One of the freshest, most exciting concepts to hit the meetings industry in years is in danger of being trivialized and oversimplified to death.
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Gamification got a push into the meetings spotlight when the Green Meeting Industry Council introduced game design as a key feature of its 2011 Sustainable Meetings Conference last February. Inspired by the idea that “if you want to change the future, play with it first,” GMIC designed a team game that participants played by attending sessions, talking to exhibitors, and gathering information to complete a sustainable meetings case study. The game generated huge buzz in the industry and a ton of lessons learned that GMIC Program Chair Elizabeth Henderson and I captured in a GMIC case study.
At Game ON!, participants engaged with the content and purpose of the meeting while they engaged with each other. At the time, I didn’t realize how groundbreaking that really was. I’ve since seen organizations try to “gamify” their meetings by adding Four Square, announcing a scavenger hunt, or awarding badges for participants who visit a Web site or snap a photo of an exhibitor’s QR code. It’s about the fun, the buzz, the networking, and the sale.
That works for a trade or consumer show. But it’s counter-intuitive for conferences that are about learning, outcomes, and results.
The on-site game at EventCamp Twin Cities 2011 last month tripped over some common gamification landmines:
- There was no time for participants to learn the game or for team leaders to prepare for their role before the activity began.
- The game rules were needlessly complex.
- Although ECTC11 allocated more time to teamwork than we allowed at GMIC, it still wasn’t enough. Yet the game still chewed up networking time that many participants missed.
- Most significant, the game challenges had very little to do with the content of the meeting.
This points to an unfortunate developmental phase that may not show up on any innovation curve, but seems to touch every new idea entering the meetings industry. As the buzz around an idea reaches critical mass, meeting designers try to adopt the concept before they fully understand it. Speakers decide they’d better add a slide on the new topic before they have much to say about it. Before long, the original insight is diluted.
Speaking at ECTC11, Henderson warned against adopting gamification because it’s a sparkly new thing: a meeting should include game elements, she said, if they further the objectives of the meeting. Game ON! showed that this is something our industry knows how to do (and the case study showed how to do it even better). But we’ll have to skip the short cuts and sweat the details if we really want gamification to make a difference.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.