Why Games + Events Work

May 17, 2012

What is it about games that b-to-b event organizers are trying to hide? Some third-party event producers and even game developers have taken to calling them “engagement platforms” to try to gloss over the notion that (heaven forbid) an attendee might have fun while learning and networking at a live event.

As affirming research piles up and the number of game options for events increases, tradeshow and conference organizers (corporate meeting planners are way ahead of these two groups on the game front) may soon be convinced that a game layer placed on top of an otherwise ho hum business event can yield amazing results.

The fear that event producers have about games in a business environment is grounded in the reluctance of company managers to foot the bill for what they perceive as an employee joyride when budgets are tight.

What the suits may not understand is that the game reinforces the event; the event doesn’t reinforce the game. There is plenty of research to suggest that game play strengthens learning and increases employee motivation.

Game researcher, Jane McGonigal, author of “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, admits that game play gets a bad rap. “The bias is part of our culture, part of our language, and it’s even woven into the way we use ‘game’ and ‘player’ in everyday conversation,” she writes. So, it’s no wonder that managers scrutinize meetings and conferences when too much fun can be had by all.

On the other hand, McGonigal writes, games offer participants opportunities to put personal strengths to use, ways to focus their energy and improved chances at success. “Games build stronger social bonds and lead to more active social networks,” she says. They enhance teamwork by making players part of something bigger than themselves and motivate participants to participate more fully in an activity.

Thanks to Angry Birds and Words with Friends, mobile has emerged as the go-to platform for event-industry games. GamifyAppfrom Toronto-based EventMobiis one example. The company has developed a series of games - Session+, IceBreaker, Team Challenge and Scavenger Hunt - that map show objectives (networking, education, sponsor awareness) to game mechanics. Players engage in a variety of activities (scanning QR codes, answering questions, etc.) to earn badges and points while scores appear on a leaderboard.

EventMobi’s platform allows organizers to customize their own games using a content management system. Planners can design their own badges to reinforce sponsorships or event themes and receive real-time statistics on who is playing and how they are scoring - valuable information for organizers eager to prove attendee engagement with sponsors and exhibitors.

Game play enhances the objectives of all the event stakeholders according to Bob Vaez, EventMobi’s President. "Gamification is a win-win-win situation. Attendees have fun winning prizes, exhibitors and sponsors gain more exposure, and event planners look like geniuses creating an incredible experience. Not to mention the revenue they'll generate through new sponsorship opportunities." 

But, mobile isn’t the only game in town. Hide&Seek, a game design studio based in London creates large-scale, offline, multi-player social games and playful experiences for clients in the commercial, public and cultural sectors. (Think Marco Polo, not Farmville). They hold their own events including Wonderlab, a game-driven unconference to push the limits of creative game play.

Even games designed to be really fun can meet business objectives according to Alex Fleetwood, director, Hide&Seek. “Good business is about interaction, and what better way to break down barriers than through play? This is definitely not a suggestion to make every conference or meeting a game, however through the use of game mechanics we can turn passive spectators into engaged participants,” Fleetwood said.

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