Fun and Games: It’s not just child’s play when it comes to market research

September 11, 2013

Source: The Lab.

It is curious the way we think of games. We often feel that ‘games’ are something that one cannot take too seriously. In fact, the Oxford dictionary implicitly supports this assertion through defining the term ‘game’, amongst other things, as:

‘an activity that one engages in for amusement’

Yet games need not be purely purposed for an individual’s amusement. In fact, some games have a transformational capability in that they can genuinely redefine the way we experience things. To this note, in recent years, we have seen the proliferation of discourse around the term ‘Gamification’.

It is quite interesting to think about ‘gamification’ and the common associations that come to mind when it is mentioned. The Oxford dictionary defines gamification as:  

‘the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service’

This definition brings several of the associations most people hold around gamification to the fore – game, online, marketing and engagement. However, it is the ‘typically’ in the definition that makes one wonder what the scope of ‘gamification’ may truly be.

A recent study
This ‘typically’ popped into my mind recently, when a colleague and I were running focus groups with both children and their parents. Rather than constructing a simple focus group discussion, we created a workshop style environment, and a series of games to play with the children, in order to transform the nature of what could have frankly been, a relatively boring task for a group of eight year olds. 

The result - and little surprise on this one - was that we had incredibly engaging groups, which yielded rich thoughts from all of our participants. Sure we used a slew of projective techniques to gather this richness, but it was the fundamental nature of the tasks, the competition and rules of play, which should be largely attributed to the quality result. So I asked myself – was this gamification? After all, we could not say our activity was online, nor centered around a particular product or service. Instead, it was centered around understanding of human experiences and motivations.

An adjusted methodology
The idea of gamifying market research has been given some attention over the last 24 months. In particular, there have been articles written about how gamifying online surveys can enhance the quality of market research (see end note for links). What is perhaps more interesting though, is how gamification can come to life in online qualitative research. For sometime, I have been running online discussion groups with numerous prizes, and engaging people through multiple channels (text, e-mail, and discussion board) as the study has been in field. What is remarkable to note, is the heightened standard of responses that come as a result of this simple adjustment to a methodology. When committing 90 minutes over three days to ‘research’ is transformed into an interactive competition with prizes at stake, adults go even more crazy than kids.

So is it just the extra prize money that can transform online qual? Is it the competition that fosters even greater engagement with the task at hand? This is where my thoughts go slightly off the beaten track. Whilst I genuinely believe that gamifying something creates engagement through tapping into the natural human desires for competition, achievement, status and reward, there is simultaneously another benefit to the process of gamification in market research. Gamification, I believe, has the potential to foster a more casual and friendly research environment – which means increased value when you are operating in an intangible cyberspace. Through displaying playfulness, humor, creating a fun and engaging atmosphere, people cannot help but to feel more comfortable than if they are participating in, well, a traditional online qualitative research.

So what does this mean looking forward? Are we going to see more researchers gamifying their digital research? One would imagine so. What is certain though, is that gamifying research really is not about providing amusement – but rather is about creating greater engagement for participants with the task at hand. Additionally, if this seems slightly childish to you, well a growing body of research would suggest that it might be time to grow up.


End note: