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The State of Gamification in Market Research

The concept of "gamification" and "market research" has been slowly gaining traction for several years. So: what is the leading example of successful gamification in market research?

gamification word cloud


By Jason Anderson

The concept of “gamification” and “market research” has been slowly gaining traction for several years. Gamification in general (the use of game design and mechanics in non-gaming contexts), while not taking over the world, has many public examples of what it means to successfully infuse games into something different. Foursquare was the clear, early example in location-based services; Badgeville and Bunchball have been providing turnkey solutions for common game mechanics in a variety of industries.

So: what is the leading example of successful gamification in market research?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many publicly discussed case studies that can answer this question. Most of the external chatter has focused on either (a) validating / refuting the scientific legitimacy of research gamification, or (b) building support for this young and developing space. This is somewhat surprising, as the recent GRIT Report survey of research practitioners says 49% of researchers are either using or considering gamification. The gap between interest and action is driven by two major barriers:

  1. From the client side, a lack of knowledge and insufficient proof that it works; and
  2. From the supplier side, a lack of knowledge and insufficient proof that it works.

In other words, it sounds like a great concept, but hasn’t yet passed the smell test for established agencies to invest in refining the methodology. The obvious confidentiality constraints between supplier and client, and the desire to build competitive advantage against other suppliers, are secondary issues. Gamification and market research are so far from current thinking, in fact, that the industry’s current research services directories do not even contain headings for gamification (e.g., GreenBook, MRA BlueBook, Quirk’s). (Yes, Quirk’s has Toluna listed as a gamification supplier. Personally, I would disagree.)

This is a shame, but not altogether surprising. Like most new technologies, we first attempt to enhance existing products and behaviors by bolting on the new thing. Time and experience teach us the distinctive characteristics of the New Thing, and we eventually realize that truly New Things require new behaviors and assumptions. So it goes with gamification: for the most part, researchers look at online surveys as the vehicle that can most benefit from games. Improve engagement, reduce respondent fatigue, perhaps even lower overall cost by improving survey completion rates. These things may be true, but it is not the only way to think about games.

Games and stories go hand in hand. Games are almost always driven by a back story (even a simplistic one). Games channel human behavior into structured rules; the information we can collect from a game is not limited to just the outcome of who won or lost. In some cases, the act of participating in a game creates more value for a research audience than observing a game. All of this is moot, of course, unless we continue to experiment and refine these techniques, but our recent experiences in designing board games for qualitative research activities is strengthening our interest in the practice.


For more thought from Jason visit the Insights Meta blog

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5 responses to “The State of Gamification in Market Research

  1. I’ve been working in the area of research and gaming for the last 5 years or so, initially with a co-creation tool called Design Game (I presented a paper on this at the 2009 ESOMAR Conference in Montreux) and more recently with a variation of Design Game which involves brand advocates – called GameChanger (and recently presented at the IIEx in Sao Paulo).

    All of my work has been face-to-face so I cannot comment on the use of gaming in research in the online world, however from my experience I can say two things:

    – Research using gaming works
    – The main barrier to adoption is that the research involves respondents playing ‘a game’

    To expand, games work in a research context because they overcome many of the barriers present in traditional focus groups – lack of engagement, dominant respondents, limited creativity, superficial insight etc. Research games which involve respondent teams and work against the clock promote engagement and participation, reduce/remove inhibitions and rationalised answers and stimulate creativity. The use of research games can double output, produce deeper insight and generate innovative ideas – I repeat, it works!

    Clients can be very traditional and conservative. An Insight Manager who is aksed by a product team to organise a programme of focus groups would find it very difficult to persuade their internal client that playing a game would be a better investment. Notice that I say ‘Insight Manager’ – there are far too few ‘Insight Directors’ in companies who can make strategic decsions about the adoption of new and developing research methodologies such as gaming.

    When more enlightened/empowered clients dip their toe in the gaming water, they are converts and advocates themselves. They see how well it works, how engaged respondents are and how productive the sessions can be. In my version of reserch gaming, I also like to get the clients involved in the gameplay so this helps to get them on board.

    So, my message to clients is to take a look at incorporating gaming into your research programmes, find out what’s about, talk to practitioners and give it a go – you’ll be missing out if you don’t.

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