From using smartphones to measure steps walked during a wellness conference to participating in event-wide “competitions” among attendees, the gamification of corporate events and meetings management has taken center stage.
Gamification, or gaming strategy, is the utilization of technology to entice meeting attendees in various ways. Social media and interactive networks are increasing daily, and many people are using these interactions to engage audiences like never before.
Gamification of meetings and events takes many forms. At a recent internal company event at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Florida, one of Cvent’s partners centered their gamification efforts around the Harry Potter theme and made the game interactive within the park. They sorted attendees into “houses,” and displayed the houses on a leaderboard to encourage friendly competition. They utilized beacons onsite that sent push notifications to attendees as they approached certain areas of the conference.
For example, “The game theme completely matched the rest of the event and brought a new level of interaction to the mobile experience maximizing attendee engagement,” says Myllisa Patterson, corporate meeting expert and senior marketing director at Cvent.
The above example illustrates how, over the course of the last decade, meeting professionals have seen the mobile phone go from a future-learning technology to a vital tool in people’s everyday life.
“Eighty-four percent of people say they couldn’t go a single day without their mobile device, and that reliance doesn’t stop at a conference,” Patterson says. “Before we knew about mobile event apps and gamification, the meetings and events industry was struggling to reach an audience whose attention was split between the live event experience and the mobile experience.”
“Gamification plays to our competitive nature as humans and keeps attendees coming back to use your technology.” — Rachel Butts
Now, many event professionals have recognized the importance of turning what was once a distraction into an opportunity, and because of this, gamification plays a more significant role in enhancing the attendee experience.
Consider this: Today, almost all of consumers’ favorite mobile apps are gamified, without them even realizing it. Starbucks rewards patrons win free drinks when they’ve collected enough gold stars (earned from previous purchases). Fitbit has daily challenges where an individual can compete in a step competition with friends, strangers and even themselves. And, navigation apps, like Waze, are getting into gamification, letting a person “level up” after reporting a certain number of road incidents.
As Patterson explains, attendees now expect to be digitally connected with others (and with an event) even before they are onsite, and upon arrival, they like to be able to find exactly what they need when they need it — just as they can do with their other daily tasks.
“We are seeing higher mobile adoption and more attendee engagement than ever before, and we can thank gamification and mobile event apps for making that possible,” Patterson says.
With nearly 10,000 events utilizing Cvent’s mobile app solution this year alone, Cvent has seen incredibly creative implementations of gamification across events of all sizes. The company also uses mobile event apps and gamification for its internal events with employees.
“With a dispersed workforce, it allows for a really great way to stay connected and engage with each other across time zones and borders,” Patterson says.
For instance, before and during an event, Cvent corporate meeting planners have mobile apps and gamification being used to share directions to conference venues and highlight other nearby spots where attendees may want to congregate and explore.
“Our clients are also using mobile apps to offer attendees a better way to browse session information and find the content that best applies to them,” Patterson says. “The ability to easily make an agenda more personalized is a major driver for app adoption, as attendees want to make the most out of their time spent onsite.”
Meeting and event planner Karen Shackman, founder of Shackman & Associates, has recently incorporated gamification into corporate and incentive travel in several ways, including a popular twist on the teambuilding spy scavenger hunt.
Scavenger hunts are hitting a new level in New York City, and the “hot” item to be found is a “kidnapped” executive or colleague.
As Shackman explains, this person is the star of up to four video clues delivered to teams of attendees via their mobile devices. The clues outline a sinister plot against the company, and the group is on a race against time as spies try to find secret information — which can be physical items hidden in public or via beacons — that helps the rescue and saves the company or group from disaster.
Whether it is for a unique new twist in scavenger hunts for destination meetings or as a collaborative way to plan off-hours experiences, virtual reality within gamification is the next big thing in 2019 and beyond for corporate meeting gaming.
“In the case of scavenger hunts, players can learn about the city or the challenge themselves by doing more than simply collecting items; they can take over territory, collect virtual items and use them to become more influential,” Shackman says.
This helps attendees experience areas and locations from the game in real life. Running a virtual reality scavenger hunt in a destination meeting can also help customize an exciting downtime itinerary.
“We have found that millennials, in particular, do not want to be simply trucked around in a group,” Shackman says. “We are seeing huge growth in augmented reality scavenger hunts. This is a huge step forward in location-based reality games for corporate teambuilding. Instead of playing on a Google Map layout, as with other platforms, players can walk around in the real world as they look at their screens.”
Gamification also has found its home on the convention floor. Samuel Smith, managing director at Interactive Meeting Technology, says an information services company used event gamification to connect customers to content, drive them to the trade show floor and to staff-led demos. Players were given a list of challenges that they could complete either on their phone, at a kiosk (in the trade show area) or by participating in a short demo presentation. Once players reached 3,000 points, they were allowed to spin the prize wheel.
