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Event experience | 21 April 2017

Why Event Gamification Is Not What You Think It Is

Brandon Rafalson

Along with live video and chatbots, gamification is one of the most talked about event trends at the moment. Even though the term has spread like wildfire throughout the events industry, there is misunderstanding about what gamification is and how it can be use to enhance an in-person event.

So what is event gamification?

At the core of event gamification is the idea of bringing competition and play to the event experience. Goals, points, game structures, problem-solving and even physical activity are all on the table when it comes to gamifying an event. It’s not about making a game of an event. It’s about applying the underpinning principles of games to achieve event outcomes.

Done right tapping into competition and play has the ability to increase attendee engagement, amplify event marketing efforts and boost event ROI. But in order for gamification to be of any help to in-person events, event planners are going to need to shift the way they think about them.

Gamification is not about an app

First and foremost, gamification isn’t a technology, it’s a mindset. It lives beyond apps and mobile devices. With the increasing popularity of event gamification apps has come increasingly app-centric view of gamification and live events as a whole.

The idea that the best way to combat mobile addiction is through a mobile app is counterproductive.

“If you think of the reality of sitting in the audience at an event, you pick up your phone and the event organizer has about 10 seconds to capture your attention before you’re distracted by Candy Crush,” says Aaron Price the co-founder of the event gamification app Livecube. In his interview with BizBash he went on to say, “Using the game mechanics in the event app itself gives people incentives to stay focused.”

While it’s true that many people (including yours truly) have grown inseparable from their mobile devices, the idea that the best way to combat mobile addiction is through a mobile app is counterproductive.

Encouraging people to be on their phones more is not the solution. It is an option, but not the only one. There are countless ways to develop a conference gamification plan into offline activities.

For their Volvo Pride company training events, LABOV employed scavenger hunts and relay races to make the learning process more active. At Social Media Marketing World, event organizers helped attendees break the ice with one another using networking bingo. (Check out our article on SMMW17 for conference gamification ideas).

networking-bingo-gamification-smmw.pngNetworking bingo in action via SocialMediaExaminer.com

When it comes to creating stellar gamified conferences, event planners should know that there’s a whole wide world out there beyond gamification apps.

Gamification will not make your event fun

Some are quick to position gamification as the magic bullet to boredom at your event. However at the end of the day, gamification is only an add-on—a tool that can be used to add more to your event. If you want to make your event fun and engaging, you need to get back to the basics of what makes a good event in the first place.

  • Featuring engaging speakers
  • Including a varied itinerary with different types of sessions (speakers, panels, breakout sessions)
  • Giving diverse opportunities for people to network (over food, over drinks, under a pink umbrella)
  • Structuring time for attendees to find their zen
  • Training an awesome staff to spread the enthusiasm

Gamification, whether in an app or real-life, can’t make your event fun. However, done correctly, it can help.

Gamification is not an event marketer’s dream come true

Similarly, there is an idea that gamification will allow vendors and sponsors to collect leads like never before. For instance, some event apps gives attendees the opportunity to earn points by giving their information over to sponsors. While there is ample opportunity for collecting leads, the quality of these leads is dubious. Attendees who are just trying to rack up more points or earn a prize aren’t necessarily going to be interested in what a sponsor has to offer.

“If I don’t want that product sold to me, I don’t want to play the game.”

Meanwhile, your attendees are smart! They can tell when they’re being steered like sheep to earn points. In an interview with MPI, Ryan Rutan of Jive Software spoke optimistically of this sort of marketing transparency. “The games are a friendly and approachable way for companies to disclose their ‘agendas,’ the reasons for putting on live events,” says Rutan.

Games may make for a more fun way for pushing agendas, but an agenda is an agenda. If an attendee catches wind that they are being manipulated in a way that they don’t support, they might get turned off from the event entirely. Alex Plaxen, an event engagement expert told MPI in the same article: “I don’t want to be on [the exhibitor’s] mailing list and have to get off of it. I don’t want to surrender all my personal information to a company that I have no intention of buying from. If I don’t want that product sold to me, I don’t want to play the game.”

