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The Great Gamification Divide

October 26, 2011

Earlier this year, I led the design of the GMIC Sustainable Events Conference, using gamification, starting off a trend in the meetings industry towards “serious fun”, the use of gaming to enhance learning and engagement in meetings and events settings. What happened next is what I cam calling the Great Gamification Divide.

You see, some people love this idea. They are The Players.  They float down the hallways at the event, riding a euphoric wave of belonging and collaboration.  They love the teams, the ideas, the collaborative and competitive environment, the points adding up on the leaderboard.  Then they bump into someone on The Other Side of the Divide.

The people on The Other Side have some issues with the whole idea (many of them valid, in my opinion, just so you know I am not a gaming-is-for-everyone junkie.  I’m not.)  They argue that social media can be the wrong channel to engage people.  Specifically, using Twitter in a gaming situation can “spam” your regular followers/community.  Twitter can also distract people from the actual content of the session.  Both of these are valid critiques.  I’d say that you need to ensure that the social medium you choose needs to do two things: first of all, it needs to help you meet your conference objectives.  Second, it needs to fit the skills and needs of the attendees.

We saw this divide at the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Event in Portland, especially when we got the reviews back.  For some people, this was the best event they had ever attended.  For others, they felt intimidated or felt it was not relevant for them (intimidated is their word, not mine).  After a 90-minute capsule session at this year’s ICCA event in Leipzig, Germany, where I (with Paul Salinger, the President of the GMIC and Greg McKinnon, our technical support from QuickMobile), presented gaming using the GMIC experience, we saw the same divide erupt.  Several people said it was the best session at the conference; others were critical of the logistics.

I agree with both sides of The Divide.  Gamification can be incredibly engaging. BUT the tools need to be appropriate to the objectives and the audience in order to work.  The next generation of the GMIC conference (April 22 – 25, 2012, in Montreal) will have some significant adaptations to it to accommodate both The Players and those on The Other Side.  For example, we will let people choose whether they participate or not.  We will also incorporate two levels of gaming; the first level is individual, and the second is a team level.  Both are, as I said, optional.  Team formation will be organic, not organized, and will be based on challenges that will “thrown” out into the mix and people can (like in Mission Impossible!) choose to accept it or not.  There will be less emphasis on social media, although its use will be encouraged to radiate content.  And we will continue to weave speakers and content into the game fabric to ensure consistency and the feel of a sustainable event universe.

I’d love to hear what side of The Divide you are on…all comments will help us build a better event next time.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2011 5:03 am

    An interesting post! I also straddle the fence when it comes to gaming and events. If forced to choose, I probably would plant my flag over on the critical side.

    The 2011 GMIC Conference was one of the best conferences I ever attended and part of it was due to the gaming element. If you were assigned to a tech-saavy team as I was (Team Oak still rules!) it was much more enjoyable than for those who were on teams that were not. However, by the end of the event, the gaming element took away time for networking and conversations for me.

    As the 2011 version of EventCamp Twin Cities illustrated all too well, gamification can overwhelm the bulk of conference attendees if it becomes too cumbersome to follow along. At another conference, I saw one attendee screaming at her fellow attendees at the table to play the game faster so they could win the prize that was offered. Anything positive from that conference was offset by the animosity the competition created.

    I am looking forward to Montreal next year and am encouraged by the changes that are being made to the gaming aspect

    • October 26, 2011 6:09 am

      Greg, thank you for responding! I actually love the two sides, as I think that diversity of opinion and good constructive critiques will improve the ability of this tool to do what event professionals might want it to. The Montreal event will build on everything we have been hearing; improving the successes and adjusting the challenges. I’m sure we won’t get it all right, but we might get closer!

  2. October 26, 2011 10:19 am

    I’m all for the engagement gamification offers as long as it leads to learning. And by learning, I mean something that causes a change in attitude or behavior. Any skepticism I may have would be toward engagement for the mere sake of engagement. Engagement without learning may still result in a good time, but is that all you want from your event?

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