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Event gamification is not what you think! You may have been led to believe that by just downloading an app you’re ready to gamify an event. But, does this really work? Will this improve the quality of the event you’re organizing?

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If you haven’t already figured it out, the answer is “no”. That’s because technology is merely the tool for gamification, it isn’t the strategy or the solution. It would be like a presenter throwing a CatchBox mic into the audience, without telling them why or how to use it. Gamification isn’t about just playing games on an event app. But an event app is an efficient way of recording proof that the intended behavior has happened and then measuring the results.

So, now that you know what it isn’t, I’m going to explain what event gamification really is. You’ll learn:

  • The results you can expect from well-implemented gamification
  • What makes gamification a successful tactic
  • The rules of thumb for gamification and the importance of setting goals
  • Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivations
  • How to choose the right incentives
  • Concrete examples of how you can use it to improve engagement
  • And our top tips for incorporating gamification at your next event

At the end of this article, event gamification will be yours to experiment with. You’ll be equipped to adapt the methods I describe to your specific events and their desired outcomes. Now, let me help you better understand the power of gamification done right.

What Is Gamification For Events?

To gamify means to take the mechanics of a game (like challenges, point systems, completion bars and narratives) and give them non-gaming applications in workplaces, marketing strategies, or events, for example. Event gamification comes in many forms and has the power to transform your event into one that delights your audience.

It works by accessing the emotions and the motivations of attendees – because, at heart, we like to collect, complete and compete. You see, gamification has a lot more to do with psychology than technology. And, the real point of event gamification lies in driving particular behaviors to achieve your desired event outcomes.

For eventprofs incorporating event gamification, it adds a deeper level to event planning. Aside from focusing on the usual logistics, you’ll also learn to be sensitive to human-oriented experiences which can be more important when it comes to attendee engagement.

event gamification taps into psychologyBy using gamification in your events, you can achieve the following results:

  1. Increased attendee engagement
  2. Activating a sense of common purpose
  3. Improving the proactivity of attendees
  4. Generating high-quality experiences
  5. Creating an environment of trust and collaboration
  6. Transforming the event into an epic environment
  7. Facilitating easier communication
  8. Creating a more relaxed atmosphere
  9. Boosting the self-confidence of attendees
  10. Generating positivity

achieving results with event gamificationGamification: Why It Works

When you see someone playing a card game or even catching a Pokémon on the street – what do you notice about them? It doesn’t matter what type of game they’re playing; the players always seem to lose track of time. It’s as if they’re immersed in a different reality. But, what exactly are they feeling while playing their game?

Game research director and award-winning game designer, Jane McGonigal tells us that games are addictive because they serve our core emotional needs. These include:

  1. Productivity with instant feedback: when one plays a game, he or she is given a clear purpose, a sense of autonomy and feedback on progress.
  2. Trust and cooperation: games are incredible platforms for social networking, collaboration and interaction.
  3. A shot at success: do you know that when one plays, he or she feels a strong sense of optimism because they have a chance to win?
  4. Epic meaning: by immersing themselves in this other reality, participants feel part of something bigger than themselves.

Would you like to produce events that have a similar effect on attendees? Yes? Then you’re in for a treat!

event gamification and gamingGamification 101: Adding Magic To Your Events

Now that you understand the potential gamification holds let’s see how you could use it for the production of your events.

For the successful application of gamification techniques at your event, try to keep these rules of thumb in mind:

  • It should be social to satisfy attendees’ longing for recognition
  • You need to reward participation in some way
  • It needs to be challenging enough to create a sense of achievement
  • You should engender friendly competition among other attendees
  • You must clearly define the goals so that attendees feel empowered and included
  • It should serve a specific purpose that directly relates to the success of the event (e.g. having 50% more social media impressions than your previous event)
  • Ultimately, it should also surprise and delight!

So, what about those specific goals we mentioned? The main reasons why event goers attend is for learning or networking purposes. Therefore, the goal you choose should satisfy at least one of these expectations, while also helping you achieve the desired results for your event. It should correlate to an attendee behavior like:

  • Attending sessions on-time
  • Networking with other attendees
  • Visiting more exhibitor booths
  • Engaging with event sponsors
  • Learning and understanding content
  • Collaborating on a solution to a problem

event gamification for collaborationChoosing Your Incentives

When it comes to choosing incentives that motivate participation, considering intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are vital. You’ll hear it argued that one or the other is more effective, but in reality, a combination of both are likely to achieve the best results.

Extrinsic motivators: are external, like rewards, trophies and goals. These types of incentives are things or collateral. The strength of an extrinsic reward depends on the perceived value of the ‘thing’ to each particular player and their community. The value of this type of incentive is usually more fleeting than intrinsic motivators. Winning a new iPad is an example of an extrinsic motivator.

Intrinsic motivators: are internal, that make people feel good, superior or accomplished. For instance, reaching the top place on a leaderboard speaks to the superiority and accomplishment we intrinsically crave. An intrinsic incentive speaks to any one of three things:

  • Status: positioning individuals among peers in a ranking system, with badges or leaderboards. It must be a publicly visible reward to appeal to the desire for status.
  • Access: similar to status, but with the added value of exclusivity. Access is the admittance to offers like an invitation to a post-event party or one-on-one time with a speaker.
  • Power: is also related to status, but is less about public acknowledgement and more about an individual award. They might get some say in the choice of session topic or even be given the right to have their questions answered first.

Aligning both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators well – and in relation to your particular audience – is the best way to ensure maximum participation.

Now, let’s see some examples of gamified methods, based on their purpose. This will give you inspiration for how you can use event gamification to achieve your overall event goals.

event gamification for rewardPURPOSE: Engage Attendees And Build Social Media Presence

One way to drive engagement at your event, with the added benefit of getting your social media accounts buzzing is to gamify social media promotion. This involves actively encouraging attendees to promote your event through social media or be active during specific moments. Here are a couple of ways you could do this:

  • Encourage attendees to be the most active on social media during the event. This might involve them using your event hashtag, for instance. You gamify it by creating a progress bar that represents the level of activity. You can do this at an individual group or entire event level. We think the example that Bizbash wrote about here is a great one, where a balloon was blown up a little bit more each time an attendee tweeted. Of course, everyone wanted to be the one to make the balloon pop, and it also gave a great visual representation of the experience.
  • An alternative is to encourage attendees to generate the most engagement per session. You might measure this through impressions, likes or comments, depending on your preferred social media channel. To incentivize it, you might say that the most popular tweet for that session will be read out by the presenter at the end of it. Essentially, you’re giving the winning attendee their “five minutes of fame”.

When you set the challenge for attendees, be sure to make it as relevant as possible. Both to their preferences, but also to your event. For instance, if you’re running an event that attracts a lot of visual creatives, like graphic designers and photographers, and Instagram is an important channel for your client, you could specify that posts must include a photo that they post to Instagram. Make it relevant and fun!

event gamification with social mediaPURPOSE: Engage Attendees And Facilitate Deeper Learning

Presenters can ask for input from attendees via social media, a polling platform or an event app. You can make sure they are actively learning during a session by encouraging them to ask questions or respond to a poll. Here are a couple of ways you could do this:

  • As a new session commences, the speaker announces that attendees should submit questions for a short Q&A that will take place at the end of the session. They also say that the attendee who asks the most relevant or insightful question is the winner. To gamify the experience further, the attendees will be the ones voting on the best question. This way, even if their question wasn’t one of the best, they feel included and incentivized to take part.
  • Alternatively, you could incentivize attendees to respond to polls by awarding badges based on the number of polls they answer. Do it with a first, second and third placement. Or divide polling into levels, with attendees receiving a badge for each new level they reach. This is a great way to ensure attendees become participants at your event.
  • If you want to ensure attendees are learning, then a trivia-style game using an event app can help. One like ‘Fill in the blank’ could be created, based on the content from a keynote. The incentive here is that they gain points when they get the answers right. But, it also helps attendees be seen as subject matter experts – which they love! This is a great way to enforce the content being presented and make sure it’s resonating with attendees. Make sure you get the speakers involved and have them be the champion for your event gamification. It’s also best to have the trivia questions pre-set and ready to go. 

