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The “Gambrian Explosion” Meets Events

March 5, 2012

Will Wright is one of the most successful game designers in history (he created SimCity).  He has dubbed the age we are living in now as the “Gambrian Explosion”, a play on the Cambrian Explosion, a time in geologic history when life forms were both extremely diverse and plentiful.  He believes that  games are moving into new categories and through new platforms, and are therefore reaching into more demographic categories than ever before.

We are seeing this diversification in events.  Today I was the guest on an #eventtable chat where we talked about “gamification” for events.  There were a lot of participants, and a lot of questions about how the team I led for the GMIC 2011 Sustainable Meetings Conference designed a conference on a gaming platform, or “gamified” our event. (If you are interested, you can read the case study here).  I prefer to use other terms instead of gamification, like sustainable gamespace, but keep in mind that researchers (yes, there are researchers into gamification!  Even Master Degree programs at prestigious universities.) call it gamification, and what they mean by that is using game mechanics and design in non-game settings.

People always ask me two questions.  First, what should event professionals do if they want to “gamify” their events? And second, do I think that gamification is here to stay?

If you are an event professional and want to create sustainable gamespace, I suggest:

  1. Don’t do it just because it’s sparkly.  Make sure it aligns with your goals and objectives.
  2. Don’t assume that adding a social media component or a scavenger hunt is the point.  The point is to create an environment that enhances the ability of attendees to learn, create social connections, and achieve their own goals.
  3. Think about who your attendees are…demographics, education, familiarity with the material.  This will help you create the game to meet the needs of the players.
  4. Use technology as an enabler.
  5. Don’t consider this a checklist item.  Creating sustainable gamespace means integrating strategy and event objectives effectively.

Is gamification here to stay?

When I look at trends, this is what I see:

  1. A growth in social gaming (like Farmville) of about 70% between 2010 and 2011 in the US and UK
  2. Social gaming touches everyone; the typical new social gamer is a 50-year-old woman
  3. The “gamer generation” which has grown up with gaming and technology, outnumbers the Baby Boomers, and they have increasing influence in business and education
  4. More and more people have access to technology like smart phones and tablets
  5. Big companies are getting on board.

Based on this, I think it will be around for a while.  Long live the “Gambrian Explosion”!

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