Quiz Events: adapting to the virtual reality

This is the story of survival instinct; of adrenaline and Covid-fuelled product development; of the birth of QuizQuizQuiz-style virtual quizzes. As for others in live entertainment and events this has been a rather interesting test, to say the least, and we’re grateful that we are – so far – managing to find a way through.

The last “real-life” quiz night we ran was on March 16th 2020. Then all of a sudden that was it. All bookings for the rest of March and April were cancelled. Then the ones in May and June were cancelled. Our core business of hosting quiz nights had evaporated.

We were trying to work out what to do, how to save money, then two of our quiz masters fell ill with some mysterious (perhaps not so mysterious) bug. And all around us virtual pub quizzes were springing up online – before we knew it zoom quizzing in video chats was the new thing that everybody was doing. Were we too slow? Why weren’t we doing it? We are (we think) the UK’s leading provider of professional quiz nights for company events…what on earth were we doing?

We knew we had to adapt, but we also couldn’t hurry. We had to find a way to get it right – and work out how to produce virtual quiz events that matched the high expectations of our clients – many of them have been booking quiz nights with us for 5, 10, 15+ years. Most importantly we weren’t doing it for free or charging individuals just £1-£2 to take part (as many very successful pub quiz masters were doing as they moved online).

For our business to survive we needed to be charging at close to our normal “real-life quiz night” prices for our virtual quiz services. So we had to get it right, and that took a little bit of time. It felt like we were moving incredibly slowly, but in hindsight, now that we have run several hundred virtual quizzes in the last few months and (we believe) virtual online quiz events are here to stay we realised we did a huge amount in a very short space of time.

We had several key elements that we had to get right before we could launch our new virtual quizzes and start charging our clients:

  • Our virtual quizzes had to be properly interactive – we knew that the corporate market wouldn’t be interested in having their staff just watching a live stream of a quizmaster.
  • We needed to ensure that they worked as social events and team-building events: the motive for employees to go to their company quiz night (online/virtual quiz or in real-life) is typically very different from why you might go to a pub quiz with friends.
  • We needed technology that was totally reliable. Companies have (rightly) high expectations when they are paying for a professional service. Our technology doesn’t go wrong at real-life quiz events, and it shouldn’t go wrong at virtual quiz events.
  • We needed the whole virtual quiz experience to be as easy as possible for our clients and their employees, whatever their level of technophilia/phobia.
  • We needed to be able to run events on a massive scale: many of our clients have hundreds of people at their real-life quizzes, and now the events were online there was no barrier to every person in the company, from all cities and countries taking part. In the virtual world, you can have events for hundreds, if not thousands, of colleagues and not worry about budget with no travel, no catering, no venue hire etc.
  • If we were going to invest in doing this properly, then we needed (well, maybe this is more “want” than “need”) our virtual quiz events to be sufficiently good and have sufficient benefits that our clients would continue to book them when (if?!) real-life events of this type are allowed again.

After very many tests and failed experiments with a range of technologies, we were nearly ready. And when you are launching a new product – as we were –  nearly ready is the time to get the clients coming in. We updated our website and social profiles, and sent an email out to our client base to let them know. 

And then within a few days our inbox of enquiries was bursting at the seams with delighted and relieved clients saying things like:

  • “I am so happy to hear from you: when can you book us in”
  • “Everyone is feeling so isolated – this sounds perfect as a lockdown social event”
  • Etc. etc.

So what did we do?

We adapted our existing technology into a web-based answer sheet system for teams to submit their answer sheets. And then we learned what worked and what didn’t and rebuilt, and now a couple of months in we’re using our shiny new version which makes the whole experience much easier for participants, and also for our professional quiz masters and for our team of quiz event assistants (who mark the online quiz answer sheet submissions from teams). We’ll be able to use the same technology to make our real-life events better (and lower contact with no handing in of papers etc.).

We tested every known video conferencing platform (and some very unknown yet rather brilliant ones), probing the depths of their feature sets to see how we could make the most of this new medium, working out what formats would be possible – and devising new formats that are made possible by the technology. We already knew Zoom very well, but there was much about it that needed testing to its limits. We knew from our years of experience that different companies work in different ways, and some of them didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t use Zoom (for what it’s worth, we don’t perceive any relevant issues with Zoom any more – if the ones that did exist even mattered to what we do or couldn’t be easily overcome, but that’s a separate story!). We worked out how to run quizzes in Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Google Meet, GoToMeeting and various others. It’s  much easier to get several hundred people doing a virtual quiz on a platform they are already familiar with from work.

Our quiz masters upgraded their webcams and microphones.

We wrote many hundreds of quiz questions that were specifically designed for the virtual quizzing environment – not just “Google proof” questions, but that was a big part of it – and probed our database to extract many hundreds more from our existing content that would work in this online medium..

And then we started hosting virtual quizzes. Sometimes several a day per quiz master. We rapidly iterated our new formats to keep the quizzes engaging, we learned how to keep the pace up, how to handle technophobe participants, and how to get better and presenting to an audience who are on mute much of the time.

We’ve now run hundreds of virtual quizzes, for existing clients and new clients. Some clients are having online quizzes with us several times a month. And for now at least there is no sign of them slowing down, and many clients have said to us that they would intend to run them even after real events are allowed again.

We’ve done quizzes for 8 people in 2 teams; for 450 people in 70 teams spread across three simultaneous virtual quizzes, each with their own one of our professional quiz masters, with one grand finale for the top teams in each heat; we frequently run more than 6 a day, with our current record being 10 in one day; we’ve done quizzes starting at 11pm (our time) for clients in the Cayman Islands and starting at 10am for clients in Tokyo; and we’ve run very international virtual quiz events with people dialling in from offices all around the world simultaneoulsy.

We’d love to get back to running real-life quizzes one day, but virtual quizzes are – we think – here to stay.