event gamification with triviaPURPOSE: Boost Engagement With Sponsors Or Exhibitors

As you know, making sure sponsors and exhibitors are satisfied is one of the most important aspects of event planning. That’s why we wanted to show you how gamification can help. Now, the ‘event passport’ idea probably isn’t new to you – where attendees are encouraged to get a stamp, token or otherwise for each booth they visit. But, the problem with this idea is while it certainly boosts foot traffic, it doesn’t always do a lot for engagement.

One solution is that when attendees engage with the sponsor or exhibitor, they are given a passcode or a point (depending on the system you prefer). The passcode could even be related to a special offer. It’s then recorded in the relevant section of the event app.

The key here is that you should work with sponsors or exhibitors to see what works for them and customize it to their goals. And they should be urged not to give out the passcode until genuine engagement has occurred. You can see how this extra layer could make a real difference to the results exhibitors get.

event gamification for exhibitor engagementPURPOSE: Facilitate Attendee Networking

One of the main reasons for people attending events is the networking opportunities on offer. But, the trouble is, many people find networking quite tricky. Although there are a lot of networking games out there, they can be more awkward than helpful. Here’s where gamifying networking can help:

All attendees receive a badge with a passcode printed on it. One idea is to make the passcode a positive or empowering word like ‘intelligent’ or ‘excellent’. The icebreaker is to approach someone and ask “Hey, are you playing the game? What’s your passcode?” It’s a different take on the standard elevator pitch people are used to hearing. If you use an event app, where attendees can check off the attendees they meet, they can also be awarded points for doing so. So, they are making meaningful connections and being rewarded for it!

event gamification for networkingPURPOSE: Encourage On-time Attendance

Isn’t it frustrating when attendees arrive at sessions late? They disrupt the presenter and miss the early content that sets the tone for the rest of the session. Event gamification has great applications here too.

For example, if you’re running a challenge at your event where attendees need to earn points, you could give attendees a passcode for arriving on time. You can display the passcode in the room, on a screen for a few minutes before the session begins. By entering the passcode into the event app, they earn points for completing that challenge. The result? Satisfied presenters and happy attendees.

Top Tips For Incorporating Event Gamification

All these methods sound like fun, right? But don’t forget, you can’t use event gamification only for the sake of it. Before designing or incorporating a gamified element, consider the purpose of your event and the expectations of your attendees. You’ll find that each iteration of your gamification strategies improves across your events.

You should also choose your incentive wisely. Remember that guests are attending your event not to win a useless token prize, but to experience, learn and network. You might find they don’t much care what the incentive is, but they get swept up in the competitiveness as well as wanting to feel more connected to those around them. After all, we play board games and video games when the only real prize is in the acknowledgement that we won! That’s why intangible incentives can work just as well. Consider these options:

  • A big-screen leaderboard
  • A public shout-out at the event and on social media
  • Priority when asking questions during sessions
  • The chance to lead a team in a breakout session

Finally, include gamification in your event marketing strategy – before and during. You want to build a buzz about it and make sure all attendees are aware of it.

leaderboard for event gamificationFinal Thoughts On Event Gamification

In other words, gamified methods can help influence attendee behavior to increase event engagement and ultimately, achieve specific goals in your event strategy. If you want to elevate the emotional experience of your attendees, event gamification is the right approach.

In this article, we saw how game elements can tap into our desires. The same thing happens when we apply these techniques to non-play environments. Give it a try and see how it will change the impression left in the hearts and minds of your attendees.

Have you used event gamification before? What was the outcome?

Audience Engagement Guide

Editor’s Note: This was originally published in August 12, 2016 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Kaitlin Colston

Author Kaitlin Colston

Kaitlin Colston is the Content Alchemist at Endless Events — one of the leading publications in the events industry. With a passion for helping others and learning, she focuses on empowering eventprofs through content by sharing her knowledge gained from over 10 years in the events and marketing space.

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