Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 2014

CMP Series: Step Up Your Gamification

By Michelle R. Davis

Funny Business: Gamification programs like the Go Game ‘can keep people's eyes from glazing over.’

Playing tag. A scavenger hunt. Bingo. Team competition. A trivia quiz. These are all childhood games that evoke a sense of camaraderie, cooperation, and entertainment, with a bit of friendly rivalry thrown in. And all of them, in a more technologically mature form, are being incorporated into meetings and conventions to help boost everything from social networking to content engagement.

Gamification — the idea of bringing games or gaming interaction into nontraditional contexts — is being incorporated into the event space at a rapid pace. In some ways, it's the perfect petri dish for games to blossom: a short, intense time frame with a distinct ending, and a large gathering of like-minded people. “Games engage folks through interactivity, not just watching something but being apart of it,” said Andrew Phelps, director of the Rochester Institute of Technology Center for Media, Arts Games, Interactions & Creativity, or MAGIC Center. “Games are getting people to reflect on their behaviors and think differently about an activity.”

But they're not just about fun. From a planning perspective, it's important to develop or incorporate a game into a meeting by thinking about the end goal. Gaming can subtly encourage attendees to visit and spend more time with exhibitors, help them retain information presented by a keynote speaker, improve networking, boost the buzz surrounding the program, and energize its atmosphere. If you don't incorporate gaming in a thoughtful way, these diversions actually can detract from the event, according to Gabe Zichermann, CEO of Gamification Co., a source for news and information on gamification, and chair of GSummit, an annual conference focused on gamification.

“Avoid cheesy games, and think about how a game is connected to your event,” said Zichermann, author of the book The Gamification Revolution: How Leaders Leverage Game Mechanics to Crush the Competition. “The biggest application for gamification in live events is to manage the overwhelming information flowing at attendees from devices and the live world, and to help organizers get value out of that.”


All meeting organizers have to contend with the fact that attendees are likely to have at least one device — smartphone, tablet, laptop — that can be a distraction from the educational program or the exhibit hall. You might be tempted to resist the technology (Zichermann says he still runs into planners who deliberately don't invest in strong Internet connections for that reason), but game creators say that instead you should embrace it through gaming.

An event-gaming platform called livecube, for example, allows you to stage contests that award points for the most tweets, retweets, photos, and interaction through Twitter or a private social-networking community created specifically for the event. Attendees are ranked on a leader board displayed online and at the meeting — a feature that CEO Aaron Price, who co-founded livecube with Zichermann, calls “highly motivational.” Participants with the most points might earn prizes ranging from a bottle of wine to services from exhibitors. The livecube platform can display tweets and content by session and allow live questions and answers from the audience, and saves a history of those interactions. All of that material can be displayed on screens at the event.

Event-gaming platform livecube allows organizers to stage contests that reward participants for their interaction on Twitter or a social- networking site created specifically for that event.

One of the most important features is that the system automatically includes correct hashtags for the convention, panel discussion, or meeting, so the event gets its due on Twitter. Price organizes both the monthly NJ Tech Meetup for entrepreneurs and innovators, and the annual NJ Spark Summit, which describes itself as “a daylong (un)conference about startups and entrepreneurship.” At the NJ Spark Summit 2014 at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., this past February, Price used livecube for the first time. “There was a huge difference,” he said. “It used to be that I'd get a few dozen tweets and some misspelled hashtags.” This time the summit generated 596 tweets and 345 retweets, with a total reach of 579,434 Twitter followers. Zichermann had a similar experience with livecube at GSummit 2013 in San Francisco, which — with all of 600 attendees — became one of the top trending topics on Twitter. “The kind of traffic it takes to make that a top trending topic requires real heft,” Zichermann said.

Kate Childs, a publicity manager at Random House, also saw high impact using livecube at her company's daylong open house in New York City last May, where 250 readers interacted with authors like food writer Ruth Reichl and TV personality Jenny McCarthy. The event garnered about 1,450 total tweets, 629 of them posted through livecube. Screens set up throughout the venue featured top tweets, photos, and comments. Attendees could also get information on all the day's speakers, including their Twitter handles, and earn prizes. And livecube's pre-set hashtags were a plus. “There was automatically brand recognition,” Childs said, “and it simplified the process.”

That said, Childs noted that it's important to strike a balance when thinking about events and gaming. “There's a debate about how much you want people on their phones,” she said, “since you want people actually engaged in what’ s happening. But this added a layer of fun to that engagement.”

Games can also boost the experience for exhibitors. Kimberly Pargin, the coordinator of associate member relations for the Texas Bankers Association (TBA), used the SCANVenger Hunt platform at TBA's thousand-attendee 2013 Annual Convention & Exposition in San Antonio last May. Attendees visited exhibitors and used a QR-reader app to scan a code at each booth. Once the code was scanned, they were asked a question related to the banking industry to earn points toward prizes and a $2,500 drawing. SCANVenger Hunt provided a link to a website that showed participants’ rankings, which were also displayed on a leader board at the show.

The platform allowed Pargin to update a game TBA had used in the past that asked attendees to fill a bingo-style card with stamps from exhibitors; members’ spouses often ended up collecting the stamps, Pargin said, which didn't help connect members to exhibitors. With SCANVenger Hunt, it was more likely that members would visit the booths themselves, because they had to use their own smart-phone and the questions were related to the industry. After the meeting, exhibitors could access information on which members scanned a code at their booth. Only about 30 percent of attendees participated in the game, but Pargin said she plans to include it in future programs, and thinks usage will rise.

Another game that tries to promote interaction between attendees and exhibitors is TripBuilder Media Inc.'s Crack the Code. Using a mobile app, attendees visit exhibitors’ displays to retrieve a code that must be entered to earn various points toward prizes — creating an opportunity for dialogue between an exhibitor and an attendee. “This gives them a reason to engage,” said Steven Tanzer, president of TripBuilder, “and that’ s a big benefit.”

TripBuilder has also created custom games for exhibitors. During the Insurance Accounting & Systems Association's (IASA) 2013 Annual Educational Conference and Business Show, which brought 2,400 attendees and 200 exhibitors to Washington, D.C., last June,

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