Very few modes of digital engagement have captured an audience’s attention quite like video games. What makes them so captivating, and how can event planners leverage these lessons to stimulate online audiences?
Throughout the recent virtual event revolution, engagement has remained a major challenge for eventprofs — EventMB found that over half of planners (51.5 percent) consider it their biggest frustration when sourcing virtual event tech.
It’s not surprising. Events thrive on the value of face-to-face interactions, chance meetings, and lucrative connections. Virtual events put event stakeholders in the unfamiliar position of having to convey that value virtually. But while virtual may not be as familiar a format to business events, many precedents have already been set in other online spaces.
What lessons do we have to learn from them?
Video games have been incredibly successful at keeping online users engaged for decades. In fact, as people were craving connection during the pandemic, the video game industry experienced massive growth.
However, the near-universal draw of video games proves that virtual engagement is possible. Here's what planners should keep in mind when implementing gamification at their events.
The Theory Behind Gamification
Gamification for our purposes refers to implementing gaming elements and dynamics in professional contexts to achieve business results. There are several theories and frameworks that seek to identify the psychology behind what makes games so engaging and how it can be applied to other parts of life.
According to some theories, games are effective because they force people to challenge themselves in finding creative solutions to problems within a limited framework. This sense of progression gives participants a feeling of accomplishment and growth as players succeed and watch their skills improve over time.
Gamification also relies on a system of incentives that rewards participants for completing tasks and objectives. These rewards can be tangible prizes or point allotments that contribute to a larger reward system, and a best practice for longer-term gameplay is to give participants lots of opportunities to win throughout the game.
There's also a social element to this: As people progress, they enjoy influence and status among their peers. In some cases, progression is achieved on a group level, and the challenge of solving these puzzles together creates a feeling of camaraderie, community, and teamwork.
In video games, the combination of a sense of progression and improvement, the incentives, and healthy competition makes participants feel invested in the activity and motivated to play for extended periods of time.
So how can we harness that for a professional event environment?
6 Gamification Ideas for Better Engagement
Point allotments, leaderboards, and rewards are clear must-haves for any virtual gamification experience. However, consider the following suggestions to take your event gamification to the next level.
Prompt Attendees to Participate in the Game
Virtual event platforms that offer gamification will often include a dedicated tab where attendees can view tasks to complete as well as the game leaderboard. However, it's important for the game to feel integrated into the event as much as possible in order to keep people engaged even when they're on different pages. For example, some platforms include a banner at the top of each page that reminds attendees of the actions they can take to earn points. If you can make these banners contextually relevant to the sessions people are watching or activities people are engaging in, all the better.
Make Actions as Specific as Possible
Assigning point values to different actions within the event is at the core of gamification, but to make your game stand out, focus on how it can maximize value for both attendees and exhibitors. Giving points for visiting an exhibitor booth is useful, but consider what specific actions you want attendees to take while there. For example, maybe it's watching the intro video, or downloading a certain resource.
Ensure That Attendees Are Paying Attention
Use gamification to give attendees added motivation to actively participate in the event and make sure they're paying attention. If participants simply win points for attending a session, they can easily rack up points without necessarily digesting the content. Instead, incorporate questions that they will need to answer about the session or specify that they will need to join the session for a certain amount of time in order to get the credit. Multiple choice live polls are a great way to track and allocate points for correct answers without the burden of reviewing individual responses.
Limit Point Accumulation
For games to be fun, they need to be somewhat challenging. Allowing participants to run up their point values by repeatedly completing certain actions will make the game too easy, and will also frustrate others who are lagging far behind. Look for tools that enable you to limit point allocation to the first time an action is completed to prevent situations like this.
Used Tiered Reward Systems to Motivate Players
Prizes are obviously key to making gamification work, but the way you choose to distribute them may affect the level of engagement you see at the event. Simply rewarding the attendees with the most points may discourage others from participating if they feel like they have no chance of winning, which will in turn decrease their engagement. In order to avoid this, consider a system where attendees can redeem their points for different levels of prizes, or award prizes or recognition to everyone who makes it past certain point thresholds.
Use Business-Friendly Incentives
It may be difficult to offer personal prizes that a professional audience would be motivated by. For example, an iPad may fall short as an incentive at a medical conference where luxuries are not as hard for participants to come by. Rather, consider asking sponsors or exhibitors to put up free or heavily discounted goods or services, or consider offering free admission to the next year’s event. How good would an employee look winning a free year’s worth of an expensive software solution for his organization? Business-friendly group prizes could be particularly motivating for team-based activities.
Gamification is not a new concept, but it's become increasingly relevant to events due to the need to engage attendees virtually. If done correctly, it can be an incredibly effective method to keep attendees actively participating
A strong gamification tool will allow for more than simply assigning point values and including a leaderboard — look for platforms that incorporate more nuanced rules and seamlessly integrate the game into the wider event.