How Festivals Work Like Epic Games

Burgfest Post 3: Disruptive vs Integrative festival Experiences

Jousting about to take place at Burgfest

Festivals like games need a healthy balance on spaces that let you either be active or rest. Making up the active spaces is a wide range of dynamic experiences working in harmony, exactly as they do in games (game mechanics as it's called). Those experiences are either more disruptive or integrative, and are equally fun and important to the ecosystem of festivals .

I've developed the belief that integrative experiences are more sustainable and scalable, but the best result is a mix of both disruptive innovation and integration. Twitter-based urban games where you run around solving clues with your whole online social community helping you are great examples of that duality, not to mention the awesome PR potential they provide.

Examples at Burgfest:

Disruptive Experiences

Who: Street performers and rides

How: This group is dependent on finding a large group of people they can convert instantly into their audience. Their important function to festivals (like in games) is creating serendipity and spontaneity.

They either move from one location to the next seeking out sizeable congregations or they work the crowd where there is a steady stream of traffic. There's a fast turnaround of shows that interupts the traffic flow. Shows tend to be free or donation based but can be great PR for another event. 

Below: performer with a vegetable puppet theater and mechanically wound rides.


Integrative Experiences

Who: Bakers, warriors, stage bands etc

How: This group works with its audience, team members, competitors and anything else in the rich tapestry of the festival that surrounds them to make them more productive. The festival around them, and often even what goes on beyond the walls of the festival is their commercial network, world and often even their lifestyle. This model of operation is scalable.

This group builds their audience. They get started with a call to action in the morning, and they remain active in engaging their audience till the end of the day. Many remain in a productive flow between festivals, making the activity their lifestyle, one they enjoy greatly. 

How Festivals Work Like Epic Games

Burgfest Post 2: Popular festival experiences & merchandise

The most striking similarities I found between festivals and the Red Bull brand is how the most successful exhibiting businesses at Burgfest operated like its top performers. In fact I now see businesses and performers as one and the same. To simplify things further, I'll say that festivals nurture a performer-audience relationship, just like pop stars have their fans.

There's a recipe for spotting and creating popular festival experiences and merchandise that continually pull crowds or customers to performers all day long. At festivals it boils down to which customer relationships and products are most sympathetic to the common drivers and frustrations of the audience.

A simple example of how this works is Red Bull and its events. To me the brand is more than just an invitation to be active. The brand is a means for audiences to connect with their adventure-sporting idols through a flow of action and merchandise. Just like festivals, the events bring the idols and their audience closer together and match their excitement levels in a hive of activity that sees idol and audience feed of each other's effort. To sustain their state, a drink sympathetic of the audience's desire to stay feeling excited and active is served.

Now picture the moving mass of people at food festivals as being a bit like kids in a candy store, always on the lookout for the next great experience. Their ultimate goal is to remain feeling the delight of being in that flow. When they spot a performer that is as busy as they are, including any products that can help sustain their flow, they reach out to connect and a sale soon follows in many cases. It's like as if the audience is subconsciously saying "Hey you look like you're as active as I am, let's get together to maintain or even build off each other's flow." and  "I need an energy boost / a high to keep me going, your food and drink look like they'll keep me in the mood." The opposite effect is generated by performers who remain stationary with nothing to offer that is sympathetic to their audience's motivations. You can almost hear the avoiding traffic think, "I don't want to risk losing some of this wonderful flow I'm in to bring yours up to the same level as mine." That's not to say we're not a charitable human species, but just in that moment the audience chooses to stick with the 'champions'.

Together, the audience and performer build a healthy ecosystem that keeps them both in a positive flow, ripe for exchanges such as sales and attracting more customers.

The healthiest ecosystems at Burgfest were, in order:

1. Warriors

2. Bakers

3. Stage bands

4. BBQ grills


While some categories can be very creative and will be different across festivals, the way they work stays the same. I'll show how each of these categories work through a series of interviews in upcoming posts.

[Interestingly you'll find all of these ecosystems as motivational aids that keep you ina  positive flow longer in epic role playing games.]

Understanding how the most sympathetic relationships between the public and exhibitors can be constructed helps you both pick and create the experiences that makes a festival or pop-up show a hit.