The Mario Kart Guide to Event Gamification

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Mine was a Mario Kart-less childhood.

Despite being a product of the Nintendo generation, I didn’t have a gaming system growing up. That meant that every time I went next door to my friend’s house, I would get the novelty of the Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, and the quintessential Mario Kart.

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What’s the huge draw of Mario Kart, which has powered more than 100 million sales since its launch in 1992?

Ask any 8-year-old with a death-grip on her controller, and she’ll tell you it’s just a lot of fun. She will also tell you to stop blocking the screen and distracting her with questions.

Your next function can be just as awesome as Mario Kart, if you take its lead and use event gamification.

Gamification describes the addition of game elements – think earning points, solving puzzles, racing cars filled with Italian men and fruit princesses – to nontraditional contexts to influence behavior.

According to Jane McGonigal, who gave a great Ted Talk on how gaming can make a better world, we spend three billion hours per week playing online games.

Capitalize on the widespread gamer culture at your event with these best practices:

1. Challenge your players

You want to aim for the Goldilocks-level of challenge: not too hard but not too easy either. Mario Kart wouldn’t be as fun if you fall off the cliff every five seconds (also known as every time I’m driving).

Test your game yourself before the event. Do you cruise through the exhibit booth scavenger hunt in 10 minutes? Maybe you should add a trivia question that makes your guest learn something before completing that level.  Did you struggle to answer a post-presentation quiz? Ease up for those without precise memories.

Your game should be designed to be an engaging way to experience the event, not boring breeze to get to the end goal or a frustrating trial that leaves attendees feeling sour.

2. Fuel the competition

We all know how vicious Mario Kart can get. I’ve been known to yell and occasionally throw a controller. All friendships are off as soon as the flag goes down.

To drive a fierce (though non-violent) competitive spirit among your guests, there needs to be a meaningful reward in place for participating in, or winning, your game.

Sometimes, the best reward is recognition. You know, the feeling when you cross the finish line first and bask in the glory of top place on the screen.

Find a way to publicly acknowledge those who triumph at your event, and give them a moment in the sun. (It’s also a way to motivate others to get on board with the fun.) One event app with custom gamification, EventMobi, includes a live leaderboard to be displayed on a big-screen.

You should offer tangible prizes, as well, for those who truly reach master level. The prizes should go beyond a pen with your sponsor’s logo – think about items that will serve as incentives, from a classy notebook (on this helpful list of meeting swag people won’t toss on their way out) to a higher-stakes iPad.

Experiences make desirable rewards that your winners won’t have to cart around. You could offer a one-on-one chat with a VIP speaker or free registration to your next event, like the Institute of Financial Operations did at its 2015 tradeshow.

3. Make it social

Playing Mario Kart by yourself is not nearly as fun as playing with your best friends, partly because it gives you the opportunity to gloat when you throw a perfectly aimed turtle shell at them. But there is team playing in the game too, and encouraging that social aspect of your event boosts gamification satisfaction.

You can have attendees answer riddles in groups based on their organization or seating arrangements, or reward the sessions with the highest overall attendance numbers.

Some event apps have built-in social networks, or allow attendees to easily post to their public platforms within the app. Get your guests socializing by offering points or badges for sharing a status with your event hashtag or adding a new connection.

As a bonus, you’ll know they’re sharing the correct hashtag, helping to generate social buzz. Aaron Price used the app he cofounded, livecube, for the first time at NJ Spark Summit 2014, and discovered that instead of a few dozen tweets (some with misspelled hashtags), the event caused 596 tweets and 345 retweets, with a total reach of 579,434 Twitter followers.

4. Remember that winning isn’t everything

At the end of a game, guests should have learned something, met someone new, or gone beyond the surface of the event experience. Gamification should be a reward in and of itself, just like the satisfaction of finishing out a round of Mario Kart.

The ultimate goal is to have attendees more engaged in the day, and eager for the next game to start.

The Last Lap

How do you use gamification in your events? What lessons, Mario Kart-themed or otherwise, would you pass on? Share in the comments below!

Header by Abby Kahler

Looking for Event Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Event Management software solutions.

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About the Author

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Hannah S. Ostroff

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Hannah S. Ostroff is a writer for Capterra, a free resource that matches buyers and sellers of business software. A graduate of the College of William & Mary, she spends her free time cooking, singing, reading, and watching videos of baby animals.

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