them to get involved. For our existing exhibitors, there’s no up-front fees, and we’re charging a nominal fee for on-boarding new exhibitors.”
DeMoulin also noted that, unlike the transient nature of having a booth at a con, the SuperFan Mall is meant to be a virtual storefront that fans can access year-round. And he hopes that as conventions from across the country begin to participate, the return of IRL cons can help drive traffic to all of the vendors in the SuperFan Mall, not just those who might have been tabling at the con taking place that weekend.
“We hope for the vendors that we get, they’ll see a steady stream of traffic all the time, and then they’ll see spikes whenever one of the participants in the network does a larger event,” DeMoulin explained.
While the features already included in the SuperFan Mall project are very exciting, DeMoulin revealed that there is tons of potential in the interface.
“This is the 1.0 version,” he told The Beat. “Part of why we worked with a video game company is that there’s a lot of capabilities that we think will be fun to develop over time if people really like shopping here. We can add gamification, animations, you can have an avatar for yourself…”
And if the SuperFan Mall gets enough user response, there are some really exciting places it could go.
“Eventually it can even be one of those environments that if you’re shopping with a friend, you can see each others’ avatars and chat while you’re shopping,” said DeMoulin.
Finally, virtual shopping that can integrate your love of cosplay! Is there anything else missing from the con experience?
Virtual Food Court?
“The idea of ‘in real life’ and ‘digital’ is not binary,” said DeMoulin. “Our lives are completely integrated. There are things that we still want to do in real life, and there are other things that we now realize, we can do – or we prefer to do – digitally. So we want our experiences to offer that full range of ‘in real life’ and ‘digital’ options as we move forward.”
DeMoulin said that the lessons learned out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic can continue to benefit our lives once the immediate danger has passed, and LACC is dedicated to delivering on the potential of our brave new hybridized world.
“We wanted to be on the forefront of that: to really create hybrid digital events, not just try to digitize an experience that already existed,” DeMoulin concluded.
And how do we feel about the SuperFan Mall here at The Beat? Well, you can catch us around the virtual food court to find out!
If you’re interested in applying to be a vendor at the SuperFan Mall, click here. Be sure to stay tuned to The Beat for more coverage of the virtual reality options available at the SuperFan Mall.