Gamification at Trade Shows: 13 Ways to Make it Work

Saturday, February 23, 2019

So you’ve decided that for the upcoming trade show, you really want your kiosk to stand out, so as to not get lost in a sea of mediocre stalls and setups throughout the convention. An advergame could be the very thing you need to set your booth apart from those around you.

When representing your company, you want to be remembered by attendees for having an engaging, social, entertaining, competitive and conversation-starting component to your little piece of convention real estate. Having an advergame definitely ticks all of these boxes but we would never present it as a “sure thing”. There are multiple steps and prompts that need to be considered before the game is launched in order to set it up for the best ROI possible.

The central idea behind gamification is that games have a lot to teach us about how to make tasks more fun, engaging and fulfilling. Events are a perfect arena to practice gamification due to the fact that they typically put a group of people (often strangers) together for a short period of time to connect, learn and have fun. An advergame can be the perfect ice-breaker for both the sales team and the attendees, facilitating a more disarming atmosphere for positive brand association, data collection and awareness.

For the meeting planner, the goal is not to turn events into a game, but rather to use game elements and principles so that they are more effective at engaging attendees, staff, exhibitors, vendors and sponsors. This helps create better, more satisfying events.

Active versus Passive Participation

Have you ever been at an event and found yourself switching into “sleep mode”? This is a trance-like state in which you find yourself conserving your energy, sitting silently gazing at the speaker. At best, you are passively engaged, sitting listening and hopefully absorbing some learning. At worse, you are totally checked out and having the jingle from a 90’s shampoo commercial looping through your mind.

It is very easy for an attendee to spend an entire event in sleep mode: shuffling through the exhibit hall, nodding through the sessions with no real attained knowledge and understanding. If you have ever experienced being a passive participant you will know that this is not a satisfying or fulfilling experience.

Engagement is the antidote to passive participation. It allows the attendee to become part of the experience, to actively generate their participation in the event. Engagement can be challenging, risky, exciting, social and is ultimately highly rewarding for everyone. Advergames can provide the engagement necessary to counteract “sleep mode” attendees.

The Social Game

Richard Bartle, creator of the Bartle Test has studied why people play games and surprisingly less than 20% play games to win or get external rewards. The overwhelming majority of people (80%) play games to socialise.

Similarly, the great majority of attendees highly desire the opportunity to make meaningful connections with others. You can facilitate a game experience that can create and stimulate a social interaction atmosphere. Play, challenges, and games are a great remedy for social awkwardness because they provide permission for people to let go and get to know each other.


Games and gameplay are highly effective in creating active participation. Using game-thinking, we can apply those compulsive, exciting and rewarding elements of games to our events to stimulate active participation by the attendees.

So, how do we do that? The first step is to get clear on what you would like to achieve. Possible objectives are:

  • Better attendance at sessions, especially during low periods, such as early mornings or at the end of the day

  • Increase engagement with exhibitors

  • Improved networking, increasing the number of connections made at the event

  • Social media impact, increasing the number of tweets and social media hits during the event

  • More fun and a better attendee experience overall

All of these objective examples can be met with the implementation of a well executed advergame within your kiosk. Lets take a look at how to most effectively host an advergame within your kiosk, in order to optimise for the best results possible.

Keys to effectively hosting an advergame at a trade show

Create a Game that is both relevant and fun

Once you have created a clear objective, the next step is for your team to begin thinking about which games would be fun for users to interact with and whether or not they can be tied in to be relevant with your product offering. There are new applications coming onto the market designed to gamify your event by creating quests, challenges, rewards, badges and leaderboards.

This part of the process requires detailed planning and creative decisions to be made. If you are going to use gamification it needs to be a well integrated part of your event, not a gimmicky afterthought. Having said that, it doesn’t have to be high tech or expensive.

Do advanced checks for all tech involved

Checking up on all of the technology used within your booth in advance to the trade show can help you to avoid any technical issues and save you a lot of time and drama on the day.

The amount of previous clients that have walked blindly into kiosk problems on event day when the whole problem could of otherwise been an avoidable issue, is unfortunately a higher number than what it should be.

This means, checking devices are fully charged, testing touchscreen hires before they’re on the floor, updating system software, testing internet connectivity, comparing browsers and computer system quality etc.

Preplan the most optimal layout for your kiosk and game display

Location, location, location. Have you ever walked past stalls at trade shows and thought, “I wouldn’t of laid out the stall like that”?.

Knowing where your stall will be positioned in the convention centre can help you to plan for your advergame to be best placed for visual optimisation with passersby.

Attendees often don’t want to be at trade shows but they can’t deny the opportunities they also bring. More than anything they want an engaging activity to keep them stimulated during the long days of wandering the convention halls. If you have a fun and entertaining advergame hidden away in your booth, you’re robbing yourself and attendees of a mutually beneficial experience.

Incorporate a contest

Not everyone has the budget to offer a grand prize of $50,000 or a new car to drive off the lot. Those prizes certainly will turn some heads, but if you decide to organise a contest, make sure that it’s easy to participate in and that the prize is worthwhile.

