Gaming to innovate research and insights

6 September

The growing approach of gamification and how brands are using these tactics to attract, engage and motivate consumers

27 min read
27 min read
Gaming

The Insight250 spotlights and celebrates 250 of the world’s premier leaders and innovators in market research, consumer insights, and data-driven marketing. The inaugural list was revealed last April and created renewed excitement across the industry whilst strengthening the connectivity of the market research community. 

With so many exceptional professionals named to the Insight250 it seems fitting to tap into their expertise and unique perspectives across an array of topics. This weekly series does just that; inquiring about the expert perspectives of many of these individuals in a series of short topical features.  

This bumper edition focuses on the growing approach of gamification and how brands are using these tactics to attract, engage and motivate consumers. I sat down with Betty Adamou, Associate Talent Director at Hannelius Recruitment (who won a 2021 Insight250 Award as  CEO and Founder of Research Through Gaming), to get her detailed perspective on how gamification is evolving and being effectively applied to solve consumer problems. 

What do you mean when you talk about using games and gamification in research?

Well-designed games intrinsically engage us; whether executed as a board game, text-adventure game, app game, console game, or as anything else. Games are varied and rich in their design execution across mediums and devices. But what are the common threads, if games have so many different outputs and so many different ways of playing?

“It’s the ingredients of a game that engage us, and those ingredients tap into our psychological needs. This is where the magic happens, and this is how gamification is, and has, been applied to almost every industry on the planet. Let’s explore these elements…

“Our psychological needs are…

Relatedness - the quality of our relationships when executing a task or any aspect of life for that matter - do we feel, witness, are we heard, seen?

Autonomy - our free will to carry out a task, or again any aspect of our life, in a way that we see fit. This is essentially our ability to exercise free will.

Mastery – understanding how well we’re doing, our progress.

Purpose – knowing our goals. This can be a goal that’s ‘just for us’, or a ‘transcendent purpose’ – something that’s bigger than ourselves.

At this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with games. Well, games frequently and consistently satisfy all our psychological needs when we play them; that’s what makes them so intrinsically engaging. It is also what makes some games border on addictive.

“The very ingredients of what makes a game a game satisfy our psychological needs. Let’s look at what those game ingredients are:

Goals – “I know what I need to do to win, or at least progress, in the game”. E.g., save the Princess, complete a Quest in World of Warcraft, line up my candies in Candy Crush, etc.

Autonomy opportunities – games let us play with lots of freedom. We can play a game like Super Mario and collect all the stars or fling ourselves off a cliff. In World of Warcraft, I can spend time wandering around and looking at the beautiful scenery, or go for a swim if I wish. This is our freedom to play a game how we like.

Rules – games have rules, which help to keep things fair, and foster a platform for feedback. Games like Monopoly have rules like ‘you cannot pass go’ or ‘you can only have X amount of fake money.’ Other games like Super Mario have rules like ‘you can only die in this level 3 times before you have to start again’. Rules help to keep gameplay fair and provide challenges.

Feedback – let us understand how well we’re doing. How many XP points (experience points) do I have? How many coins have I collected? How many lives have I saved? And crucially, what do I need to do to progress to the next level? In the somewhat twisted way that our brains work, in games, we actually want to level up to have more responsibility and harder challenges that carry more risk. During my research, when I created each of the charts below and put them side-by-side, that was where the ‘aha’ moment happened for me, more than 10 years ago. Some of the ways that the game ingredients satisfy our psychological needs are obvious.

“For example, the autonomy opportunities in games help satisfy our psychological need for Autonomy, and the goals in a game help satisfy our need for Purpose. But then the feedback and rules in a game help us understand our Mastery. And, while we’re playing a game, and interacting with the narrator of the game, NPC’s (non-player characters), or indeed other characters played by real people, and chiefly, the feedback systems, our need for Relatedness is also satisfied. We feel seen and witnessed through player feedback.

Betty Adamou

Game ingredients

“Apply these 4 game ingredients of goals, a feedback system, autonomy opportunities, and rules to any task, and you have gamified it. But note, the task must include all four ingredients in order to satisfy the four psychological needs and therefore constitute a ‘game’ or ‘gamified’ experience.

