I fell into the event space when the pandemic upended everything. I have been working with gamification in e-learning for a few years, so I was keen to see where the event industry was at with this tool. Over the last year and a half, I’ve spent time looking at different solutions and listening to people talk about event gamification.  I have come to one conclusion:  It’s the wild west out there!

The gamification gurus often complain about this same problem in other verticals. Event platforms and professionals have misused the term “gamification” and have not defined it.  Event platforms have added gamification to their feature list to meet RFP requirements. Yet, there isn’t much feature consistency among platforms.  It’s no wonder clients are confused when searching for this kind of engagement solution.

Most industry experts define gamification as “adding game mechanics to non-game contexts”.  The problem is when people hear the word gamification, they think of “games”, which is not the case.  Games are games.  They entertain.  Gamification encourages certain behaviors.  It’s used to make environments more interesting and appealing.

Gamification is when you add points, badges, and leaderboards (PBL) to non-game contexts.  It’s used as a nudge or motivational tool.  Think of Fitbit.  It’s a great example of using points/steps to encourage you to be more active.  It uses badging and notifications to persuade you to move.

Think of Peloton.  It gives you a score during your ride, places you on a leaderboard, and allows you to give out virtual high-fives.  Neither of these products is a game.  These products use game mechanics to encourage you to take action.  Which leads to product stickiness.

So before we toss around the term gamification in events, let’s define the terms and their use cases:

Event Games

You’re most familiar with this category. Board games and video games have a long history of entertaining and bringing people together. Their primary focus is not learning something specific, although learning can be a byproduct of gameplay. For example, Monopoly can teach you math and negotiating skills but those aren’t the primary reasons for playing.

In your events, you can add sponsored games, like Whack-a-mole, Trivia, Spin the Wheel, and Photobooths.  These games might entertain your attendees and provide exhibitor exposure.  But they’re not designed for event-wide behavior change, and the data collection is limited to the few that play. 

PROS:  entertaining, visually appealing, fills dead-time

CONS:  fewer people will play, less data, unclear ROI

Event Game-based Learning

These are games that teach a particular topic or develop a skill. They are more narrow in focus, tend to have specific learning objectives, and a targeted audience/market. At the risk of sounding old, one of my favorite game-based learning experiences was playing Oregon Trail in elementary school. Through the gameplay, students learned about the struggles of American settlers traveling to the West coast. In the event space, I’ve seen some nice examples of using escape rooms and team scavenger hunts to encourage collaboration and networking.

PROS:  immersive, specific learning/skills developed

CONS: fewer people will play, less data, expensive to develop, limited content focus

Event Gamification

Adding game mechanics to non-game contexts like events.  Generally, there are two types of gamification:

A.  Content Gamification – where you take the content and place it in a game context or narrative.  You might present the content in the form of a quest or through a series of challenges.  For example,  you could place exhibitor information into word searches or crossword puzzles.  This makes the content consumption more appealing.

B.  Structural Gamification – where you add virtual points/currency to user actions.  The content is irrelevant as you are encouraging certain behaviors at the event.  For example, you could assign coins to attendees for taking action at the event,  such as:

  • completing their profile
  • attending sessions
  • completing surveys
  • booking a meeting with an exhibitor etc.

Use the coins to create a leaderboard and allow spending on incentives, driving more attendee actions.  All while collecting more data and capturing leads.

PROS:  all attendees play, positive feedback loops encourage action, does not rely on the content

CONS: needs an awareness campaign so attendees know about it

Event Gamification Increases ROI

Engagement is the number one concern among event professionals and games and gamification can be valuable tools to help address this problem. When deciding on an event gamification solution, it’s important to keep in mind what problem event engagement solves.  

Increasing engagement should lead to improved revenue and ROI for each event stakeholder.  It’s the classic chocolate-broccoli scenario.  Engagement is the chocolate, and ROI is the broccoli.  Clients are looking for more registrations, check-ins, and attendee stickiness. Attendees are looking to get the most out of the event, from content, networking, solution providers etc.  Speakers are looking to promote themselves or their company.  Exhibitors and sponsors want lots of hot leads.

Event professionals and platform providers need to be more clear about gamification, game-based learning, and games.  Only then will clients be able to understand how these tools are different, and how they can help solve their specific engagement problems. If Fitbit and Peloton use gamification to keep you active and connected to their products, it’s time you do the same for your events.  If you’re looking for help, I recommend using our Event Gamification Booster as a framework to get started.