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event gamification by gameffective

What’s all the rage in event and conference management? Gamification. Event managers are told that an event without gamification isn’t done properly.  They are told that using gamification in events makes the numbers for attendance, networking and that their social shares will hit the roof.

Is this true?

This post hopes to bring some order into the question of what is gamification for an event – and what real value can be derived from it.

Gamification, defined

I am often asked whether gamification means adding a “game” or “playing” at work, or whether it is “fun”. But gamification isn’t games or play – it uses game mechanics (such as completion bars, challenges, narratives, points, badges and other game mechanics) to encourage behavioral change.  It doesn’t work because it is fun, it works because it ties into intrinsic and human motivators that underlie our brain wiring. We want the “profile completion bar” to be complete, we like collecting points and badges, game narratives provide context to our motivations and we love the recognition and feedback that come hand in hand with any gamification implementation. We love getting karma points for doing “good” and love to be observed at the top of the leaderboard.

Aren’t the fun parts of events, meeting and conferences gamified already?

Events and conferences always combine business with (fun) pleasure. From the awkward “introduction games” – introduce yourself to the team by saying what animal represents you best – to social games and even outward-bound challenges, games and events were always related. Many of these games have social goals – melting the ice between strangers so the social aspect of the event can be fulfilled. These games are great social lubricants, but they don’t comply with our previous definition of gamification: using game mechanics to drive a certain behavior.

A concrete example of gamification is foursquare, the “check-in” mobile app that was all the rage in 2009. The behavior promoted was “checking-in” using foursquare, the game mechanics were the classic points, badges and leaderboard. The person with the most check-ins at a certain location became “mayor”.  This was a great success for a while, and then it fizzled out. One day everyone was using foursquare. The day after, they didn’t.

Is event gamification effective?

If you’ve read the last paragraph you know that gamification doesn’t always work. To work, gamification needs to be a meaningful activity and not a senseless collection of points and badges. In fact, gamification works best when it gives the player a sense of autonomy and provides an intrinsic reward (or sense of achievement) and not an extrinsic one.

That’s why foursquare-style event gamification – check into exhibits, get the “mayorship” of an event or swipe QR codes has limited impact. In a worst case scenario it is a classic example of “be careful what you wish for”- you get the QR swipes but not the booth interactions you had hoped for.

Having event attendees participate in a scavenger hunt for an iPad doesn’t work. Think about it: are the people that are trying the most to get the iPad after the iPad or after event learning and engagement? If your event goals are about disseminating information about partner solutions or networking, then the iPad hunt may backfire. Your game rules may even be bent the wrong way.

The conclusion is that when using gamification, you need to first define the behaviors you want to encourage and choose the right game mechanics that drive them.

Think about intrinsic motivation: people come to events to learn, to form relationships, to demonstrate their knowledge and see what’s new in their industry. If they are sales people and there are people to sell to, they’ve come to sell. Use gamification that drives the behavior you are after. Use sales gamification for sales-focused events. Use elearning gamification if you want people to share or acquire new knowledge at the event.

Gamification and elearning work hand in hand. Gamification brings marked behavior change and has people complete more learning tasks, do better on quizzes and go through more learning levels. Here, the intrinsic reward – knowing more – is aligned with the extrinsic reward (a badge etc) and the goal of the conference.

Real life event gamification examples

Let’s say a global software provider has an event with tens of partners. Each partner is strategic and the software provider would like its salesforce to get to know these partners and learn how to create joint offerings with them. The goal of the event is to have sales people meet partners and learn about their products. We’ve shown that the “scan QR code” option won’t work here.

The salespeople want to learn more, but other things may be diverting their attention (the hotel has a great restaurant, an old college friend showed up at the conference). Gamification can do magic here. Using gamification that encourages the completion of learning stages – speaking to the partner and completing a quiz – and that drives the completion of additional challenges – daily challenges if possible –can work well and be well aligned with the event goals.

Another example is a strategic pow-wow – an annual event where all regional managers come together. There are tens of them. They don’t meet often and don’t cooperate much. They will need to sit through many presentations outlining the new strategic objectives of the organization. These presentations will be long – but they must be aware of their content to engage with the new strategy. In this case elearning gamification can do the work.

Conclusion

Don’t gamify an event for the sake of doing so. Define your KPIs ahead of time, think about what you’d like to achieve, what behaviors you’d like to promote and how you are going to measure it all. Often, thinking beyond “social shares”, “booth visits” and “fun” can yield valuable understanding about what should really be achieved during the event. When you match real goals with intrinsic rewards and game mechanics, gamification will make your results better.

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