Game Dynamics and Games in Virtual Events

On a recent trip to London, I found myself sitting in a Yo! Sushi. As I watched the colored plates winding their way around the room, I noticed a poster on the wall advertising “Blue Plate Mondays” (any sushi plate for £2 as opposed to the usual £3-5). Since game dynamics are really just any set of rules that drive behavior, this is a good “offline” example of a game dynamic. Since my company, Social27, has invested heavily in building game dynamics into our virtual events platform, I couldn’t help but think about some of the ways in which this important mechanism is poised to change our industry. Most importantly, my experience with Blue Plate Monday reminded me that game dynamics are much broader than “games” (which are mostly about enjoyment and/or education).

A virtual mine in Second Life is a compelling educational experience. (Image courtesy Sand Castle Studios. )
A virtual mine in Second Life is a compelling educational experience. (Image courtesy Sand Castle Studios. )

As previously mentioned, game dynamics are procedures and processes that can be used to drive behavior in a variety of settings. From the earliest lotteries in ancient Greece and Persia to Happy Hour to Farmville, game dynamics have invaded pretty much every aspect of our lives.  It is important to note that, while all games include game dynamics, not all activities that involve game dynamics are games – at least not in the sense of providing entertainment or education.

From a virtual events perspective, game dynamics will be the single most important tool that event organizers have to drive behavior. But, as the following examples will show, many of the applications that will be seen in the near future will not involve games in a traditional sense. For a great list of game dynamics, check out the SCVNGR list. Here are just a few examples of the dynamics that will appear in virtual events in the future (and a few that already appear today):

  • Time-Based Rewards – early-bird specials are one of the oldest mechanics to get people to physical events. In the digital world, rewards can be provided in a number of scenarios: discounts for watching the on-demand sessions after the live event, rewards for signing in at a particular time to watch a session, or a special prize for joining a chat-session within X minutes of it starting.
  • Recognition for completing tasks – Social27 has invested heavily in this dynamic and provides a way for event organizers to reward customers that engage deeply with their event content. For example, customers who post comments, watch sessions, and upload their own content can earn badges which are added to their profile and are visible to other attendees.
  • Group engagement to solve tasks – While this dynamic has not reached its potential in virtual events, it has huge potential. In the future, we will be able to use social CRM to match attendees with different skills. These attendees will then be able to work together to discover information, solve tasks, and win prizes.
  • Winning through others – This dynamic works by providing special treatment to attendees based on the previous actions of the group. For example, at a virtual event, we might offer a discount on a product once attendance at the event reaches a certain level. This drives buzz and encourages users to invite their colleagues to the event.
  • Random Winners – Lotteries have been around since the earliest civilizations and are one of the most popular game dynamics. Social27’s customers have already started to use this dynamic to drive interest among their customers. As a simple example, many virtual events now allow attendees to enter into a lottery to win prizes such as free software, electronic devices, or product discounts.

What’s in a game?

In the strictest sense, games only require three elements: players, strategies, and outcomes. But, on a cultural level, most people generally think of games as involving either entertainment or education or both. From a virtual events perspective, companies have already started to experiment with quizzes, puzzles, and other simple games in order to engage customers with their content. For the most part, Social27 has avoided typical games as a method of engagement, choosing instead to focus on social game dynamics (rewards, achievements, etc). The reality is that most attendees are too focused on content and connections to want to take the time to play a re-skinned version or Bejeweled. However, as the technology improves, I do see huge potential for community-based games that provide entertainment and drive behavior.

When entertainment meets engagement

For the most part, people visit a virtual event for three reasons: to get information, to network, and to interact with event organizers and other subject matter experts. Any game (in a traditional sense) would have to improve the attendee’s ability to accomplish these tasks. At the same time, game dynamics will enhance this experience by providing additional motivation through context-relevant rewards.

For example, at a virtual event in the future, attendees could be assigned to teams through social CRM. These teams would be presented with a series of puzzles to solve as they work their way through the event, collect information, and interact with company representatives and other attendees. As certain tasks are completed, points and achievements could be assigned to each team member and game-focused videos could provide additional entertainment value. At the end of the online conference, the winning team would be rewarded for their efforts – either through prizes or social recognition.

Substance AND sizzle

Regardless of the specifics, games and game dynamics are already starting to change attendees’ expectations regarding virtual events. As virtual event designers, we have it within our power to design experiences that are entertaining and drive behavior. In short, game dynamics can provide the substance and games can provide the sizzle that takes our virtual event experiences to an entirely new level.

(Article reprinted with permission from Virtual Events Hub.)

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