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Gamification Wins at Boosting Online Event Engagement

As we transition to an increasingly virtual event culture, boosting engagement brings new challenges. Here’s how gamification can help.
As we transition to an increasingly virtual event culture, boosting engagement brings new challenges. Here’s how gamification can help. Image by

A recent Verizon study showed that video game usage during peak hours has increased by 75% in 2020. This dramatic increase can probably be attributed to mandatory isolation and the transition to online learning and work which many have undergone. People are engaging in more indoor activities as a whole, and electronics are a central means of staying connected. So it stands to reason that video traffic and online gaming has gone way up.

How does that relate to the event industry? Well, one of the main components of online gaming is that it involves engaging with other players, sometimes globally. So not only are today’s most popular video games a source of entertainment, they also behave as large social networks for people of all ages. That knowledge alone is enough for event professionals to clue into the vast potential benefits of gamification- and it appears as though they have. Attendees have, too- companies that use gamification have 700% higher conversion rates.

And did you know that 61% of business executives take breaks from work to play video games on their phones? What’s more, half of them say that doing so helps them feel more productive. Perhaps most notably, a whopping 83% of learners report that gamification motivates them to learn and engage.

So how can you use them to drive engagement at your virtual events? Let’s break it down.

The Psychology of Gaming

A penny for your thoughts: Gamification works so well because it satisfies important basic human desires
A penny for your thoughts: Gamification works so well because it satisfies important basic desires human. Image by

Look no further than the Nike fitness app for a wildly successful example of gamification in motion (no pun intended). Understanding that motivation is a key obstacle to getting fit, Nike implemented friendly, organized competitions for users to participate in. Not only do such games incentivize users by offering virtual prizes, but they come with social perks. While some prefer to exercise alone, many of us feel less pressure and more incentive when we exercise with others. By making it possible to do this virtually, Nike is creating a sense of camaraderie and competition via social networks.

Why does this work? Well, for one thing, gaming satisfies some basic human desires. Generally speaking, humans are driven by a fundamental need for recognition and reward. A sense of achievement motivates people in many areas- including exercise, which may or may always be a positive thing, but Nike certainly benefited from it. That sense of achievement is fueled even further by rewards, a fact which Nike also capitalized on by offering prizes to winners.

As discussed briefly in the Nike example, gaming also fosters a sense of community. Universally speaking, people are less lonely when they feel connected to others, and gaming brings people together. Bunchball, a leading gamification platform, suggests using a reward system in which it’s easy to earn points or positive marks at first, then becomes gradually more difficult. This contributes to a sense of accomplishment and incentivizes the user to continue playing; if it’s always as easy as it is in the beginning, users will likely lose interest.

Emotion is one of the major human motivators. Even in terms of achieving, well, a sense of achievement, there is an emotional motivator. Gaining status and accomplishing goals, no matter how small, contributes to positive self-esteem. And that results in positive emotions. So do human connections, big and small.

Games are also stress-relieving because they take our minds off of daily worries, responsibilities, and negative emotions. And in our current tech-driven culture, online consumption is at an all time high. Did you know that multitasking can actually be detrimental to cognitive performance? According to Glenn Wilson, former visiting professor of psychology at Gresham College, London, simply being engaged in a task while aware that an unread email is sitting in your inbox can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points! Wilson’s research also found that the cognitive losses associated with multitasking are even greater than the losses from marijuana consumption.

That said, online games hardly seem like the answer- but in some ways, they provide relief from the sensory and informational overload that our brains struggle with in today’s tech-smart world. Gaming temporarily rids of the brain of distractions, or at least pushes them back from the forefront of the mind. Ever “get lost” in a seemingly meaningless activity, such as playing online SuDoKu or even counting your Starbucks rewards? More than likely, those activities were providing a welcome relief from daily stressors or information overload.

Analysis aside, gaming is fun, and fun also creates positive emotions. When you use gaming to give your attendees a memorable experience, it stays with them. That’s why storytelling is so useful in gamification. Let’s talk about that.

The Power of Storytelling in Gamification

You know that storytelling is a powerful experiential marketing too. Here’s how it adds interest and meaning to gamification.
You know that storytelling is a powerful experiential marketing too. Here’s how it adds interest and meaning to gamification. Image by

Chances are, some of your favorite games featured a strong narrative. At the risk of showing our age, let’s go briefly back in time to Super Mario’s famed mission: to beat the boss at the end of each level, and ultimately save Princess Peach! Yes, that’s an oldie (but goodie). But it shows that a gaming narrative doesn’t have to be complex to add emotional interest to a game.

The sporting industry, which has been largely postponed by the pandemic, has turned to e-sports for video game versions of favorite sports. (Even the Dallas Cowboys have a large e-sports center). Both electronic and traditional sports have long used storytelling to engage viewers’ emotions. The Olympics’ worldwide popularity is partly due to the inspiring stories it continues to tell across cultures. E-sports integrates storytelling by incorporating the pro players’ stories into the game. The emotional motivator here is obvious: If you care about the outcome of the player on the screen, you’ll care more about the game altogether. You’ll want him or her to win and direct your efforts toward it.

