Gamification Takes Center Stage at (Relatively) Quiet PAX East 2020

Colin McMahon
Mar 17, 2020

Despite fears of the coronavirus, tens of thousands of attendees flocked to PAX East at the Boston Convention Center from February 27th to March 1st. The event, which managed to be held before numerous tradeshows and industry events were either postponed or cancelled, marked the continued celebration of video game technologies and the gaming culture. Compared to years past, however, this PAX felt quieter than usual.

PAX East 2020 logo

Part of this was, of course, due to the coronavirus. Prominent companies such as Sony and Facebook pulled out of the event amid health concerns, prompting show organizers to announce enhanced decontamination features. Attendees at PAX East 2020 no doubt noticed the cleaning crews working throughout the show, wiping down doors, escalators, and everything else the public interacted with. Their efforts seem to have paid off as – now two weeks later – this attendee has not shown any sign of contracting the coronavirus (or any other disease) so far.

That said, a growing fear over a pandemic was not the only reason that PAX East felt quieter than usual. The video game industry is currently in preparation mode as Sony and Microsoft both plan to release new consoles by November 2020. Facebook currently has no announced upcoming Oculus offerings, and even Nintendo is likely holding back to better compete in Q4. In short, plenty of vendors have offerings coming soon, but not much to show right now.

Even a quiet PAX East was far from a dull affair, however, as industry experts met to discuss a wide variety of topics impacting the industry. This year’s biggest talking point? Gamification, or the application of gameplay mechanics and systems to non-gaming areas (like the workplace). Keypoint Intelligence was among those to present on this topic at the event, but we were certainly not the only ones talking about it.

Multiple Panels Discussed Aspects of Gamifcation

Gamification is a term that has gained traction in recent years. Gaming is seen as a powerful motivator, as a multi-billion-dollar industry has been built off an activity that no one really needs to do. Most people play games because they want to, not because they have to. As a result, some workplace innovators have been trying to leverage this motivation and redesign their workflows to keep their employees engaged.

At PAX East, we spoke about this topic in our panel “Gamification in the Workplace: Bringing Video Games to Work.” With experts from PTC, Happy Giant, XRHealth, and the Octalysis Group, we primarily focused our talk on how gamification was being used with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. Our panelist from XRHealth, CEO Eran Orr, shared information on how his company was using VR to help patients in isolation due to coronavirus exposure.

The Octalysis Framework

The framework for gamification used by the Octalysis Group. Each segment represents a design focus for creating a gamified experience.

A more somber panel, “The Dark Side of Gamification,” looked at exploits that could and were being used to manipulate people into unhealthy behaviors. One needs look no further than Amazon, which tried to gamify its warehouse workflow into being even more productive by pitting workers against one another. This panel, which was headed by multiple professors from Brown University as well as a game designer from New York university, did not intend to scare people off gamification but instead hoped to instill the importance of practicing sound ethics. At the end of the day, gamification usually involves behavioral modification, which can be misused.

Other panels that discussed various aspects of gamification included “On Using Games for Learning,” “Hey Listen Games: Teaching With Video Games,” “Gamify Your Classroom – Change Your Life!,” and “Using Your Love of Gaming in a Non-Gaming Career.”

An Almost Non-Existent VR/AR Presence

Given that we usually attend PAX East to follow developments in the AR and VR consumer space, Keypoint Intelligence feels compelled to comment on PAX East 2020’s lack of prominent VR and AR presenters. While there were numerous smaller VR games on display, these were all accomplished with existing hardware technologies (typically the Oculus Quest or Oculus Rift).

So… should companies be worried? Is interest in these new technologies petering out? The short answer is no, a diminished AR/VR presence at PAX East should not be cause for alarm – especially given Facebook’s unexpected absence due to coronavirus concerns.

VR PAX East 2020

Smaller VR developers were showing off some impressive creations, but the big players were a no-show this year.

The reality is that AR and VR are seeing much more activity in the workplace at present – so PAX East, being a consumer-focused show, will not reflect that aspect of development. AR in particular is enjoying success in the enterprise space, with PTC being an excellent example of a company that is pushing the envelope with what is possible.

We expect VR to have a stronger presence at PAX East 2021, but that true consumer-focused AR is likely still some years off. Regardless, there is always some interesting new technology on display at PAX East, even if attendees need to search it out.

Expectations for PAX East 2021

PAX East 2021 will in all likelihood be a much larger, more active event. The Sony PlayStation 5 and Microsoft Xbox Series X will be newly released consoles and gaming companies will be eager to showcase their potential. While Sony has hinted at a new VR platform for its PS5, we do not believe this will be revealed so quickly after launch. Nevertheless, we might be wrong on this notion as Sony has hinted that it may shed some light on its VR plans for PS5 in 2021.

As for Microsoft? Currently, the tech giant is downplaying any role for VR in its newest console, but never say never. The Xbox Series X will certainly be strong enough to support the technology. Given that VR gaming is increasing in popularity, we would not be surprised to see Microsoft reverse course and release a VR peripheral for its next system.

Facebook will also likely have a much greater presence and may even be debuting new hardware – such as an enhanced version of its all-in-one headset Oculus Quest.

PAX East 2021 should be a preview of the future for next generation entertainment. Hopefully, the only thing that does not show up again is the coronavirus!

Have questions on VR, AR, MR, or gamification? Please reach out to Colin McMahon, who would be happy to share why these technologies and innovative solutions will help shape the effective office or production space in the 21st century.

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