“As compared to a typical event gamification activation, earning spins on the prize wheel doubled attendee participation and quadrupled the total number of challenges that were completed,” Smith says. “Individual exhibitors felt like they had more booth traffic, the client collected more data to be used for market insights and attendees appreciated the instant gratification of getting a prize at the prize wheel — rather than waiting until the end of the event.”
Jamie Moran, CEO and co-founder of Scavify, a gamification app, works with conferences and event planners to boost attendee engagement by having attendees complete different interactive challenges (snap photos, record videos, location check-ins, quizzes, scan QR codes, etc.) to get points and earn rewards.
“Just as many other aspects of the events industry have become increasingly focused around mobile strategies, gamification has also become increasingly focused around mobile technology,” Moran says. “Paper bingo cards and physical stamps for vendor passport programs have been replaced by QR codes and scanners built directly into each attendee’s device.”
While many of the mechanics remain the same — points, leaderboards, rewards, etc. — the medium is now largely mobile and more interactive. The most common examples of gamification Moran has seen implemented involve encouraging interaction between attendees and an event’s vendors, sponsors and themes. This is often in the form of digital passport programs or scavenger hunts, where attendees scan QR codes to verify visits to vendor booths, take photos and videos capturing their interactions around the event, sharing these interactions on social media and answering trivia questions in real time.
The original benefit of gamification involved getting attendees — who were looking at their phones anyway — to at least be engaged with the event when doing so.
“Gamification is the ability to effectively incentivize and motivate actions and behavior by transforming an otherwise ordinary activity or program into something that feels more like a game,” Moran says. “Building competition, points, leaderboards and rewards into an activity can greatly increase participation and interaction.”
Gamification is also fairly easy to incorporate into activities to make them fun for attendees without sacrificing higher-level event goals.
As Patterson explains, while that’s still a valuable function, apps have become much more sophisticated, and one of the biggest advantages of event app gamification today is enhancing the attendee experience.
“Many of the people at your event or conference are going to be navigating unfamiliar venues with schedules that are jam-packed,” Patterson says. “We’ve found that carefully curated gamification can really draw people into the app and encourage them to use it.”
Gamification is like the gateway into getting attendees to realize the time-saving tool that is at their fingertips — empowering them to make faster and smarter decisions about where and with whom they will spend their time onsite.
Additionally, gamification is a great way to increase foot traffic to booths at an event. By giving unique QR codes to booths and assigning points for every QR code scanned, meeting planners can instantly boost traffic and engagement. It also gives attendees the opportunity to move around the event and strike up conversations with more people.
Patterson says one thing to note is that there is a fine line between engagement and distraction.
“If attendees are more involved with the game — even more so than the content being provided onsite — it might be time to address how the live event experience is engaging attendees,” she says.
Another downfall of gamification is that if the game is no longer fun, attendees may stop using the app completely.
“We encourage our clients to consider who the audience of the event is and to tailor any gamification to that crowd. Plan ahead so it doesn’t become stale or a distraction before the event concludes,” Patterson says.
So how can gamification increase mobile adoption on the part of attendees, and why is it important to do so?
As Patterson explains, gamification is one of the best ways to guarantee event app adoption. In fact, 59 percent of the top performers in Cvent’s Mobile Event App Benchmark Report were those who used some form of gamification.
She points out that the same report finds that gamification boosts engagement by 44 percent and drives a 95 percent increase in user contribution.
“Gamification is not only increasing mobile adoption, but providing those who do adopt a more captivating and engaging experience that they are looking for,” Patterson says.
The same mechanics that make gamification effective for encouraging participation in activities can also be applied to driving attendees to a broader adoption of an event’s greater mobile strategy. This includes providing attendees incentives and rewards for interacting with the event on their mobile devices.
“This gives event organizers an additional avenue for attendees to become aware of, engage and ultimately adopt the event’s entire mobile medium beyond the initial gamification activity,” Moran says.
With mobile being such a critical platform for events to provide information, generate additional revenue through sponsorship opportunities and connect attendees to social media, it is important for event organizers to create multiple avenues like these to serve as entry points for engaging attendees on mobile that can then be used to further expand broader mobile adoption.
To make the most of gamification and engage attendees, meeting planners need to have a well-designed plan around the key aspects — desired attendee actions, competitive elements, rewards, etc.
Moran says it’s also important to support the activity with proper messaging and promotion, provide attractive rewards for attendees and think through the effort required by attendees and the rewards needed to motivate it.
“It also helps to incorporate physical displays throughout the event that promote the activity through things like TV monitor displays of leaderboards, photos streams and social media streams,” he says. “All of these strategies will help increase awareness and incentivize participation.”
Other ways to make gamification at a meeting or event successful include:
Make it fun. Gamification is one of the best ways to guarantee event app adoption. Patterson says that if the game isn’t fun, doesn’t have a clear purpose and doesn’t align with the event goals, a meeting planner can bet that attendees will stop using the app.
“Inject friendly competition by including a leaderboard that displays the top 10 players with the highest scores to motivate attendees to keep playing,” she says. “Up the stakes by having prizes for the top three players.”