It’s well known that storytelling is a key component of successful marketing today. Therefore, telling stories as a marketing strategy is a strong branding tool. So why not use your story to engage your attendees in gamification? Your loyal customers believe in your brand. By earning points or rewards through gamified apps or competitions, they can feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves. If feasible, try adding rewards not just to winners, but to a charitable cause associated with your brand.

Keep in mind that prizes don’t necessarily have to be material; they can go be actionable. For example, if a player earns a certain amount of points, he or she wins attendance to one of your events.

In order to win at gamification, you’ll need to understand what motivates your audience. Is it competition and winning, like with a sports audience? Or is it a sense of belonging to a community with shared interests? The answer is unlikely to be entirely straightforward, as groups of people are motivated by many different factors. But once you figure out what matters most intrinsically and extrinsically to your customers, you’ll know how to create games they want to play.

Winning Examples of Gamification

1. My Starbucks Rewards

Starbucks knows what motivates its customers: Free Starbucks! Based on this knowledge, it launched a rewards program in which customers can increase its level of loyalty to get more free products.

2. Nike + Run

Circling back to Nike, the company’s Nike + Run program uses personalization to engage users. Users’ efforts are measured based on personalized training programs that have been designed specifically to meet their needs and goals. As everyone’s fitness goals tend to be different, that’s important. Some users want to increase their athletic prowess, while others are just interested in increasing their fitness at varying levels. Nike also employs social networks to further incentivize users: They can share the badges and trophies they win as well as statistics about their performance. However, this is a choice; users aren’t forced to share their progress, which is uniquely theirs.

3. Stride Rite

Stride Rite uses gamification in an experiential way. By trying out products, users earn points that result in discounts. For example, kids can earn points by dancing in front of mirrors wearing shoe models.This has advertising benefits for the company and reward-related benefits for the customer.

4. Duolingo

Because language-learning is universally challenging, this company set game-like tasks to motivate users to accomplish goals. Some of the incentives? Points, badges, social functions, learning streaks, and more.

5. Under Armour

The Under Armour Trivia App offers prizes to players who can answer multiple-choice questions currently within a specific window of time. Winners are even given a chance to split the prize pool, and some winners are eligible to enter into a raffle. Some of the prizes? Tickets to playoff games, items signed by celebrity athletes, and more. The utilization of celebrity in gamification is powerful. People admire and identify with their ideals in the entertainment business. They value opportunities to interact with their favorite celebrities, see them perform, and own items signed or used by them,

Creative Problem Solving in Gamification

Games aren’t just about challenging others- they’re about challenging oneself, too.
Games aren’t just about challenging others- they’re about challenging oneself, too. Image by

When asked why you like to play games, “solving problems” may not rank at the top of most people’s list. But that’s because the power of problem solving often plays out on a subconscious level. Creative problem solving forces people to challenge themselves. After all, the appeal of gaming isn’t just about challenging others- it’s about challenging oneself. When people play games, winning isn’t always the sole objective; growth and improvement and important motivators, too. So you may want to reward your users with prizes for solving problems creatively.

Practical Applications

The best ways to use gamification to boost engagement at your virtual event? We’ve got some winning tips for you.
The best ways to use gamification to boost engagement at your virtual event? We’ve got some winning tips for you. Image by

So far, we’ve talked a lot about ideas, but let’s get practical. How can you encourage attendees to participate in games during events? Well, for one thing, you can prompt them. The game should feel like a seamless part of your event. Even if it’s just an option, it should feel like part of the agenda- another activity, another virtual room to visit. You get the drift. For example, when attendees visit an exhibit, let them see a button they can press to earn points toward a prize from that exhibitor. Or you can place a visible button on top of each page prompting attendees to earn more points, participate in a challenge, ect. You may also want to feature these prompts at the end of relevant breakout sessions. Like most other aspects of virtual event design, you’re free to use your creative license.

Obviously, one goal of gamification is for attendees to remember your content. To that end, it’s got to leave a lasting, memorable impression. While games should be simple enough not to require a lot of effort on the user’s part, they should also be informative. In order to make your content stick out in the user’s mind, you can throw in some Q & A. Require them to answer a few simple questions in order to move from one round to the next. This way, they’re interacting with your content and learning about your brand.

If attendees are attending your event for professional development reasons, throw in some pro-business incentives. Offer a tool or software that specifically aids professional development as a prize. You may also gift winner’s with an invite to an exclusive networking event. If there is a real, tangible professional benefit to be won, attendees will be a LOT more interested. If you’re wondering how to distribute prizes, try using a tiered system in which prizes range from the least value to the most.

In Conclusion

As we transition to a more virtual culture, gamification is more relevant to marketing than ever. It’s a fairly easy, effective way to boost engagement, attendance, and product sales. Did you know that over half of event planners say that engagement is their biggest frustration when sourcing virtual event tech? If gamification can boost engagement, which studies consistently show that it can, why not reap its benefits? And as people rely increasingly on the internet for work, daily tasks, and human connections, there’s never been a better time.


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