“For instance, setting yourself one goal of ‘I need to pick my child up from school on time’ is not a game. But, if you set yourself this goal every day, and over time, monitored how many times you were late, and how many times you were on time, tried to improve your score, and go through a whole month streak of never being late, and then added other tasks like ‘how many times can I get the best parking space’…suddenly this starts to feel like a game. All four ingredients must work together to create a game, and thus the engagement and motivation that games inspire.”

Betty Adamou

Aside from your ‘ResearchGames’, where else has gamification been used to increase engagement in an activity/task? 

“The power of the intrinsic engagement derived from satisfying our 4 psychological needs have been utilised by thousands of companies, in thousands of ways, across the globe. Go to any Gamification Europe conference, and you’ll see many examples there. 

“People have used gamification to engage people in their education or to behave better at school. Gamification has been used to help people get healthy, and exercise more.

Gamification has been used to train surgeons in hyper-real VR games, resulting in less errors and an increase in speed once they go into the real world, once completing their game-based training. We are in a world with ‘EduGames’ (education games), AdverGames (adverts as games, brand games), ExerGames (exercise games), Empathy Games (games that help players see the points of view of others), and from my own making, ‘ResearchGames™ very different gamified applications you might want to check out, where you can see the four game ingredients in action, are: 

Zombies, Run!

SuperBetter 

“Your own customer loyalty cards (which apply goals, rules, feedback systems, and autonomy opportunities, are an example of gamification, like collecting air miles).

Reward cards like Boots, American Express, and more adopt reward systems that are part of a gamification architecture. 

DuoLingo

Headspace 

“By applying goals, autonomy opportunities, rules, and feedback systems to what would have been traditional surveys, I made them into intrinsically engaging, data-collecting games. And the results over the years have been phenomenal. 

“My clients have seen results going from 10% completion rates in their traditional surveys, to over 90% completion with my ResearchGames, and seeing such significant improvements in data quality, resulting in more trust in business decisions, that they’ve gone on to design food products in the US, new clothing ranges, shape magazine ad sales, and even shaped discussions on the future of technology in the UK Parliament. My website is chock-full of client and player feedback.

“Two common themes throughout my career designing gamified surveys is not only increased participant engagement, but the increased engagement from the client in the research process. 

“A few years ago, I designed a fashion-design ResearchGame for the VF Corporation. During the insight presentation, my client noted how for the first time ever, multiple teams came to listen, and not just for the free M&Ms! One of my other clients made a cameo ‘starring’ in the ResearchGame as a character. I’ve never known clients to be so engaged in research.

And of course, the more they’re engaged with the research, the more likely they are to share and action the results! As someone who has worked in Market Research for 16 years, I had never seen more engagement in any other methodology.”  

Betty Adamou

Do you feel the market research and insight industries as a whole are embracing these new techniques?

“In some areas, yes. There are a handful of us practitioners using game-based research methods, and doing excellent, award-winning work. There is another group of practitioners who have sadly tainted the water for others; applying gamification to surveys and it didn’t go well, and then writing academic papers about it, and presenting at conferences. All this without having played games themselves, taking part in gamified activities, or learning about the methodology in more detail, as result, shows gamification in a bad light for research. Gamifying market research surveys harness play, psychology, behavioural economics, and storytelling to engage users in ways that no other methodology can, for the purpose of gaining context-based, reliable data that research buyers can trust. Gamification is a tool – a means to an end. 

“If we want to resolve the participant engagement problem while providing reliable data to clients, and even engaging ourselves and clients more in the process, then gamification hits all these points. So for anyone who wants to embrace game-based techniques, it’s about starting with education. My book shows readers exactly what gamification is, the ways it can be applied, and how it can be implemented, with plenty of examples and success stories – and I even share a time in which I got the design wrong, and how I identified the problem to improve the game design. If researchers take time to understand gamification, they’ll see that it can be one of the most effective and engaging methodologies in their toolkit.”  

Betty Adamou

Can you give an example of how you went about designing one of your recentResearchGames, and what were the challenges faced by the client? 