Make it fair. As much as friendly competition in gamification is a good motivator, it is not unheard of for highly competitive individuals to take the game too far. These players are the ones that run around the event doing everything humanly possible to move themselves up on the leaderboard. Perhaps they’ve even found a loophole that allows them to get ahead with minimal effort.
“While this can be easily avoided, it’s still possible,” Patterson says. “And, seeing someone skyrocket up the leaderboard can discourage others from playing the game, as they have lost hope of ever catching up to win.”
Meeting planners can minimize this risk by adjusting players’ scores accordingly and actively monitoring the leaderboard for any outliers. Another best practice is refreshing the leaderboard at the end of each day to give players an even playing field the next day and adding up total scores at the end of the event.
Make it beneficial. Rachel Butts, solutions development manager at Brightspot Incentives & Events, says that while most mobile apps will be downloaded by a majority of attendees, many won’t interact with the app unless there’s something in it for them.
“Gamification plays to our competitive nature as humans and keeps attendees coming back to use your technology,” she says. “Through gamification, you can drive your attendees to use the app daily — or more if you’re doing it right. Attendees gain insights from the information they’re receiving, sponsors gain recognition through in-app advertisements and investors see the ROI of the product.”
Brightspot is a big proponent of using gamification in the meetings they plan to help facilitate networking and educational opportunities.
“We know people are constantly using their phones to take photos, so we build on that trend and award points for uploading relevant photos to the activity feed,” Butts says. “During a recent trade show, we saw unprecedented participation, including an upload of 1,200 photos — two times the number of app users at the conference.”
A key piece to successful gamification is making it easy for attendees to get something out of the event, all while having fun. For example, Patterson suggests using gamification to promote networking, which can be difficult for many attendees.
“With the help of gamification, attendees can more easily break the ice. By adding points to certain networking activities, it encourages attendees to talk to one another, while still gaining traction in the game,” she says.
When incorporating gamification into a meeting or event, there are some key mistakes that planners should try to avoid. For instance, a crucial piece of successful implementation of gamification is making it easy for attendees to get something out of the event and incorporating a little fun along the way.
“A common mistake that we see are games that are neither engaging nor beneficial to the attendee and exist solely as a cool aside to the event or conference,” Patterson says. “It can be easy to get carried away with gamification and gamify everything, leaving little meaning to the game itself. Gamification works best when the purpose of the game aligns closely with the goals of the event. Designing a successful game is as much strategy as it is creativity.”
While gamification can be a powerful tool, it, like most other things, requires the proper framework and support in order to maximize its potential.
As Moran explains, it’s easy to fall into the trap of tacking on a last-minute “gamification feature” to an event app or slapping some points and a leaderboard on an activity without thinking through the actual attendee experience.
“This superficial level of gamification may make organizers feel like they are ticking the gamification box, but their activities often fall flat because the attendee experience is poor, or the core gamification elements and greater strategy are not well-aligned,” he says.
Another common mistake Moran sees event organizers make is not spending enough time mapping out and understanding their overall gamification strategy. This includes the event goals, actions they want attendees to take and the balance between effort required by attendees and the rewards needed to incentivize those actions.
Moran says it’s also easy to forget other key support elements that can greatly impact the outcome of your gamification strategy, including proper messaging and promotion of the activity, communicating with relevant stakeholders (i.e., vendors, sponsors, other event personnel), providing supporting displays throughout the event space that showcases activity (i.e., photo streams, social media streams, leaderboards) and investing in rewards that are actually attractive to attendees.
The role of gamification in the future of meetings and events is unknown; however, considering how people are embracing technology in all aspects of their personal and professional lives, it is most likely here to stay.
In fact, the Cvent teams sees a future where gamification continues to grow in its role as a driver of attendee engagement, along with exciting developments in the tech world, including augmented reality. With augmented reality, attendees can bring gamification to life just by using their smartphones.
“What was once a game relegated to the two-dimensional view on the mobile screen can become a more engaging 3D experience in real-time,” Patterson says. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality doesn’t isolate the user with a headset, but instead allows for a more unique and interactive real-life experience that can be shared with those around them.
Patterson predicts that venue maps will become easier to navigate with 3D displays, and beacons will be able to send out push notifications for gamified promotional activities, such as helping the event’s mascot find treasure hidden onsite.
“The opportunities really are only limited to our imagination, and as technology progresses, so too will the mobile technology and gamification offered at live events,” she says. “And, we’ll be exploring all of the opportunities.”
Moran believes many of the core mechanics of gamification will remain the same over time — points, leaderboards, competition, rewards, etc. — but the types of experiences that incorporate gamification will continue to evolve with technology. Over time, these experiences will become more and more interactive.
“Virtual and augmented reality are well underway and will continue to improve and make for more interactive experiences for attendees,” he says. “As mobile apps and technology continue to evolve and improve, additional functionality that makes tracking attendee activity, creating more personalized experiences and measuring engagement will become easier for both attendees and organizers.” C&IT