Think Games, Not Gamification

Board gameForget everything you know about gamification. Now, remember what you love about games. If you can follow these two simple steps when designing market research studies, the payoff might surprise you.

The typical gamification approach is to take a task that isn’t intrinsically enjoyable (e.g., responding to a survey or learning about new industry regulations) and add game elements (points, badges, leaderboards etc.) in an effort to make it more engaging.

Our approach turns that process on its head. We start with a task that’s intrinsically enjoyable and engaging—playing a word, image or prediction game—and tweak the content, rules and incentives to ensure that the results are comparable to existing market research solutions. The game-first approach takes a little more ingenuity but can deliver huge benefits in terms of recruitment costs, respondent engagement, response quality and respondent retention.

We launched our first market research game suite, The Pryz Manor, in July 2013 and have since received over 100,000 downloads. Here are a few of the things we’ve learned along the way.

Respondent Recruitment

It’s much easier to recruit a balanced pool of participants to play mobile games than respond to surveys.

As of October 2014, 64% of American adults now own a smartphone (higher than the percentage who live in households with a landline telephone). More importantly, smartphone ownership is particularly high among these traditionally hard-to-reach segments: young adults, lower income households and minorities.

People are also enthusiastic about playing games in a way that they never have been about answering surveys; they seek them out, make time for them and recommend them to their friends. A simple indication of the relatively high appeal of games can be seen in the Google search volume for the terms ‘survey’ versus ‘game’ (in case there’s any confusion, ‘game’ is represented by the red line below):

image1Engagement Rates:

Games are intrinsically engaging and rewarding.

Our longest player session during the past week was 4 hours 9 minutes. That level of engagement isn’t uncommon within mobile games (the second and third longest sessions during the same period were 3 hours 51 minutes and 3 hours 45 minutes, respectively). We offer in-game currency and real-world prizes to encourage participation, but in reality, a substantial percentage of our players continue to participate without ever having won a prize or purchased a reward using our in-game currency. In fact, one of the most common types of reviews we receive is from people who say that they love playing the games and sharing their opinions, and that the opportunity to win real-world rewards is really just an added bonus.

Response Quality:

Game interactions are not subject to the cognitive biases common to survey responses.

Survey respondents can be influenced by demand characteristics, social desirability bias or aspirational bias to filter their instinctive responses and offer answers that they believe will be viewed more favorably by the researcher or other participants. We’ve carefully crafted the rules and incentives within our games to motivate players to reveal their true attitudes, intentions and behaviors.

Survey respondents often suffer from increased cognitive stress and fatigue, resulting in acquiescence, straight-lining and random responding. Mobile game players participate only when convenient for them and are free to drop out at any point during the experience, reducing the chances of fatigue. Also, the well-defined goals of games reduce the likelihood of cognitive stress and the incentives to take part in related satisficing behaviors.

Respondent Retention:

Some things never get old.

Many mobile games are designed with long-term engagement and retention in mind. Over half of the players who logged into our games during the past week have been playing for over six months, and two-thirds of those have been playing for more than a year. The longevity of players allows us to complete longitudinal studies and, when our clients request follow-up inquiries, we can easily assign the new games to the same pool of players.


The next time a colleague, participant or helpful bystander suggests using gamification techniques to make your survey or focus group more engaging, I’d encourage you to take a minute to think about it. First, consider whether you can use a task that’s intrinsically enjoyable and merely tweak the content, rules or incentives to get the type of results you need. The benefits of this approach can far outweigh the extra thought that it takes to implement it.

Joe Marks is the founder of Upfront Analytics, a market research company that uses games to collect superior data and produce faster intelligence for brands and products. You can follow Upfront Analytics on Twitter @ufa_insights.


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