Unsure what to give away? Incorporate your prize into the theme of the trade show. For example, if your company is exhibiting at the Home and Garden Show, you could give guests a chance to win a free garden makeover, gardening gloves or a tool of some kind. By giving away something people will actually use, they will consistently remember your brand over and over again – long after the trade show has come and gone.

The key is to offer a reward that is enticing but not intimidating. The last thing you want is to offer a reward that eclipses and overwhelms attendee’s competitive confidence.

Create buzz, to build buzz

I’ll give you the virtual experience here. Imagine you’re a tourist looking for the best hot dog in Times Square and you see one vendor has a longer line than all the others. Which one has your attention? Which one are you going to?

Social proof generates trust.

Attendees seeing others engaged with a brand makes them want to see what the buzz is all about. To get the ball rolling sometimes you need to manufacture buzz by getting other employees into the trade show dressed as attendees and having them interact with your game, surround your booth and creating a crowd atmosphere.

Integrate QR Codes within your booth

You can give the traditional print graphics in your booth a bit of an upgrade by generating dynamic QR codes. What are QR codes you ask? A barcode-style image which visitors can scan with their smartphone cameras, resulting in a playable game link that they can open on their phone.

QR codes are a great way to both cater to long lines and to maintain attendee/brand engagement for longer than the initial booth experience. The biggest key to QR codes being a success comes down to both visibility and understanding as to what the QR code does. Time after time we have had clients create QR codes, only to place at foot level on sandwich boards in the smallest size they could muster.

Needless to say, those previous clients didn’t set themselves up for a win.

Don’t be stingy when it comes to investing into the booth layout

This point is indirectly tied to the advergame itself, but still holds a great deal of weight in the overall outcome.

Despite the age old saying, almost everyone judges books by their cover before further investigating what content lay inside and in the case of booths, if you have a stall design that does not grab people’s attention or even worse, is an eyesore . You will find that you your game will not garner the plays and attention it probably deserves.

Although cost will always be a factor, don’t ignore the potential return on investment of having a well-designed booth that gives people something to talk about. Consider focusing on “quality not quantity” by investing a little more in design and cutting back on the number of trade shows you attend to save on exhibitor and travel fees.

Build in inexpensive technological conveniences

Trade shows are long days for everyone involved including attendees, so why not find a way to rope them into your booth with the offering of utilities such as smartphone charging centres and free WiFi, for them to use while they wait to play your game? Better yet, put a QR code (as suggested above) next to the charging station, so they can link to your game and website in the meantime.

Providing this convenience is likely to become easier as wireless phone charging becomes more popular in the future. You may find that you bring forth attendees that simply want to mooch of your offerings, this is still a positive as it helps feed into the earlier point of “creating buzz in order to build buzz”.

Give away something unusual

Avoid giving away free corporate pens and mugs as they are totally unoriginal and can actually aggravate passersby, rather than entice them! You can stand out from the bland big dogs by giving people the chance to win something quirkier.

People are inherently more likely to desire and treasure an item that was earned, rather than handed out to them. If you can think of a reward which will stir up motivation within passersby, you will see an influx of participants.

The options are endless, and the chances of standing out are huge. Imagine a trade show of people walking around with your specific rewards in-hand!

Be the life of the party

Let's face it, most industry events are boring. If you want to be the new kids on the block, then make your presence felt and have fun. Your competition is probably a lot less excited about the opportunity to be at the event, so make some noise. Lean-in to the fact that you’re hosting a competitive game experience, create an energetic atmosphere, become friends with everyone, make your booth as interactive as possible, and most of all enjoy yourself.

You can’t manufacture having fun and people will positively respond to a group that genuinely is having a good time, so don’t just have an advergame as a feature but build your whole stall around the experience.

Film the experience

Just like the earlier point around social proof generating trust, if passersby see a camera crew filming within a booth, capturing the kiosk game experience. People will naturally become more curious as to why the game is receiving so much media attention in the first place. Plus you’ll have video footage that can be use down the line for whichever purpose you see fit.

Have a Leaderboard present

This idea creates motivation for attendees to aim for a specific goal, encouraging repeat plays and time spent in the booth.

If you can also make it so that user-generated content increases their final game score, then the board can track most shares/interactions/mentions also. If users do well in the game, and they know there are additional steps that can be taken to solidify their high score, then users will happily undergo any required social sharing for “extra credit” as it were.

User-generated content is much more valuable than crafted marketing messages these days. By motivating your audience to share content about you, you’re increasing word-of-mouth referrals and brand awareness.

By awarding daily prizes for the most posts, highest score or some other measurable category. Offering several prizes instead of one at the end incentivises people to get involved across the entire event span.

Retro Video Games

Nostalgia can enhance enjoyment at an event, and adding retro video games can bring attendees back to their youth. Having a reskinned classic game template can be a sure fire way of grabbing people’s attention.

If someone were to see a game that was much like say a Tetris or Pac-man style template, they may feel confident enough to attempt to participate as they are already familiar with the game’s structure and objectives.

In Conclusion

Games are compelling, engaging and social cultivators. These factors alone are enough to make an advergame campaign within your kiosk a valid solution for standing out and overcoming otherwise bland trade show events.

Make sure to consider the points listed above before implementing an advergame campaign in your next trade show booth, so as to get the most out of your next industry social.

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