Gamification seems to be a hot new buzzword right now. It involves applying game design principles to non-game applications with the intent of making them more fun and attractive to users. Examples of gamification include the use of badges in Foursquare and the points systems of some customer loyalty programs. It is a very trendy topic now across a wide variety of disciplines including survey design. The application of game design to market research surveys is very much in its infancy now. However, some predicted it will grow as a new generation with shorter attention spans, a high experience level with video games and heavy use of online social networks becomes a larger share of the overall consumer population.

RMS has not yet dipped its toes into the waters of survey gamification. We have, however, been following some of the articles about the new field to see how it develops. Our colleagues at Relevant Insights recently had a nice, concise post about the topic here. We have also seen some interesting Slideshare presentations championing the trend, including this one that is worth looking at for the visuals alone.

Frankly, we’re skeptical about gamification and have concerns as to whether turning surveys into video games will make for sound market research, or if it’s simply a gimmick that is destined to disappear as quickly as meat-flavored water for dogs and cats.

Little did I know back in 1982 that all those games of Donkey Kong at the arcade were preparing me for a future as a market research analyst.

The central premise of market research gamification is that it will help to engage the potential respondent who is so otherwise totally unmotivated to offer their opinions on the topic at hand that they must be enticed by turning the exercise into a game. Our initial thought about that is how valuable would the data be that was obtained from somebody with that mindset? If the respondent is only taking the survey because they want to unlock an achievement badge or advance to the next level, how much thought are they putting into their answers? As an analyst, I’m not sure I’d feel good about data collected in that manner.

On the flip side, it seems like it would be hard to work meaningful survey questions seamlessly into a game without the questions feeling intrusive or ruining the fun of the gameplay. Imagine how annoyed you would be if your games of Angry Birds or Words With Friends were interspersed with questions about your car purchasing habits. Actually, that’s a bad example, because those are two games that have already been proven popular, well-designed and well-received by the public. In fact, we strongly suspect that the games designed as vessels in which to embed surveys wouldn’t anywhere near that compelling. Most would likely be surveys dressed up with some sort of watered down computer graphics and scoring system tacked on to them, which would defeat the whole “fun and engaging” rationale of gamification in the first place.

We understand the impetus toward gamification. Engaging some short attention span consumer segments is challenging to say the least. It’s tempting to think that their attention could be captured by turning something traditionally considered dry and boring into something more fun. We’re just doubtful that it will work in such a way that will result in quality data…or even a quality gaming experience. Here in the Bunker, we like barbecued spare ribs and we like chocolate ice cream, but that doesn’t mean that we think throwing both of those items into a blender and drinking the mixture would make for a good meal. That’s how we feel about survey gamification right now – it feels like two great things that won’t be so great once you try to mix them.

Perhaps time will prove us to be wrong, and survey gamification will be the hot new research methodology of this new decade. If that happens, we will be the first to admit our mistake and drink a toast to the gamification champions with bottles of Coors Rocky Mountain Spring Water.

If you have any thoughts on survey gamification, we’d love to hear them in the comments below?  What do you think – does it have staying power?