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Gaming and Virtual Reality at Cisco’s Annual Sales Meeting

October 9, 2009 - 31 Comments

(This is a followup from my previous post on our virtual sales meeting.)

It’s been several weeks since we assembled more than 19,000 sales people virtually for Cisco’s annual sales meeting.  Cisco broke new ground for the sheer size of this virtual event, as well as the creative combination of technologies that included TelePresence, WebEx, IPTV and a very engaging Alternate Reality Game (ARG) called “The Threshold”.   

I have to admit, like most of my peers, I had reservations about changing something that has been around prior to me joining Cisco 17 years ago.  We were significantly altering a well established in-person event that for many of uswas the pinnacle of the sales year.  It’s an event of grand proportions  ….and cost.   The goals of these annual meetings are to educate, share, interact, motivate and inspire the sales teams.  This was a tall order to fill — especially with an event of this size.  We were entering into uncharted waters  …and I packed my life preserver.  

Event Highlights  

  • Participants from 89 countries spanning 24 times zones  
  • 3 global Contact Centers (running 24×7 on Cisco technologies) supporting the users (in the environment as well as via phone and email) and providing technical monitoring and support real time
  • 88 hours of consecutive sessions crossing 24 time zones  
  • More than 13,000 active players of the alternate reality game (ARG) “The Threshold”.  We were expecting around 7,000
  • More than 8,000 participants in group chat within the “Chat Zone”
  • More than 9,500 playing mini games  
  • Satisfaction scores for the sessions comparative to previous events 
  • Offset 84,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide
  •  90% cost savings  
  •  90% cost savings (no, this isn’t a typo, which is why I’m repeating it.).  This includes the millions of air miles saved from not flying everyone around!

What worked really well 

  • Salesforce education – I thought this venue was a better vehicle than the in-person event for education.  The combination of presentations and technical sessions via video, chat, discussion forums — and especially the games — really reinforced learning in a much more interactive way.  It also allowed me to learn at my own pace…SLOOOW.  
  • Theater scores were the same as in-person events for content.  This is pretty amazing in my book.  I actually thought the content presented was richer in this environment. 
  • We pushed the boundaries of technology in a new and creative way.  I really love this about Cisco, always trying to innovate! 
  • Lots of interest in the game.  We had MORE people participate than we expected…and many were SMARTER than the designers (finding clues in the ARG much faster, and easier, than we expected.)
  • Global Command Center monitored issues and responded to them quickly.   
  • Flexibility – format allowed for you to view anything you missed in a “non real-time” VoD.  This came in handy on two of the days when I was committed to speaking at an event.  I missed the live broadcast but got a chance to see the VoD later in the day.  
  • Save a substantial amount of money.

What challenges we saw

A small percentage of participants experienced difficulty joining the event.  This was not unexpected and these issues were worked via the command center.  I am happy to say that I didn’t experience any technical issues other than pilot error on my end …that too was expected.   🙂

I think the greatest challenges to overcome are all in the human dynamics arena.  People missed seeing their colleagues.  These are sales people after all and they like connecting with people.  Several mentioned it wasn’t as inspirational as when you’re there in person and John Chambers live is always the highlight of the sales meeting.  I would agree that I did miss seeing my friends in person and the personal human interaction.

My impressions and closing thoughts: 

My overall experience with the virtual venue was quite positive.  I thought the team did an incredible job on creating an experience that was visually beautiful, easy to navigate, rich in content, engaging and interactive. The games, especially “The Threshold”, were over the top cool and forced you to learn and collaborate in a fun and exciting way.

Yes, I did miss my friends and colleagues but at 10%  the cost of an in-person event, the increase in productivity by eliminating the time loss due to travel, and the positive impact on the environment, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of these kinds of events in the future.  If you go back to one of our key goals of educating the team, I think this format yields better results than an in-person event.  As a matter of fact, the event has opened my eyes and I believe that gaming and ARGs will play a significant role in the way we learn in the future.  Why can’t learning be fun and interactive and  …a game. 

I don’t think we’ll ever be able to replace the human need for live interaction (maybe with holograms) but at 10% the cost I have a feeling a lot more people will take this kind of technology for a spin.   I want to congratulate the entire team that worked countless hours to pull this off and I really appreciate the risk taken and the innovation delivered.  Job well done!

In reply to many of your comments, I’ve been working with the team to give you a feel for what it was like to play “The Threshold”.  I’ll post a blog next week specifically about the game and give you a flavor for what it was like to play the ARG.  

Until then …remember the E.L.L. process – experiment with new technology, learn from the experience, and of course, leverage.  Hasta luego amigos!

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  1. 19,000 sales people. This sets a new benchmark for the largest virtual meeting anywhere. Great job Cisco.

  2. 19,000 sales people. This sets a new benchmark for the largest virtual meeting anywhere. Great job Cisco.

