Not Just Fun and Games: Why Event Professionals Should Care About Gamification

Gamification is being touted by some as the biggest thing since social media. But, what is Gamification and is it relevant to Event Professionals? In this article we look behind the hype to discover how Gamification can be used to create more engaging events.

Gamification for events

I’m sitting staring at my phone with a puzzled frown. My husband looks over my shoulder to find out what has captured my attention and is not surprised to find I’m staring a board of colored squares and letters. I’m playing Words with Friends with my Mum and trying to figure out my next killer move!!

My daily game has become not only a fun way to stimulate my mind, but also a great way to connect with my family who live on the other side of the world. And I’m not the only one. Over 60 million people worldwide have downloaded this popular game.

There are many types of games, but there is something that all successful games have in common: A good game is absorbing and highly satisfying to play. In fact, a good game is so compelling and so engrossing that you can lose track of time. Put another way, games are highly engaging.

The central idea behind gamification is that games have a lot to teach us about how to make real life more fun, more engaging and more fulfilling. Events are a perfect arena to practice gamification because they typically put together a group of people for a short period of time to connect, learn and have fun.

For the meeting planner, the goal is not to turn events into a game, but rather to use principles that work in games so that we are more effective at engaging our attendees, staff, exhibitors, vendors and sponsors so that we create better, more satisfying events.

Active versus Passive Participation

Have you ever been at an event and found yourself switching into “TV mode”? This is a trance-like state in which you find yourself sitting silently gazing at the speaker. At best, you are passively engaged, sitting listening and hopefully absorbing some learning. At worse, you are totally checked out and are using the time to compile a mental shopping list or your next email.

It is very easy for an attendee to spend an entire event in TV mode: sleep-walking through the exhibit hall, nodding through the sessions and nervously shuffling around the buffet table at lunch time. If you have ever experienced being a passive participant you will know that this is not a satisfying or fulfilling experience.

Engagement is the antidote to passive participation. It allows the attendee to become part of the experience, to actively generate their participation in the event. Engagement can be challenging, risky, exciting, social and is ultimately highly rewarding for everyone.


Games and game-play is highly effective in creating active participation. Using game-thinking, we can apply those compulsive, exciting and rewarding elements of games to our events to stimulate active participation by the attendees.

So, how do we do that? The first step is to get clear on what you would like to achieve. Possible objectives are:

  • Better attendance at sessions, especially during low periods, such as early mornings or at the end of the day
  • Increase engagement with exhibitors
  • Improved networking, increasing the number of connections made at the event
  • Social media impact, increasing the number of tweets and social media hits during the event
  • More fun and a better attendee experience overall

Creating the Game

Once you have created a clear objective, you can start to think about the kind of game-play that would support it. There are new applications coming onto the market designed to “gamify” your event by creating quests, challenges, rewards, badges and leader-boards.

This needs to be a very creative and thoughtful process. If you are going to use gamification it needs to be an integrated part of your event, not a gimmick. Having said that, it doesn’t have to be high-tech or expensive. For example, there are lots of great networking games that require nothing more than a pen and pencil.

The Social Game

Richard Bartle has studied why people play games and surprisingly less than 20% play games to win or get external rewards. The overwhelming majority of people (80%) play games to socialize.

Similarly, the great majority of attendees highly desire the opportunity to make meaningful connections with others. You can use game-thinking to create the event experiences that stimulate social interaction. Play, challenges, and games are a great remedy for social awkwardness because they providing permission for people to let go and get to know each other.

In Conclusion

Games and Gamification is not just for geeks. Games are compelling, engaging and the overwhelming majority of people play them to socialize. These factors alone are enough to make Gamification worth your serious consideration as a methodology to create more engaging events.