What does the gaming industry have to do with events? Did you know that the gaming market size globally is valued at USD 175 billion? That’s almost twice the total market size of the movie and music business combined, globally. These were some of the fascinating insights shared by the Rotterdam Experiment ambassador and futurist Yuri van Geest at the second Rotterdam Experiment that took place on 18 February 2021.
In fact, both the gaming and events industries have many similarities when we look closely at each. These similarities go beyond the entertainment element of gamification that we might associate it with.
‘Gaming is about creating a better world, and events are part of it,’ shared Yuri van Geest, referring to the shift happening in the gaming industry, where computer games have become more purpose driven and collaborative. And so are events.
Now, after exactly one year without live events, as an industry and individuals, we’ve experienced a shift in values in how we communicate, collaborate and learn. That has impacted our work culture and inevitably will shape the future of events, when they are allowed to take place again safely live or in a hybrid format. Not attending live events and experiencing the limitations brought by distance, we will place a higher value on connecting face to face. The value of live events will be in sharing emotional, social or spiritual experiences.
The second Rotterdam Experiment, which was organised by the Rotterdam Partners Convention Bureau, offered a deep dive into the world of gamification from both practical and theoretical perspectives. It was live-streamed from Cruise Terminal Rotterdam; the online audience was introduced to key industry leaders in the gaming industry and heard about two event case studies that had integrated gamification into their events to foster innovation and collaboration.
The Rotterdam Experiment was moderated by Catherine Kalamidas, Account Manager Congresses at Rotterdam Partners Convention Bureau and was divided into three parts.
First, a keynote was given by Yuri van Geest. It was followed by a group experiment guided by Andries van Vugt, Founder & Creative Designer at Organiq. The last part was a table talk with Teresa de la Hera, Assistant Professor of Persuasive Gaming, Department of Media and Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Farshida Zafar, L.L.M., Director ErasmusX at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Senior Fellow Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence for Digital Governance, Alexander Whitcomb, Operational Manager ErasmusX at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Christel Sieling, Director of Operations at Odyssey and Anne Geelhoed, Vice Chair at YoungShip Rotterdam.
The compact event format of just under two hours offered an extensive overview of the gaming industry, and in this first post about the second edition of The Rotterdam Experiment, I want to share with you the key takeaway points from Yuri van Geest’s keynote.
Gaming – evolution over the past 40 years
When we associate gaming with our youth, titles such as Commodore 64, Zak McKracken, Paperboy, Hypolympic and Decathlon come to mind. These were the early days of computers.
When we think about gaming today, there has been a huge shift. Fast forward 40 years, and the technology has evolved to include 2D, 3D and immersive experiences. Over recent years, a shift from individual to collaborative gaming has also occurred. Furthermore, the purpose of gaming has evolved. Now, it’s about how to improve society, and one such example is that games have found a place in education.
For individuals, gaming involves relaxation. Right now, during COVID-19, people have the need to stabilise themselves. Gaming is a way to alleviate, to a certain degree, the mental health issues caused by the pandemic.
Gaming satisfies other individual needs, such as curiosity, creativity, collaboration, competing, performance, status, validation and purpose. It also corresponds to the needs of the events industry. Games are a way to be playful and to captivate attendees’ inner child. Event planners can offer a more immersive experience at their events using virtual reality (VR) and other online techniques to make the events more captivating and immersive. So, gamification is the future of events.
Evolution of the gaming industry
Over the years, games have developed. They have moved from short, one-off transactional games to franchises and long-term engagements with different brand extensions to the same target audiences. Furthermore, there has been a shift from aggression or superficiality to more substantive, positive gaming. There are educational games, serious games and games that address emotional, social and spiritual needs.
With technological developments that include augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality, games have become part of real reality; for example, Minecraft Earth and Pokémon GO. Technological developments in gaming go even further and include exponential technologies such as robots, drones and artificial algorithms. That means that artificial intelligence (AI) or algorithms can be used to create games or generative designs, or a bot powered by AI can compete with a user.
Games can be used for good purposes
There has been a shift in gaming towards solution-driven game development. These approaches help to address societal needs. One example is a game called Momentum/Odyssey, driven by Dutch entrepreneur Rutger van Zuidam that took place in 2020. This game addressed sustainable development goals, with groups working on finding solutions to these goals. The game built an ecosystem with mass collaboration through a 48-hour hackathon format. Participants created solutions together using tools, such as Miro and whiteboards. Such an event format, which includes elements of gamification, has substance, with attendees contributing and collaborating in a VR environment to help solve key challenges in society.
Shift in events
There are several similarities between gaming and events. First, events are increasingly using the same technology as gaming (e.g., Tomorrowland). Second, event content has become similar to what can be experienced with gaming: events will increasingly be purpose driven. Going forward, events will become even more fundamental to solving global challenges, such as the sustainable development goals. Games are fundamental in addressing global challenges because of the market size and the number of gamers globally. They are a great way to tap into an audience’s creativity, helping to develop solutions and a better world.
