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What a gaming conference can teach FIs about user experience

I recently escorted my son and several of his friends to PAX South, a three-day convention celebrating all things gaming. The most lasting impression I came away with was that this event exists first and foremost to serve the broad community of gaming enthusiasts; considerations of commerce and enterprise are subordinate to the experience itself. As a result, PAX events nationwide have earned a large number of loyal and raving fans.

 

So, what does a gaming conference have to do with community banking or the digital channel?

 

PAX demonstrated a complete commitment to their audience. In addition, there are several other attributes of the show that I believe contribute to its popularity. It is these attributes that should be remembered when cultivating a community whose primary engagement is online.

 

Content

The content of PAX focuses exclusively on gaming and its attendant culture, and varies widely from immersive (PC, console, mobile and tabletop games) to spectator-oriented (panels, tournaments, concerts) to traditional (game developer and creator interactions with fans and fans’ interactions with each other). This range of content style and depth makes participants at all levels of fandom and gaming experience feel welcome and relevant. Perhaps most importantly, thanks to PAX’s dedication to their constituency, gaming aficionados like myself need not worry about becoming bored.

 

Community

The tone, language and design of the experience itself speak to the community in subtle but powerful ways. The rules of the event are written in clear, unornamented English (e.g., “Don’t harass anyone”). And unlike most technology-enthusiast-oriented shows (E3, Auto Shows, etc.), PAX explicitly bans “booth babes,” one example of many that speaks to a culture geared toward encouraging women to participate fully in the gaming community. The event staff are dressed recognizably, but informally, as are most exhibitors and presenters. As an attendee, you get the distinct feeling that even the people here who are “working” the event share in the culture and excitement of the community’s love for gaming.

 

Experience

PAX is certainly a tremendous platform for commerce, but again, commerce is secondary to the experience itself; it’s only present where it best serves attendees. The open booths invite attendees to play and discuss games and then make purchases if they so choose. With a standard badge, all of the content is essentially included and the “conversions” that occur after panels or in the exposition area are all attendee initiated. It would be possible to attend PAX, spend nothing beyond the cost of your badge, and have an incredibly rewarding day. By my estimation, however, this would be a rare occurrence, as most attendees were very keen on acquiring products they had tried or that reinforced and proclaimed their participation in the shared culture. Ironically, I think the fact that the experience comes before commerce, ultimately drives more commerce than if it were the other way around.

 

An event like PAX is the real-world, offline equivalent of an online user experience. It’s the convergence of an enormous number of online behaviors such as interactive gaming, message boards, and myriad content consumption from the likes of YouTube or webcomics. The event bridges the gap between the virtual experience and a physical, in-person experience in a fascinating way. There are tremendous lessons to be learned in the design of the experience, cultivation of the community, and integration of the commerce that funds the experience itself.

 

It has become popular to characterize the millennial generation as distracted, always online, detached from one another. Based on what I witnessed firsthand last weekend, I would contest every aspect of that view. If we want to learn how to reach them, we need to learn about the things that they love and why, and the way that PAX integrates their online and in-person experiences is a powerful model. To serve any community it is critical to understand its culture and values— I saw a tremendous display of both at PAX South.

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