Gamification in research – more accessible than you think!

Published by: AnneMarie Flynn


In a world where attention spans are decreasing, digital noise is increasing, and most of us are dealing with information overload, how do we as researchers capture the best responses we can to generate accurate, meaningful insight for our clients, while still creating a highly engaging survey experience for our research participants? The answer could lie in gamification.
The term ‘gamification’ can be off-putting, conjuring as it does an image of futuristic ‘Call of Duty’-style interfaces, and is easily dismissed for sounding complicated, unnecessary or expensive. In practice however, ‘gamification’ in research simply refers to using elements of gaming to improve user experience, rather than transforming research surveys into fully-fledged video games. The concept is as complicated as you want to make it, and gamifying your research processes is more straightforward than you might think, but could result in considerable benefits for your brand.

How does it work in practice? Well, evidence suggests that providing simple rules and requirements can turn an otherwise boring task into a game. So if we’re conducting a survey on say, banking, or toothpaste, how do we keep respondents interested so that they give considered, thoughtful responses, rather than just ticking boxes to get to the end? Engagement is key, and the more people enjoy the research experience, the better the quality and quantity of their feedback, which is good news for researchers and brands alike.


How can we facilitate this, as research designers? Take a typical survey question like unprompted brand awareness. A brand wants to know who is top of mind in its category and where they feature in consumers’ repertoire. Rather than asking people to list the first five brands they remember (which typically generates 5-6 responses), we instead tell them they have 60 seconds to list as many as they remember, giving a point for each one. This invokes their competitive spirit and focuses the mind, typically leading to a significantly greater response.

Personalising questions to induce an emotional response can also work well. If we want to know what features of shopping centres are important, we can present respondents with a scenario where they’re on a day out with a friend, and ask them to talk us through their ideal shopping trip.Projecting their personal involvement onto the research helps them to get into character and elicits a more thoughtful experience-based response. We can also use other methods of projection – rather than asking people to list the first five brands that come to mind, we could present it as a game: “We asked other people to name a brand of cheese. Can you guess the top 5 brands they named?” (Family Fortunes, anyone?) More fun for respondents, better feedback for us.


Projection and prediction also works well when asking a respondent directly about their own behaviour or attitudes could make them feel uncomfortable. Asking someone how they’ll vote on a sensitive issue may place them on the spot, but asking them to predict how other people will vote (“Will the referendum be passed?”) adds a layer of comfort, and allows them to express their opinion without revealing too much of themselves.

It’s not just language that matters. Design is also important and it’s here we can really make the experience a fun one for respondents. Images, videos, sorting, dragging and dropping – making the task a fun one will increase engagement, in turn leading to higher enjoyment and completion rates. It stands to reason that the more someone enjoys completing a questionnaire, the more likely they are to re-participate, thus making researchers’ lives easier! Of course, there is scope to push the boat out and make your research visually stunning, with virtual and augmented reality features should you wish – the possibilities are endless.

Gamification can be used across both quantitative and qualitative research. Indeed it already features strongly in the latter, but with some thought could garner even richer insight. Gamifying pre-tasks before a focus group or workshop gets participants into the creative space before your session even kicks off. Rather than just talking about brand likes or dislikes, challenge your participants to break into groups and defend brands to each other. Approaching something from a different perspective gets people to think differently and come up with new ideas, and sometimes even generating conflict in a group setting generates feelings and insights a regular session might not.


The gamification process can be usefully extended beyond the research process itself, as far as the reporting stage. RED C uses Digital Rooms as a means of bringing segments to life in a way that cannot be achieved via standard presentations. We use Flash technology to create 3D models – generated from qualitative and quantitative research outputs – which allow clients to tour the homes of their customer segments and experience their lifestyle. You can flick through their photo albums, listen to their iPads and see what’s on their TV, laptops, even in their fridges, thus bringing insight to life in a powerful, memorable and fun way.
Are there any downsides to gamification? Perhaps. Results from “gamified” questions may differ from more “standard” questions, which can be problematic when working with norms or trends – but sooner an interested, enthusiastic respondent than a bored one. As long as we remember that the aim is not to entertain, but to increase respondent enjoyment and gain better insight we could be onto a winner. Pun intended!

This article was originally published in Magazine in January 2015.