Respondent feedback tells us time and again that some standard quantitative surveys can become long, complex, and somewhat dull to complete. Yasmin Talsi (Senior Research Executive) shines a light on the use of gaming fundamentals to capture attention, and explores what this means for us when designing online research methodologies…

Gamification, or the use of gaming fundamentals in a different context, is not a particularly new concept: it has been used effectively by researchers to enhance their results for a number of years. From the few studies that have taken place, we know that the benefits of gamification in market research are multi-faceted.

The principles of gamification are believed to retain respondent interest and increase motivation to participate, as well as breaking up the monotony of straight, traditional questioning. The effect of this can cascade down as benefit to market researchers, through increased data quality and quantity– as well as increased frequency and duration of participation. But where can we look for evidence of the impact of gamification?

Citizen Science: Real gamification in action

Online citizen science best demonstrates the power of gamification. This initiative supports science projects, typically academic, that solely utilise “people power” to conduct research. These tend to be long-term, participation heavy projects with no incentives: So what keeps these respondents interested?

By including game design elements, respondents are given the motivation and incentives they need to continue participating. Leader boards are used effectively in these spaces to appeal to respondents’ engrained sense of competitiveness and retain long-term involvement. When seeing their hard-earned leader board position drop, respondents are motivated to continue involvement in research to help regain/retain their position: it’s worth thinking about the impact of this in the context of an online community or bulletin board, encouraging participation through competition.

In addition, Citizen Science has created social spaces where participants can interact – giving them the opportunity to share their own outputs, learn best practice for completing the research from each other, and discuss the topic of the research, adding to the scientific value of the project.

Studies have found that a sense of community such as this can be a key motivating factor in respondent participation. Examples range from community websites, to display statistics and graphs about the performance of different teams. Those who develop and share these types of personal creations are motivated by their sense of belonging to the community, emotional investment, and desire to improve the project. Imagine the potential for this in quantitative settings such as ATUs, where we know respondents want to hear what the data looked like and was used for- a community or newsletter which synthesised the results and allowed participants to discuss them could provide them with exactly this- and encourage continued involvement with future waves.

A Researcher’s Game: market research applications

Enough fun and games- time for some hard evidence! A study by Cechanowicz et al., 2013 is one of the most conclusive pieces of research that proves that a gamified approach leads to significantly higher levels of participation in research. The team tested three question types typically used in market research (image identification, slogan matching and a three-second memory quiz) as part of a plain survey; a partially-gamified survey; and a fully-gamified survey.

The results of this study showed that both gamified versions had significantly higher levels of participation versus the plain survey and that the average number of questions completed increased with gamification level.

Interestingly, the positive effects of gamification were consistent across respondent age, gender, and prior game experience, suggesting there are little ethnographic barriers to this impact. All question types also performed equally well, so receive similar motivational benefits from gamification- again showing the breadth of questions that can profit from these elements.

Inspiration: design elements in gamified surveys:

Why not try a few gamification elements in your next survey and see the results for yourself? Here are some features of great games that can also be used in market research, to augment surveys for better results.

Reward: Visuals and audio can be used to provide simple rewards and points given for completing questions (e.g. more points/reward for longer open ended answers, stars, badges or “trumpet” sounds)

Challenge: Time pressure through a counter or descending clock are particularly useful for top-of-mind style questions (e.g. spontaneous awareness)

Progress: Providing feedback on the respondents’ progress can provide motivation to complete the survey

3D environments: As demonstrated in our own self-funded research into virtual reality to enhance stimulus, 3D environments and simulations can add another dynamic and dimension to your study, and help make decisions more realistic for respondents. Read more about our adventures in VR here


It’s important to remember that although in a market research setting, gamification can improve data quality and respondent retention, it should be used sparingly. It’s key to retain the survey backbone and use gamification to enhance it rather than the other way around- after all, there is nothing worse than innovation overkill!

The features of gamification can be a great tool to help with the motivation of users, and provide them with a better experience (particularly useful for encouraging ongoing participation in longitudinal research over a long period of time, or where the same sample is needed for re-participation). There are many research domains where this may be relevant, and even a small tweak to question framing or the addition of minor “reward” elements can really impact the respondent experience and help enhance your data set.

At HRW, we believe that by carefully selecting which techniques to use, and which questions will make the most use of them, we can ensure that the gamified elements remain interesting and novel for the participant whilst not distracting from the core business focus of the project.

Game on!

To find out more about HRW’s approach to gamification, get in touch.


By Yasmin Talsi

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