Editor’s note: In conjunction with his BOSS Academy Radio podcast, Paul Kirch, CEO of Actus Sales Intelligence, a Fort Worth, Texas, business and sales consulting agency, is interviewing authors, marketers and marketing researchers on a wide range of topics. By special arrangement, we’ll periodically feature edited recaps in the e-newsletter including portions of the conversations that touch on research-related topics.

As rapidly advancing technologies continue to alter the way we interact online, marketing researchers are challenged with the task of thinking outside of traditional survey designs to find ways to effectively engage consumers through online research. As a pioneer of research games, Betty Adamou, CEO and founder of the U.K.-based firm Research Through Gaming, is familiar with focusing on emerging and future technologies. Her work in game-based research combines traditional research methods and the immersive experience of gaming. Adamou asserts that research games are not just for the gaming community but rather a way to reach a wide variety of demographics.

In an interview with Paul Kirch for BOSS Academy Radio, Adamou discussed why playing games is considered to be an intrinsically motivating activity – a feature that allows game-based research to naturally attract and hold the attention of respondents, ultimately improving the quality of online research data and insights. 

Paul Kirch: Talk a little bit about your approach to gaming through research …

Betty Adamou: When we build a research game, it's to find out things that a traditional survey otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. There [are] a lot of situations that we place a participant in to watch what they do and how they react. Because of that, we're asking fewer questions. There is more setting up the narrative and a scenario in which we can give instruction and then we see what people do.

I had the opportunity to go through a couple of research games that you shared with me. I found myself getting more emotionally invested in the research than I probably would through a regular instrument. So I assume that's a big driver for game-based market research …

We try to evoke emotions. And sometimes those emotions might be a sense of panic or stress. But then we put that in a context that would be realistic. So for instance, we might say to a participant, "You have a screaming kid in your car. You are in the supermarket, 10 minutes late for a doctor's appointment. You need to buy X product. You have only $10 to spend: What would you choose?" "OK, now the kid doesn't scream. You have all the time in the world and you have $20: What would you choose?" It's all about emotional context.

Today there's such an emphasis on emotional intelligence and one of the things that you guys are finding is that playing games develops a stronger emotional intelligence. I think it probably also helps people become much more invested in the research – and possibly the people that are sponsoring the research more invested in their brand.

Absolutely. Just as an example, we worked with a team of academics, which was really, really fun. And they were actually much more open to experimentation than what I thought they would be.

The lead client, a professor, was so engaged in the process she ended up having a cameo role in the first game we made for them. She played an interrogator who does the personality test. And it was totally voluntary.

It's great because we've seen so many of our clients become game designers as well. Once they get it, they go, "Oh, what if you did this?" They realize the setup. They get the framework and then they get involved, which is really, really nice.

Talk a little bit about what intrinsic engagement means to your concept.

When you have intrinsic engagement in a game, you play. There are so many gamified things out there, like loyalty cards. When I go to Starbucks and I give them their card to get my points whenever I buy a coffee, although that's gamification, I don't feel like I'm playing a game. That sense of play is really where the interesting juice lies because when we're playing, we are problem-solving better than we do in any other context. When we're playing we learn more, we learn faster, we're more creative, our minds are stimulated and that's what I want from participants when they're playing a research game.

I don't just want them to take part, I want them to be so lost in it that they get the research content, they know what's going on and because they really understand what's going on they want to contribute to that, and they do. They're feeling that sense of playfulness, that vibration, that creativity. We need those three things in market research.

I think it's powerful. So obviously there are some people that question the method but it sounds like you've got more people coming on board with this concept. Why do you see this as a really great time to be taking this approach?

It just so happened that when I started to talk about game-based research it was a time where the gaming industry agencies were really widening. It wasn't just teenage boys confined to their bedrooms anymore. It was four-year-olds on mom and dad's iPads. It was 83-year-olds in hospitals playing Nintendo Wii because they're getting over a stroke and it's helping their coordination.

So games were really opening up widely in terms of the audiences, the demographics. It's very equal now in terms of gender, which is fantastic. And not just people playing games, people designing games, which is great.

It was a great time for me to start research through gaming. There were some skeptics [in the research industry] but I love the skeptics. They ask you the questions that make you go, "Aw, shoot. Yeah, I have to go and do that."

Let's talk about some real data here. People who are actually going through one of your surveys: Do you find that the next time they're invited they're more likely to respond and be involved?

I actually co-wrote a paper with a client that included the continuation rate as one of the measurements of engagement. The first game we sent participants was anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour in length, depending on what people wanted to do and the panel they wanted to take. And then we worked with a panel company and they said to us that the maximum continuation that they would do there was 70 percent. So 70 percent of people that took part in the first research game could come back to the second one.

So we left a gap between Survey A and Survey B and we sent B out four months later. We had an 81 percent continuation rate, which we're really happy with because 70 was the absolute maximum and we got 11 percentage points farther than that.

Participants who took part in the second research game remembered the first research game. They would leave comments and say, "Oh yeah, this concept is so good. I remember the first one I did." That in itself was really cool.

Are there types of surveys that research games are not suitable for?

Research games take time to put together. So if you've got a piece of research that you wanted out yesterday, it's not going to happen in a research game. When we build a research game it takes a lot of time; depending on the project size and the complexity of it, anywhere between one week to five, six weeks.

You can listen to the entire interview at www.bossacademy.com.