  3. A strong and smart way to build a team.

  4. Excellent way to go guys, wish you all the best, and awesome success.

  5. As an event planner, I am encouraged by this solution to the face to face! (Read: my head is about to explode) So many people have simply eliminated meetings and conferences in this economic environment. The need for training and interaction has not gone away and this type of an event proves there is a better solution than do nothing"" .I hope my clients will see how cool this idea is and want to try something similar. Can't wait for more details.Cool!"

  6. a smart way to build a team

  7. really amazing and congratulations on the success of this event.

  8. Nice and informative post!Can you use some content for my blog?

  9. Virtual reality can add elements to the global interactive communications mix that enhance exhibits. We streamed a video of a live presentation made by the founder of the 3D interactive online environment Second Life into the the virtual world. The avatars gathered to see real people at the conference. This doubled the audience and allowed people who could not travel to it a chance to participate. This was done at the opening of an exhibit at Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose, CA. The exhibit was built using designs made with 3D modeling tool available in Second Life. Artists and designers competed to build virtual objects. The Tech Museum used the winners plans to build the exhibits. Then the winners were flown in from around the world to see their creations. Phillip Rosedale presentation [ Exhibits [

  10. Forget this. We still waiting for true Virtual Reality. Not just a helmet and a glove.

  11. Haha Cisco and gaming? I never would have guessed it either. They do have the intel and the employee's to make it happen!

  12. This is an excellent example of using technology for a great virtual get-together. I do have one question: what about accessibility? I assume Cisco has employees with disabilities: hearing, vision, mobility. That would require some captioning or signing, screen reader compatibility, sufficient time for response (for someone with muscle-control/dexterity issues).I'd love to hear about that side of the conference.

  13. As a corporate entertainer who has had the opportunity to perform with John Chambers' demo team and other Cisco Executives over the last few years, I applaud what you've been able to do in the area of virtual meetings. As my interactions with many of Cisco's Senior Management was via Telepresence, I was able to see (and hear) firsthand how effective it can be. The cost savings, not to mention the reduction in Cisco's carbon footprint is commendable.And Carlos, it goes without saying that I'd be happy to mix it up with you virtually or otherwise, ANY time.Ken

  14. The reduced costs and improved productivity are phenomenal.

  15. I don't see the interest of blogging about that, sorry...

  16. Text chat, live voice and video to some extent offset this, but it remains the biggest challenge in a “virtual world”.

  17. It is quite amazing what is possible with video conferencing today. I am an IT tech and todays technology even blows away the stuff that was out even 3 years ago. I'd sure like to play with this stuff...

  18. Sounds interesting and different. I think we'll see more of this in even more advanced ways as technology develops. We live in interesting times, lets hope it keeps up. :)

  19. With the introduction of ARG is bound to bring about changes in the gaming industry.Hats off to Cisco.

  20. The cost savings are pretty appealing, but in a large organisation such as Cisco, I imagine the opportunities for networking are already pretty limited with peoples client commitments etc. These gatherings are so important and I would be loathe to say goodbye to the last remaining opportunities to save a buck. Supporting technology is getting better all of the time though, so time will tell...

  21. As a small home based business owner and given the current economic climate, I think that a Virtual Meeting is probably the start of something really big. Think about it for a minute. You save on a major expense, plus helping the environment. To me this is a win-win situation. There will be other times of the year, the company can think outside of the box to have one on one presenations. For now, as shareholders are looking more closely at travel expenses, this is a responsible way to do things. Plus the added advantage, Cisco is showcasing new technologies that other companies will no doubt be interested in. I am personally always looking for ways to save money and video conferencing is definitely one of the best alternative options. I hope to see more companies and individuals embrace this technology. Cheers,

  22. This information is useful. Thank you for writing this.

  23. Commenting usually isnt my thing, but ive spent an hour on the site, so thanks for the info.

  24. cool

  25. Congratulations on a wildly successful event. Cisco GSX is a milestone; it's the first enterprise-scale deployment of immersive technology in the workplace. 19,000 attendees is a really big deal. I'll be talking about it for a long time to come!

  26. There are some people who may find it difficult to grasp how a successful sales conference can be achieved virtually, it makes sense for a lot of reasons amongst them cost, time, and the reduction of carbon dioxide. Change is one of the few constants in this world, in the not too distant future this type of conference will be commonplace.

  27. ARG sounds cool. I can't wait til you write more about the controls in ARG. I never really thought of Cisco and gaming in the same sentence but here we are.

  28. This really sounds pathbreaking Carlos. Congrats to you and other Cisco team members to make this possible and set an example. Just one question, did this entire event happen on Cisco UCS series of compute platform? If yes, can you please share the scale of the no. of servers involved etc. etc.

  29. It's allways a hard thing giving up old traditions or behaviours. But if you don't change your methods - as you allready said - the others will do. And the users, which are demanding the new features / new ways of prioritysing will buy at anywhere else. This meetings are really important for sharing your knowledge, so keep up the good work.Greetings from Austria,Huggy

  30. I totally agree with you Carlos. In all things virtual, from work to play, the element of human interaction is the key piece that is missing. Text chat, live voice and video to some extent offset this, but it remains the biggest challenge in a virtual world""."

  31. Just complete another Cisco exam - no more please