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If Gamification is Great, why aren’t game companies gamifying their research?

Anyone who has spoken to me at any length about gamification might believe me to be an opponent of the concept as it applies to market research. A more accurate statement is that I am opposed to the rote application of gamification to market research. By analogy, consider any scenario where the processes and techniques of one company are blindly applied to another – presumably, out of lust for some desirable characteristic. Airlines mimicking parts of Southwest Airlines’ philosophy, for example. To borrow another person’s words, competitors can replicate products and programs but they can’t replicate people.

Creating compelling game experiences (and by corollary, creating compelling gamified research) requires more than just the mechanics of a game. After all, we’ve all played something that just wasn’t fun. And if it’s not fun, what was the point of gamifying it in the first place? My understanding of gamified research is that it can:

  1. Increase engagement (reduce dropout rates)
  2. Increase accuracy (measurement of behavior vs. expressed intent)
  3. Attract participants (reduce recruiting costs)

None of those things happen if the gamified research experience isn’t fun enough to bring people back.

Games begin as a creative design process…not a software development process. Software was a necessary ingredient, yes, but you first needed to create a set of rules and randomness that led to entertainment. Visual design, user interface, audio, and story are distinct crafts that are built upon a software scaffolding. When project schedules are constrained due to the technical challenges of getting the scaffolding to work, that’s when investments in the ‘craft’ are unfulfilled and the final product fails to find an audience. Market research begins with a design process of its own, too – but it’s more applied science than poetry.

Certainly the entertainment industry is well-positioned to understand the nuance and to guide research vendors in creating effective “gamified research.” Except that to the best of my knowledge, we haven’t. Why? Three hypotheses:

  1. For the most part, games companies are not research-driven organizations. Yes, you will find examples of pricing studies and segmentation models and brand health surveys and ad testing and all the other usual suspects, but if you were to look at marketing research investments as a percentage of marketing spend it is much lower than in other industries. (Exception: theatrical film. Tons of money spent here, but in fairly formulaic ways.)
  2. Most games research is vendor-driven, with marketing as the primary internal client. There are specific types of research such as usability and playtesting that are more closely aligned with product development (and thus with the creative crafters), and those efforts are often conducted in-house. But the exchange of ideas between game designers and marketing research professionals is second-hand.
  3. There’s no “there” there. Or, there’s not enough perceived value in doing research differently or better to motivate game developers and publishers to rethink their research agendas. What we’ve got is good enough.

That’s a lot of why-nots. But I actually believe there’s a way to do this right, and to bring the engagement level of games to research in some very creative ways. I just don’t think that badges and achievements are going to be the final solution.

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4 responses to “If Gamification is Great, why aren’t game companies gamifying their research?

  1. Hi Jason,

    Interesting article, and great to hear someone from the games industry talk about gaming in research!

    I think the issue with ‘gamification’ is partly one of semantics (Margaret Robertson has written a great blog on this:, many of the thinkers in gaming (Deterdling, even Schell) now prefer to call it ‘motivational design’ which is a much clearer description of what it is. If we think of it that way there have been improvements in survey research, Jon Puleston’s work for example has demonstrated the three improvements that you list in your blog. Motivational design doesn’t necessarily make surveys fun, but it reduces the tedium and can provide more motivation.

    Having said all this I think there is a massive role for research games which as an industry we’re just staring to realise. And actually the benefits are more than just fun, they give us access to a different type of data because typically we’re looking at behavioural data rather than attitudinal. But for me the biggest opportunity is about how games can create emotions in players (for example fear, excitement, empathy) and how this fills in some of the contextual gaps left by traditional research that understands people in a ‘cold’ state. I’m talking about this topic at ESOMAR 3D this year, great to see you there, if not I can send you the paper after the conference.



  2. I like these thoughts! I think the one key reasons you did point towards in hypothesis 3 is money. It takes upwards of $30k to develop even a basic mini game with a games company which is simply beyond the budget of most research no recurring research projects.

  3. I would like to see how much really goes on with larger firms like EA. They claim to allocate a large number of resources to games like Madden but the game is very repetitive year after year. I have some fresh ideas for a football game that would rock the landscape. Some of which are very simple! I have yet to see EA incorporate any of them. On the outside looking in, how do I share my ideas, represent the voice of the consumer, and get paid for my creativity?

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