Using Gamification To Influence Event Participants’ Behavior


Gamification is the current shiny object for the meetings and events industry.

Why all the hype about gamification?

As the business sector is discovering, gamification has the power to

  • Increase and improve customer engagement
  • Build customer loyalty
  • Incent customers to do specific things 

Defining Gamification

 Gamification is the use of game mechanics and game dynamics for non-game applications. It is also known as funware.

Gamification borrows key concepts from related areas including behavioral economics, community management, customer loyalty programs and game design.

When used in a conference or event context, it integrates game mechanics and dynamics into the event experience to drive attendee participation and engagement. Event organizers want to get attendees to participate, share and interact in some type of activity or community.

Game Mechanics

Game mechanics are the actions, behaviors and control mechanisms used to make an activity into a game. These are the traits that make the game challenging, fun, satisfying or whatever other emotion the game designers hope to evoke.

Game mechanics include

  • Challenges
  • Gifts and charity
  • Leaderboards
  • Levels
  • Points
  • Virtual goods and spaces

Game mechanics are not new to the hospitality industry. Many different activities that people already use today incorporate game mechanics. And we usually do not even think of them as games.  

Airlines have been using frequent flyer programs for years. Hotels and resorts use status programs to create loyal customers. Starbucks rewards customers with virtual points and badges via Foursquare.

Game Dynamics

Game dynamics are the compelling reasons, incentives and motivational nature of the experience.  These factors drive us to play the game.

Game dynamics include

  • Achievement
  • Altruism
  • Competition
  • Rewards
  • Self-expression
  • Status

Fun, compelling and addictive games generate excitement and passion that incent the player’s experience. The competition can be solitary or against others.

Traditional redemption-focused loyalty programs focused on point systems that offered gifts or discounts in return for purchases. The rewards from these programs are based on customers burning what they earn.

Today, many savvy marketers realize they must differentiate themselves from the traditional redemption-focused loyalty programs. Using gamification, programs can increase their effectiveness by adding more intrinsic motivations to earn points. Playing the game becomes just as fun as winning. Adding leaderboards and staggered levels of achievement enhances the gaming aspect as people work towards a reward. And the right level of challenge tempered with achievement arouses and excites the brain.

It’s All About The Data

Ultimately, gamification is about tracking data that drives participation.

Playing The Game Of Life with a friend, every day for a week can get boring. If they started recording and displaying data–how many times each person won,  how many times each person spun a specific number, how much money each winner had, how many children each player had–then the experience becomes more interesting.

These statistics create another level to game play and motivate people to keep playing. Even when the game may have become stale, each play becomes part of a larger game that creates a desire to make return visits. By capturing statistics, communicating everyone’s standing and rewarding accomplishments, game designers drive participation.

How can you integrate gamification into your conferences and events? What kind of event participation can you drive with gamification?

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  1. Mary Spencer says:

    Gamification is an interesting concept and I am intrigued. I wish I had suggestions to offer, but right now I am looking for some. I have two major events that are coming up in the next academic year. The first one I am involved in is new to the university. We are planning a transition week for new freshmen. The intent of this program is to introduce these young adults to the exciting yet rigorous curriculum at the university. How might we incorporate gamification in when discussing the perils of poor time management or avoiding distractions in when using laptops in the classrooms?

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Great question.

      You might start by asking Paul Salinger or Elizabeth Henderson how they used Gamification for their recent GMIC Sustainable Conference. GAMESbrief, the business of games blog, is another great resource that can help you. Here are some books you can read for more information as well: Total Engagement, Game Based Marketing, GameStorming: A Playbook.

  2. Jeff, I’d be curious to know how you’d put together the idea of incorporating storytelling into a meeting’s DNA with gamification. After all, the best games (IMHO, anyway) also have stories attached to them, so yes, you play for points or whatever, but you also play to move the story, and your character’s role in the story, forward.

    Seems to me that putting the two together could really amplify a meeting’s impact. Love to hear your thoughts.

  3. ‘@Mary; the perils of poor time management would not be hard to build into a game, or your conference. As an example, consider the idea of “speed dating” as applied to your conference… a student only gets a few minutes to grab as much information as possible from a source before moving on to another source. The student then needs to use what they collect in those few minutes, possibly in a “game show” format where they have to answer questions on the spot (and the answers get re-iterated to help reinforce important points that were missed). You could do even incorporate distracting elements to the same exercise. You might check out for more tips on using games in education.

    @Sue, I’d love to weigh in on your comment but I’d need more content before I could supply a suggestion.

  4. Jeff,
    You and I talked @GeorgiaMPI MEC about how I’m so interested in this topic and on how it increases both engagement and learning. I love Sue’s comment about incorporating the power of story as well and have seen this work well in at least one meeting setting implemented in just a small way. I look forward to reading the resources you shared, Jeff, and into seeing how #eventprofs adopt this as a tool for their education meetings.

    Mary – you’ve got an especially difficult and fun population because they can be a bit jaded when it comes to gaming having seen it all in their short lives. I wish you luck!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      I’ve not fleshed out the idea of gamification & narrative for a conference yet…but I am definitely thinking about it. And with many now involved in social-sharing with the “quantified self-movement” it makes total sense. I’ve got the ideas in my head…now to find the conference that wants to do it. 😉

      Thanks for reading and commenting too. It is always appreciated!!

      Thanks for extending the conversation and adding your insight as a gamer for education. I appreciate it!

      Thanks for reading and being an avid supporter! I know that gaming is your back pocket and something you strongly support. You’ve been a great leader and maverick in this field. Thanks for playing and encouraging us to play as well!

  5. Mary Spencer says:

    Thanks for your suggestions. I have a planning retreat coming up within the next week. I am going to bring these ideas up with my staff.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Glad you found it useful. Thanks for reading and commenting too.

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