“Where survey engagement is a problem, gamification can help in a number of ways. Let’s take one of my more recent projects as an example. Just before COVID, I was approached by a Fortune 500 portfolio alcohol brand to design a ResearchGame that would help them gather ideas, and an understanding of how bartenders and mixologists would typically serve one of their spirits with different mixers, ingredients, etc. This particular beverage sold well in some parts of the world, but sales could be better in other parts. So how do they sell more? One idea was through marketing different ways to enjoy the beverage. For that, they wanted to crowdsource serving suggestion ideas through a survey. 

“The thing is, speaking to bartenders is challenging. They work long, non-office hours, and so getting them to a focus group or depth interview can be challenging. Not impossible, but challenging. Almost as challenging is getting bartenders to complete traditional, somewhat boring questionnaires. And doing any kind of in-person observation is tricky. Have you seen how small some bars are, especially when it gets busy? 

“My client needed a way to speak to bartenders in an engaging way, that brought a bar environment ‘to life’, on a quantitative scale. Online ResearchGames was the answer for them.

“But even then, there were other challenges – the sheer amount of variables! A bartender will make a new serving suggestion based on several factors; who is the customer I’m talking to? How busy is my bar? Is it 100 degrees outside or -30? Is my customer in their 60’s or in their 30’s? And how many ingredients, mixers, garnishes, syrups, etc. do I actually have at my disposal? 

“Doing my own primary research, and individually speaking to bartenders face-to-face, (I literally went to some of the best bars in London as voted by Vogue, and spoke to some amazing people in the mixology field!), and that’s how I gained this insight about all these variables, which was pivotal to how I then designed the game. 

“Things like how hot or cold it is outside, or the gender of the customer, all affect how a the bartender makes a serving suggestion. On a cold day, the bartender might be inclined to recommend a hot toddy. On a hot day, they may recommend something cool and refreshing. And in a busy bar, the bartender may, strategically, not recommend a cocktail that’ll take 5 minutes to create! So all these variables became part of the game – a 3 level design where we had Summer and Winter months, a busy and quiet bar environment, and as the bartender in the game, you got to see different ‘characters’ on the other side of your bar that you could talk to. 

“After each customer interaction, the player could go into a cocktail-making area to put together the cocktail for the customer, and once served, could answer questions about the thinking behind their choices. In the cocktail-making area, there were over a trillion combinations of making a cocktail, but all laid out in an intuitive way that was designed to be fun, not overwhelming. The story of the game was that this was your bar, and the bar performed increasingly better as you served cocktails, and had happy customers. A simple narrative. In this design example, we can see that not only can gamification be used to engage participants, but allow them to LIVE in the relevant contexts, and close the empathy gap in a the way that other methodologies can’t do. 

“I loved designing this ResearchGame – in fact, it’s one I’m most proud of as I think it’s a great example of the power of games for surveys beyond simple ‘drag and drop’ functionalities. And that is something else that shouldn’t be undervalued; my own engagement in the process. I’ve worked in research for 16 years, but those 11 years designing research as a the games were the most engaging of my career. I delighted in sourcing sound effects of a crackling fire, overlaid with a howling wind for the ‘Winter month’ level. I took pride in developing the ambient sound of happy voices in the background with crickets chirruping for the ‘Summer Month’ level. I have had such passion in designing for emotional engagement in research, and I wish such passion for every researcher.”  

Betty Adamou

Are there pitfalls to watch out for when using games in research? 

“Yes, as there are in using any methodology. But the number one pitfall is getting the design wrong because you’re not designing in a way that elevates the research. The design must be functional. I’ve seen examples of gamified surveys in which the storyline has absolutely nothing to do with the research topic, and if anything, this just adds more confusion for the participant and is a waste of time and money. You have to ask yourself: what’s the story here? How does the participant level up to become the hero or heroine of this game? And how does it all link back to the research topic, and gaining the most attentive responses? 

“We must also ask ourselves, is gamification the right methodology for this research, or is there a more relevant approach? Then we must, again as we do with any methodology, understand the technologies, processes, design structures, and expected outputs of such a methodology. This is why educating people, young and older, on what gamification is and how it works, has been at the heart of my work for 11+ years. 

