Shopping is no longer what it used to be. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, my wife and I find ourselves planning hours ahead before heading out.
While the multiple movement and temperature checkpoints at the entrance of malls and retailers are certainly a good thing to keep track of the coronavirus, it has alas forced many to shop online.
Physical shopping has become a hassle. Because of social distancing measures, stores these days have a certain limit to the amount of people who can be inside. So if you wish to purchase a t-shirt, you’ll need to stand waiting in the long queue for a significant amount of time.
“If only there was an immersive shopping experience as real life,” my wife groaned, as thirty minutes passed with the queue only budging a few metres.
The coronavirus has no doubt disrupted the way we live, the manner in which companies conduct their businesses, and the way we shop.
Wading the coronavirus storm.
My wife is not the only one who feels this way because across the sea in Singapore, Jackson Aw sat scratching his head while observing the rise in coronavirus cases on his laptop in April, 2020.
“I was preparing for the year’s Comic Con in Thailand when the nationwide lockdowns began, causing us to postpone the plan,” Aw said to Mashable Southeast Asia.
Aw, who is the founder and CEO of Mighty Jaxx, a Singaporean-based design studio specializing in creating unique toys and art collectibles, sighed. His team and him were looking forward to this annual event.
Among the artists who were supposed to have their collections on display was the late Thai graphic designer and street artist Pharuephon “Tum” Mukdasanit aka “Mamafaka”. The artist is well known for one of the most recognizable characters in Thai pop art: ‘MR.HELLYEAH!’.
“Mamafaka has had a huge influence in Thailand. His art has inspired a lot of young artists from the country. Since the late 2000s, he was one of the few active street artists in Thailand who grew to create brand partnerships with Vespa, Converse, and more. Due to this, many looked up to him,” Aw said, adding that the virtual experience wouldn’t have been possible without the blessing of Mamafaka’s family.
Across the globe, many retailers, event companies, museums and art centres, entertainment outlets, and more had to close down temporarily as half a billion of the world’s population began remaining indoors.
It was the start of what we now call the ‘New Norm’.
“We were pretty bummed that we weren’t able to present this event in the physical space.”
Undeterred, Jackson saw that this was the perfect opportunity to try out something new: Virtual experience store.
Despite not being physically close to each other as they used to be in the office, Mighty Jaxx quickly got together online and began their work on Mamafaka’s Hideout.
Within just a matter of three months, the team was able to create a virtual experience unlike any other.
Using the W, S, A, and D keys to move and the mouse to look around, this was a first person shopping experience. The concept, of course, borrowed heavily from renowned FPS games such as Counter-Strike and simulation games such as The Sims and Neopets.
“We began thinking about creating a digital world that’ll allow us to present our ideas and concepts for the physical booth for the event,” he said.
The set designers immediately went to work together with the web designers to create an environment that was cool yet had a story element to it. The idea was to create an experience that is not only unique but nostalgic.
The entire experience begins in an alley where you’ll come across a manhole. Using the V button, I made my way underground to experience Mamafaka’s Hideout for myself.
Below, I had the option to turn left to Reaper Rats Underground Crib or head right to MR. HellYeah’s room.
Aw tells me that while the experience is unique, it was a homage to the late artist.
“We didn’t create this experience to derive profit but to give our customers a different experience. With movement controls in place, many are stuck indoors and desire to be stimulated by interacting with digital assets.”
Aw believes that humanity is in an interesting time and virtual stores such Mamafaka’s Hideout will be common place in the future.
“We pay attention to physical items such as collectibles, movie memorabilia, and vinyl records because of nostalgic reasons and yet we want to be technologically advanced. It’s really about creating a social element about this collecting experience for the collectors and extending an entertainment value of buying a physical item.”
For Aw, Mamafaka’s Hideout is already a success in its own right. It was a testimony on the possibility of replicating real life experiences virtually while allowing people to purchase online.
“I think COVID-19 has created a new standard and has impacted a lot of ways we interact as individuals. The awkward nuances of shaking hands and bumping of fists, these will translate into more dense areas such as shopping or going to a Comic Con or social gatherings. I believe creating a virtual experience or platform such as this where you’re able to enjoy the experience the brands built for you and purchase the items as a physical deliverable to you,” Aw said, adding that there could be a possibility where if you wish to purchase a t-shirt, you could test it out on your virtual avatar to see if it’s the right fit.
“So it’s really like the social games of the past such as Neopets except that they’re all happening in real life.”
Aw is already thinking of ideas on ways to expand on this project. He didn’t deny the possibility of integrating AR and VR as a seamless blend between the physical and digital realm.
He visualizes a time when even digital representations of physical items can be brought over to virtual spaces because majority of our lives from now on will revolve being primarily indoors.
“It’s going to be so mundane. I feel this is also one of the reasons we created Mamafaka Hideout.”
Gone are the days when a business owner who owns multiple stores is considered successful. Success in the age of the new norm is if a particular company is capable of creating immersive experiences.
Mamafaka’s Hideout is one of them and you can experience it for yourself here.
Cover image sourced from Mighty Jaxx.