Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 2014

CMP Series: Step Up Your Gamification

By Michelle R. Davis
one sponsor had TripBuilder create a “Where's Bill?” game, playing off the Where's Waldo? children's books. Within the conference app, attendees clicked on the game, which automatically dropped a pin in a map of the conference venue to show where Bill, the company's president, was at any given time. If attendees located him, he'd give out prizes, but the game also allowed the company to connect with potential customers, according to Margaret McKeon, CMP, IASA's vice president of conference and events.

IASA asks attendees to download its conference app every year, and with the inclusion of Where's Bill?, downloads at the 2013 meeting went up about 10 percent. McKeon plans to use Crack the Code at this year's conference in Indianapolis, and wants to incorporate the Where's Waldo? concept into a future program, maybe in the form of a treasure hunt. “It has great potential for moving traffic around the hall,” McKeon said.


Beyond tailoring a game to a specific objective, there are strategies that can boost the effect of gaming at a meeting, according to Gamification Co.'s Zichermann — including the prizes that you offer. “If it's just another USB key chain, a pen, or a bag, people of high value are not that into it,” he said. “Most of the rewards we offer are non-tangible. It's about mastering things, and looking and feeling like you're succeeding in front of your peers.” Popular prizes have included unlocking a secret session with a keynote speaker, for example, or front-row seating at an in-demand event, or getting a few minutes to present an idea or product before a breakout panel.

Other best practices? Don't make the game too complicated, said Samuel J. Smith, managing director of Interactive Meeting Technology, which creates games that help attendees connect with each other. “People don't want it if you have to go to 16 places and do these 20 things,” Smith said. “Don't create barriers to participation.”

One of the games that Interactive Meeting Technology has created to improve networking and socialization at events is a challenge bar. The idea is simple: Attendees walk up to a bar stocked with a series of iPads and play a simple trivia game, typically tied to the conference topic. A huge question bank means attendees are unlikely to have the same question as their neighbor; participants standing next to each other at the challenge bar often poll the crowd or turn to each other for help. A leader board displays scores, and after three incorrect answers, a buzzer sounds and the next contestant steps up. “Even though they're competing, they're also sharing and interacting, communicating and collaborating,” Smith said. “We reinforce the content from the conference.”

Some game creators, including Smith and livecube's Price, think it's important not to require conference attendees to download an app. For that reason, livecube is accessed through a web URL. Abig, prominent leader board is also important, Smith said. People like taking photos of themselves standing in front of their name, or being able to tweet photos to their friends. That recognition can sometimes be just as much of an incentive as a prize.


But games can do more than educate and entertain. They can work as icebreakers, get people's blood flowing after a long program of sitting, and even lighten the atmosphere. The Go Game, a San Francisco-based company, designs and stages team-building games for meetings of all sizes, with programs running the gamut from silly challenges (take a video of yourself dancing behind an unsuspecting attendee) to demonstrating industry knowledge. Often the Go Game will create team challenges with missions like using code words to find secret agents or asking trivia questions to fellow attendees. “It's a good way to get people to network inadvertently,” said Jenny Gottstein, a game producer for the Go Game.

For example, at the 2011 SAP TechEd Las Vegas conference, the Go Game created Knowledge Quest, with challenges that earned participants points toward prizes or a donation from SAP, which specializes in enterprise software, to an education-based charity. Learning challenges focused on answering questions posted by speakers. Visiting and interacting with exhibitors garnered points, as did scavenger hunts and group challenges. “Adding a simple gamification element to a conference can keep people's eyes from glazing over, change the dynamic, or help people walking through a space make connections,” Gottstein said. But to make it all work, “you have to create an incredible game along with a great incentive prize.”

Rewarding Behavior: Oracle OpenWorld 2013 conference attendees who successfully completed a number of Badgeville missions earned points toward prizes, such as VIP access to events.

Those incentives can influence people's behaviors, according to Chandar Pattabhiram, the vice president of marketing for Badgeville, a gamification platform. “We make people do more things more often,” he said. For example, Badgeville's behavior platform incorporates gaming to encourage brand loyalty, engage with a wider range of convention aspects, and improve interaction among convention goers and between attendees and exhibitors. At the Oracle OpenWorld 2013 conference in Las Vegas last June, Badgeville created a variety of missions for attendees to earn points toward prizes — including VIP access at events and America's Cup paraphernalia, Pattabhiram said.

But Badgeville also aims to change the behavior of business travelers who might be going to conferences across the country. American Express is using the platform for its GoTime gamification efforts, which reward business travelers for making decisions that fall within their company's travel policies. Travelers accept policy-related missions like booking tickets through a preferred supplier, purchasing in advance, or pairing airplane tickets with hotel reservations. If travelers are successful in completing a mission, they're rewarded with points displayed on an online leader board, badges, and prizes. Several companies enrolled in American Express's Modern Loyalty program are currently using the system through a pilot program, according to American Express. Preliminary results showed that 35 days after the pilot launched, the number of bookings with company-preferred airlines increased by 4 percent, employees were 6 percent more likely to book hotels and flights together, and they were booking travel further in advance.

In a written response to questions, American Express said traditional methods of encouraging employees to adhere to company travel policies are “becoming less effective as workplace demographics shift and new technologies emerge.” In addition, the company said, younger workers have different attitudes toward technology and respond well to gamification.

Sometimes gamification at conferences can go beyond prizes. At the CIO Executive Council's CIO Leadership Event in Boca Raton last May, the program's 600 attendees played an idea-generation game, said Rick Pastore, the council's vice president of strategy. Each keynote speaker posed a challenge question to the audience, who worked in teams to brainstorm ideas, pick the best ones, react to them, present them, and choose a winner. There were three live idea-generating rounds, as well an opportunity for online participation through a mobile app that allowed attendees to vote for their favorite concepts. Each team played for a nonprofit organization, some related to education, which would get a donation from the CIO Executive Council if they won. “It got to be competitive,” said Pastore, who had seen Zichermann put the idea-generation game into action at an earlier conference. “We got a good group of people to cheer

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