OPINION8 December 2010

Gamifying surveys – continue or quit?


Kantar’s Tom Ewing should have had most researchers pressing the mental ‘pause’ button with his NewMR presentation this morning exploring the idea that surveys are videogames.

Kantar’s Tom Ewing should have had most researchers pressing the mental ‘pause’ button with his NewMR presentation this morning exploring the idea that surveys are videogames. Thinking about it for any length of time, as Ewing has done, leads one to draw a number of comparisons.

His stand-out point was that researchers, like games designers, are world-builders, crafting artificial environments for people to progress through, hopefully to the end screen without getting bored. So can we leverage game design skills to improve respondent motivation and engagement – a concept known as “gamification”?

Ewing makes the case that in many ways, researchers are already doing so. “Games motivate their players by establishing goals which create the intrinsic motivation to succeed,” he says. “Research projects also have goals – task and survey completion – and associated rewards, even if they’re not always intrinsic ones.

“But simple in-game achievements aren’t always enough,” he says. “The best games are designed to reward imagination and creativity in players, and we’re seeing new MR methods emerge – like crowdsourcing and similar social idea generation techniques – which aspire to doing the same.”

There are, however, aspects of game design that currently sit at odds with the way research is conducted. Ewing emphasised the strategy element core to most games: that is, that players are placed in a world and told to figure out a strategy for making their way through it. Research projects, he says, actively discourage strategy. “Should this always be the case?” he asks. “After all, the feeling of mastering the environment is one of the most engaging and motivating in games.”

Might researchers also consider abandoning the linearity that typifies most projects? Sandbox games are some of the most popular on the market, presenting players with an environment where they have “more leeway to explore, play freely and carve out their own path”. Ewing says that with the advent of longer-term research communities “we’re seeing sandbox projects become a reality”.

“But we can still learn a lot from their balance of compulsory and optional tasks,” he says. “Most sandbox games give players the opportunity to explore within a loose structure of missions. Completing these missions is not the same as completing the world. Is this a model we can imagine working in a research community, as opposed to the rigid task-based model we often see used now?”

He warns, though, that introducing game mechanics can have unintended consequences. Different players have different playing styles – some, for instance, will actively seek to bend and break the imposed rules – and as such, some surveys or communities will appeal to certain types of people more than others.

(Helpfully, Ewing has posted his entire presentation on his blog here.)



13 years ago

Great article. I think you will find the Gamification Encyclopedia that we created of interest at http://gamification.org . We created it to try to take the concept to the next level through open discussion and collaboration on methods, best practices etc. across multiple industries.

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13 years ago

The bit we need to accommodate for, though, is that gamers usually lapse into an alternative personality when gaming. This is often in order to project themselves as their avatar or the character which they have sculpted over a period of time and now need to maintain. I'm sure we can all agree that this type of response in a survey would not be particularly helpful to the results..:)

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13 years ago

Most surveys have become more and more like passing a stone for users. Unless the whole approach to questionnaire design changes, gamificationization 2.0 will be like morphine just masking the pain long enough to bare. Have you ever tried making passing a stone fun? BTW, I predict this buzzword will have more legs than Web 2.0 or Social Media.... One way to make surveys more enjoyable is to keep all aspects of the survey short (Invites, questions, options) and highly relevant. We as an industry, need to get better at telling our clients to chill out on the complex surveys. Even if we sacrifice profits for a simple user experience, we'll all benefit in the long run. Peace.

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