I Want To Play A Game

A lot has been written on the gamification of research throughout 2011, and this is only going to increase this year.  But why?

Most of us are probably aware of the premise and the pros and cons, but just in case:

What is gamification?  The application of game dynamics in the research process to increase respondent engagement

Why are some people excited? By applying game dynamics we can get people excited about participating in research (thus improving response rates) by making it more fun and exciting, but also increase the focus and attention people pay to completing their task through gameplay.

Why are others nervous? The research industry will live and die by its credibility, and by diverting the purpose of participating in research to gameplay the focus becomes on winning at all costs rather than providing valid responses.

But like most things it’s never as black and white as all that.  There are many interpretations of game dynamics, but I’d like to refer to the very popular TED Talk by Seth Priebatsch from SCVNGR back in 2010 where he discusses the game dynamics he believed would/will drive the next level of social interaction through influencing people’s behaviour.


  • Appointment dynamic: By setting specific appointments in order to win a game you can influence when respondents participate in a survey; both shortening fieldwork times and in some instances ensuring that participation and responses are given closer to the moment of truth
  • Influence & status: By rewarding success with improved status we can drive people to increase their activity in research – particularly with on-line panels and within communities, boosting response rates & slashing response times.
  • Progression dynamic: This one is nothing new to online surveys, whereby a simple progression bar tells respondents how far they are into the survey.  But this could even be taken to the next level where we use the same dynamic to get panellists or community members to provide more information about themselves by adding to the profiles much as we see in LinkedIn, providing us with richer demographics.
  • Communal discover: By making people to work together to succeed in a game we can develop powerful co-creation studies for NPD and innovation studies whereby consumers work together to develop ideas and create outputs.

Whilst many of these ideas of gameplay are nothing new to most qualitative researchers, from my perspective I agree with some of the concerns that gamification could impact who responds to our quantitative surveys and how they respond, in fact everything Seth talks about suggests this is in fact the prime objective of game dynamics.  So this would indeed be a bad thing, if we accept the premise that the right people are providing the right answers to our surveys at the moment.  And when it comes to online quantitative panels, I’m not sure we can put our hands on our heart and say we are 100% sure this is always so.

I can see a key role for some game dynamics to make the whole research process more fun and engaging, thus tempting those currently excluded from the research process to get involved.  I also see a role in engaging those already participating in the process to pay more attention and think a little bit more about their responses to ensure they are either heart-felt or at the very least well considered.

It’s clear that game dynamics can have a big influence on consumer behaviour, but with great power comes great responsibility.  As an industry we need to think carefully about which dynamics to apply in which contexts to achieve what aims, and be open with our clients about why we are proposing this approach and what they will achieve.

How have you used or experienced gamificiation in research and was it, in your opinion, a success?  Let us know…

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Ian Ralph
01962 842211
Article date - 02/02/2012
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