That’s not to say that gamification can’t bolster event marketing initiatives. It certainly can.

The American Wind Energy Association provides a good event gamification example. The organizers recently tried something new for the research poster session of their annual conference. Rather than just award points to attendees for engaging with a a poster presenter the organizers of the event created a quiz for attendees to complete based on poster information gleaned while making rounds through the room. This same sort of practice could be applied to sponsors and vendors. It’s not about handing over information, it’s about learning about a product. This is a great way to make event marketing gamification less intrusive.

Gamification will not please everybody

In the 1996 Dr. Richard Bartle published a paper that forever changed the way that people think about games. Just a couple of decades earlier, Bartle had collaborated with Roy Trubshaw to create the first MUD or Multi-user Dungeon. It was a computer game that allowed multiple people to interact in a fantasy world together (basically the proto-World of Warcraft). Far from the flashy computer games of today, MUD was a text-based game that looked like it came straight out of hacking sequence in a Hollywood film.

MUD-Gamificationgif.gif

Although the game was first limited to a small network of computers it soon opened up to the UK on the ARPANET (the internet’s precursor) and then eventually spread around to the rest of the world with the internet.

The time that he spent with games gave Dr. Bartle, a recipient of a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, a valuable perspective on how people interact with games. In 1996, Dr. Bartle published his seminal study based off of players of MUDs and this study has been largely thought to hold true for games in general.

At the crux of the study are the different types of game players or “suits,” as Bartle refers to them. These player types are achievers, explorers, socializers, and killers.

  • Achievers (Diamonds) play games to rack up points and master it.
  • Explorers (Spades) find satisfaction in picking apart how a game works.
  • Socializers (Hearts) view games as a space for communicating with other people.  
  • Killers (Clubs) enjoy the power that games give them over other players. This one sounds bad, but think about how satisfying it is to beat someone in a game of Connect Four or even Rock Paper Scissors.

Player-types.png

Event organizers would be hardpressed to find one event gamification concept that can appeal to all of these player types. Some game concepts will invite attendees be to social (networking bingo), others will push players to explore (scavenger hunts), others will focus more on achievements (points- and prize-focused leaderboards), and others will even tap into the bully-ish side of attendees (a game that allows playful sabotage).

Not everyone will buy into your game. By thinking about your player personas (in a similar way to how you might think of marketing personas) you stand to increase attendee adoption and in turn engagement.  

Gamification is not about winning

At the crux of many gamification schemes is some sort of prize. Once attendees earn enough points or accomplish enough actions they are then able to cash in for swag, a free ticket to next year’s event, or exclusive access to an event VIP.

The last thing you want to happen at a conference is for everyone to be focused on “winning.” People don’t go to conferences to win, they go to learn, they go to network, they go to generate leads. Winning must always be subordinate to a higher goal.

In an interview with The Guardian, Bartle expressed deep worry with the state of modern online computer games. In many of these games, the primary goal is acquiring newer and better equipment. To Bartle this seems to be communicating to players that, “the world is consumerism. You are what you own. If that’s what you want to say, then go ahead. But it’s when the designers don’t know that’s what they want to say [that’s dangerous].”

The next time you think of incorporating gamification into your events, consider what you want to say.

Wrapping-up: gamification is not your answer

An emphasis on gamification threatens to undermine the reason people attend events in the first place. There is a lot of potential with gamification, but in order to reach that potential, event professionals will need to stop looking at it as an app-centric recipe for creating the perfect event. Instead, they’ll need to start looking at gamification for what it is: another tactic alongside the likes of live video, networking activities, and stellar speakers that—with the right approach—can assist in making events better.

For more event engagement tips, click the button below. No, you won’t get any points for that, but your brain will thank you.

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