FEATURE4 April 2011

Research power-up?


Gamification Q&A, part two: after the games designer comes the research professional. Kantar’s Tom Ewing discuss the pros and cons of introducing gameplay mechanics to the survey process.

What are the business and social factors that have allowed the concept of gamification to emerge?
There’s the rise of videogaming as something adults – or at least younger adult – do, and the way videogames have given a whole grammar and vocabulary to game activities (power-ups, badges, levels etc). There’s also the casualisation of gaming which I think is very important – the idea that gaming now isn’t something you have to dedicate time to but something you can pick up and put down quite quickly. Once you had that it was an easy step to conceptualise other activities you did casually but regularly as games.

“Game mechanics enhance fun and engagement, they don’t create it”

What do game mechanics bring to the market research table that traditional methods lack?
The main thing is engagement – there has been an awful lot of talk about respondent engagement, declining response rates, the need for a research industry which is a bit more participant-friendly – and one reason game mechanics have been quite an exciting area is that it seems to promise at least one part of the solution to this.

But it’s worth pointing out that the methods can also produce results other methods can’t – qualitative research has been gamified for years, with all sorts of projective exercises that are very game-like and produce strikingly revealing results. Predictive markets are game-like events. So just as there’s a set of research methods that try to get closer to what customers actually think, feel or do, perhaps gamification is part of a set of methods that try to break away from that perspective, forcing or encouraging the participant to take a bigger-picture viewpoint or look at things from a more analytic standpoint.

Can the addition of game mechanics make anything fun and engaging? Are game mechanics sufficient to increase participation, contribution and engagement in any area of life?
They enhance fun and engagement, they don’t create it. Think about playground kickabouts: if you were a skinny kid with spectacles the addition of 11-a-side teams, goals and rules didn’t necessarily make playground football less horrible for you. Or from the other side, if you think of exams and tests as a ‘gamification’ of learning, and whether those are fun, you run into the limits of the concept pretty quickly.

What do you think the future holds for game mechanics in market research? Is it a fad? Will it become fundamental to everything we do?
It will be of very little interest to most because it’s more an experiential tool than a methodological one. So people whose interest is in the participant experience will find it very important and other people won’t nearly as much. On the other hand those kinds of people are increasingly important themselves – that includes questionnaire writers, community managers, panel managers, user experience people and so on.

“There are definitely different styles of gameplay and in gamifying your activities you need to keep that in mind”

What changes has gamification brought to the way you think about social media and the way you create and run online communities?
I’ve always been personally very conflicted about gamification in online communities – even though it’s a pretty standard part of their design. Particularly for research purposes I think things like hierarchies and post counts and what-have-you can be totally counter-productive and fix things in stone which don’t need fixing. Gamification is at its heart a kind of measurement, and in a social context measurement can be somewhat vampiric – it can drain some vitality from what it’s measuring thanks to things like cumulative advantage. Do you need to introduce that into your research system or your community? It’s up to you, but hierarchy and play evolve naturally in successful communities without needing codifying necessarily.

Something that you see a lot in natural communities and not so much in research ones is the community creating its own games – polls, ‘tournaments’, balloon-debate type things – there’s lots to learn from that.

What are your thoughts on the gamification vs badgification issue? Is it enough to just make your offering/platform/community look like a video game?
That’s obviously not enough, no, but I’m aware of a slightly purist tendency in myself. I think none of us like the idea we might be slavish badge-grabbers so it’s easy to do down that element and be a bit snobbish about it. And it’s proved to work in some cases, though there’s another question as to whether that kind of reward system has much to do with play or imagination.

On the other hand if you take actual games, almost all the games on my iPhone are offering some kind of achievement structure but if I’m not motivated to play them the badges don’t really add to that motivation. It’s only once I’m motivated to do a thing that maybe the badges seem to work. But I’m not necessarily typical. This is a big thing people miss, actually: there are definitely different styles of gameplay and in gamifying your activities you need to keep that in mind.

Kyle Findlay is senior R&D executive and Kirsty Alberts is associate managing consultant at the TNS Global Brand Equity Centre in South Africa. They are presenting a paper on gamification at the Southern African Marketing Research Association Conference in June.

You can read more on gamification in the April issue of Research Magazine.