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Over the last year the market research world has been inundated with people talking about the virtues and opportunities created by gamification, with others advising caution. Like most new things, for example Behavioural Economics, gamification can be divided into three parts:

1) Parts that are good, but are not really new.
2) Parts that are new, but are not really good.
3) And, some elements that are indeed both new and good.

What is gamification?
Many of the disagreements about whether gamification is useful or dangerous are determined by the definition of gamification. At one end of the spectrum are people who use the term gamification very widely to refer to market research learning from the world of gaming, including the use of graphics, less writing, feedback, and rewards. Others use the term more narrowly, talking about turning research, specifically surveys, into games. The broader definition is probably the more useful, but care needs to be taken not to make the definition so wide as to render it useless, for example simply embracing all good practice as gamification.

Parts that are good, but are not really new
In November 2011 Reg Baker of Market Strategies gave a presentation at the Festival of NewMR which was titled 'Survey Gamification - Old Wine in New Bottles'. Baker pointed out that many of the new ideas in gamification had a long survey heritage, for example references to the problems of longer surveys date back to at least to Cannell and Kahn in 1968, and he quoted multiple sources who had advocated engagement over the last 30 years.

Here at Vision Critical, we have been pursuing engagement and simplification through the application of techniques borrowed from gaming since Andrew Reid, with his background in media, founded the company in 2000. The visual questions, the use of communities, and virtual shopping tools have all benefited from an understanding that researchers are not just competing for time, we are competing for attention. (If you want to see a great example of this, check out Vision Critical's highlighter survey tool at

These tools, which are now being developed by a wide range of companies, are helpful. These survey options can improve engagement, accuracy, and increase the amount of information that can be captured. But they are not 'new' in the sense that gamification is often called new.

Parts that are new, but are not really good
There are a number of studies that show that changing the way the data has been collected can change the results. For example, back in 2010 Bernie Malinoff's paper 'Sexy Questions, Dangerous Results' showed, via side-by-side comparison, how some of the gamified approaches produced different results.

There is an essential conflict between a survey and a true game. In a true game there is usually an expectation that player will play more than once. There is usually an expectation that players will change their responses in order to go through the next level. And, there is usually an expectation that more skilful players will reap better rewards. In market research all of these are usually seen as bad things. Indeed, one area of research which fits this description well is the process whereby fraudulent respondents try to complete as many surveys as quickly as they can, changing their responses in order to complete levels (AKA surveys) and acquiring tokens of success (research incentives).

Parts that are new and good
However, there are some really useful lessons arising out of gamification. At a the MRMW Conference in Amsterdam in April this year, Research Through Gaming's Betty Adamou showed how her virtual play house had been used with children to assess, amongst other things, the brand 'stand out' of various celebrities. One element of the play house was a covered picture of a personality. The game meant that parts of the picture were randomly revealed and the 'playspondents' (Adamou's term for respondents in a game setting) had to guess who it was as quickly as they could. This combined a common game approach with recording who stood out the best.

Other researchers are looking at prediction markets (where respondents trade holdings to try to find the winning concept), crowdsourced solutions (where respondents try to produce the winning answer), and competitive exercises such as virtual scavenger hunts (for example where respondents seek to be the first to find specific pages on a website that is being tested). The initiatives are generating interesting new options for researchers, especially in the context of communities where members have time to acquire the benefits of gamification.

The most important thing about the fuss about gamification is that it reminds us of something we have known for years, long, boring, bland surveys result in flat-lining, speeding, satisficing, and lower response rates. However, although we have known this for years, the majority of surveys created by the market research industry, are long, boring, and forbidding.
Beyond that, gamification is pushing researchers to look to other uses of media for new ideas, to improve engagement, and co-operation rates.

At Vision Critical we are continuing to look at what new techniques are becoming available. Some of these we are incorporating in our surveys, some we are incorporating in our qual, and some we are utilising as engagement tools, rather than research tools.

A curate's egg is something that is good in parts and bad in parts, the term dates back to a cartoon in Punch in the late 19th Century.

Understanding Gamification
Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"

"True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 1895.

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