“I’ve shared examples of my work and ‘how-to’ guides as a keynote at conferences, through seminars, workshops, and of course through my articles, interviews, and book. There have been many examples of practitioners giving gamification ‘a go’, without having first made sure they understand the methodology itself. Those who have taken the time have seen some fruitful results; one of my workshop attendees applied gamification to engage her UK-wide grocery supermarket brand panel, and was delighted with the difference it made in response rate, completion rates, and the improvement on data quality. These are the positive outcomes anyone can expect from well-applied game-based techniques to market research.” 

Betty Adamou

You’ve written the industry text on this subject on gamifying questionnaires. How did you get into writing, and do you prefer writing or designing research? 

“I like both. I’ve been writing all my life in some capacity or another, through work and for pleasure. And so turning what was 8 years of research (at the time) into a book was hard, but rewarding. Hard because I never had to share my design process – a process I honed and crafted very much in solitude, but now sharing with the world. I’ve also loved designing all my life too, and consider myself a multi-faceted creative. I actually started my adult life making multi-functional clothes because I loved the engineering side and artistry of fashion. I like solving problems, so when I got into research and saw, repeatedly, the domino effect of problems brought about by low participant engagement, I wanted to, and did do, something about it. 

“I like designing because it’s incredibly rewarding to see an initial draft idea off the back of an envelope turn into something that people can touch, play, enjoy, and where clients gain delight and value. I got into writing because I was approached by Kogan Page publishing, and offered a contract to write the book. Unbeknownst to me at the time, one or two members of staff had been following my work, and then reached out to meet me, and offered a contract. I’m delighted that the book is published in 3 languages, and that I’ve had the incredible opportunity to share my knowledge to help others benefit from gamification in research.” 

Betty Adamou

Where can people buy your book “Games and Gamification in Market Research”? 

“All good bookstores can order a physical copy in for you, but if you prefer to buy online, there are dozens of options. Waterstones, Foyles, Barnes and Noble, Blackwells, Harvard Bookstore, the Kogan Page publishing site, and many more. If you’re at university or college, you may even find a copy in your library. You can also check out the companion website www.gamesandgamification.com to read more about the book and get quick links to the retailers.” 

Betty Adamou

Are you planning another book? 

“Yes, but it is unlikely to be market research related. I shan't reveal any more for now! 

Betty Adamou

You’re now at Hannelius Recruitment, a company that specialises in recruitment for market research and insight roles in the UK. Is there room for gamification in recruitment? 

“There is room for gamification in every industry where there is a problem to solve. Again, if we think about gamification as an engagement and behaviour change tool, then that reshapes how we view the technique. In education for example, where there can be high levels of disengagement among students for a variety of reasons, gamification has been used in-person and through tech to increase attentiveness, and increase retention of information, all while making learning more enjoyable. In these examples, other benefits arise e.g. a decrease in tardiness, and an increase in attendance because students are intrinsically engaged enough to want to learn and be at school. 

“But for a student who, of their own volition, adores learning and will open up a book and read and take notes, and make things, and deconstruct the learning, and talk about the subject, and ask questions about it – this student is engaged. This student will read into the small hours even after being told to go to bed. This student doesn’t need gamification. They are already there. They are already playful in enjoying the learning. So in recruitment, we have a slightly different challenge. Candidates are on the whole, very engaged in the process of finding the right role, with an emphasis on the word ‘right’. With that has come a variety of personality quizzes, team dynamics games, and even playful surveys to uncover ‘the right career for you,’ or ‘what’s missing in your team right now.’ 

“At Hannelius Recruitment, we have used a gamified activity to understand the various strengths of the team as a whole, and talents or interpersonal qualities that compliment each other. This has allowed us to view our team through a different lens by understanding each other better as individuals, and how we operate as a collaborative unit.

Here’s a great article on gamification for employee onboarding and engagement in a hybrid

working environment: https://humanresourcesonline.net/shiseido-hong-kong-launches-7- employee-benefits-flexible-working-gamified-culture-and-more.