Gaming technology will continue to evolve. Such developments include brain-computer interfaces, holograms and telepathy.
How gaming can be used in the work environment
Event planners can apply gaming to their workplace practices too. Sharing a practical example, Yuri referred to a recruitment campaign for a company in vertical farming. The job profile page included the purpose, culture and values. The job advert stated, ‘The organisational culture is exactly like a gaming culture: fast decisions, collaboration, purpose driven, short feedback loops; you can innovate and contribute from day one. You co-create your own job.’
Why use this specific example? To demonstrate that the values and competencies learned in gaming have become fundamental in workspaces, working cultures and organisational cultures.
To conclude, there are two key messages event planners can take from gaming. First, gaming is about creating a better world, and events are a key part of that. Second, gaming involves work skills. Through gaming, event planners and their teams can develop these skills; for example, collaboration, curiosity, creativity, problem-solving, not giving up, persistence and grit.
Going forward, these skills will become important in emerging workplaces and events because when people attend events, they want to see the values of the gaming culture also embedded. This approach will increase the value for both event attendees and event planners at their workplace.
Gaming in the context of events is often associated with having fun. The tools used for gamification are typically an app, leader board, Q&A and quizzes. This keynote demonstrated that there’s more to gaming than the pure fun element. Computer gaming has evolved, and so should gamification in the context of events. The pandemic has been a big trigger for rethinking our gamification and engagement strategy at events.
I loved the fact that Yuri used two examples that I am personally familiar with. First, he mentioned a gamified event—Tomorrowland—a Belgian electronic dance and music festival that takes place in Boom, Belgium, held virtually in July 2020. Together with fellow event professionals, we attended the event to experience this legendary festival but also see another event format and platform. In only approximately two months, they’ve created a platform that would typically take about two years to develop, using Unreal Engine, developed by Epic Games. In this instance, computer gaming technology was used to create the festival platform. From an attendee perspective, I didn’t notice any gamification elements that included interaction and made me particularly engaged, but the platform was well designed and smooth to navigate using computer gaming elements.
Second, Yuri mentioned the hackathon, an event format that I’m well familiar with because I organised two hackathons for event planners in April and October 2020. When I organised the first hackathon in April, that was at the very beginning of the pandemic, and the industry still didn’t know what to expect during the following months. After reading and hearing the unfortunate news of event businesses having to furlough employees or close down, businesses losing income for multiple months and clients keeping contracts on hold, I felt that I wanted to address this challenge. There is no time to look backwards. Instead, we need to work collaboratively as an industry and think about solutions that will make our businesses more secure, robust and agile in the future. The way we work and communicate will evolve and take place increasingly online when businesses reopen. That knowledge means that it will require adjusting and evolving the current business models of the entire events industry. That’s how the idea of the online #eventprofstalk hackathon was born.
The April challenge was to ‘Develop a 12-month business plan for an event agency affected by COVID-19.’ Four groups collaborated for 48 hours using online tools across different time zones.
The second hackathon in October required event planners to ‘Develop a 12-month sales and marketing plan for an event agency.‘ We had one group working on it, and this time I also participated in the task.
Both hackathons gave a clear indication of what events in the post-corona-crisis world could look like: collaborative, challenge based and cause driven.
The feedback received from participants included the fact that they loved collaborating with participants they’d never met before from all over the world, they developed new ideas, found new connections, learned how to write a business plan, loved working with more experienced event professionals, thought that the hackathon format can be used as a pitching exercise, loved the fast-paced environment and experienced intercultural communication on an entirely new level.
We didn’t have the financial resource of Tomorrowland or Odyssey, but instead used free online collaborative tools. Our main platform was Slack for team members to communicate, and from there, each team decided how they wanted to write the business plan. Most teams used Google Docs, Canva and Zoom for the task.
Hackathon is a brilliant concept that can suit every group size and budget. It brings gamification and collaboration to a whole new level in the virtual space. Seeing the concepts develop from a short brief to a detailed business plan really made the process somewhat emotional—that emotion you have at live events and until now thought could not be replicated in the online space. Attendees had intrinsic motivation to take part and find sustainable solutions for their industry.
What is your experience with gamification at events? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below or across social media platforms using the hashtag #RotterdamExperiment.
In the next post, I’ll offer some more science-based examples of how gamification can be used to design more impactful events; for example, how two events—Odyssey and ShipCon—used gamification and our own gamification experiment.
In the meantime, if you want to learn more about The Rotterdam Experiment series and the upcoming experiments, make sure to check out the official website, which is updated on a regular basis. You can also follow Rotterdam Partners on Twitter and LinkedIn for more information about MICE destination Rotterdam and the #RotterdamExperiment.