Meetings

Gaming Group Scores Big Wins With Hybrid Event

The Global Gaming Expo, a hybrid event that included 13,000-in person attendees, offers lessons for those planning similar meetings: Health and safety guidance will change, attendees are super engaged, and virtual streaming can be limited.

The American Gaming Association, which held its Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas in October, has advice for others based on the lessons it learned from the hybrid event. G2E had 13,000 in-person attendees, a vaccine requirement, and a virtual component. AGA learned three key lessons: COVID-19 safety protocols will be in flux as guidelines change, in-person attendees are very engaged, and a hybrid event doesn’t mean you have to stream everything.

Meredith Pallante, vice president of global events at AGA, said that anyone holding an in-person event during these times has to prioritize health and safety.

“We put health and safety first,” she said. “It really guided us. We were able to be transparent and say, ‘Hey, we might change our protocols up until the moment the show opens because things are so fluid.’”

AGA ended up making a significant last-minute change. “A month before the show opened, with the Delta [variant] raging, we decided the only way we could convene safely was to put in a vaccination requirement,” Pallante said. “There are a lot of intense feelings about vaccines. We knew, for us, this was the right thing to do for our show to keep everyone safe. Some people got vaccinated so they could attend G2E, which was surprising and great, because we wanted to see as many people in our community as we could. For those who weren’t ready to be vaccinated or couldn’t be, we did have that hybrid option.”

The vaccination requirement also led to new considerations for AGA when it came to verifying vaccination status of all participants. To help with that process, they partnered with CLEAR and used a ballroom at the venue as a space to verify vaccines.

“We found being transparent, putting health and safety first, and really being flexible and leaning on our experts helped us to achieve a great show experience,” Pallante said.

While the vaccine requirement was key to entering the event, masking and social distancing were also in effect once inside the venue.

“We did a new seating configuration,” Pallante said. “It was clustered with twos and threes. People usually have a buddy they’re traveling with, and the clustered seating went over really well. It might be something we keep past the pandemic, because it allowed people to not have to scoot across each other in a row.”

Vendors also were great at managing their space. “Our exhibitors did a fantastic job of thinking about their space, their booths, and what they needed to have, so they could have an experience that wasn’t too crowded,” Pallante said.

A scene from the in-person edition of the Global Gaming Expo. (Handout photo)

Engagement and Virtual Options

Pre-pandemic, G2E had 27,000 in-person attendees. While this year’s attendance was about half that,  the smaller crowd turned out to be a positive.

“The people who came were the most engaged audience,” Pallante said. “They were the ones who were doing the purchasing. They were the ones who were really there to look at new products and to learn. That allowed for a better experience for our exhibitors. Some of them have said to me this was their very best show they’ve ever had. They could actually talk to the people who were doing the purchasing.”

Pallante noted that the gaming industry was really excited about having an in-person event, so that’s what AGA focused on. However, there was a virtual component, too. “We streamed our keynotes,” she said. “That’s what people wanted to see—those high-level speakers.”

While having a virtual component is good for attracting a broader audience, Pallante said to be mindful that you can’t do it all—in terms of creating both a huge virtual and in-person event.

“For virtual, I would focus on the things you are putting the most resources into,” Pallante said. “Is it the keynotes? Or maybe it is the show-floor experience. Just focus on that. I don’t think anyone has enough resources to do it all. It’s very expensive. Focus the livestream or the virtual elements on the things that are going to be the most impactful to the audience who might not be able to come.”

Pallante attributes G2E’s success to the experience it provided, not attendee numbers. “Typically, tradeshows benchmark themselves on, ‘We were this big,’” Pallante said. “To me, the benchmark is, ‘Our exhibitors were this happy. Our attendees were safe and had a great experience.’ That for us is a huge win.”

(Handout photo)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a senior editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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