Betty Adamou

What is the most successful example of gamification you’ve seen and why? 

“I’m going to be ‘that’ person and say the most success I’ve known is in one of my own ResearchGames. Working with the University of Surrey in the UK, we took their prospective student segmentation study, and the segmentation algorithm that came with it, and gamified the questionnaire. The client wanted to understand the types of new students joining the university; what were their expectations, where did their passions lie, what were their preferences for university life, etc. The client and I saw a huge difference in participant engagement from the study as it was in its traditional questionnaire format vs. the gamified format; from an approx. 7-10% completion rate to, at its highest point, a 75% completion rate, with the average across four years at 65%. 

“In one day alone, where the survey link had been included in a student newsletter, more than 1,500 participants completed the study – again, without any financial incentivisation – the only incentive was the value in the goal of gaining the profile result (the feedback). And the change I made in the design to gamify it was a simple one; rather than the segmentation result being a private bit of data that only the client kept, I asked: why can’t the participant see the result? That way, they have a goal to get the feedback, and it might be a valuable point of reflection for them in this important stage in their lives of choosing a university. 

“So the study changed. It became the ‘What Kind of Student Are You?’ gamified survey, in which the students gained one of 6 profile results, with a written, downloadable and shareable explanation of what their result meant, thus providing some self-discovery value. Such was the engagement in the study, it ran for just over 4 years, and was advertised on the clients’ social media pages, used at their exhibition stands and loaded onto iPads, and for a few weeks, even on the landing page of their website, filling the screen. One student wrote in her feedback: “adding a few more questions would have improved it some more”. In our entire careers, both the client and I had never known participants to ask for more questions – I remember us even laughing about it. And considering the study wasn’t incentivised makes this feedback even more eye-opening to the ways in which gamification can turn a ‘chore’ into something people want to go over and above to complete. 

“Such was the difference in the way that this simple form of gamification transformed the participant experience, the value of the data, and even transforming how a survey became a bit of a marketing tool in and of itself, that the client won an award at the University Market Insight conference and we got to present the case study at an IIEX Europe conference.” 

Betty Adamou

What do you believe the next evolutions in data collection using gamification will be? 

“Gamification and serious games are present in almost every industry. In fact, you’d be hard pushed to find an area not already using gamification. I think this kind of game-based techniques will increasingly be used in two areas: 

- Marketing

- Building empathy and understanding 

“Marketing: With COVID and lockdown, immersing customers in the brand experience that stores offer, was no longer possible. So, some brands turned to making games, quizzes, and playful challenges. For example, the sustainable toilet brand ‘Who Gives a Crap’ released a social media ‘catch the loo roll’ game for people to play when they were bored at home, and Dyson gave families at-home challenges to build suspension bridges and floating boats out of upcycled materials.  

“These brands used play and challenges to enforce their brand experience on us in our own homes. And with COVID forcing so many brands to go down the ‘AdverGame’ route, and seeing the benefits, AdverGames will be commonplace in the future because they demand a different kinds of engagement; ads are normally one-way messages. Games are two-way interactions. And with consumer interaction comes…you guessed it…data. 

“Building Empathy and Understanding: And then there are Empathy Games. People continue to discuss important issues around racism, homophobia, war, gender equality, sustainability, the broader impact on the environment with pollution etc. Empathy Games engage people in an experience they would otherwise be extremely unlikely to find themselves in. 

“Games are emotive experiences, and help to put players in the shoes of others. I’ve seen people cry playing such Empathy Games, and have a valuable learning experience. So as we try to say to each other: witness me, understand me – games are a way to emotionally and contextually place people in other circumstances to build empathy, and inspire action. I played a game once called That Dragon, Cancer. Two people, parents, designed it to help others understand what it has been like for them to lose a child to cancer. I cried like a child playing this game. There are other games on bullying, on dealing with toxic parents, on alcoholism – the list is endless. Each and every game is an opportunity for building awareness and fellowship, and we’re likely to see more of these types of games as nations continue to feel more divided.” 

Betty Adamou

How can we stay informed about gamification as it evolves, particularly with data collection? 

“As you would do with any subject, follow the hashtags, follow the accounts of people who talk about it, read the books, and go to the Gamification Europe conference! Here’s my top 2 books that helped to shape my own thinking: 

- Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal

- Emotion by Design by by Katherine Isbister 

“Gamification is clearly fascinating but not normally associated with research – how do we change that and inspire young people to come into the profession and innovate?

The answer to this question is nothing to do with gamification, but at the same time, very relevant to what gamification teaches us. We inspire young people to come into our profession, or indeed any profession, by listening to the needs of young people, and asking them questions – after all, this is what we researchers do best.

“Through that, we’ll understand what they’re looking for in their lives holistically, and hopefully, reflect that in the way we design what we mean by ‘work’. It is not enough for a job to offer holidays, the odd quiz night, and commission. People want to know; what impact will I have? What does this company stand for? What good am I doing? Does this company treat people fairly? Will I have time for a life outside of work? And who can I become by joining this company? 

“What we need to realise is that the system of how we have worked for so long is broken, and young people are trying to break the system. Thank goodness for that. We spend a third of our lives working, and some of the other time asleep. So in our waking hours, those hours that are well and truly ours, does the work we complete in one-third of our lives give us enough of an emotional and financial reward to live and sleep well in the other parts of our lives? For a lot of people, even in a hybrid working world, the answer is unfortunately ‘no’.

We still expect people to work 5 out of 7 days a week – that’s more than 71% of our week, and still expect them to be motivated all the time, forever, until they retire. Young people have seen their parents and grandparents work very hard, through troublesome times, and without much reward. 

“Young people look around them and see the stark reality of problems everywhere; the environment, the unfairness of the ‘work/life balance,’ that they can’t afford to buy their own homes, or in some cases, to start a family (if that is what they wish to do). They’re worried about war, and rising costs, and everything else. But they also see opportunities for meaningful change. 

“So where does gamification come in here, in all my big talk of life, and breaking the mold of the traditional working world? We take another look at those 4 psychological needs that games satisfy – the psychological needs of mastery, autonomy, relatedness, and purpose. How many times have you known people who can’t be bothered to go to work, but spend hours playing video games? How often have you known someone has little productivity throughout their working day, and yet, is extremely productive, operating at high levels of problem-solving, and gaining achievement after achievement, even through failure after failure, in many consecutive hours of gameplay? What’s broken here? 

“As a business owner, ask yourself: Are you providing your staff with enough feedback so they know their progress? Enough autonomy so they feel trusted and expressive? 

“Are there enough good quality relationships where staff feel listened to, and witnessed? And are the goals of the company, and the goals of the companies’ impact on the wider world, clear and lived in everyday values? And, if you apply this thinking to work, how long will it be before people stop quietly quitting, and look forward to working with the same level of high productivity and engagement that so many millions apply to playing games? And in decreasing the wasted hours of thumb-twiddling, procrastination, and other detrimental behaviours, and increasing “work-joy”, engagement and productivity, can we go to say, a 4-day working week instead of 5? Absolutely yes. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that things are changing.” 

Betty Adamou

TOP TIP:

Make efforts to know yourself, and everything else is easier. 

Thanks Betty – this is one of the most fascinating areas I’ve explored in the series and hugely insightful. It is clear to me that as the world becomes increasingly sophisticated and complex, and brands struggle to attract and motivate consumers, gamification continues to evolve into an effective means to generate interest and engage in activity. As Betty states, “There is room for gamification in every industry where there is a problem to solve.” This is a major driver in getting brands to develop creative ways to produce competition and incent decisions around their offerings.

Betty Adamou Betty Adamou is the inventor of ResearchGames™, and author of ‘Games and Gamification in Market Research’ (Kogan Page, 2018), published in three languages. She is best known for her role as Founder of Research Through Gaming, and now recently as Associate Talent Director at Hannelius Recruitment, Adamou has turned her focus from engagement in market research surveys, to market research recruitment. Her 10+ years of research and design work in gamification focused on creating engaging, data-driven online games to solve commercial problems.
Crispin Beale
Senior Strategic Advisor at mTab, CEO at Insight250, Group President at Behaviorally